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Robert Plant: The Rolling Stone Interview

Led Zeppelin’s former frontman contemplates now and Zen

Robert PlantRobert Plant

Robert Plant during Taping for 1988 MTV New Year's Eve Party in Los Angeles, California, United States.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty

In a brightly lit corner of an otherwise dark and cramped set at the studios of London Weekend Television, Robert Plant settles comfortably onto the sofa where he is about to be interviewed and glances at a monitor to his left. A faint smile of bemused recognition spreads across his distinctive hawklike features as he watches vintage black-and-white footage of a young man, barely out of his teens, wailing into the camera like a heavy-metal Mongol, thrusting his bare chest forward, filling the screen with a golden avalanche of shoulder-length blond curls. The turn-of-the-Seventies image — bell-bottom pants, a skimpy open floral blouse, exaggerated sex-warrior stage moves — seems strange, even quaint, on the small screen. But the singer’s voice and the roar of the band behind him are unmistakable.

“You need coolin’/Baby, I’m not foolin’,” the young blond buck howls. “I’m gonna send ya/Back for schoolin’/Way down inside/Uh, honey, you need it/I’m gonna give you my love/I’m gonna give you my love/Wooooaaaah!”*

The band, of course, is Led Zeppelin. The song is “Whole Lotta Love.” And the singer is a much younger Robert Plant, then all of twenty-one years old. As the video fades out, the TV interviewer turns to the present-day Plant with a sly grin and asks, “How does it feel to see that again, you sticking your chest out and throwing your hair back?”

Plant doesn’t blink an eye. “Oh,” he says with a sly grin of his own, “I still do that every night.”

Back at his manager’s London office later that afternoon, Plant is still grinning as he discusses his old stage image. “It looks a little camp,” he says sheepishly, swigging at a bottle of Perrier water. “But it was honest, and there was nothing camp about it at the time. It was a young man, feeling his feet.”

Now approaching his fortieth birthday, Plant is an older and wiser man, and still feeling his feet. With the death of drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham in 1980 and Led Zeppelin’s subsequent low-key dissolution, the singer lost not only his band and his best friend but also the axis around which his musical world had spun for more than ten years — guitarist Jimmy Page. Scorned by the punks and embarrassed by cheap Zeppelin imitations, Plant spent his first three solo albums roaming the shifting terrain of Eighties rock in search of an identity that had nothing to do with lemon squeezing or “Stairway to Heaven.”

He never found it. He had a couple of hits along the trail, like “Big Log,” from his 1983 album The Principle of Moments. But for all of their adventuresome drive and hip future-rock angularity, Plant’s solo records in general lacked the unbridled passion and risky spontaneity of Zeppelin in full flight.

Now, after seven years of Zeppelin denial, Plant has come to his senses. His new LP, Now and Zen, is the biggest leap forward of his solo career — and all it took was two steps backward to Led Zeppelin.

You can hear the old snap, crackle and pow all over “Tall Cool One,” a high-tech rockabilly raver featuring ingeniously deployed computer samples of platinum Zeppelin wax like “Black Dog.” “Dazed and Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love.” At the end of “White, Clean and Neat.” Plant slips in a brief vocal reprise of the 1970 Zep blues “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” The album is also a Zeppelin reunion of sorts; Jimmy Page plays guitar on both “Tall Cool One” and the single “Heaven Knows.” Even those Now and Zen songs lacking overt Zeppelin references, like the surging “Dance on My Own” and “The Way I Feel,” pack a familiar wallop.

“I’ve stopped apologizing to myself for having this great period of success and financial acceptance,” Plant declares. “It’s tune to get on and enjoy it now. I want to have a great time instead of making all these excuses.”

Plant has, in fact, been surrounded by echoes of Zeppelin for some time. Goth-rock bands like the Cult and the Mission U.K. have racked up hits with shameless but clever rewrites of “Kashmir” and “The Immigrant Song.” Def Jam major-domo Rick Rubin boldly lifted the core Page riff from “The Ocean” for the Beastie Boys’ “She’s Crafty.” But it took a demo cassette of “Heaven Knows,” written and performed by an eccentric British outfit called the Rest Is History, to shake Plant out of his anti-Zeppelin mind-set.

