The third and final part of my 1976 interview.
Robert Plant likens the new album to Zeppelin’s second album in that it was made in a short time and retains an immediacy that has not been so apparent on later efforts. “It’s so adamantly positive, so affirmative for us. Everybody was aware that there was a crisis in the band so we got together and went forward as, if nothing had happened, like turning into a storm instead of running from it.”
“In LA we just rehearsed and rehearsed. It was so strange for me the first time because, as I said, I was sitting in an armchair, singing, and I found myself wiggling inside my cast. The whole band really wanted to play and had wanted to do that tour, so the same effort was put into the album. It was a unique situation where we rehearsed for three weeks – on and off in true Zeppelin style because we’re not the greatest band for rehearsing. We’ve always felt that too much rehearsing on a song can spoil it for us...sort of take the edge off the excitement, but this time it worked in the opposite way because the enthusiasm was contained in such a small space of time.
“Then we went to Munich to record and it took us just 18 days to finish it. That’s ridiculous for us because we usually take an eternity to finish an album.”
The 18 days, in fact, included a black hour when Plant tripped in the studio and narrowly avoided- reopening his fractured foot. The cast had been removed in Los Angeles and he was rashly rushing around the studio when...”half way through the recording I fell.
“Now I can play soccer all day and run and swim and I still love to be very active, but here I was hobbling around in the middle of this great track when suddenly my enthusiasm got the better of me. I was running to the vocal booth with this orthopaedic crutch when down I went, right on the bad foot. There was an almighty crack and a great flash of light and pain and I folded up in agony.
“I’d never known Jimmy to move so quickly. He was out of the mixing booth and holding me up, fragile as he might be, within a second. He became quite Germanic in his organization of things and instantly I was rushed off to hospital again in case I’d re-opened the fracture, and if I had I would never have walked properly again. It was a bit rash of me to bop around but...well, the track is brilliant.”
So when would Plant be recovered enough to tour again? He became very serious. “Already I’ve surprised the doctors by recovering as much as I have in such a short time. They’ve called me a model patient and that surprises me because hospitals are really not my cup of tea. I mean, I was faced with a situation that dented every single thing I had going for me. My usual...er...sort of leonine arrogance was instantly punctured by having to hobble around, so I’m having to take my time. I don’t want to rush. Every day I walk more and more without the stick and I’m going to need physiotherapy so I should think it’ll be the beginning of the next soccer season before I’m running about again.”
Plant had said his piece, and with the obvious questions about current affairs all answered, I suggested he look back and record the highlight of eight years with Zeppelin. He looked puzzled, “There have been so many amazing things, things that were once beyond my wildest dreams. I mean, basically I wanted to sing, and sing and sing.
“I mean, heavens, how could I ever have envisaged anything like this? Me and Bonzo had just come down from the Midlands to join a band. Jimmy was the experienced man and he’d been over here on the Dick Clark show or whatever, so he knew we would end up at least on that level. I don’t think Jonesy had been to the States before, but Bonzo and I had no idea. We even got lost in London.
“I remember when we played the Fillmore West in San Francisco, Bonzo and I looked at each other during the set and thought ‘Christ, we’ve got something’. That was the first time we realised that Led Zeppelin might mean something; there was so much intimacy with the audience, and if you could crack San Francisco at the, height of the Airplane, Grateful Dead period then it meant something. Mind you, we went on with Country Joe and the Fish so we didn’t have that much of a problem...how could we fail? But we knew the chemistry was there when we recorded the first album.”
It wasn’t until after the first album that Plant began writing the band’s lyrics; he logically surmised that as he had to sing them, he might as well sing words he wrote himself. “You’ve got to live with them so it’s a very personal thing. I did some of the lyrics on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and some of the broader things like ‘Ramble On’, but it wasn’t until later that I really worked hard on them.
“I think that songs, like ‘Kashmir’ and ‘Stairway’ are far more relevant to the band now than songs like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ which we don’t really do now anyway. Ever since it came out, ‘Stairway’ has been the most requested track on FM radio here in America which is amazing because it’s so old now. That song was astoundingly well accepted and personally I’m very proud of it, but I think ‘Kashmir’ is just as good, and so is the one that I fell over on when we recorded this new album.”
The long-awaited Led Zeppelin film is now ready, according to Plant. “Yes, we’re as happy with it as we could possibly be. It’s been mixed in quad, and I’m not sure whether the Futurist Cinema in Birmingham is going to be able to handle that, but I would say it will be released about the same time as the opening of next soccer season, probably in August.
“The film features more than just us on stage. It has a few tastes of spice from everybody’s imagination, sort of humorous in parts. It ain’t all music, anyway, it touches on some of the things that make up the personalities in the group, Peter and Richard Cole [the band’s ever-present tour manager] too.”
Finally, I mentioned that of all the bands of their stature (and many, also, beneath them) Zeppelin seemed to be the only group whose members had not, at some time, veered off the rails to produce a solo album. Plant seemed horrified at the thought. “I think to want to do that, you’ve obviously got to be dissatisfied with the set-up as it stands.
“If you can’t bring out everything that comes to mind musically with the group you are working with, then to go away and do a solo album and then come back, is an admission that what you really want to do is not playing with your band.
“If you have to depart from the unit to satisfy your soul, then why go back afterwards? I know I couldn’t find anybody as musically imaginative as Jimmy, anybody who could play the drums as hard as Bonzo and anybody, who could play as steadily as Jonesy. It’s as simple as, that.”