Sunday, 13 December 2015

Robert Plant Slams Idea of Zeppelin Tour: 'I'm Not Part of a Jukebox'

Robert Plant performs
Robert Plant performs in London. Samir Hussein/Redferns via Getty Images
It could have been the biggest tour in the history of rock & roll, a stadium juggernaut to dwarf even recent efforts by U2, Roger Waters and the Rolling Stones. Had they agreed to a two-year trek, taken on sponsors and charged exorbitant rates for tickets and merchandise, Led Zeppelin could possibly have been the first act ever to gross $1 billion on a single tour. They spent nearly a year prepping for their reunion show at London's O2 Arena in December of 2007, but just when his bandmates, concert promoters and fans all over the world were practically salivating over the thought of the group's first tour since 1980, Robert Plant walked away from the group, and nothing was going to change his mind.
It's been nearly seven years since the show at the 02, and the topic of Zeppelin's aborted tour still rankles Plant, who has come to a pub near his North London home to talk about the group's new series of archival releases. As explains his decision to not tour with Zeppelin, he leans forward with menace, and his eyes nearly double in size. "You're going back to the same old shit," he says. "A tour would have been an absolute menagerie of vested interests and the very essence of everything that's shitty about big-time stadium rock. We were surrounded by a circus of people that would have had our souls on the fire. I'm not part of a jukebox!"
Nearly all of Plant's peers are happy to deal with such a circus considering the insane financial rewards. "Good luck to them," he sneers. "I hope they're having a real riveting and wonderful late middle age. Somehow I don't think they are." 
Needless to say, Jimmy Page has a very different take on the situation. "There's bound to be fallout if you just do one show," he says. "At the time of the 02 show we were led to believe there were going to be more. You'll have to ask Robert why he changed his mind. I don't even know if he considered it. I don't know what he thinks."
When Robert Plant walked away from the group after the O2 show, Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham continued to rehearse together in England, even auditioning singers for a possible Plant-free tour. Most names have remained secret, but Steven Tyler and Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy have both admitted to spending a few days playing with the group. 
"Singers were being thrown at us from here and there," says Page. "The material we were coming up with was really, really good. Obviously, other people wanted to just get us out on the road quickly. I wasn't feeling comfortable. Going out with the three members from the 02 show and another singer might have looked like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. I wanted to see what we could come up with musically."
Tour plans were put on hold and Page, Jones and Bonham continued to hold secret rehearsal sessions through 2008. They only stopped when John Paul Jones got an offer from Dave Grohl and Josh Homme to play bass in their new supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, which he eagerly accepted. "I guess," says Page, "that was a pretty definitive statement."
Jones (who wouldn't comment for this article) made no secret about his deep disappointment with Page and Plant in the years after the break-up. He initially wasn't even invited to their reunion at 1985's Live Aid, getting phoned up only the day before and forced to play keyboards on "Stairway To Heaven" while Plant's touring bassist handled his parts. He didn't even get the courtesy of a phone call about the 1994 Page and Plant reunion, hearing about it on TV. At a press conference for the tour, Plant joked that Jones was parking cars out back. When the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, Jones, through gritted teeth, thanked his former bandmates for "finally remembering my phone number." 
Them Crooked Vultures toured throughout 2009 and 2010, and Zeppelin didn't come back together in any incarnation when the tour ended. At this point, any sort of tour — with or without Robert Plant — appears extremely unlikely. "People ask me nearly every day about a possible reunion," Jimmy Page says with a sigh. "The answer is 'no.' It's been almost seven years since the O2. There's always a possibility that they can exhume me and put me onstage in a coffin and play a tape."
That said, Plant refuses to make a Sherman-esque statement forever ruling out the possibility of him fronting Zeppelin again. "I don’t think there’s any reason for me to do that," he says. "Otherwise we’ve got nothing to be mystic about...Everything will develop as it develops. All doors are open. All phone lines are open. I don't hear from anybody. Talk is cheap...But I just think everything has to be new. Then you can incorporate history."
Does that mean he's open to the idea of recording new songs with Zeppelin? "You can't be the marriage guidance clinic here," he says, clearly irritated by this line of questioning. 
Strangely, he's among the few people who felt it was a good idea for Zeppelin to carry in without him. "They kept rehearsing after O2 and they had a singer," Plant says. "I don't know what happened. It seemed like a great idea to me."
Plant stands up to leave, but turns on his heel. "Do you know why the Eagles said they’d reunite when 'hell freezes over,' but they did it anyway and keep touring?” he asks. "It’s not because they were paid a fortune. It’s not about the money. It’s because they’re bored. I’m not bored."