The song itself was a knockout, a refreshing change from the derivative demos that usually arrived in his mail. Plant soon found out that Phil Johnstone, who co-wrote “Heaven Knows” and played keyboards on it, was also a dyed-in-the-wool Zeppelin freak. “We immediately wrote Tall Cool One’ and ‘White, Clean and Neat’ in the same afternoon,” Plant raves. “It was bang! The guy had been a Zeppelin fan, and I suddenly remembered that, yeah, so had I.” Plant and Johnstone went on to co-write seven of Now and Zen’s nine tracks. Johnstone also rounded up a band of like-minded young compatriots, including guitarist Doug Boyle and drummer Chris Black-well, to heat up the songs in concert and, on record.

As part of coming to terms with his past, Plant and the band have cooked up new versions of “Misty Mountain Hop,” “Trampled Underfoot,” “The Wanton Song” and “In the Evening” for the Now and Zen tour.

Johnstone says Plant’s reconciliation with history did not come easy. “We were working on ‘White, Clean and Neat,’ and I had this neat riff to go with it. He said, ‘But, aw, man, that’s bluesy.‘ And I said to him, ‘But that’s what you are. You’re a blues singer.’ He’d denied that he was a blues singer for so long.”

In fact, Plant had spent his teens bellowing the blues in folk and rock clubs up in the English Midlands. By age eighteen, he’d already cut three singles for CBS in Britain, mostly Jack Jones cabaret pop dosed with cheap hippie kitsch. He was back in Midlands clubs, this time singing “White Rabbit” and Moby Grape’s “Omaha,” when Jimmy Page signed him to the fledgling Zeppelin. More than anything else, it was, Plant says with a smile, “just a chance to get paid by the week. I opened a bank account in June 1968 and put in thirty-five dollars.”

Though Plant is far richer today, he hasn’t lost his open mind and eager ear. The owner of an enviable collection of classic blues, R&B and rockabilly records, he is also constantly checking out pop’s Next Big Things. Among his recent faves are Hüsker Dü, the rising Irish star Sinead O’Connor and the San Francisco funk-metal band Faith No More. He also digs Prince — for “sheer entertainment and audacity.” He adds with a wink, “Prince and Page together would be great.”

Plant and Page back together is enough to send most of the world’s rock populace swooning. Plant returned the favor of Page’s contributions to Now and Zen by singing and co-writing a song, “The Only One,” on Page’s forthcoming solo album. There are also plans afoot for a live Plant-Page reunion this spring at a gala celebration marking the fortieth anniversary of Atlantic Records, Zeppelin’s original label.

If nothing else, the Zeppelin revival has certainly loosened Robert Plant’s tongue. “If you had asked me a year ago about Led Zeppelin or my relationship with Pagey,” he says, “I’d have just beat around the bush, given you the runaround.” He smiles broadly. “But it feels okay to talk about it now.”

Does it feel strange, after years of deliberately distancing yourself from the Zeppelin legacy, to be working with younger musicians, like Phil Johnstone, who are essentially Zeppelin’s spiritual descendants? They grew up on Zeppelin and absorbed it into their own thing; now they’ve turned you on to it all over again.
That’s exactly what happened. I was turned on to what I’d done in the past by people saying, “That stuff was great.” And as soon as my eyes were opened again, Zeppelin was everywhere. Everybody was saying, “It’s all over the place,” and all this time I was going, “Well, I’ve never heard of them.”

Didn’t you feel foolish, having renounced Zep for so long?
No, I had to do that. I remember poor old Clapton, years and years before, having had this phenomenon with Cream. Every time he tried to play “Layla,” people would scream for “Crossroads.”

I wanted to establish an identity that was far removed from the howling and the mud sharks of the Seventies. So if I go onstage now and sing “Misty Mountain Hop,” it’s cool because I’ve given it the time in between. I can come out and do it without having traded on it all the way down the line.

