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by Mat Snow
Q Magazine
Back in the Spring of 1968, things aren't looking too rosy for 19-year-old singer Robert Plant. His promising group The Band Of Joy have just knocked
it on the head, and now he fronts the frankly less than awesome Hobbstweedle.

"I had nowhere to live," Robert recalls of those scuffling days in the blueswailing business, "and the keyboards player's dad had a pub in Wolverhampton with a spare room. The pub was right over the road from Noddy Holder's father's window cleaning business, and Noddy used to be our roadie. We used to go to gigs with Noddy Holder's dad's buckets crashing around on top of the van! And that," he divulges with an audible sigh of relief, "is when I met Pagey..."

Accompanied by his fellow ex-Yardbird, Chris Dreja, Jimmy Page had made the trek to the teachers' training college in Birmingham where Hobbstweedle were gigging that night. They had plans afoot for a New Yardbirds, and the screaming 'Tweedle had been recommended by Terry Reid as being the man they were after. Pagey was impressed, and invited the impoverished Plant down to his plush Thameside resident in Pangbourne for further investigation: "And I had to do this very thing which we're doing now - we played records and talked about them to see how we were placed."

These records included Muddy Waters's 'You Shook Me', 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You' by Joan Baez - "we both liked her", and Fairport Convention with Judy Dyble - "'If I Had A Ribbon Bow' was a great song" - 'She Said Yeah' by Larry Williams, and 'Justine' by Don & Dewey. Suffice to say, Robert Plant's
taste in records placed him very well - and thus lifted off Led Zeppelin....

Twenty two years later, Robert Plant sits cross-legged in the music room of his London pied-a-terre, an elegant yet somehow funky Victorian terrace
house tucked in a quiet square just a minute's cycle ride from Regent's Park. His rural retreats in Worcestershire and Wales are where he keeps most
of his albums - but no matter, for he is surrounded by scads of that soon-to-be museum piece, the good old jukebox-compatible single. The man who
first threatened to give us every inch of his love over two decades ago still prefers to get his own kicks in seven-inch lengths, a passion which first stirred at the age of six with the recently deceased Nabob of Sob.

"I remember Johnny Ray. His voice and Presley's had a similarity - and in fact Presley was influenced by him and did his song 'Such A Night' on his Elvis Is Back album. Ray's masculine whimper was remarkable, really. When you were holding your dad's hand and looking up at all the men around on the street, nobody was making that noise."

This was the era of Sunday Night At The London Palladium on TV, where Robert, by now 10, saw Buddy Holly And The Crickets. Buddy's Fender Statocaster made a particular impression: "Nobody had really seen one in Britain. It was an incredible symbol of what I hadn't got my hands on yet.
But I was still only 10 and hadn't bought a record yet, though I used to do Elvis impersonations behind the curtains in my living room, especially the
ballad 'Love Me' from Elvis' Golden Records Volume 1." Next came the teen rebellion of Eddie Cochran's 'Summertime Blues', and then - hurrah! -
Robert's first slice of the American rock 'n' roll dream....

"At Christmas 1960 I was given my first Dansette Conquest Auto Major, in red and cream - I've still got it and used it until Led Zeppelin II so I didn't hear the stereo effect on 'Whole Lotta Love' for about six months!" he fondly recalls. "When I opened it up, on the turntable was 'Dreamin'' by Johnny Burnette, with 'Cincinatti Fireball' on the B-side, something I've always wanted to record. And then I got my first record token and went out and bought 'Shop Around' by The Miracles. On the B-side was 'Who's Lovin' You', a remarkable ballad. Smokey's wife was in the band, and I've got the
Hi! We're The Miracles album on Tamla where they're all holding letters up on the cover. Smokey has the most remarkable voice. I love the wail and the whimper, and in my own white boy way I sing like that - the adamance and the pleading, the miserable, moaning, weakboy stamping his authority on the next line. It's a style that's vanished now."

Back then singles cost 6/9d and LPs were 32 shillings - "except for the Golden Guinea records, which were 21 shilling Pye releases" - so young record buyers spent their pocket money discriminatingly. And, of course, they all tuned into Radio Luxembourg, checking out the Stateside sounds of Chris Kenner, 'Sacred' by The Castells, 'Once In A While' by The Chimes, "late doo-wop Italian stuff."

