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Music

Robert Plant was "intimidated" by Led Zeppelin's "excellence"

@SamWKemp

While he may be revered as one of the greatest rock singers of all time, even the great Robert plant felt intimidated when he first joined Led Zeppelin in 1968. Initially known as the New Yardbirds, the group came together in the wake of The Yardbirds’ infamous split.

With the help of fellow session musician John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page set about putting together a group to rival all others, the band to end all bands. While he and Jones were both classically trained, professional musicians by this time, the two men they hired to cover vocals and drums were self-taught masters of their trade, both of whom had spent the majority of the 1960s playing in little-known provincial bands like Crawling King Snakes and Band of Joy around the midlands.

This combination of amateurism and professionalism, technical prowess and unrestrained passion would form the foundation of Led Zeppelin’s era-defining style, which blended influences from every corner of the musical sphere, including early rock ‘n’ roll, West Coast psychedelia, folk and freakbeat, Celtic, blues, Indian, and Arabic music.

However, Robert Plant once confessed that the prospect of playing in a group with trained session musicians filled him with anxiety. Opening up about his life and career on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, Plant revealed: “Bonham and I were coming from the Black Country. We were big fish there, but we were suddenly alongside John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page, who were really seriously accomplished, far more mature and pretty well versed in all the different elements of melody and construction and stuff like that.”

Plant added: “So it was kind of daunting in a way. Although I really wanted to be around excellence, when I came head-to-head with it, I was really kind of intimidated.” The band’s first rehearsal took place in a small space on Gerrard Street in modern-day China Town. “Literally, it was everyone looking at each other – ‘what shall we play?’ Me doing more sessions, didn’t know anything at all,” John Paul Jones recalled.

Adding: “There was an old Yardbirds’ number called ‘Train Kept a Rollin’… The whole room just exploded”. Later, Plant would describe that initial rehearsal as an “overwhelming” and illuminatory experience. It was like all the doors and windows in the house of cards were open,” he said. “We just blew right through the walls of the cellar and right through the world.”

Led Zeppelin carried that same explosive power with them as they set about conquering the world of rock. The combination of four equally talented musicians, separated into two camps by their opposing musical backgrounds, proved to be a winning formula. The push-and-pull tension in tracks like ‘Black Dog’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Immigrant Song’ set Led Zeppelin apart from their contemporaries and established them as the pinnacle of 1970s rock virtuosity. And arguably, it was all because, behind the talent, there is a sense that Plant, Page, Jones, and Bonham, were all vying for dominance – pushing themselves to the outer limits of what they were capable of.

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