Tall Cool One,” with its computer samples from “Black Dog” and “Whole Lotta Love,” is the first overt reference to Zeppelin you’ve made on record since the band split. Although the song was done with tongue firmly in cheek, a sense of affection for your past comes through.
Especially as throughout every verse there is this sonic-dive-bomber guitar sound. I played it to Jimmy Page, and he didn’t even know what it was. It’s the guitar that goes into the middle bit of “Whole Lotta Low.” He thought it was just something we’d written in. Then he played the solo on it, and we put all the Zeppelin-record bits on at the end. We played it for him, and I wish I’d had a camera to catch the expression on his face.

Pleasant surprise?
It was more like tiresome wonder. Like “What is he doing, and why is this essential for him? Is he taking the piss out of it?” I’m not taking the piss. I’m showing that his riffs are the mightiest the world has ever heard.

How did you choose which Zeppelin records to sample?
I just picked what I thought was appropriate. In fact, onstage now, we finish “Tall Cool One” with about a minute of “Custard Pie” because it sounds so good. “The Ocean” was an important one to use because it’s been a hit with “She’s Crafty,” by the Beastie Boys.

Whereas you were basically borrowing from yourself.
Well, I borrowed from Jimmy, truth to tell. I’ve decided that’s what I want I want it to be a bit harder. I want to play stuff that’s exciting again.

How much did the Led Zeppelin reunion at Live Aid spark this reconciliation with your past?
Not at all. In fact, it was horrendous. Emotionally, I was eating every word that I had uttered And I was hoarse. I’d done three gigs on the trot before I got to Live Aid. We rehearsed in the afternoon, and by the time we got onstage, my voice was long gone.

It was very odd. Everyone was congratulating themselves for being there because that’s what they’d always wanted. Yet there are a lot more important things to want than Page and I staggering around in Philadelphia, me hoarse and him out of tune.

Did you get a buzz from being onstage with Jimmy again?
Yeah, of course. Every time I play with Jimmy, it’s great. Jimmy and I, to be perfectly honest, we’ve played together for various reasons over the last two years, but we haven’t really gotten together. We don’t go out together, we don’t sit around together. Our preoccupations and priorities are quite far apart.

Was that true when you were together in Zeppelin?
Our relationship deteriorated, but this is what we’ve got now. Live Aid was like having the umbilical cord there for me to see again. Because even if it was just a musical umbilical cord, at least the power was there to wake up certain parts or me. But it also smacked of the shambles and shoddiness that Zeppelin could never get away with, night now in 1988, if we were out touring.

What’s the real story about the secret rehearsals you, Page and John Paul Jones reportedly held with drummer Tony Thompson after Live Aid? How far did you really get in forming a new Led Zeppelin?
We had a week together with Tony Thompson. This was the following January, ’86. The guy who’s now my tour manager was brought in to look after the drums, to help Tony Thompson leave Heathrow Airport and travel to this secret destination.

Where was this secret destination?
Isn’t it crazy? “Secret destination.” It was just off the motorway near Peter Gabriel’s house in Bath. We took a village hall, filled it with parachutes to take all the angles and corners off the room and set up the equipment. Pagey duly arrived, and we plugged in. But as much as he wanted to do it, it wasn’t the time for Pagey to do that. He had just finished the second Firm album, and I think he was a bit confused about what he was doing.

And the interesting thing is that after seven years of being without him and fending for myself, I’m a lot more forthright. When I reach a conclusion, I immediately react to it. Way back in the old days, this might have taken a week of mutual discussion. One person couldn’t make the decision for four people.

Did you have serious, or at least cautious, hopes about what you could accomplish?
Yeah, I think so. But it wasn’t to be. There was this little club we used to go to in this little town. Tony was a celebrity because he had played on Belouis Some’s hit record. So he was invited to parties and stuff; we were, too, because we’d been famous once. Jonesy and I often chose to walk back to the place we were staying, at two in the morning. Pagey wouldn’t come out, which is hardly the way to get everything back together again.

