Robert Anthony Plant CBE (born 20 August 1948) is an English musician, singer, and songwriter best known as the lead singer and lyricist of the rock band Led Zeppelin. A powerful and wide vocal range (particularly evident in his high-pitched vocals) have given him a successful solo career spanning over 40 years. Plant is regarded as one of the greatest singers in the history of rock and roll, and has influenced musicians such as Freddie Mercury, Axl Rose and Chris Cornell. In 2006, Heavy Metal magazine Hit Parader named Plant the "Greatest Metal Vocalist of All Time". In 2009, Plant was voted "the greatest voice in rock" in a poll conducted by Planet Rock. In 2008, Rolling Stone editors ranked him number 15 on their list of the 100 best singers of all time. In 2011, Rolling Stone readers ranked Plant the greatest of all lead singers.
Life and career Early life and musical beginnings Robert Anthony Plant was born on 20 August 1948, in the Black Country town of West Bromwich, Staffordshire to Robert C. Plant, a qualified civil engineer who worked in the Royal Air Force during World War II, and Annie Celia Plant (née Cain), a Romanichal woman. He grew up in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. Plant gained an interest in singing and rock and roll music at an early age.
When I was a kid I used to hide behind the curtains at home at Christmas and I used to try and be Elvis. There was a certain ambience between the curtains and the French windows, there was a certain sound there for a ten-year-old. That was all the ambience I got at ten years old... I think! And I always wanted to be a curtain, a bit similar to that.
He left King Edward VI Grammar School for Boys in Stourbridge in his mid-teens and developed a strong passion for the blues, mainly through his admiration for Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson and early rendition of songs in this genre.
I suppose I was quite interested in my stamp collection and Romano-British history. I was a little grammar school boy and I could hear this kind of calling through the airwaves.
He abandoned training as a chartered accountant after only two weeks to attend college in an effort to gain more GCE passes (General Certificates of Education) and to become part of the English Midlands blues scene. "I left home at 16", he said, "and I started my real education musically, moving from group to group, furthering my knowledge of the blues and of other music which had weight and was worth listening to".
Plant's early blues influences included Johnson, Bukka White, Skip James, Jerry Miller, and Sleepy John Estes. Plant had various jobs while pursuing his music career, one of which was working for the major British construction company Wimpey in Birmingham in 1967 laying tarmac on roads. He also worked at Woolworth's in Halesowen town for a short period of time. He cut three obscure singles on CBS Records and sang with a variety of bands, including the Crawling King Snakes, which brought him into contact with drummer John Bonham. They both went on to play in the Band of Joy, merging blues with newer psychedelic trends.
Led Zeppelin (1968–1980) Early years In 1968, guitarist Jimmy Page was in search of a lead singer for his new band and met Plant after being turned down by his first choice, Terry Reid, who referred him to a show at a teacher training college in Birmingham (where Plant was singing in a band named Obs-Tweedle). In front of Page, Plant sang Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love", leading Page to the end of his search. As recalled by Plant and Page: Plant: I was appearing at this college when Peter and Jimmy turned up and asked me if I'd like to join the Yardbirds. I knew the Yardbirds had done a lot of work in America – which to me meant audiences who would want to know what I might have to offer – so naturally I was very interested.
Page: When I auditioned him and heard him sing, I immediately thought there must be something wrong with him personality-wise or that he had to be impossible to work with, because I just could not understand why, after he told me he'd been singing for a few years already, he hadn't become a big name yet. So I had him down to my place for a little while, just to sort of check him out, and we got along great. No problems.
With a shared passion for music, Plant and Page immediately hit it off, and began their writing collaboration with reworkings of earlier blues songs. Plant would receive no songwriting credits on the band's first album, allegedly because he was still under contract to CBS Records at the time. Plant brought along John Bonham as drummer, and they were joined by John Paul Jones, who had previously worked with Page as a studio musician. Jones called Page on the phone before they checked out Plant, and Page hired Jones immediately.