Then came such British obscurities as Michael Cox's 'Sweet Little Sixteen'.

"There was a faction at school which around '63 moved towards the clipped, English style of Joe Meek's productions on his RGM label, like 'Can't You
Hear My Heart' by Danny Rivers," Robert remembers. "Meek became a hero of mine, especially for the guitar sound played by Big Jim Sullivan. It would
be unfair to say the Americans had it all at the time. The songs were pretty weedy but the sound was churning confusion. Joe Meek would make the
guitarist put his amp in the cupboard and stuff - that was how we used to do it with Zep."

The sounds of '62 and thereabouts still exercise a powerful nostalgic pull for Robert.

"I did a radio show quite by accident - a collectors' programme on Friday nights on BBC Radio Shropshire," he chuckles. "I was driving up to Manchester, and tuned in, hearing them get into the finer side of British instrumentals. The DJ said anyone looking for particular records should call
in, so I pulled up and rang, asking for 'Caravan Of Lonely Men' by The Lafayettes, released on RCA in 1963. I got back in the car, and on the radio the DJ said, 'Well, I don't know if it's true but we've had this chap who says he's Robert Plant and he's after this Lafyettes track produced by Hugo and Luigi.' Within five minutes a chap called Norman from Bradford called up to say he had it. I rang up, sent him a fiver and got it. Great! I was a Ted for about a week and a half until I found Drinamyl and pills."

Robert Plant also found the blues, whose first distant booming in the clubs of London and the Home Counties began to reach the Midlands. His first
exposure came via the package tours that came to the Wolverhampton Gaumont, where his hip young uncle and aunt would take the just teen Robert: "In 1963 I saw a bill that had The Rattles, Mickie Most And The Most Men, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, The Everly Brothers and The Rolling Stones. Now that's an evening; all that for 7/6d - 371/2p! Diddley was superb. I was sweating with excitement! Although the Stones were great, they were really crap in comparison with Diddley - all his rhythms were so sexual, just oozing, even in a 20-minute spot.

"One of my favourite records is Bo Diddley's 'Say Man', on the back of an instrumental called 'The Clock Strikes 12', which had electric violin. I bought it in a department store record sale. 'Say Man' was a conversation between two guys about how ugly their women were, set to a Latin American beat. Also bought in a department store sales was 'I Love You' by The Volumes, 'I Sold My Heart To The Junkman' by Patti Labelle and The Blue Belles, and probably the last great doo-wop song. 'My True Story' by The Jive Five on Beltone. That's another one I've got to do."

Like Bo, Solomon Burke, Arthur Alexander and Ben E. King were milestones on the road to deep blues. That fateful first blues LP was Muddy Waters Live At Newport 1960: "'I've Got My Mojo Working' was a walking testament of why I lived. Then I got The Blues Volume 1 which came out on Pye International it was a sampler with Buddy Guy Jimmy Witherspoon, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry and Little Walter - once you've got that, everything else was of little consequence. It wasn't hip to like the Stones because you'd got the American thing - EPs were coming out like Chuck & Bo and This is Chuck Berry - the real thing. The Howlin' Wolf EP Smokestack Lightning was available everywhere, and you kept finding more and more stuff - Earl Hooker, Charley Patton..."

Robert became a regular at The Diskery in Brimingham, delving deep into the seam that ran from the Delta to Chicago. "I got a series of French RCA EPs with Jazz Gillum, the original Sonny Boy Williamson with sleevenotes by Alexis Korner. I worked with Alexis Korner just pre-Zep. I used to sleep at
his place in Queensway. Goodnight, Robert, he'd say; you'll have to sleep on the couch tonight - oh, by the way, it is the same couch that Muddy used to sleep on when he stayed here. And I don't know if we've changed the toilet bowl since Buddy Guy was here...This was fabulous - I'm only from
Wolverhampton, you know!

"The Wynonie Harris-type jump blues I thought was slush, but quite like now: when I started listening to Roy Milton and Roy Brown, I thought yeah! - I
really like this after all. That's where The Honeydrippers came from" Robert recalls the origins of his bestselling 1984 covers LP. "Blues gave me my
first band titles - my first band was The Black Snake Moan, after Blind Lemon Jefferson, and the second was The Crawling King Snakes after a brilliant John Lee Hooker track."