Meanwhile, Tony became a celebrity and was metaphorically earned around on everybody’s shoulders. He ended up in one of these small minicars with five other people. They took a corner too fast and ended up in somebody’s basement, went off the road, through some iron railings and down a few steps.

So I was called at five o’clock in the morning by the Bath Royal Infirmary by a rather short-tempered matron saying, “We have your Mr. Thompson here. He states you, Mr. Plant, as next or kin.” I said, “But you can’t do that. He’s black!”

So after arguing about him having African descent, I went there, and Tony was lying in the hospital going, “Oh, man, oh, man.” So that was the end of him.

Did the band actually get any playing done?
Yeah, we did about two days.

What did you play? Did you have any new material to start off with?
No, nothing. It was the most bristlingly embarrassing moment, to have all that will and not knowing what to play. Jonesy played keyboards, I played bass a bit.

It sounded kind of like David Byrne meets Hüsker Dü, I guess, sounding good and quite odd, because of Jonesy’s tendency to play these jolly rollicking keyboards, Jimmy cutting right across the whole thing with these searing, soaring chord mechanisms and me plotting the routes on the bass. It was pretty good. And there were two or three things that were very promising.

Then Tony left the road with his merry band. One of the roadies, who is now my tour manager, played drums. He was quite good too, but the whole thing dematerialized. Jimmy had to change the battery on his wah-wah pedal every one and a half songs. And I said, “I’m going home.” Jonesy said, “Why?” “Because I can’t put up with this.” “But you lived with it before.” I said, “Look, man, I don’t need the money. “I’m off.” For it to succeed in Bath, I would have had to have been far more patient than I have been for years.

Do you think you have also outstripped Jimmy in terms of your ambition and creative drive?
No, I don’t think so at all. Jimmy needs a community workshop, and he needs to put his trust and his faith and his vulnerability into someone. We shared something, and that’s fine. It’s just that the way that we do things, now is different. And I don’t know if the two ways of doing it are compatible.

You’ve worked up some Zeppelin songs to do on your ‘Now and Zen’ tour. How does, it feel singing the old numbers, again?
I feel regenerated singing them. I feel that power and simplicity, like “Misty Mountain Hop.” The lyrics are so hippie-dippie – “Lots of people sitting on the glass with flowers in their hair/Saying, ‘Hey, boy, do you want to score?’ ” It’s very hard to sing that now, but at the same time it’s great to sing it. It’s very powerful stuff.

Have you considered doing “Stairway to Heaven”?
I wouldn’t dream of it. I actually wouldn’t enjoy doing it. I could do it, I suppose, with Page now and again.

How was it written?
We were working at Headley Grange, an old alms-house, with Ronnie Lane’s mobile recording truck. We had been playing all day, and Bonzo and Jonesy had gone off to the Speakeasy Club … to “relax” I think is a good term for it. Jimmy and I stayed in, and we got the themes and thread of it right there and then. It was some cynical aside about a woman getting everything she wanted all the time without giving back any thought or consideration. The first line began with that cynical sweep of the hand – “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold/And she’s buying a stairway to heaven” – and then it softened up after that. I think it was the Moroccan dope.

Were you surprised that it came to be regarded as the definitive Led Zeppelin song?
It’s not. I don’t think it is.

Everyone else seems to think it is.
Because they missed the point. It’s a nice, pleasant, well-meaning, naive little song, very English. It’s not the definitive Led Zeppelin song. “Kashmir” is.

In what way?
It’s the quest, the travels and explorations that Page and I went on to far climes well off the beaten track. Of course, we only touched the surface. We weren’t anthropologists. But we were allowed, because we were musicians, to be invited in societies that people don’t normally witness. It was quite a remarkable time, to open your eyes and see how Berber tribesmen lived in the northern Sahara. My interpretations lyrically are not that fantastic, they never have been. But that’s what it was like for me then. That, really, to me is the Zeppelin feel.