Initially dubbed the "New Yardbirds" in 1968, the band soon came to be known as Led Zeppelin. The band's eponymous debut album hit the charts in 1969 and is widely credited as a catalyst for the heavy metal genre. Plant has commented that it is unfair for people to think of Zeppelin as heavy metal, as almost a third of their music was acoustic.
In 1975, Plant and his wife Maureen (now divorced) were seriously injured in a car crash in Rhodes, Greece. This significantly affected the production of Led Zeppelin's seventh album Presence for a few months while he recovered, and forced the band to cancel the remaining tour dates for the year.
In July 1977 his son Karac died at age five while Plant was engaged on Led Zeppelin's concert tour of the United States. It was a devastating loss for the family. Plant retreated to his home in the Midlands and for months afterward he questioned his future. Karac's death later inspired him to write several songs in tribute: "All My Love" featured on Led Zeppelin's final studio album, 1979's In Through the Out Door and "Blue Train" featured on Page and Plant's second and final (studio) album, 1998's Walking into Clarksdale. The song "I Believe" on Plant's solo album "Fate of Nations" is another tribute to his late son.
Lyrics Plant did not begin writing song lyrics with Led Zeppelin until the making of Led Zeppelin II, in 1969. According to Jimmy Page:
The most important thing about Led Zeppelin II is that up to that point I'd contributed lyrics. Robert hadn't written before, and it took a lot of ribbing to get him into writing, which was funny. And then, on the second LP, he wrote the words of Thank You. He said, "I'd like to have a crack at this and write it for my wife.
Plant's lyrics with Led Zeppelin were often mystical, philosophical and spiritual, alluding to events in classical and Norse mythology, such as "Immigrant Song", which refers to Valhalla and Viking conquests. However, the song "No Quarter" is often misunderstood to refer to the god Thor; the song actually refers to Mount Thor (which is named after the god). Another example is "The Rain Song".
Plant was also influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien, whose book series inspired lyrics in some early Led Zeppelin songs. Most notably "The Battle of Evermore", "Misty Mountain Hop","No Quarter", "Ramble On" and "Over the Hills and Far Away" contain verses referencing Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Conversely, Plant sometimes used more straightforward blues-based lyrics dealing primarily with sexual innuendo, as in "The Lemon Song", "Trampled Under Foot", and "Black Dog".
Welsh mythology also forms a basis of Plant's interest in mystical lyrics. He grew up close to the Welsh border and would often take summer trips to Snowdonia. Plant bought a Welsh sheep farm in 1973, and began taking Welsh lessons and looking into the mythology of the land (such as Black Book of Carmarthen, Book of Taliesin, etc.) Plant's first son, Karac, was named after the Welsh warrior Caratacus. The song "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" is named after the 18th century Welsh cottage Bron-Yr-Aur owned by a friend of his father; it later inspired the song "Bron-Yr-Aur". The songs "Misty Mountain Hop", "That's the Way", and early dabblings in what would become "Stairway to Heaven" were written in Wales and lyrically reflect Plant's mystical view of the land. Critic Steve Turner suggests that Plant's early and continued experiences in Wales served as the foundation for his broader interest in the mythologies he revisits in his lyrics (including those myth systems of Tolkien and the Norse).
Page's passion for diverse musical experiences influenced Plant to explore Africa, specifically Marrakesh in Morocco where he encountered Umm Kulthum.
I was intrigued by the scales, initially, and obviously the vocal work. The way she sang, the way she could hold a note, you could feel the tension, you could tell that everybody, the whole orchestra, would hold a note until she wanted to change.
That musical inspiration eventually culminated in "Kashmir". Both he and Jimmy Page revisited these influences during their reunion album No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded in 1994. In his solo career, Plant tapped into these influences many times, most notably in the 2002 album, Dreamland.
Arguably one of Plant's most significant achievements with Led Zeppelin was his contribution to the track "Stairway to Heaven", an epic rock ballad featured on Led Zeppelin IV that drew influence from folk, blues, Celtic traditional music and hard rock among other genres. Most of the lyrics of the song were written spontaneously by Plant in 1970 at Headley Grange. While never released as a single, the song has topped polls as the greatest song of all time.
