For Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Elvis Presley was the beginning of everything. Plant, who was introduced to rock music when he was still of primary school age, went on to dominate the genre in his adult life. It’s hard to imagine now, but hearing the likes of Little Richard and Jimmy Cliff on the radio alongside all that classical and trad jazz must have been utterly transformative.
For Plant and so many others of his generation, Presley and his rock ‘n’ roll companions offered a window into an untouched world of hedonistic vivacity. Plant was eight-years-old when he heard ‘Hound Dog’ for the first time. It was an experience that may well have set him on the path to rock stardom, convincing him to form his own groups in the Black Country before hitting the big time with Led Zeppelin in the late 1960s.
Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham were all huge fans of Mr Presley and went to see him live on several occasions. On one of those visits, Plant had the opportunity to meet his idol in the flesh. Speaking to Lauren Laverne on Desert Island Discs, Plant recalled being invited to meet Elvis after one of the gigs, an offer he gladly accepted. “He was talking to us and he said, ‘Well, how do you get on with sound checks and stuff?’ Led Zeppelin didn’t really do a lot of things like that, but when we did try out new equipment, whenever it might be, I’d want to sing an Elvis song. So he said, ‘Well, what is it?’ And I said it’s a song called ‘Love Me’. Which is like: ‘Dreaming like a fool, Treat me mean and cruel but love me’”.
Plant and Presley talked some more and eventually shook hands and parted ways. As he walked away, Plant, still slightly star-struck, heard his name being called out: “We’re walking down the corridor and suddenly I’m hailed, and I turn around and Elvis is swinging out of the room, on the door frame, and does an Elvis to me – which we all do – and starts singing this song. So the two of us are like the ultimate pub singers that night!”
Elvis had been something of a guardian angel for Plant for a long time. When he was still a teenager living in Stourbridge, Robert spent much of his time buying, playing and learning records by Elvis and other rock ‘n’ roll and blues musicians. He also made sure to keep tabs on all the local bands. So when the singer of his friend’s group, The Jurymen, fell sick just before a gig, it was Robert who was called upon to fill in. “The gig was on, so they said, you know the songs, get up and let’s do the gig. I was very nervous. I didn’t look at the audience at all – not until about 1968.”