Do you have a single favorite Zeppelin album?
Physical Graffiti. Strong stuff. And it sounded good too. It sounded very tough, but it was also restrained, exhibiting a certain amount of control as well.

The last Zeppelin studio album, ‘In Through the Out Door,’ marked the start of what would have been your second decade together. How did you feel about Zeppelin at that point?
I was developing my own independence, and I didn’t feel tied to them anymore. But I wanted to be. There was a lot of love there. But I didn’t want to do anything a minute longer than was necessary if I didn’t like it.

So after a lot of shuffling, it came out all right. Jimmy’s role wasn’t as predominant as it was before. Jonesy and I worked a lot more on things. But by the time we were playing Knebworth and the 1980 European tour, Jimmy was back in his commanding position.

Describe your immediate post-Zeppelin life, particularly coming to terms with John Bonham’s death in 1980.
The band didn’t exist the minute Bonzo had gone, to me.

Was that a group consensus?
I don’t know what they thought or how strongly they thought it. But that’s exactly how I felt. Sometimes I still shout up there at that mass of blue and go, “That was not a very good trick.”

How much did the senselessness of the way he died – death by alcoholic misadventures – affect you?
It was devastating. It’s relative, isn’t it? All deaths before senility are senseless. All I could think was that there was a great big hole there. Suddenly, your idea of the rock & roll musician takes second place to the fact that he was my pal for so many years.

Oh, we used to fight. It was an honest relationship, where he would say, “Look, you can’t sing, but just go out and look good and I’ll look after everything else behind you.” [Laughs.] We always had this antagonistic relationship – and I miss that. Nobody’s actually giving it back to me like that now. People are either nice and humble to me or completely the opposite. You don’t get that fun, the windup. Every time I got a bit like “Hey, I’m the star,” he’d the back there in the middle of a concert growling, “You’re fucking hopeless. But don’t forget, I’m here!”

So I couldn’t care two hoots about Led Zeppelin. How was the family going to cope with it, and how were going to cope with it on a personal level? Fuck the music. The music can go to hell.

Because of the band’s stormy relationship with the media, the primary source of biographical info for most Zeppelin fans has been the unauthorized biography Hammer of the Gods. Road manager Richard Cole provided the author, Stephen Davis, with some rather intimate details – mud sharks and the traveling groupie circus. How much of what he revealed is true?
I haven’t read the book. I read the end to see what the summary of the whole thing was, to see whether or not my solo career was mentioned.

Yeah, they were wild times, without having to go into the names of the recipients or the makes of televisions that went out the window. But the exaggeration that Cole used – I figure he thought the more sordid he made it, the more money he’d get out of it. Because it does go beyond reason in places. I’ve met him since, and he seems very embarrassed and uncomfortable about it. I can’t blame him.

Did you talk to him about the book?
Maybe for about two sentences. I said something like “However much you got, you didn’t get enough, Richard.”

In the end, he did have kernels of truth. There was a lot of wildness going on. I think he missed some of the best bits, though. I can’t remember them, but sometimes I’ll meet somebody in New York or whatever, and they go, “Hey, do you remember Swingo’s, in Cleveland, on such and such a night?” And I remember, uh, romps.

There’s no sense in waffling about them now. It was like a traveling football team really, except somewhere in the end you become masters. So John Paul Jones, who was never a physical man and was very laid-back, if he was feeling the frustrations of the goldfish-bowl life, he’d take a television set to pieces and glue it upside down on the ceiling in the correct order. There was a good sense of humor there.

How much of your denial of Zeppelin in your early solo days was a byproduct of being embarrassed by the band’s reputation for X-rated road debauchery?
I don’t deny it. A lot I can’t remember, unless someone brings it up to me.

That’s an easy out.
But it’s true. There were so many things. Think about it – we spent so long in America. I can remember a stream of carpenters walking into a room as we were checking out. We’d be going out one way, and they’d be going in the other way, with a sign, CLOSED FOR REMODELING, being put on the door.