Plant is also recognized for his lyrical improvisation in Led Zeppelin's live performances, often singing verses previously unheard on studio recordings. One of the most famous Led Zeppelin musical devices involves Plant's vocal mimicking of bandmate Jimmy Page's guitar effects. This can be heard in the songs "How Many More Times", "Dazed and Confused", "The Lemon Song", "You Shook Me", "Nobody's Fault but Mine" and "Sick Again".
He is also known for his light-hearted, humorous and unusual on-stage banter. Plant often discusses the origin and background of the songs during his shows, and sometimes provides social comment as well. He frequently talks about American blues musicians as his inspiration, mentioning artists like Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Blind Willie Johnson and Willie Dixon at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony and the 2007 Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert with Led Zeppelin.
Stage persona Plant enjoyed great success with Led Zeppelin throughout the 1970s and developed a compelling image as the charismatic rock-and-roll front man, similar to his contemporaries, the Who singer Roger Daltrey, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones and Jim Morrison of the Doors. With his mane of long blond hair and powerful, bare-chested appearance, Plant helped to create the "god of rock and roll" or "rock god" archetype. On stage, Plant was particularly active in live performances, often dancing, jumping, skipping, snapping his fingers, clapping, making emphatic gestures to emphasise a lyric or cymbal crash, throwing back his head, or placing his hands on his hips. As the 1970s progressed he, along with the other members of Led Zeppelin, became increasingly flamboyant on-stage, and wore more elaborate, colourful clothing and jewellery.
According to Classic Rock magazine, "once he had a couple of US tours under his belt, 'Percy' Plant swiftly developed a staggering degree of bravado and swagger that irrefutably enhanced Led Zeppelin's rapidly burgeoning appeal." In 1994, during his "Unledded" tour with Jimmy Page, Plant himself reflected tongue-in-cheek upon his Led Zeppelin showmanship:
I can't take my whole persona as a singer back then very seriously. It's not some great work of beauty and love to be a rock-and-roll singer. So I got a few moves from Elvis and one or two from Sonny Boy Williamson II and Howlin' Wolf and threw them all together.
One of the oddest awards he received was the Rock Scene Magazine "Chest O Rama". Readers of the magazine had to decide who had the best chest in rock and Plant was the winner. When they contacted him about it, he replied: "I'm really greatly honoured although it's hard for me to be eloquent on the subject of my chest."
Solo career (1982–present) Early career and success (1982–1993) After Led Zeppelin disbanded in December 1980 (following the death of drummer John Bonham), Plant briefly considered abandoning music to pursue a career as a teacher in the Rudolf Steiner education system; going so far as to be accepted for teacher-training. He nevertheless embarked on a successful solo career, helped by encouragement from Genesis drummer Phil Collins, who would go on to play with him. Plant's solo career began with the album Pictures at Eleven in 1982, followed by 1983's The Principle of Moments. Popular tracks from this period include "Big Log" (a Top 20 hit in 1983), "In the Mood" (1983), "Little by Little" (from 1985's Shaken 'n' Stirred), "Far Post" (originally only on the B-side of "Burning Down One Side" but popularised by airplay on album-oriented rock stations), "Tall Cool One" (a No. 25 hit off 1988's Now and Zen) and later "I Believe" (from 1993's Fate of Nations). This last track, like Led Zeppelin's "All My Love", was written for and dedicated to his late son, Karac. Whilst Plant avoided performing Led Zeppelin songs through much of this period (although he would occasionally improvise his unique Zeppelin screams into his set), his tours in 1983 (with Phil Collins on drums) and in 1985 were very successful, often performing to sold-out arena-sized venues. In 1986 Plant performed at the Birmingham Heart Beat Charity Concert with other famous Midlands musicians.