By '66, Robert fronted his first pro band, Listen: "Very sound orientated," he recalls, "but the following year The Band Of Joy was West Coast and blues based. You can't really do 'Pouring Water (On A Drowning Man)' by James Carr - you could never get anywhere near it. At least West Coast was white, an extension of the garage punk stuff on the East Coast, which had come from The Animals and The Yardbirds. I could relate to it, and in fact The Band Of Joy could play better than a lot of the groups we were listening to. But essence of Moby Grape was something we hadn't got. The first Moby Grape album, The Fugs, Buffalo Springfield., Love's single 'My Little Red Book', and 'She Has Funny Cars' by Jefferson Airplane - fantastic! And also
American garage punk - Count Five,? and The Mysterians, 'Liar, Liar' by the The Castaways...

AT 41 I've still got my music. I'm as earnest now as I ever was," Robert Plant brings us up to date. He sure ain't kidding, as lapping his ankles are treasures ranging from Otis Rush, Snooks Eaglin and Aaron Neville to Big Black, Robyn Hitchcock, Glen Branca ("I like discordancy"). The Band Of Holy
Joy ("Ha!")m and Sinead O'Connor - 'She captivates me, wins my heart, wins my whole being!" he raves. It's a record collection added to during Zep's US
tours, when he'd comb the ten-cent bins on days off, and extending from the early reggae cuts of Delroy Wilson to the Berber music of Raissa Rkya
Dansirya and Fairuz.

But Robert Plant remains at heart a rocker. A signed album by Gene Vincent is one of his "pride and joys" and he has collected the complete vinyl of
Ral Donner, who "for half a minute challenged Presley." At rock'n'roll nights at the Camden Working Men's Club, where the purists tease him for looking like a girl, he thrills to the utterly demented likes of 'Scream!' by Ralph Neilsen and the Chancellors, and Hasil Adkins' 'She Said': "During quiet times with Zep I used to record with chums," Robert chortles. "Every Christmas this chap from my village pub would get pissed and sing doo-wop carols in the bar - so well, in fact, that we rented a studio in Worcester and cut 'Three Months To Kill' by Heulyn Duvall on Challenge and 'Buzz Buzz A Diddly' by Freddy Cannon, for Bird's Nest Records. Melvyn Giganticus and The Turd Burglars was the name of our group, because he had a huge penis - bigger, I think, than Paul Young's!"

Apropos burglary, Robert cites the unlikely influence of 'Tomorrow's Clown' by Marty Wilde: John Lennon, he says, lifted its string part for 'How Do You Sleep', while Robert himself has taken its first line, "In the evening...." Led Zeppelin enthusiasts may well be more familiar with an obscure Fontana
EP called Treasures of North American Negro Music. It includes two Blind Willie Johnson tunes; 'Dark Is The Night, Cold Is The Grave' ("Basically it's the entire theme for Paris, Texas by Ry Cooder") - and 'Nobody's Fault But Mine'. Led Zep's version on the LP Presence, funnily enough, is credited to Page/Plant.

"Oh look!" Robert brandishes a boxed copy of Glen Campbell's 1961 hitlet turn 'Around Look At Me' on the Crest label. "It's got 'Rob' written on it - I was familiar with myself even then!"

*

Robert Plant's Personal Favourites

The Phantom: 'Love Me' (Dot)
"Because he was on Dot, he was presumed to be Pat Boone's brother, but because he wore a mask like The Lone Ranger nobody could tell. (His real name is said to be Marty Lott.) It's a perfect piece of recording - you can't understand a word and you don't care!"

Faith No More: Introduce Yourself (London)
"Their first album. It's like, I, ME, listen to this! and if you don't like it, fuck off!!! You can't spend all your life whimpering away about the ex-wife. The vocal attitude - the hard, heavy garage rap - I like very much."

Tom Verlaine: 'Five Miles of You' on LP Cover (Virgin)
"This album is a real favourite; I play it a lot and it's really scratched. I like albums - much better than CDs.