It’s kind of embarrassing. But without being too facetious, that’s what people wanted. Once the seed had been sown, it would be terrible if it was just once a week. It had to be all the time. But you don’t serve urine cocktails all the time.

The real lame thing is – and it has to be said – the singer went to bed. Not necessarily alone. But there was a lot to be said for trying to keep the voice in shape. I’ve used that as a cop-out, but at the same time it was a fact. At a certain point I had to say, “Oh, the sun’s coming up, I’m off.” And the best fun is usually in the first five minutes.

How did it feel, on that first solo tour in 1983, to be up there onstage without the three guys you’d spent the past decade with?
I immediately found out that I missed a partner. Robbie [Blunt] had the toughest job of all. He is a great guitarist, and he didn’t want to have to step into Page’s shoes. As much as I was proud of the fact that he had his own style and was very good. I missed the volatile showmanship which was second nature to Jimmy. He didn’t have to think, “Can I do this? Should I do that?” It was just there. His performance was stunning.

Suddenly I was without anybody from those days, holding the whole thing on my own. But we did well. I was so proud of the hard work, of the refusals to pander. There are enough guitarists out there now, leaning back with their tongues wagging, playing “Black Dog” every night.

Not only did you go out with an entirely new repertoire, you also played for predominantly young Zeppelin fans who’d never seen the real thing. You were the totem for them.
But I was only part of the totem, and they had to get that right. That however much one might want to make me Led Zeppelin, I’m not. And I’ve never had the power, nor would I ever attempt, to emulate or re-create that thing. And I know darn well if Jimmy and I were to travel America and Coca-Cola wanted to stuff money up our bum, it would be deceit to try and bring it all back. By me just chuggling along on my own, I don’t expect to try and fill that gap. I can’t go into every project thinking, “Oh, my goodness me, what about ‘Boogie with Stu’?”

You say that you miss Page a lot. Yet on record and in previous interviews, you’ve taken pains to emphasize that you’re a contemporary artist, making Eighties music, implying that you’ve left Jimmy and what be represents – the ultimate in Seventies guitar heroism – back in that Zeppelin time warp.
I’ve ferreted around, working incessantly, trying different things out. If I made a record tomorrow that sounded like parts of R.E.M.’s Document, I’d be really pleased.

I also listen a lot. I don’t know whether Jimmy goes out and listens. It’s his business. But all he has to do is play guitar on a contemporary-sounding track, like “Heaven Knows,” and it sounds great.

Having done the Live Aid gig and worked on each other’s new albums, do you foresee doing any more studio or stage work with Page, even on a semiregular basis?
Yeah, I’d like to work with him until we’re really comfortable. And when we’re really comfortable, we’ll write all new songs. Because we’ve never been really comfortable anyway.

Jimmy and I got along well with Jonesy and Bonzo. But between ourselves, there was a lot of unspoken rivalry. Jimmy had already gotten a name when I was trotting out “White Rabbit” in some dance hall in Newcastle with Bonzo. He employed a very democratic approach to the whole thing. He encouraged me a lot.

Then, suddenly, we were side by side. And he didn’t quite like that. Occasionally I could feel it. If the shoulders were a little close, you could feel the flinch a bit. Especially if we were sitting at the same table and one woman went by and we both liked her. It was “Oh no, here we go.”

What is the status of your R&B-cover project, the Honeydrippers?

You did put ‘Volume I’ on the EP.
Well, of course I would. There is a little bit of humor in my existence. If there was a next one, I’d call it Volume III.

But it didn’t work. It worked, but it didn’t work.

How didn’t it work? It was a big hit.
It was just another tangent. Which was great. But I want to keep this “Heaven Knows” department. When I get a good album together with at least seven really good songs, I feel really good. And I’m messing around with these Sixties songs by the Remains and the Knickerbockers. They’re much more appropriate for me. Because I can actually deliver them, rather than crooning over violins like “Sea of Love.”

What’s your opinion of the current reincarnations of Led Zeppelin – bands like the Cult, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and the Mission U.K.?
They’re all different, aren’t they? I can’t tell you honestly whether Bon Jovi is better than anybody else. I know that the success ratio is fantastic. And I think that’s what counts to them. The aesthetics of the thing have nothing to do with it.

