2007 was a transformative year for Robert Plant: “rebooted” with Alison Krauss on their collaborative Raising Sand album and remaking history with the re-formed Led Zeppelin at The O2. “You can’t believe how good I felt,” he tells MOJO’s Andrew Perry...
“WHAT CHANCE would anybody have from my background, musically, from the whole trip of squeezing my way out of the ’60s, to end up making Raising Sand? I could never have imagined knocking on the door there in Nashville one Sunday morning, and Alison opening the door and saying, “Tea?” And with the great shape of T Bone Burnett in the background – just a profile of this physical and creative giant.
It was a leap out of my comfort zone, and I went down there with nothing to lose. I just walked into [Nashville studio] Sound Emporium on that Monday morning, a 2-inch tape rolled over the record heads, and these guys who were so used to just getting on with it – you can hear it on countless records of American music. In my nervousness, I was very careful and sat back a lot and listened to how they worked it. Man, having had terrible dramas at times during the making of records… with Raising Sand, I think we said we would do three days, and in that time we got five tracks moving well.
Singing with Alison – it was not George Jones and Tammy Wynette. It was a new place for me, and I guess for Alison too. Neither of us in our normal appetite, if you like, would’ve ventured into those songs. Maybe Alison could’ve got into [Sam Phillips’] Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us, and [Tom Waits’] Trampled Rose, but I think neither of us could’ve imagined doing it until we were doing it.
We just grew into this thing, and you can’t believe how good I felt. Alison taught me stuff that I took into the solo records I made afterwards – particularly Lullaby… And The Ceaseless Roar  and Carry Fire  – and it’s about restraint. You know, I look right the way back to 1981, and I was always ready to turn on the ‘blue-eyed soul’-y type of thing that a lot of us singers from the ’60s carried. But I knew that I could sing because there had been adventures with Zeppelin songs like The Rain Song and That’s The Way, way back, where I just sang. And I needed to do that because I was back in a place where music lives delicately.
Did the Led Zeppelin reunion show interrupt or confuse things? No, not at all. It was nerve-wracking, because we were already missing John Bonham. The responsibility the four of us had that night, the 10th of December in London, was a responsibility to ourselves, to get it right, with enough feeling, because we hadn’t visited it as a way of being for such a long, long time. It was “Goodbye Ahmet [Ertegun]” and it was, “Goodbye, everything, it’s been fantastic!” So it worked, and it was good, and that was it.
Doing Raising Sand was definitely such a reboot for me, such a Big Bang of marvel. I made my first record in 1966, and to be honest I don’t think I can hack not doing it. Now I understand why… I met Dylan at Roskilde, after his show a couple of years ago. It was raining, and there were three buses parked in the dark. We greeted each other and had a slight embrace, and there was a look in his eye that was exactly the same as the one I’ve got. And that is – it’s motion. It’s like, do you want to go home and read about it? Do you want to go home and speculate on whether it was wrong not to do this or that? No, you just do it. The communion, for me, is the game.”
As told to Andrew Perry