Ray Charles: 'What'd I Say' on LP The Right Time (Atlantic)
"It was very popular, it was covered like crazy. It helped a lot of English musicians develop a real attitude, to get their musical personalities sharpened up."

The Incredible String Band: 'Swift As The Wind' on LP The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (Elektra)
"Some of the greatest times I've had was at a String Band show, just being carried away by the whole experience."

Howlin' Wolf: 'Going Down Slow' on LP Chess Masters(Chess)
"Because of the guitar outro by Hubert Sumlin. Listen to Hubert, I tell my guitarist Doug Boyle; listen to that finer tremolo on the end of that track."

This Mortal Coil: 'Song to The Siren' on LP It'll End In Tears (4AD)
"I like the Tim Buckley original too but I'll go with this version. It's so rewarding to hear it on US college radio."

Robert Johnson: 'Traveling Riverside Blues' on LP King of The Delta Blues Singers Volumes 1 and 2 (CBS)
"Squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg...' On tour in Memphis, I rented a car and drove down to Mississippi, to Fryers Point, as in the song.
Very strange place, very African, very other-wordly. Sleepy, woodsmoke fires, big trees all around, burnt-out motels, deserted gas stations..."

The Cure: 'Lullaby' on LP Disintegration (Fiction)
"I love Robert Smith's beckoning you into his vulnerability. It's an interesting little world, like H.G. Wells's History Of Mr Polly."

Elvis Presley: 'A Big Hunk O'Love' on LP The All Time Greatest Hits (RCA)
"The RCA stuff was very precise, very produced, yet wild enough at times. 'Don't be a stingy little mommal You're about to starve me half to death/Now you can spare a kiss or two/ and still have plenty left.' Oh Morrissey, let's have some more of that!"

...AND FAVOURITE 'SELF-PENNED CLASSIC'

Led Zeppelin: 'Kashmir' on LP Physical Graffiti (Swan Song)
"It's so right - there's nothing overblown, no vocal hysterics. Perfect Zeppelin."
from guardian.co.uk

danst - 10:29am May 29, 2002 BST (5.) | Reply
I read somewhere that you are a West Brom fan. What are your thoughts for their next season back in the Premiership? Did you know that the BBC are using 'Kashmir' to plug their World Cup coverage?

RobertPlant - 02:58pm Jun 5, 2002 BST (5.1)
Is this guy really taking the mickey? I suffer, I weep, I stand alone, at least here in London, a defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers fan. And what do i think about Kashmir on the TV? I think it sounds great. I just hope the football matches it.

jezabelle - 11:12am May 30, 2002 BST (19.) | Reply
Hello Robert, I would like to know when you will be visiting Australia again. I hope very much that you do and soon. I saw you in Sydney in 1996. By the way I still think you're wonderful! God Bless, Much Love, Jezabelle

RobertPlant - 03:02pm Jun 5, 2002 BST (19.1)
Some of my best memories of outdoor concerts and outdoor extremes have been expreienced in Australia. It's interesting how much it has changed since I woke up on the first Led Zep tour at 2am with a policeman going through my suitcase. I think he thought i must have lost my toothbrush. But seriously, that conservative atmosphere and paranoia that greeted Led Zep seems to have dissolved into a brave new world and hi to all my friends in Byron Bay!

merlebuck - 06:31pm May 30, 2002 BST (38.)
Is "Song To The Siren" going to be a single release? I would strongly encourage you to do so- I first heard this song by Cocteau Twins, and when my sister and I saw you do it live, we were shocked and very pleasantly surprised! (We are huge CT fans!) Your version of the song is so gentle and touching- it would make for a fantastic single/video/whatever....can't wait for the new album!

Roberts Reply: - Song to the Siren is one of the most beautiful and eloquent lyrics I have experienced. As far as its opportunities as a single, unfortunately all music that is to be heard on the radio is governed by programme planners and programme planners are governed by time. It's considered too long to be heard on the wireless. However I think it's so beautiful it would be such an honour to be able to present Tim Buckley's epic in a new age.

merlebuck - 06:32pm May 30, 2002 BST (39.)
Have you ever met Bob Dylan? Ever thought about doing a tour with him- I think you two would make for a great touring pair.

