This page covers Robert's early life and career, his musical influences, and the formation of Led Zeppelin. Other pages cover his later career with Led Zeppelin (1971 to 1980), his solo career and reunion with Jimmy Page (1981 to 1997) and his more recent work (1998 onwards).
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Robert Anthony Plant was born on August 20th 1948. He grew up in the area to the west of Birmingham where the urban sprawl of the West Midlands gives way to the countryside of Worcestershire and Shropshire. The young Robert attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Stourbridge, travelling to school on the bus from his home in Halesowen. His father wanted him to train as an accountant, but Robert preferred to follow a musical career.
His early influences included traditional blues artists such as Robert Johnson and Sonny Boy Williamson. As he became more involved in the Birmingham music scene he found many other sources of inspiration, such as jazz, soul and West Indian rhythms. Possibly the strongest influence came from the new bands which were springing up on the West Coast of America. His favourite listening included Love, Buffalo Springfield and Moby Grape.
Robert made his first public performances as a teenager at Stourbridge's Seven Stars Blues Club. He had spells with several local bands including one called the Crawling King Snakes, where he first met John Bonham. In 1966 Robert was in a group called Listen when he attracted the attention of CBS Records. His first recording contract was to make three singles for CBS, but none of these made any significant impact.
Robert found a more settled home when he joined the Birmingham-based Band of Joy. The band went through several changes of personnel, but the best incarnation featured John Bonham on drums and Kevyn Gammond on guitar. The band were popular in the Midlands, and achieved some success on the London club circuit as a support act, but they failed to secure a recording contract. A few demo tracks are the only legacy from this period. Unable to make further progress, the Band of Joy broke up in the middle of 1968.
Robert next worked with veteran blues bandleader Alexis Korner, while John Bonham joined Tim Rose's band. Robert also played with another local band called Obs-Tweedle, which included Bill Bonham, John's cousin. Although he tried hard and showed promise, Robert's career did not appear to be going anywhere in particular at this stage.
Robert's fortunes changed dramatically when the Yardbirds also split up in the summer of 1968. The London band was famous for its guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Yardbirds manager Peter Grant tried to form a new band around Page and bassist Chris Dreja, but soon Dreja also left to become a photographer. Page had been one of the most prolific session musicians of the Sixties, and he soon found his first recruit, John Paul Jones, from among his contacts. Jones was an experienced musician and arranger who could double up on bass and keyboards. Grant and Page then went in search of a singer and drummer.
They first approached a singer they knew named Terry Reid. Reid was already contracted elsewhere, but he suggested Robert Plant as an alternative. Page and Grant went to see Plant perform with Obs-Tweedle at the West Midlands College of Education in Walsall. Not only were the visitors impressed with his performance, but Robert got on well with Jimmy Page. So when he was offered the job as vocalist in the new band he not only accepted, but persuaded John Bonham to join as well. As a Scandinavian Yardbirds tour had already been booked for September 1968, the four fulfilled these dates as The New Yardbirds.
On their return, a new name was chosen - Led Zeppelin. The idea about a band "going down like a lead Zeppelin" came from Keith Moon and John Entwistle, when they were planning a venture away from The Who. Although both Moon and Entwistle claimed credit for the idea, it was Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham who took the name and made it their own - a powerful name to match the band and their music. Their first gig as Led Zeppelin was on October 25th 1968.
Robert Plant had known Maureen Wilson for over two years before they were married on November 9th 1968. As he rose to fame with Led Zeppelin, he also became the father of two children: a daughter, Carmen Jane, and a son named Karac. The family settled at Jennings Farm, a few miles from Kidderminster.
The first album was simply called Led Zeppelin. The album, reputedly recorded in just thirty hours at Olympic Studios in west London, was a powerful mixture of hard rock (Communication Breakdown, Good Times Bad Times) and soulful blues (including two songs by Willie Dixon). Another blues track, Dazed And Confused (based on a old Yardbirds song) became a feature of Led Zeppelin's stage act. The production was handled by Jimmy Page, drawing on his long experience of working with producers such as Mickie Most. The album got a mixed reaction from the critics, but rock fans loved it.
Peter Grant, with a mixture of genius, ruthlessness and eccentricity, set out to exploit the US market. He set up a lucrative recording contract with Atlantic which gave full management control to him and full artistic control to the band, including production. Atlantic's directors, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, were impressed both by the band and by Grant's management style, and agreed to a five-year deal. Led Zeppelin started their first American tour at the end of December 1968, and this helped to boost sales of the album on its release in January 1969.
Both before and after the US tour, the band performed at a number of venues in the UK, but these caused minor ripples compared to the big splash they achieved in the US. The second US tour, in the summer of 1969, was even more successful than the first. In a break from the tour, they performed at the Albert Hall in London, at last making a major impact in their own country. Their second album was put together while the band were on the road, and recorded at several different studios. On several occasions during 1969 the band recorded for BBC radio, and they also appeared on Danish TV.
Led Zeppelin II was released in October 1969. Another good all-round album, it allowed Plant to emerge as the main lyric writer, with songs like Ramble On and Thank You. The inspiration for his lyrics came from sources as diverse as traditional blues songs and the works of JRR Tolkien. The second album was a huge hit, in part due to Whole Lotta Love, the first universally known Zeppelin anthem. An edited version reached number four in the US chart, and it became familiar as the signature tune to the BBC's Top Of The Pops chart show (both in the form of a cover version by CCS and later with real Zeppelin samples).
Led Zeppelin never appeared on Top Of The Pops themselves, because the band disliked singles and Peter Grant discouraged TV appearances. This was partly to cultivate a mystique, and partly because they felt that singles were aimed at a different market. Although singles were released in the US to get radio plays, none at all were officially released in the UK until 1997.
In January 1970 Led Zeppelin appeared again at the Royal Albert Hall in London, in a concert that would eventually be seen on a live video and DVD release. This was followed by further tour dates in Europe and North America.
Also in early 1970 the band started work on Led Zeppelin III. Page and Plant had planned the album at Bron Yr Aur, a cottage retreat in Snowdonia where Plant had holidayed as a boy. Rehearsals and recording were done at Headley Grange, an old mansion in Hampshire. Released in October, the album showed more diversity than before, which disappointed some critics. There were the expected power tracks, notably Immigrant Song, but many tracks were more melodic and acoustic, including a traditional folk song, Gallows Pole, and slower numbers (Tangerine, Since I've Been Loving You).
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