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Music

The forgotten local musician who introduced Robert Plant to rock and roll

@SamWKemp

Robert Plant is one of the last living rock icons of the 1960s. With the help of jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones, Plant succeeded in crafting a high-octane, virtuosic, and yet innately accessible brand of stadium rock that saw Led Zeppelin become one of the most celebrated bands of their day. But where did it all start?

At the age of 22, Robert Plant was already one of the wealthiest young men in England. He’d made his name the traditional way: playing in local bands and performing gigs in church halls and local venues before moving to London, where success came knocking. At the height of Led Zeppelin’s success, Melody Maker interviewed Plant at his farm in Kidderminster, the small town where he’d spent most of his life. Indeed, he’d gone to school just down the road.

Explaining how he first got into rock music, Plant said: “There was a fellow called Perry Foster, who came from not far away from here [Kidderminster], and he was an incredible eight-string guitarist. Instead of playing it the normal way, he used to play like Big Joe Williams, with it half on his lap. He was a horrible bloke at times, but he was a real white bluesman, and I, when I was 15, immediately fell under his spell.”

Plant was infatuated with the idea of a life in music, and managed to convince his dad to drop him off at jam sessions at the Seven Stars Blues Club in Stourbridge: “We used to wail on ‘Got My Mojo Working'” Plant continued. “Old Chris Wood used to play with us, and Stan Webb and Andy Sylvester were in a competing band (this is going well back) – and we had a residency at the Seven Stars. All the other guys, who didn’t have residencies, used to come along and sit right at the front with their arms folded. It was a good atmosphere, a real blues club, like I’d love Smitty’s Corner in Chicago to be. The sound was good, and everybody who saw me there six or seven years ago still remembers it.”

Those early experiences lay the foundations for Plant’s dizzying career. Even at such a young age, he was clearly felt nostalgic for those days jamming with Perry Foster and Co. “They always say, ‘Well, you’ve come a long way, but the music’s still the same’, and really, that was the initiation,” Plant added. “The group was called the Delta Blues Band, and when we weren’t doing that, a guitarist and myself would go round all the local folk clubs doing Corinna, Corinna and all those really vulgar blues, like Peetie Wheatstraw’s stuff.” I wonder if they realised then just how much of success their bandmate was going to be. I imagine by the time they saw Plant moving into the biggest farmhouse in Kidderminster, they were beyond all doubt.