RobertPlant - 03:10pm Jun 5, 2002 BST (39.1) New:
I played with Dylan in La Carrouna in Northern Spain about 6 years ago. I had heard how interesting he could be in avoiding communication with all around him. I walked past his dressing room and saw him wrestling to put on his left black sock. It seemed like a good time to say Hi. Our conversation was really interesting. It lasted about an hour, was very comfortable, mainly because neither of us spoke of the other, only of the great influences who coloured and directed our work. I'd love to bump into him again. As far as touring , I think it would be neat. However he works far more than I can, and some of those venues! PS He did mention at the time the number of bullrings there were in Spain that would take a stage!!

SZSwartz - 03:45am May 31, 2002 BST (41.)
Hey hey First - I caught your gig in Boston, MA last year - fantastic show. In terms of song selection, the new album seems to take a step backward while simultaneously taking a step forweward. What do you think? In other words, were there any present-day influences that affected your song selections? Thanks for everything -Zak "Rhubarb" Swartz, from CT, USA

RobertPlant - 03:13pm Jun 5, 2002 BST (41.1)
New: The new album is a long awaited adventure for me. I didn't even know i could do this and probably wouldn't have atttempted it without the amazing Swirl of Strange Sensation. It is backwards, forwards, sideways and Primal Scream-ways. It's amazing how much freedom can be afforded and expanded upon within the framework of these beautiful songs. I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to do this without it becoming an oldies show.

A question about his favorite compositions:

RobertPlant - 03:22pm Jun 5, 2002 BST (46.1)
New: Favourite songs? It's really difficult. It depends upon the mood and it depends on the crowd. Going to California came back into the set last week. Musically it's quite different. I was really surprised with the response. I find it quite cheesy when an audience sings along - it reminds me of all the crap i had to watch on TV on variety shows when I was a kid. HOWEVER, now I am Cosmic Cabaret I was moved to find different generations all singing along to the lyric The Children of the Sun Begin to Awake.

In my solo stuff, I have great emotional moments of some minor triumph. So now to sing Down to the Sea, which I wrote with Charlie Jones and Come into My Life, at last, is quite a blast.

The Led Zep stuff has pretty much been covered over the years. I'm looking for ways of incorporating interesting new approaches to some of the songs.

How has the music business changed during your career:

RobertPlant - 03:29pm Jun 5, 2002 BST (66.1) New:
THE MUSIC BUSINESS it screams with insecurity. It has been devoured by whiskey companies, online giants and multinational moguls who combine the booty of music, movies and literature to grease the ever bigger palm. The lower minions working down the ladder below the faceless moguls throw money cautiously at whatever artists seem to be the most appropriate to fit the bill. So one slice of mediocrity inspires another.

RobertPlant - 03:32pm Jun 5, 2002 BST (158.) New:
Thanks for stopping by. I must say I would never have imagined I would spend my time staring at a screen with 2 beautiful girls typing at a million miles an hour. But it seems to connect and there have been so many interesting questions.

I'd like to do this again. And perhaps next time she won't move her hands so quickly......Sorry I couldn't resist it.
by Jim Jerome

It's not a bird. It's not a plane. Instead it's Led Zeppelin, the super group of rock history. It sells more LPs than such countrymen as the Rolling Stones and has even outgrossed the Beatles on tour.

The figures do not yet include proceeds from the Zeppelin's new double album, Physical Graffiti (sure to be come the sixth and seventh out of seven albums to go platinum), nor earnings from the 26-city U.S. tour now in progress. The 500,000 available seats were sold out virtually overnight, even with the rescheduling necessary when the group was banned in Boston after over-zealous ticket buyers trashed the auditorium. That success and its heavy metal, brain wasting image aside, the group Is uniquely unexploitative and respectful of the audiences that have made It so immeasurably rich. With no Immodesty intended, Jimmy Page, the Zeppelin's guitarist (he and Eric Clapton are generally rated the best rock guitarists in the world), states: "We know it's a bit of a pilgrimage for many people to come see Led Zeppelln and we like to give them all we've got that's the spirit of the group."

Actually, Page began the tour having to give a little less than all, and quickly proved he is the world's nim blest nine-fingered virtuoso. Shortly before leaving Britain, a train compartment door closed on his left finger, crushing the top joint. Concerts can be canceled; pilgrimages never.

