“Led Zeppelin was responsible for bigging it up. We had no choice… it was insane”: Robert Plant on how Led Zeppelin invented stadium rock

Robert Plant live in 1977
(Image credit: Ed Perlstein/Redferns/Getty)

Robert Plant likes playing all sorts of gigs, and over the course of a career stretching back for five and a half decades, he has played all sorts of gigs. Huge ones where you need a telescope to see the back row, club shows where you can see the whites of the audience’s eyes, freewheeling jams, headline sets, easy and breezy afternoon singalongs - he's played them all. Speaking to Classic Rock’s Niall Doherty in 2021, Plant explained that they were all one and the same to him.

Asked if he missed playing “proper” shows - it was lockdown and live music was on pause - Plant said there was no such thing. “Every show is a proper show, because you’ve got to get it right,” he said. At the time, he’d been enjoying low-level sessions with friends, away from the limelight. “It’s very humorous, intense, but very funny and simple in the way it comes about and the way we can move and travel with a number of people,” he explained. “We just turn up and play.”

“When you do it “properly”, as you say, then you start playing the game that we created. The band I was in in the 70s was pretty responsible for bigging it up. We had no choice. We played to 72,000 people whatever it was at Tampa Stadium,” Plant continued, referring to Led Zeppelin’s mammoth 1977 US gig in Tampa Bay, “and there was a thunderstorm and we ran for our lives. We had no opening act, no stage cover, nothing, and maybe two security guys keeping an eye on us. It was insane. We didn’t know – nobody had the process or the mechanics or the culture that said, ‘OK, we’ll bring you in by helicopter.’”

As you would expect from a performer who helped to write the manual for stadium-rock, Plant said he never got nervous before going onstage. Every now and then, though, there was a little apprehension, he revealed. “Sometimes I doubt that I’ve got the chops for the job,” he said, using his duets with Americana star and collaborator Alison Krauss as an example. “It’s a challenge, not physically a challenge, but to be honest, sometimes I have to remember what Alison’s told me to do. I see her eyes flashing at me and then she bursts out laughing. That’s part of the charm of the whole thing. It’s a circus, all of it, so why not occasionally ut on the big shoes and the red nose?”

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.