Robert Plant: The World’s Roar (Cover Story Excerpt)

As 2014 comes to a close, we're honored to have the legendary Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant grace the cover of our December issue. Below, enjoy an excerpt from the article where Plant speaks to Alan Light about his new band, The Sensational Space Shifters and their latest album, Lullaby and... the Ceaseless Roar.
For a limited time, Relix will be offering a complimentary issue delivered to mailboxes across the United States. To obtain your free trial, which includes the December issue, click here.
At first glance, you don't notice him.
It’s a little hard to believe—he is, after all, one of the most recognizable, distinctive and flamboyant frontmen in rock-and-roll history. But right now, with his band of seven musicians arranged more or less in a circle on the stage of the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., the guy in jeans and a faded gray T-shirt, with his hair tied up in a bun and his back to the empty room, just seems like one of the group.
But then, they count off the song and that voice comes out, and he doesn’t need to turn around for you to know that it’s Robert Plant. Still, he’s not delivering the keening, spine-tingling wail that filled stadiums with Led Zeppelin; it’s a more nuanced sound he’s working with as he rehearses with his band, the Sensational Space Shifters, on this September afternoon prior to the first stop on a quick, eight-show U.S. tour. And as they start to play, it’s the song that takes a minute to register—it’s “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” the searing Blind Willie Johnson blues lament that Led Zeppelin turned into a jagged assault on the 1976 album Presence, arranged instead with a loping, back-porch rhythm and multi-part vocal harmony.
This air of uncertainty all makes some kind of sense. Plant has spent his recent years sneaking up on expectations, surprising people with his musical choices and earning a newfound, hard-earned respect that no one would have anticipated. For decades after Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980—following the death of drummer John Bonham— his solo career was of sporadic interest; the music was never subpar, but his direction often felt aimless or uncertain. When Plant joined forces with his old foil Jimmy Page in the ‘90s, merging his own interest in Arabic styles with the Zeppelin catalog and similar blues-based approaches on the MTV Unplugged project No Quarter and the Walking Into Clarksdale album, the results were both successful and inevitable letdowns. Following those projects, several Plant albums in a row failed to break the Top 20.
Then came the pivotal year of 2007, when he joined Page, John Paul Jones and Bonham’s son, Jason, for the triumphant, one-night- only Led Zeppelin reunion show at London’s O2 Arena —more than 20 million people around the world entered the ticket lottery—and also released Raising Sand, his collaboration with bluegrass colossus Alison Krauss that won five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. It was followed by another glorious exploration of American music, 2010’s Band of Joy, and a magnificent tour. Four years and a lot of global travel later comes his 10th solo album, lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar, a swirling, thrilling blend of African, Middle Eastern, rock, blues and folk music that may be the most daring work he’s done since the Zeppelin days.
Seated in his spacious and homey, though not extravagant, dressing room—overlooking the local train station—a single flowing, print shirt hangs on a rod, waiting for show time. The 66-year-old Plant insists that he’s been on the same mission all along. “I think so, starting from when I was about 15,” he says. “It’s the flexing of public perception and people buying into the idea that’s fluctuated. In the beginning, there was nobody there—just an empty room, maybe three people. And in 1965, it was free to get in! And then through time, the amazing pinnacles of exchange with energy, which included absurdities and cherry bombs and social disease and penicillin immunity, and stress and some joy, and freedom and capture and prisons—all those things spin around, and we end up here, in this fancy dressing room. Not bad, all things considered.”
Plant is the rare celebrity who is actually bigger than you imagine—long legs, broad shoulders, huge head. He laughs often as he stretches out across a low sofa, sipping water and recounting his journeys and adventures. (He displayed his sense of humor on some recent television appearances, singing doo-wop into an iPad with Jimmy Fallon and jokingly handing Stephen Colbert a joint on air.) Mostly, though, he lights up when he talks about music, drawing connections, dropping very difficult-to-spell names, describing sounds and voices and rhythms from far-flung corners of the earth. His enthusiasm and sense of discovery only seem to have expanded with time.

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