The rest of the group Includes lead vocalist Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham, bassist-key boardist John Paul Jones and manager Peter Grant, a sumo-sized ex-pro-wrestler who must be thought of as the fifth member. Without his mastery of a planetary Pavlovian tease, which carefully times the group's tours and LP releases and shields it from TV and other media potshots, the Zeppelin might be just another Jefferson Airbag. It is the extraordinary Page who dominates the group's gargantuan sound system and enables it to generate a colossally kinetic musical release narrated by Plant's poetic strivings. "The actual chemistry or is it alchemy of the group," says Page, "is that everything just always fits together. I can go roaring off on a solo, then suddenly break off into staccato. I look up at Robert and somehow we're all there. It's like ESP."

Page is an explorer on guitar, creating many of the group's pieces, as he says, by returning an acoustic guitar in some unfathomable way, listening as I sit in my garden, and building from there. Despite the Zeppelin reputation for relentlessly heavy rock, he weaves delicate phrasings on both six and twelve string guitars into many of the group's tracks. The effect is Zeppelin's unique capacity to lull and soothe Its fans, then pulverize them, as on its classic, Stairway to Heaven.

Page, the son of a corporate personnel officer, was born near London, totally isolated from kids my own age in the neighborhood. In school, Page boasts that he had a really tine education from 11 to 17 on how to be a rebel ‹and I learned all the tricks in the game. His best trick was teaching him self the guitar in his early teens. When I first heard Elvis sing Baby, Let's Play House, I said to myself, That's it, I'm off. He soon became England's most sought-after player, adding his licks in sessions with the Kinks, the Stones, Donovan and Burt Bacharach. Page's exhausting, roaring live performance belies his gentle manner. There is a lot of aggression in my music, he admits. It's a marvelous thing to have a way to take it all out. A frail-framed, 31 year-old gypsy, he wistfully ponders a different sort of itinerary from the pun ishing rock tours: I've always wanted to get a caravan, one of those horse drawn medicine shows with drop-down sides, and do concerts with dancing la dies and acoustic instruments. It would sure beat sitting in a hotel room.

Page, the only single member of Zeppelin, has a home in London, a moated mansion over a lake in Sussex and a 15th century Loch Ness retreat. As for his love life, Page smiles: Let's just say I'm like a ship passing through storms, resting in ports now and then until it's time to continue the journey. I once told a friend, I'm just looking for an angel with a broken wing - one that couldn't fly away.
New York, July 1973

It was just an hour and a half away until Led Zep would be on stage for the second night sold-out gig at Madison Square Garden, the end of an American tour that saw them playing to bigger crowds than anyone including the Beatles, Stones and Grand Funk had ever reached before.

You'd think Robert Plant would have looked exhausted. But no, he burst into the lobby of the fashionable Drake Hotel and looked pleased. He had just run out to get a new small amp and couldn't wait to begin fooling around with it. His smile turned into a frown when a dopey-looking guy ran after him shouting, "Jimmy, Jimmy."

"You've got the wrong guy," Robert scowled as he got into the elevator. The dope jammed his leg into the door so it wouldn't shut and said, "Well, who are you? What's your name? I've got something you might like to hear."

He thrust an envelope at Robert who got the door shut and said, "There are just so many of those people. I suppose I should be nicer but...."

Up in his suite on the fifteenth floor, Plant sprawled in an easy chair and began fiddling with the new amp while we talked. A little while later, a shirtless John Paul Jones wandered in looking for his hair dryer, apologized to me for not wearing a shirt and then spotted a stereo in the corner. "How did you get that?" he wanted to know.

Plant, eyes sparling, explained that he had just called Jerry Greenberg at Atlantic and had it delivered almost immediately. Jerry is the company's senior vice-president and general manager and knows how to make things happen fast. An Otis Rush record sat nearby, a reminder of Plant's favourite kind of music.

Robert stopped fiddling with his new gadget and talked about playing New York. "It does have a psychological sort of impression on me. Despite the fact that we can play for 18,000 people in Chicago, it's far more important to do better in New York.

"I think it's only psychological really. New York's audiences are no different to people anywhere. Last night at the Gardens was superb. The only time I ever get any nerves at all is when I play the Albert Hall in London. Playing in London always gets me nervy. London was always the place that I seemed to think had to be A-1.

