As the lead singer of the ’70s supergroup Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant earned a reputation for wild-man vocals and wilder partying: Spin magazine once voted Led Zeppelin’s ”seafood incident” (a drug-addled evening involving groupies and the erotic use of shark carcasses) as the sleaziest moment in rock history.
These days, Plant, 53, is more interested in academia (he’s trying to start a music department at a college near his home in Wales) and his tennis game. But Plant’s still singing the blues on his album ”Dreamland” and in concert, including some summer dates with the Who. EW.com talked to Plant about covering Bob Dylan, selling his soul to Satan, and the infamous fish issue.
It’s been two years since you’ve toured. What have you been up to?
I’ve been quite happily doing nothing but improving my tennis game and flirting. I’ve also tried to start a new musical section of a college here in Wales. They [originally] expelled me, and now I’m trying to get back through the doors. I’ve just been sitting with these educational purse-string holders about the project. They gave me all this sort of spin, and I said, ”Well, I’ve got a lot to offer here, but it’s not that long ago that people in your position would have crossed the road to avoid me for fear I might be contagious.”
On ”Dreamland” you cover songs popularized by Tim Buckley, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix. Why come out of semiretirement to do ’60s retro?
It really comes from an envy of American music. America is a multiracial society, and all of these various racial and cultural implants had a fantastic effect on the country’s music. I can’t find anything in English music that actually touches anything half as seductive or relevant. I was always amazed that Herman’s Hermits and Gerry and the Pacemakers, all that rubbish of the so-called British Invasion in the ’60s, had such an effect on people.
Did you give Dylan a jingle before covering his ”One More Cup of Coffee”?
I don’t think anyone ever called Muddy Waters when they did ”Got My Mojo Working,” and you can’t start calling Dylan, really. I really should have called [actor] Harry Dean Stanton, because the song reminds me more of him than it does Bob. Where is he now, anyway? He must be riding around with Jack Nicholson, looking for something to do.
What do you think about the current state of rock?
Obviously, there are certain formats of music that don’t do anything at all for me because they’re so derivative. However, I would be a silly man not to know there’s a great underground musical movement that doesn’t lead directly back to Seattle or Black Sabbath. Right now I like the new Primal Scream album, ”Evil Heat.” I played on one track, ”The Lord Is My Shotgun.” They’re far more retro than ”Dreamland” is, but they spice it up with amazing old drum samples and it all works.