Record shopping with Robert Plant -- We talk to Led Zeppelin's former frontman about his new CD, obsessive fans, and a new Honeydrippers record

May 09, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

Robert Plant has sold millions of records, tapes, eight-tracks, CDs, and DVDs over the past 36 years. The former Led Zeppelin frontman is what you’d call a rock legend. So it’s a bit odd to see him moving around Bleecker Bob’s record store in Manhattan like any record geek, perusing everything from blues-funk favorite Johnny ”Guitar” Watson to ’60s garage one-hit wonders Count Five. ”I could spend all day in here,” he sighs. ”I used to live in the 10-cent stores.”

And, like many fingers before his, he then combs the Led Zeppelin vinyl section. Flipping past bootlegs and records with images of exploding blimps and old men carrying sticks, he pauses after spotting his 1982 solo debut, Pictures at Eleven, featuring a cover photo of Plant lighting up a cigarette. ”Uggh,” he says. ”That’s when I used to smoke all day.”

A lot has changed for the 56-year-old singer since Led Zep were the biggest band on the planet, but as we all know, some songs remain the same. He is still touring and putting out albums — the latest of which, Mighty Rearranger, drops May 10 and combines everything from Moroccan rhythms to psychedelic guitar swirls (his excellent new backing band, the Strange Sensation, includes musicians who’ve played with Portishead and Massive Attack, among others). He still has to endure fans begging for ”Stairway to Heaven.” And he still has plenty to say about his career both in and outside of one of the most important rock bands of all time.

A few years ago you said you’d like to write a big rock anthem again. Is the new album’s ”Shine It All Around” that song?

There is a compulsion about it, and that lure is what I’ve been trying to deal in for a long time — for 30-odd years. But I’m getting there now. There have been times when it’s been a bit flat and I’ve thought, Well, maybe the whole game is beyond me. And then I have great moments of explosive inspiration.

How overstated — or understated — was the debauchery of those first Zeppelin tours?

Well, it depended on whose room key you had. There was a certain amount of youthful splendor in the grass, but it was pretty overblown. I guess we all got messed up. The drugs did kick in and out. For me, it always depended on whether or not it was really gonna affect the reason that I was here. And I’d had enough of what I’d had enough of quite early in the adventure. So by 1977, I made an absolute decision not to lose it again.

Your 1984 hit album with the Honeydrippers was called Volume One. Usually that sort of implies a volume 2 is in the works. So I guess what I’m asking is, how’s that Honeydrippers follow-up coming?

It’s come and gone several times! [Me and a record executive] were at a sex club in Tokyo, where he’s in a booth and the girls are making out. It’s 4 o’clock in the morning and he says, ”Man, you could have this forever. Just get some f—ing commercial music out!” So I said, ”Okay, I can do ‘Sea of Love’ and all that.” And off we went and we did it. And there will be a volume 2 — without a doubt.

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