"But now I have such a good time strutting about that I don't really think any place is any different to any other. There's so many individuals in front of you."

Plant says he's the same man onstage as off. "I wouldn't say that I become different at all because I'm not trying too hard. I mean, if I was over-trying then that would be the case but I'm not. It's like this (and he smiles broadly). But there are a lot more people that don't know you so you tend to be a bit more flashy. But, so long as I'm smiling it must be real. I wouldn't get too serious."

For the past four and a half years, Zep has been playing as a straight sole act because they have enough material and didn't think it fair to put anyone else when people were coming to see them. Robert says the set has gotten up to three and a quarter hours and though he and Jimmy vowed to put it back down, they can't seem to. But it doesn't bother him and he's not glad when the set is over. Robert's looking forward to a month's rest upon getting back home and then in about four weeks, they'll begin recording again. They've had the Garden performances recorded live and there's some live tapes from a few other places including Tokyo but so far they've not had time to listen to them because they've been working solid since a year ago. This tour hasn't given Robert any time to write.

"I suppose the time is there but after a gig you just really want to collapse and watch television. If the tour was less hectic, I would get into it. I scribble down a few bits of verbal now and again but as far as amazing the whole lot of lyrics, no.

"Sometimes we have backing tapes of tracks worked out and somebody goes, "Well, we got no bloody lyrics." Sometimes it's quite immediate like Black Dog. Things are there instantly like "I've got to roll, can't stand still" and all of that sort of "watching the ladies honey drip" and things come instantly to me. I'm not sure whether it's a gift writing about watching ladies honey drip or whether it comes from the blues that I learned close to that - The Raunch.

"Stairway to Heaven was basically conceived on the spot lyrically. Then sometimes we just do some backing tapes and they get quite intricate were I couldn't sing along instantly. I had to really listen to what was going on on my own. And then someone goes, "I ain't got no bloody lyrics" and a week later I'd come back with Over the Hills and Far Away or The Crunge. That was amazing because Bonzo and I were just going to go in the studio and talk Black Country through the whole thing - you know, "Aah bloody well how you doin', you alright mate?" And it just evolved there and then at the end of my tether, it came out.

"The Rain Song was just sort of a little infatuation I had. The next morning I'd scribble it out. If I had done it the day after, it would have been no good."

In the past, Led Zep have avoided the press like the plague. But on this tour, they've hired a big publicity firm here and are willing to talk.

"The only way we could get through really after so much silence was to get a liason `Look, they're ready to talk now. They're no going to throw you out a window.' The reason is because we really warrant it, you know.

"We know what we've done. We can look back on all the platinum and gold discs and the fantastic nights we've had but it's time everybody at least know what we're doing whether they appreciate it or not. And dear old England, they've hung on desperately in all those years of silence.

"There must be so many good people in England who when you do a tour, show up with as much fervor as I've got for what we do. They know that we are busy and not a lot of recluses or paranoid guys who don't want to talk to anybody. Now everybody finds out that we are quite active. I'd love to do the same in England on this scale."

Zeppelin are certainly opening up, and it looks as if one of the new areas they are moving into is film. A movie cameraman followed every moment of the band's triumphant final performance on Sunday.

Outside Madison Square Garden there were the usual swarms of street people pleading, "Got any extra tickets?" and the cops who manned the several barricades one had to pass before even entering the Garden warned everyone to hang on tight to the tickets in their hands.
by Ken Richardson

Jimmy Page made an appearance at the International Surround Conference-actually, not the real Jimmy Page but an amazing simulation, Kevin Shirley, who engineered the stereo and multichannel mixes for Led Zeppelin's DVD and both the CD and DVD-Audio versions of How the West Was Won, was at the recent Beverly Hills event to share anecdotes on how the mixes were done. But he didn't just talk- he also inhabited Page by impersonating the guitarist's squeezed, clipped accent to a T.

"At the studio we used" Shirley said, "Jimmy would often be upstairs, because he sort of deplored the idea of repairing the Zeppelin stuff. But sometimes, it would have to be done. He'd come down every third day and say, ""What're you doin'? "Bonzo missed a drumbeat there.' "Ooooo...maybe he meant that. Lemme hear it.' So I'd play it. 'Now lemme hear how it was.' Pause. 'All right, I'm going upstairs to smoke.'"