So are they just imitating Zeppelin or are they getting it right, the whole package with the risks as well as the noise and the strut?
The Mission are getting it right to me. The Sisters of Mercy too. They’re trying it, and they mean it. It’s not just a parody of a pastiche of a parody. If they nick a few chord shapes, that’s okay. But at least they’re doing it in the spirit of it. I prefer that to the pretty-boy-wailing department.

These guys, the Bon Jovis and company, when they weren’t selling anything, they saw the mechanism working. They saw they had to follow the now strongly dictated lines of the commercial process, to come up with the choruses and wiggle your ass at the right moment. There is nothing impromptu or accidental about it. It’s immaterial whether it’s hard rock or not. It could just as easily be – who’s that geezer with the really big nose you’ve got over there? – Barry Manilow. Fortunately, I had success before a lot of these new rules, so I can say, “Fuck it.”

What’s your opinion of producer Rick Rubin and what he did with the Led Zeppelin sound on the Beastie Boys’ album? He seems to be one of the few people trying to take that thing out on a different tangent.
Maybe he ought to write his own riffs then. He’s not particularly an innovator in that way. There’s loads of house music from Chicago and rap stuff that steal Zeppelin in far less obvious ways. I guess if he’s going to nick something, he might as well nick something good.

He contacted my office and said he’d like to produce my new album. It would be right round full circle. Jimmy could come around and guest on that, and he could just sample the riffs we got this time. Take ’em over to those three guys. But I can’t have any sort of anger towards Rick Rubin, He’s made a lot of money. Maybe he’ll buy me a drink. He owes Page more of a drink than he owes me.

How do you relate to the continuation of Led Zeppelin’s fantastic popularity? It’s probably the ultimate compliment, that what you did with Zeppelin still blows young minds.
There were some neat little moves, but I was stuck in the middle of them. Now, when I look back, I don’t get any sense of great achievement out of the fact that people still like it a lot. I get achievement out of the fact that it was good.

The ironic thing about that adoration is that, to some degree, it is responsible for the malaise in current pop and rock. It seems that so many fans – and bands – are looking back to bands like Zeppelin because they have no better idea how to go forward.

But we were, too. Everybody looks back, glances sideways, peeps over shoulders. It’s like cheating during examinations. Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart were out there doing a double act, and we were right behind them. Beck’s always moaned about Pagey: “He knew what we were doing, Rod and I. He got this guy from the Midlands. They were doing ‘You Shook Me.'” We were all doing “You Shook Me” at the same time. It was more famous than “God Save the Queen” in England at the time.

So when I listen to Mitch Easter’s work, I hear a bit of Zeppelin. I heard a steel-guitar bit on the Let’s Active album Big Plans for Everybody that sounds just like “In My Time of Dying.” And I was flattered, even though I didn’t play the guitar part. That’s looking backwards. But it’s looking backwards with such gentility and taste.

If Led Zeppelin – with the same personnel and musical aspirations – were formed today, what would your chances for success be?
It’s impossible to say.

Granted, that set of circumstances in 1968 – the time, the energies – was a kind of cosmic accident.
There was still this consciousness around which musical appreciation was built. There were a lot of players around, people playing well. There were people like Barry Melton and Jack Casady experimenting happily, so you had to be able to stand up alongside a lot of really good musicians.

Right now, the structure is built on different priorities. A different altar is there to be consecrated. Different idols. I don’t know how Zeppelin would have got on. If the Cult and the Mission were copying something that sounded like Led Zeppelin and then we came flying in with the real goods, we’d do great business. I often think I’d just like to rehearse until I was really good with Page and then do one very quick blast through.

But it would have to be some incredibly good music. And that’s what I’d need to be able to go out and call it Page and Plant. That’s how it would have to be, the real new Zeppelin. And the possibility of that is years away – if at all.

In This Article: Coverwall, Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant


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