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(Soundbite of song, "Whole Lotta Love")

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

No you did not accidentally knock the dial over to classic rock radio. This is NPR News and that's the heavy metal band Led Zeppelin.

(Soundbite of song, "Black Dog")

Mr. ROBERT PLANT (Singer, Led Zeppelin): (Singing) Ah, ah child, way you shake that thing, gonna make you burn, gonna make you sting.

INSKEEP: Led Zeppelin broke up nearly 30 years ago. A couple of years later lead singer Robert Plant faced the challenge of starting over again. And that challenge, starting over, is what we'll explore with Robert Plant this morning.

(Soundbite of song, "Mighty Rearranger")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Last night as I was laying down thinking, I was wondering about the road that lies ahead…

INSKEEP: Robert Plant has a new CD collection of his solo work called "Nine Lives." He spoke with Ashley Kahn.

(Soundbite of song, "In The Mood")

ASHLEY KAHN: Robert Plant's first concert as a solo artist took place back in 1982. But the rock singer remembers his nervousness like it was yesterday.

(Soundbite of song, "In The Mood")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Yeah. I'm in the mood for a melody. I'm in the mood for a melody. I'm in the mood…

Mr. PLANT: In the afternoon of that day in Peoria, Illinois, I was really emotional. Hopping up and down and pacing around. I mean in those days, Led Zeppelin was legendary and was still alive.

(Soundbite of song, "Ramble On")

Mr. PLANT: I thought, maybe I should just quit now because nothing could be like that. But on the other hand, the great challenge was, what's it going to be like?

(Soundbite of song, "Ramble On")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Leaves are falling all around, time I was on my way.

KAHN: From 1968 through the 70s, Led Zeppelin grew from just another British blues band to ascend the throne of heavy metal. In their prime, they ruled the arenas and stadiums. No other hard-rock group was as consistently popular, as influential, or as explosive.

(Soundbite of song, "Ramble On")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Ramble on! Now is the time, the time is now, sing my song, I going 'round the world, I gotta find my girl. On my way…

KAHN: Led Zeppelin has yet to be unseated from that throne. Though they haven't existed as a working group for more than 25 years, only a few months ago Rolling Stone magazine placed them on the cover, hailing them the heaviest band of all time.

(Soundbite of song, "When The Levee Breaks")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) If it keeps on raining, levee's going to break. If it keeps on raining, levee's going to break.

KAHN: Led Zeppelin split up in 1980, when the heartbeat of the group, drummer John Bonham, suddenly died.

(Soundbite of song, "When The Levee Breaks")

KAHN: When Plant kicked off his solo career in 1982, he had to face up to his own legacy.

Mr. PLANT: I walked onto the stage and I was absolutely drowned.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PLANT: I mean reduced to the size of a mouse because the response from the audience was amazing.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Just like I've never been gone.

(Soundbite of cheering)

KAHN: "Nine Lives" is the title of a new box set that charts a 25-year musical journey, as Plant explored different sounds and remained a leading voice in rock.

(Soundbite of song, "Big Log")

KAHN: At first, he relied a bit heavily on synthesizers and drum machines. But hey, that was the 80s.

(Soundbite of song, "Big Log")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) And the secret that burns, and the pain that won't stop, and it's fuel is the years. Leading me on…

Mr. PLANT: Now looking back at it, I sort of go, wow. I remember the energy in this stuff. I had romances with different technologies, with different sonic nuance.

KAHN: Other steps along the way included Plant's brief role with The Honeydrippers, a rhythm and blues revival group.

(Soundbite of song, "Sea Of Love")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Come with me, my love…

KAHN: His ongoing fascination with the music of North Africa:

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) I'm so guilty of (unintelligible)…

KAHN: And his reunion with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page:

(Soundbite of song, "Tall Cool One")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Lighten up, baby, I'm in love with you…

KAHN: But it wasn't until 1993 that Plant feels he broke away from his old role as a band member and began thinking of himself as a bandleader.

(Soundbite of song, "Come Into My Life")

Mr. PLANT: I think "Fate Of Nations" was a major turning point. I was suddenly encouraged to bring in people for particular roles within the record, and I'd never done that before.

(Soundbite of song, "Come Into My Life")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Come into my life, here where nothing matters. Come into my life and roll away the gloom.

KAHN: In 2005, Plant released the album "Mighty Rearranger," and his journey seemed to come full circle, back to that familiar blend of hard rock, folk music of the Near East, and a heavy dose of the blues.

(Soundbite of song, "Mighty Rearranger")

Mr. PLANT: It's big and strong and powerful. That's its relationship with Led Zeppelin. One part taking you is beckoning you towards the Sahara, while another part is taking you into San Francisco in '67, you know.

(Soundbite of song, "Mighty Rearranger")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Mighty rearranger, oh, mighty rearranger, oh…

KAHN: Today Robert Plant is a youthful 58. He's a grandfather, but retirement is not in his plans.

Mr. PLANT: My two older kids have got kids of their own now, but they're all musical.

(Soundbite of sitar music)

Mr. PLANT: I think they quite expect me to disappear into the desert for years on end, then come out, you know, with a beard down to the floor, going: hey, you'll never guess, I found a new scale.

(Soundbite of music)

KAHN: Robert Plant's musical wanderings began more than 40 years ago and he's often crossed his own footsteps, but resist the temptation to see this in biblical terms. He's not lost and he's not looking for the adventure to end.

(Soundbite of song, "Immigrant Song")

Mr. PLANT: I have to surprise myself. I have to try and push myself into an area where I'm a little unsure. I come from a very strong and demonstrative lineage, as well as coming from the land of the ice and snow.

(Soundbite of song, "Immigrant Song")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the harsh winds blow…

INSKEEP: Ashley Kahn is a regular contributor to MORNING EDITION. Robert Plant's new box set is called "Nine Lives," and you can hear more of it and learn more about Robert Plant's solo career at NPR.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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