"We're Gonna Groove" had a specific problem: "Apparently, Jimmy forgot to adjust a pedal, so when he started a solo, this little plinky plinky sound came out. So I said, 'What amplifier did you use?' 'I can't tell you that.' 'Why not?' 'It's a secret.' Now this is from 1970, and I was like, 'All right.' And he said, 'I know you'll tell everybody, won'tchu?' He's an intriguing guy. As it was, he did have amps hidden in other cases so nobody would know what he was using."

Some of the tapes had been stored in the tower of Page's "Tower House." Talk about intrguing: "It's a fascinating house," Shirley said. "There are ceramics of minotaurs on the floor, carvings of gargoyles on the walls." After the tapes were baked, Shirley transferred them to Pro Tools.

"I'm such a huge Zeppelin fan that the first time I saw these tapes, it was like looking at the Holy Grail. And transferring them, I nearly shat myself."

Other fixes had to be done. "Jimmy broke a string in his solo on 'Stairway to Heaven.' If you look at the video, when he gets to that wonderful little fanfare at the end of the solo, he plays it down an octave. But it's such a signature part of the song-what can you do? So we fixed it with another take. You see him playing down an octave, but you hear it normal, It would have spoiled the package if you didn't have that fanfare sound right.

"The idea was to finesse things, because being an entertainment package, it should be enjoyed without all the hiccups. A lot of people might take exception to that, but I felt it was important. This is a celebration of Zeppelin's music.

As for the actual mixes, "we did all the stereo ones first-which frustrated Jimmy, because he was dying to hear the surround mixes." For those, Shirley varied Robert Plant's vocals among the channels. "There's always a ton of leak all over his vocals, so I went through each and every vocal track and cleaned around the words. That's what I put in the left and right front. But in the center, I put his absolutely raw vocal mike-you can hear his foot-steps, his hands moving, his lips smacking. As a fan, I find that stuff really interesting.

"Jimmy was enthusiastic about surround sound. He was very interested in presenting Zeppelin in a new light." Does this mean we'll get the studio catalog in surround? "No I don't think he's interested in that. It may happen in the future, but it's so much work for these guys to do. They've all got families now. And the internal workings of the band are more complex than the Space Shuttle."

At the end, Shirley impersonated Plant, too, recalling when the singer attended the theatrical premiere of the DVD. "He came up to me afterward and very generously said, 'Lovely job you did...It's not like you were polishing a turd, though.'"
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This Month in
Led Zeppelin History

May 31, 1948 - John Henry Bonham was born at Redditch, Worchestershire
May xx, 1969 - The band’s debut album enters the US Top 10
May xx, 1969 - Recording sessions for Led Zeppelin II begin
May xx, 1970 - The band works on new material at Bron-Y-Aur
May 03, 1971 - Richard Cole jams on Whole Lotta Love playing congas
May xx, 1972 - Houses Of The Holy recording sessions on location at Stargroves and Olympic studios
May 27, 1972 - Warm-up gigs kick off in Holland for an upcoming American tour
May 04, 1973 - Led Zeppelin gross nearly $250,000 for their performance in Atlanta, GA
May 05, 1973 - 56,800 attend the second show of the 1973 US tour at Tampa. This sets a record for the largest attendance for a one-act performance, previously held by the Beatlesfor their Shea Stadium show in 1965
May 10, 1974 - Swan Song Records is officially launched
May 11, 1974 - Led Zeppelin attend an Elvis concert and are thrilled when Elvis announces that Led Zeppelin is in the building
May 10, 1975 - Showco ships their PA system and video screens for the Earls Court shows from Dallas to London
May 23, 1976 - Page and Plant join Bad Company onstage at the LA Forum
May 21, 1977 - The Houston Summit claims $500,000 in damages to their venue caused by rowdy fans
May xx, 1978 - The band reunite at Clearwater Castle to rehearse
May 22, 1979 - It is officially announce that Led Zeppelin will headline at the Knebworth Festival in August
May 15, 1980 - After many revisions the European tour dates are finalized and the band is scheduled to open in Germany
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