“It takes me into the condition that I like best of all, to be the hunter, the student, the geek”: Robert Plant on the record he likes to start his day with

Robert Plant in 2023
(Image credit: Photo by Denise Truscello/Getty Images for Palms Resort & Casino)

Picture, if you can, Robert Plant first thing in the morning. He’s just got up. He’s having a bagel. He’s got bed head, but his bed head is better than your bed head. He’s having a coffee, or maybe a herbal tea. Maybe he’s doing a spot of yoga. Lovely silk dressing gown, Robert! Now he’s putting on a record, and this is where your imagination can have a rest because in 2020 he told this writer all about the album he likes to start the day with. It’s a box set titled Sounds Of The South, a compilation documenting the work of Alan Lomax after the American ethnomusicologist was given funding to trek across the Southern states of the US with his field recording equipment and collect folk songs. Accompanied by his then-partner Shirley Collins, their trip came to be known as the Southern Journey.

“I’ve spent a lot of time over in Nashville, in the last ten years I’ve spent time not exactly being the musical tourist that I used to be but more digging in to other aspects of Americana and American culture,” Plant explained. “I’ve learnt more and more and more about music forms that are antiquarian but at the same time, because they’re relatively new to me, they open up my enthusiasm and excitement as I find more and more of these strange songs. It takes me into the condition that I like best of all, and that is to be the hunter, the student, the geek who tries to find song structures and lyrical structures that are coming from another place altogether. This is a compilation that’s not particularly rare, it’s part of the kind of Smithsonian catalogue of American music.”

Plant said that he’d always leant towards the blues and this collection took him deep into its origins. “It takes music right back into far, far from the actual showman blues, from the gloss and beautifully recorded things. They are mostly field recordings. I listen to these songs because there’s a simplicity about them and there’s also an amazing frankness about them both in all areas, whether it be the white folk there on the Blue Ridge Mountains or the stuff that was recorded in north Mississippi in Como with the drum and fife bands. I can’t get away from the fact that each one of the songs on these collections is giving me a totally different look, a totally different resonance.”

He recalled a conversation he had with Shirley Collins about when one of the recordings was made. “I spoke to Shirley Collins some time aback about the day they were in Como, Mississippi and they were bringing their afternoon to an end and into the clearing came [blues singer] Mississippi Fred McDowell, who nobody had heard play before and he sat up and started playing. Can you imagine, coming from the English countryside or wherever it is and ending up with Alan Lomax in Como, Mississippi and a guy comes through the clearing having done a day’s work and starts playing like that? I carry that with me. It’s all consuming. I’m so much in love with it. It’s a great way of starting the day. I’m not sure whether my dog or my ladyfriend is particularly keen on hearing it, but it works fine.”

Perhaps you can give it a go to get your day rolling. If it works for Robert Plant, it can work for you too…

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.