This page covers Robert Plant's solo career from 1981 to 1993 and his reunion with Jimmy Page. Other pages describe Robert's early career (up to 1970), his development with Led Zeppelin (1971 to 1980) and his more recent work (1998 onwards).
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In the spring of 1981, Robert Plant started performing live with an R&B band known as the Honeydrippers, which included his friend Robbie Blunt. Soon Plant and Blunt started collaborating on songwriting, and later brought in Paul Martinez on bass and Jezz Woodroffe on keyboards. To complete the line-up for recording, they added established artists Phil Collins and Cozy Powell as "guest" drummers (although Phil Collins was to stay on for a while).
Robert chose to produce his first solo album himself, and recording took place at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth. Pictures at Eleven was released on June 25th 1982, and rose quickly towards the top of the album charts. The best of the tracks had a hopeful title: Like I've Never Been Gone, a song worthy of Led Zeppelin.
Although the voice was the same and the overall sound was good, unfortunately some of the songs recorded by Robert Plant as a solo artist were not sufficiently strong to mean that things were just the same as before. In fact Robert was keen to separate his solo career from his links with Led Zeppelin. As well as producing, he initially acted as his own manager, although Peter Grant helped him to set up his initial record deal with Atlantic, and later he brought in Phil Carson and Bill Curbishley.
As a postscript to the Zeppelin era, a collection of tracks left over from earlier recording sessions was released in November 1982 under the apt title Coda. The album contained some interesting tracks, but it was relevant mainly to die-hard fans. Other associations were also coming to an end. Peter Grant had split from the remaining band members, Swan Song appeared to be in terminal decline, and Robert Plant was separated from his wife Maureen (and later divorced).
In early 1983 Robert Plant recorded his second solo album, The Principle of Moments. Once again Phil Collins joined the regular members of the band at Rockfield Studios. The release was followed by a North American tour. Big Log, a single taken from the album, became a top 20 hit in both the US and the UK. With this song Plant at last got to appear on Top Of The Pops! He also appeared on BBC TV as an enthusiastic competitor in Pop Quiz.
In 1984 Plant joined up again with Jimmy Page in a line-up which also included Jeff Beck and Nile Rodgers. Plant kept the name Honeydrippers for this venture, recording a five-track EP called Volume One. This sold well in the US, but we are still waiting for volume two! The set comprised cover versions of other artists' songs. One of these, Sea of Love, became a big hit as a single.
In 1985 Plant tried to experiment on his third album, Shaken 'n' Stirred, but this was not entirely successful, either musically or commercially. The best track, Little By Little, was also released as a single. Although a 1985 tour (now with Ritchie Hayward of Little Feat on drums) went reasonably well, the band broke up in October after a disagreement between Plant and Blunt over the direction their music was taking.
The musical highlight of 1985 had been the Live Aid concert in July. Robert re-joined Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on stage in Philadelphia, with Paul Martinez on bass, and Phil Collins and Tony Thompson on drums. In early 1986 Plant, Page, Jones and Tony Thompson made a tentative start on a Led Zeppelin revival, but rehearsals stopped when Thompson was injured in a car crash and the idea went no further.
During his solo career Robert Plant has made a habit of playing low-key gigs at small venues. Some of these were with his own band as a warm-up for a tour, but he has also performed with other local bands, playing R&B classics and other material seldom heard in his normal act. For example in March 1986 he appeared with the Big Town Playboys, whose line-up included friends from his Honeydrippers period.
Robert spent much of 1986 and 1987 putting together a new band. His regulars were Doug Boyle on guitar, Chris Blackwell on drums, and Phil Johnstone on keyboards (also a major contributor to the songwriting and production). They were later joined by Charlie Jones on bass, succeeding Phil Scragg. Charlie Jones joined up with Plant in more ways than one by marrying his daughter Carmen.