Through the late 1980s and early 1990s, Plant co-wrote three solo albums with keyboardist/songwriter Phil Johnstone. These were: Now and Zen in 1988, Manic Nirvana in 1990, and the 1993 Fate of Nations (which features Moya Brennan of Clannad and former Cutting Crew guitarist Kevin Scott MacMichael). Songs from this third album, plus a smattering of Led Zeppelin classics, made up the set-list for Plant's acclaimed sunset performance on the Main Stage at Glastonbury Festival, in 1993. It was Johnstone who talked Plant into playing Led Zeppelin songs in his live shows, something Plant had always previously resisted, not wanting to be forever known as "the former Led Zeppelin vocalist".
Although Led Zeppelin split in 1980, Plant occasionally collaborated with Jimmy Page on various projects through this period, including forming a short-lived all-star group with Page and Jeff Beck in 1984, called the Honeydrippers. They released an album called "The Honeydrippers: Volume One", and the band had a No. 3 hit with a remake of the Phil Phillips' tune "Sea of Love", plus a follow-up hit with a cover of Roy Brown's "Rockin' at Midnight". The pair again worked together in the studio on the 1988 Page solo effort Outrider, and in the same year Page contributed to Plant's album Now and Zen. Also, on 15 May 1988 Plant appeared with Page as a member of Led Zeppelin, at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert (where he also performed in his own right as a solo artist). Plant's live collaborations with other well-known musicians continued when he took to the stage with Queen at Wembley Stadium, for 1992's "The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert" for AIDS Awareness; where he sang Queen's "Innuendo" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", and Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" and "Thank You".
Page and Plant (1994–1998) Page and Plant became a full-fledged performing act from 1994 through 1998, releasing the Unledded album in 1994 and following with an enormously successful tour in 1995, including a return to the Glastonbury limelight. Fourteen years of speculation from their fans and occasional sniping between the two former members ended when they reconvened their former musical partnership to produce No Quarter. Having long resisted offers from MTV to reform to do an Unplugged show, they finally accepted as part of a deal that also allowed them to visit Morocco to record new material. The album combines the results of both of these projects. The Led Zeppelin material features new arrangements and new instrumentation, including strings, Egyptian musicians and the vocals of British-Asian star Najma Akhtar. Page and Plant recorded their only post-Zeppelin album of original material on the 1998 album Walking into Clarksdale, an effort that was unsuccessful commercially, leading Plant to return to his solo career. A song from this album, "Please Read the Letter", was re-recorded by Plant with Alison Krauss, and was featured on their 2007 album which won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
Priory of Brion (1999–2000) Starting in mid-1999, Plant performed until the end of 2000 at several small venues with his folk-rock band, named Priory of Brion.
In 1999, Plant contributed to the tribute album for Moby Grape co-founder Skip Spence, who was terminally ill. The album, More Oar: A Tribute to the Skip Spence Album (Birdman, 1999), with the album title referring to Spence's only solo album, Oar (Columbia, 1969), contained Plant's version of Spence's "Little Hands". Plant had been an admirer of Spence and Moby Grape since the release of Moby Grape's eponymous 1967 debut album.
In 2001, Plant appeared on Afro Celt Sound System's album Volume 3: Further in Time. The song "Life Begin Again" features a duet with Welsh folksinger Julie Murphy, emphasizing Plant's recurring interest in Welsh culture (Murphy would also tour in support of Plant).
Strange Sensation (2001–2007) In 2002, with his then newly formed band Strange Sensation, Plant released a widely acclaimed collection of mostly blues and folk remakes, Dreamland. Contrasting with this lush collection of often relatively obscure remakes, the second album with Strange Sensation, Mighty Re-Arranger (2005), contains new, original songs. Both have received some of the most favorable reviews of Plant's solo career and four Grammy nominations, two in 2003 and two in 2006.
|Full name at birth
Robert Anthony Plant
|Claim to fame
|Date of birth
20 August 1948
|Place of birth
West Bromwich, West Midlands, England, UK
Singer, Songwriter, Composer
6' 1" (185 cm)
Strider (Dog - 1970)
Shatterford, Worcestershire, England
King Edward VI Grammar School, Stourbridge
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