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How Beth Hart made the Led Zeppelin album she didn't want to make

Beth Hart
(Image credit: Provogue Records/Mascot)

Beth Hart has been fighting a war in her mind since she was a child. Abandoned by her father at the age of six (“I begged him in the driveway: ‘Don’t leave us’”), she turned to music for salvation. Now 50 (her birthday was not long after our interview), she is a global star with 13 studio albums and almost as many live albums to her name. 

She has been sober for seven years (“Thank you, Lord Jesus”), but remains vulnerable (“I’m going through the perimenopause, so everything makes me cry right now”). And she has come through a bruising lockdown by channelling the inner wild child of her youth to record A Tribute To Led Zeppelin.

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What was your initial response when producer Rob Cavallo [who did Hart’s War In My Mind] asked you to record an album of Led Zeppelin songs? 

I didn’t want to do it. Hard rock – I did that world when I was young. I dressed like a dude, everything I did was like a man on stage, cos that’s what I felt like I needed to be to feel safe. Then I got on medication and did a lot of therapy and I kind of pulled away from hard rock. And I didn’t want to go back there. I didn’t want to revisit all my childhood trauma that made me rock like I didn’t even wanna be a female.

Then the pandemic happened. No one could go out of the house. I didn’t sleep. There’s stuff going on on TV. The racism, the covid, people dying, the conspiracy theories… it all came out. Everybody showed their true colours, right? All your good and all your bad comes out. I called Wolff [manager] and I said: “Yo! I wanna do this Zeppelin album now!” 

Which is your favourite Zeppelin album? 

I don’t own any of their albums. The choices are all by Rob Cavallo. He put the band and orchestra together. This is his vision. All I did was sing. And I couldn’t believe how good he made me sound. I had no idea how truly genius Jimmy Page was in his songwriting and arrangements. And how educated and well-read Robert Plant was – you can really hear it in his lyrics. 

I cried when I heard the playback of Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You; I thought about my dad. 

Did you have to change the keys of any of the songs to fit your voice? 

Most of them are in the same key. I did have them lower a few keys, because I like singing in my lower register.

Your voice is lower than Robert Plant’s? 

Well, he was really young. I’m almost fifty. He’s a man, so he naturally has a low end, but he was so brilliant he also had this incredible high end that he knew how to access. Which is insane.

How did Plant’s lyrics work for a woman to sing? ‘Sixteen I fell in love with a girl as sweet as can be…’ 

Most of the time you’ve left them alone. I did. And you know I have a history of bisexuality. I think women are fricking drop-dead gorgeous. I’m married to the sexiest man in the world and I would never, ever do anything outside my marriage. But back in the day… Well, women are awesome. They’re works of art. 

So it was really easy for me to dig into that. And I didn’t want to frick too much with the lyrics. There may be one or two times I say ‘woman’ instead of ‘man’, referring to myself, or something, but the rest of it I just thought it would be inappropriate and kinda rude to change that. 

Have you had any feedback from Plant or Page? 

Oh no, man. The only time they ever saw me sing was when I did the Kennedy Center Honors for Buddy Guy [2012 show at which she performed with Jeff Beck]. I kinda stay out of all that stuff. And I get too star-struck anyway. I think that even if Plant did know about this record I wouldn’t want to know what he said. Even if it was good.

What do you think Zeppelin fans will make of the album? 

I don’t know, man. I’m a little afraid, I gotta be honest. But I got my alter ego. And when I get on stage she’s a bad bitch. So I think I’m gonna have the balls. You gotta pray for me.

How did the lockdown affect you? 

Other than the obvious horrors, it ended up being one of the best things that could have happened to me, mentally. I fired my psychiatrist who’d been with me for fourteen years. He kept telling me that I was bipolar one, and that it was inevitable that I was going to kill myself, and that I needed to go on all these heavy drugs. 

I went back to my trauma specialist instead, who thinks I’m borderline personality disorder with chronic PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. And I agree with him. Thank God. I’m always going to have an illness. But instead of having to suppress it with a major tranquilliser, I’m able to handle it with natural things – herbs, vitamins and keeping up the trauma work. 

So a lot of changes happened because I got so much time off the road. Something clicked and I haven’t smoked cigarettes now for almost a year. I worked on the garden, and I wrote over seventy songs. 

Wow! Does that mean there’ll be another album on the way soon? 

Ooh, yeah! I’ve got two albums all done and I’m starting on a third. What else are you gonna do? You can’t go anywhere. You gotta do something or you go friggin crazy! 

Yes, but won’t seventy songs keep you going until you decide to retire? 

I’m never going to retire. I’m going to do a Buddy Guy; eighty five years old and still going to be playing. For three people on the street corner, if need be. I can never stop. It’s healing. 

A Tribute To Led Zeppelin is out now via Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group.

Musician since the 1970s and music writer since the 1980s. Pop and rock correspondent of The Times of London (1985-2015) and columnist in Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines. Contributor to Q magazine, Kerrang!, Mojo, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, et al. Formerly drummer in TV Smith’s Explorers, London Zoo, Laughing Sam’s Dice and others. Currently singer, songwriter and guitarist with the David Sinclair Four (DS4). His sixth album as bandleader, Apropos Blues, is released 2 September 2022 on Critical Discs/Proper.