The first album under this regime was Now and Zen, recorded at the end of 1987 and released in February 1988. It met with reasonable success, in part due to the song Tall Cool One and its association with Coca Cola! Jimmy Page played guitar on two of the tracks. The album sleeve features a wolf motif which bears a resemblance to the badge of Plant's beloved football team, Wolverhampton Wanderers!
Up to this point Plant had steadfastly refused to perform Led Zeppelin songs. Now for the first time he relented, and started to include numbers like Trampled Under Foot in his stage act. In May 1988 he went one step further: "Led Zeppelin" re-formed for Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary concert, with John Bonham's son Jason on drums. Robert Plant also performed as a solo artist at that televised concert.
Robert and his new band were not very prolific in the studio. An old Zeppelin haunt, Olympic Studios, was used to record the next album, released in March 1990. The title, Manic Nirvana, came from an epithet applied to Robert Plant by Bill Curbishley. Although this was not his most successful album, the tour which accompanied it was well received by critics and public alike. In June 1990 Plant received the Silver Clef award and performed in the award winners' show at Knebworth, where Jimmy Page joined the band on stage to perform a few Led Zeppelin songs.
Towards the end of 1990 the first of the Led Zeppelin remastered compilations were released (by 1993 remastered editions of all their studio recordings were available). More nostalgia came in the form of a Led Zeppelin special in MTV's Rockumentary series, but there was another long gap to Robert's next new album. Preparation and recording proceeded at a leisurely pace throughout 1991 and 1992, with no major tour. In April 1992 Robert performed with the surviving members of Queen at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert.
Fate Of Nations was finally released in June 1993. On this album Plant used not only his regular band but a range of guest musicians, including Máire Brennan, Nigel Kennedy and Richard Thompson. Guitarist Kevin Scott MacMichael also played a significant part in the album, which featured a variety of styles and influences, some of them a long way from Led Zeppelin. Fate Of Nations spawned two hit singles (29 Palms and If I Were A Carpenter) and a world tour, which ended in South America in January 1994.
Over the years there had been frequent rumours of a Page/Plant reunion. They had played together on several "special occasions": the Live Aid concert in 1985, the Atlantic anniversary party in 1988, and at Knebworth in 1990. Robert Plant was one of three vocalists on Jimmy Page's Outrider album, and Page had guested on Now And Zen. But these were all one-offs rather than long-term, and their careers had taken separate paths. Jimmy Page had worked with Paul Rodgers in The Firm, and had supervised the re-mastering of the Led Zeppelin back catalogue.
In 1994 MTV approached Plant and Page with proposals for a Led Zeppelin show in the Unplugged series. Accounts vary as to whether John Paul Jones was not invited or not interested, but Page and Plant started to develop a partnership of their own. The results were heard on No Quarter, released both as an album and as a video. The MTV show was broadcast on October 12th.
The normal rock band line-up was augmented by a mandolin and a hurdy-gurdy, a sixteen-piece Egyptian ensemble, and a string orchestra. The result was a new treatment of many Zeppelin classics such as Kashmir, Thank You and Gallows Pole. Najma Akhtar guested as the second vocalist on The Battle of Evermore. There were also four new songs which drew heavily on the music of Marrakesh, where three of them were recorded.
In January 1995 Led Zeppelin were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame, and the three surviving members of the band made another of their rare appearances together. Page and Plant were on tour more or less continuously for a year from February 1995, taking in the US, Europe, America again, Japan and Australia. As the tour progressed, they included more and more Zeppelin songs in their stage set. Also in 1995 Atlantic released Encomium, a Led Zeppelin tribute album featuring artists such as Sheryl Crow. On this album Robert Plant and Tori Amos performed a version of Down By The Seaside.
September 1997 saw the release of the first ever Led Zeppelin single in the UK, comprising Whole Lotta Love and two tracks previously only available as part of a boxed set. In November 1997 a "new" Led Zeppelin album was released, culled from live and studio BBC Sessions recorded in 1969 and 1971.
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Copyright © Chris Warren 1997 to 2006
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