Robert Plant talks Led Zeppelin, Greta Van Fleet and music history

When you talk about powerful performers, it’s hard to beat Robert Plant. The former Led Zeppelin frontman returns to Louisville with his band the Sensational Space Shifters as one of the headliners of the Bourbon and Beyond festival. Expect to hear songs from his excellent new LP, Carry Fire, as well as a few classics from his Zeppelin days transformed for his present sound.

LEO: You’re extremely knowledgeable on this history of music, its styles and songs. Does that ever get in the way when you’re writing?
Robert Plant: No, I can’t think about it like that, because there’s no strict idiom at all that we’re coming from as a band. We don’t even think about it. It’s just the personality of the players, and the way we do it is that we’re not coming from any particular specific zone of music or influence. It’s just a kind of mix of everything that we all individually absorb. It’s like being a really cool chef or something, I suppose, or a magician. I’ve talked to people who say, ‘I love that North African rhythm stuff that you do.’ We always think, ‘Oh, that’s just part of what we do anyway, because we’ve been doing it for years and years,’ so it’s just part of the composition of our musical identity, I guess.

Your past is so closely tied with rock and roll. How important is that genre to you in this day?
Rock and roll kind of was Jerry Lee and Little Richard and Larry Williams and Fats Domino. What happened in the late ‘60s, you can’t call Big Brother and the Holding Company or Janis Joplin rock and roll. It was something else, and I think that we followed into the United States following people like Cream and whoever else was around in those days. Herman’s Hermits, perhaps? But whatever it was, we weren’t rock and roll — we were just a band that played some mean stuff, tough, really, really powerful stuff, which was called rock. And then when it got into the hands of the misconstrued, it became hard rock, so is somebody going to tell me that ‘Friends’ or ‘Battle of Evermore’ is hard rock? I don’t think so. I find the whole thing, all of it, right the way through from 1968 to now, it’s just making music.

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Have you heard Greta Van Fleet? That’s someone with your throat right there.
The guys from Detroit? Yeah, he’s pretty good. There’s a job somewhere for him, but how about Zepparella? Yeah, Louisville, look out for Zepparella. I mean, if ever I could see them play again. My goodness, what a frontwoman.

I heard you say something in another interview that you always try to make your songs slightly erotic. You’re really a master of making music slightly erotic, but like a gentleman would.
Well, yeah, I’m a gentleman personified, really. I’ve had my days off, probably again. I’ve seen a lot of summers now, so I have to tell it the way it is, even if it’s kind of a slightly different way to the bare-chested moments. I wouldn’t look quite as cool now, but it’s alright, it’s good. It still works. Everything still works.

You sing with Chrissie Hynde on ‘Bluebird Over the Mountain.’ It’s been great to hear you team up with these duet partners like Alison Krauss and Patty Griffin.
How fantastic was that for me? Alison taught me how to yodel. I mean, she taught me how to get it. It was touch and go many times. It was very funny how many times I’d get it wrong, but in the end I got into it, and I got the groove right. It sounded like something I’d never done before. And then to carry it on with Patty and the Band of Joy — I mean Patty Griffin has the voice of an angel, and she has sometimes a delivery of a wild angel. I’d like to make another record with Patty, maybe, and Alison and I are always talking about Raising Hell, instead of Raising Sand. I’ve got a collection of loads of songs that could be fooled around with, but I’m really into writing stuff, and the guys I play with are superlative. They’re the greatest guys on the planet, and they’re very, very good fun, very silly. It’s kind of like a school trip when we go on tour. It couldn’t be more charming and humorous, so to be able to write with these guys and to come out with the songs, we feel very accomplished. I don’t see it breaking doors down at this particular time in my existence, but for me, it is breaking doors down, because it’s telling me that I can actually move through time and still not repeat myself and not end up like some kind of a one-trick pony, you know?

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