Robert Plant says young girls still whimper as he walks past



By Steve Newton

Robert Plant is one of the best-known rock stars in the world. He’s certainly one of the best-known rock stars I’ve ever had the opportunity to chat with. So when he calls from New York and I ask him how he’s doing, the last thing I want him to say is, “Very, very pissed off.”

But he does.

“I’m very, very pissed off,” asserts the shaggy-maned rocker, “because Black Sabbath aren’t gonna re-form. Think about it. Now what do you do?”

Luckily, Plant is only kidding around. He’s not really a Black Sabbath fan. He’s just in a good mood to poke fun at one of the originators of heavy metal, a genre he’s quick to distance his old band, Led Zeppelin, from.

“We didn’t play heavy metal,” claims Plant. “We played a mixture of acoustic and very hard, guitar-oriented rock. In different parts of its metamorphosis it was as much about Celtic folk music as it was about Leadbelly—in songs like ‘Gallows Pole’, for instance. I think heavy metal came from people like Blue Cheer and Clearlight, and then it was mutilated by Deep Sabbath, as [Jimmy] Page used to call them—the archetypal lumbering rock unit.”

Plant isn’t playing heavy metal today, either. His latest release, Fate of Nations, was influenced by the American West Coast music of the late ’60s, which had inspired him even before Led Zep travelled across the seas to lay claim to North America.

“I just picked up on an attitude and intention which to me just kind of made perfect sense,” he says. “It wasn’t trying too hard; nobody tried to be hip, I don’t think. I suppose there was the affectation of style and dress, just like there is now, but I thought that the songs themselves were very sensitive and they were coming from the right place. They were talking about the world as it was then, you know. Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, Kaleidoscope—so many bands were really telling it like it really was, rather than just talking about how much they loved their baby and how they wanted to pick her up in their pink Cadillac or whatever shit it was.

“And I think that there’s a sensitivity and a concern around with people like U2, R.E.M., Blind Melon, you know—people singing about stuff that’s not just the usual pop stuff, and that’s the way I feel. You know, I like to sing macho songs and all sorts of songs that are…dramatic, but I was inspired in those early days to write music that was more considerate. So I’m doing what we did in Zep, I guess—I’m trying to write music that inspires me and lets my own creative juices flow.”

Lyrically, the spirit of what Plant calls “world care” is reflected in Fate of Nations, from the cover art of a melting planet Earth to the liner info about air pollution, acid rain, and oil spills. The album’s closing track, “Network News”, takes a grim look at the aftermath of the Gulf War:

The lion and the serpent parade out in the sun, all order, flex, and gesture/Behold the techno infidel has come, with satellite bravado and infrared texture/Beyond these days in time to come, whose fate is it to measure/Upon these sands such damage done, to spoil God’s finest treasure/Hallelujah, hallelujah, oil, oil, oil, oil.”

“Entertainment is entertainment,” says Plant, “but there’s no reason why you can’t be entertained and stimulated as well, in some kind of positive and correct direction. I think it’s gotta be done, you gotta get on with it and you also gotta sing songs that are beautiful, like ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ and ‘Memory Song’. There’s room for everything, but I think it’s kind of my responsibility to say that I’m not just a dumb cluck who wears a pair of tight jeans and sings fast songs about women’s parts.”

Although Plant may be looking at the bigger picture with his songwriting these days, his concert approach has become much more focused, as anyone lucky enough to nab tickets to his sold-out October 7 Orpheum show must know. So why play a 2,780-seat venue when he could easily pack five times as many people into the Pacific Coliseum?

“Well, I’ll tell you why. In the last year, I’ve been to see three major big concerts—Michael Jackson, U2, and so on—and I find that the actual sentiment of the show gets lost after about the first hundred feet. And I just thought that I’d made a sensitive record which I tried to make with no sort of…no bullshit, and I also wanted to do some shows so that the people everywhere in the gig can actually pick up on what I’m tryin’ to do, rather than get it telegraphed by the fortunate few at the front.”

Plant’s touring band includes longtime keyboardist Phil Johnstone, former Cult drummer Michael Lee, bassist Charlie Jones, and guitarists Frances Dunnery (from British cult faves It Bites) and Innes Siborn. Canadian-born guitarman Kevin Scott MacMichael—who played on every Fate of Nations track and cowrote three tunes—is conspicuous by his absence.

“Unfortunately, Kevin left us last week,” explains Plant. “The studio work was very successful, but the road work wasn’t quite so appropriate, really. And so we’ve gone for a more blues-based approach. Kevin has now been superseded by a guy called Innes Siborn, who is a blues guitarist who tours Europe constantly with his own blues band. He’s a young guy who plays somewhere between early Buddy Guy and Otis Rush. He’s a very, very powerful player, and it’s a very hard-hitting show. I mean, this is not for the weak.”

Plant says he’s feeling very strong himself these days, and the 46-year-old rocker is looking forward to tackling the rigours of the road once again.

“When I was a kid, before I made any records, we just did gigs. We played for three or four hours, we got really excited, and then we stopped and went mad somewhere. Then we moved to the next town in a station wagon. We played and played and played, and that’s really what it’s all about. That’s what I want to do; I don’t find it a chore. And touring is actually easier now, because there’s no drugs. No drugs, no tobacco. It’s great.”

Not even the odd beer?

“I have a few sort of flushes in my countenance still,” says Plant. “Young girls still whimper as I walk past. If they don’t, they will. Hee-hee.”

To hear the full audio of my 1993 interview with Robert Plant subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 400 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Slash of Guns N’ Roses and Slash’s Snakepit, 1995
Peter Goalby of Uriah Heep, 1983
Lenny Zakatek of the Alan Parsons Project, 1983
Marc Storace of Krokus, 1983
Chris Whitley, 1991
Buddy Cage of New Riders of the Purple Sage, 2006
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Dan Hartman, 1984
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David Lee Roth, 2003
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David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
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Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
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Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
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Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
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Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
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Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
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Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman of the Guess Who, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
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Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
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Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
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David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
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Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
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Carlos Santana, 2011
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Robert Plant, 1993
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