The New Cue #73 October 4: Robert Plant, Alabama 3

4 October, 2021

Happy Monday!

If it’s not a happy Monday, don’t fret, we’ve brought Led Zeppelin’s frontman to the party. He’s chatting, he’s having a laugh, the mood is good, the week is off to the flier! Alabama 3 also tell us about the making of Woke Up This Morning and how it became the theme tune to The Sopranos.

We’ll see The New Cue subscriber crew on Wednesday and Friday - the rest of you will have to wait a whole week to get your New Cue fix. Unless you press the little button…

Enjoy the edition, cheers,

Ted, Niall, Chris

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Start The Week With… Robert Plant

Today Robert Plant and Alison Krauss release High & Lonesome, the new single from their long-awaited second collaboration album Raise The Roof. The follow-up to their gargantuan, Grammy Award-winning 2007 record Raising Sand, it sees the rock’n’roll icon and the US bluegrass star reunite to put a rootsy spin on a cherry-picked selection of covers, including songs by The Everly Brothers, Merle Haggard, Bert Jansch, Calexico and more. Robert gave Niall a call to talk him through how it all came together…

Hello Robert, how are you doing?
Yeah, I’m good, pretty good.

Thanks for calling.
Oh, it’s ok. Talking about music is one of the most riveting occupations I've ever had in my life. At least it’s not the Record Mirror or Disc & Music Echo now. They say talking about music is like dancing about architecture, so let's do our best to make it nice and sturdy.

It will be sturdy, I promise. Where are you at the moment?
I'm on the Welsh coast. Beautiful day, me and my dog, the world's finest old lurcher. I've got some pals up here who are pretty far out people. So I've got a couple of days off before I have to stand on my head. And here I am.

How does it feel talking about a record that you finished over a year ago?
Well, it's ridiculous isn't it? We're certainly not the only people to have been caught in trap of getting so encouraged and enthusiastic about it all and then sticking it on one side, playing it and then saying “don't play it”, listening to it and going “nope, don’t, there’s no comments to make”, “is it ok?”, oh, hello, another six months gone. And so it's been a weird time for all of us who are in this same position in the game, and anybody who's trying to get out there and do stuff in all fields of entertainment and activity. At least for me, I've been lucky to be around quite a few musicians around the Welsh borders and stuff. Even with the social distancing, I'm still able to sing. So it's pretty good.

You’ve been a bit of a restless spirit throughout your career, how’s it been being stuck in the one place?
Restless spirit is a very polite way of putting it! But yeah, it's been what it's been, I mean, nobody was really prepared. How do you brace yourself for something that’s the first time we've come across this in Western Europe in our lifetimes. So it was a huge learning curve in patience and moderation and responsibility.

Did you take up any new hobbies?
Yeah, I think I did. I took up being tidy and tidying. And just finding out all the stuff that I'd left behind… my magnificent ex-wife turned up with a huge, great big trunk of stage gear from 1971 onwards.

Ah wow!
Yeah, all that stuff. Bit by bit, the madness of my times came and a lot of it in one way or another was laid at my feet. I've found I've actually been able to track the course of my time and the various adventures that I've had, for better or worse, all the way through. So there's been a lot of that. And I've done a lot of marching around. I'm a sort of poor man's Julian Cope, his remarkable books and his brandishing and Neolithic past for all of us to get access to. There's been a lot of things, really. I've had time to be in one place and marvel at the idea of watching the seasons go by, perilously close to drinking the supermarket shelves dry at the same time.

Haven’t we all.
Yeah, and here we are, staggering one way and another and another, left and right. I'm due to go to America next week and there was so many pros and cons with the idea of that, going to Nashville and starting to do this very thing with British and American media, Canadian and stuff. It seems almost weird because everything's been done in virtual silence. The music was created but then it was like, the whole thing was just… silence. The idea of suddenly getting really excited about it feels just a little bit odd, as excited as I am about it too. The other day I was playing it and just marvelling at the sound of it.

Congratulations on the record. It feels like the right album for the times, a bit of a balm. It's got a nice, gentle roll to it.
Yeah, but it’s also got a little bit of dark shuffle in there as well. You know, that’s why T Bone Burnett wears dark glasses, you don't want to see those eyeballs. I think it's appropriate for all of us in this little circle of people. Musically, the attitude towards taking a pop song like The Everly Brothers song and turning it into something far more ponderous and yet, they turned it around, there was not even a consideration as to where it would go, how it would go, it just slipped into the groove that it's got really good. They’re remarkable people to work with out there. There's a sort of timeless groove that they have. And it modifies, it’s kind of slightly retro, then it’s left and right.

The reunion between you and Alison Krauss has been a long time coming. Did it feel effortless when you were back in the studio together or did it take some time?
I think it was tentative. It was a little bit odd because we'd seen each other performing not long before the lockdown, the first lockdown, probably about the September before and we agreed, “why not?”. And we’d exchanged all these songs, we were thinking about how things would be with two voices or the Betty Harris thing for her. Betty Harris’s catalogue is something else. And Soul Jazz records put out that Lost Queen Of New Orleans Soul album, yeah, which is an absolute blinding collection of songs, Allen Toussain at the helm. I was sure Alison’s style would lend itself to that song because once she leaves her sort of characteristic idiom, she can fly, you know, and the arrival of really beautiful blue notes within her performance has always been there waiting, and it does come out now and again. I think that's the great vacation that we share and the thing that we look forward to, but nervously, you know.

I spoke to T Bone Burnett recently and he said you told him you’d been singing Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces’ Searching For My Love your whole life.
Yes, right. I've never sang it live. It must have come out when I was about 15 or something. And the groups that I was in then as a kid, The Crawling King Snakes and Black Snake Moan, were all these groups trying to be Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker. It's just the groove on that song. There are songs that stay with you, even though by the time that Dylan had shaken us all alive out of nowhere, those old songs are cute. I don't know whether it's a ditty because it's got such a good feel to it. It's got a little charming vocal line which you can't get rid of. It's that moment when you know that you're not going to stop singing it for about a day, you’ve forgotten about it for 15 years and then suddenly it's there, you know?

What do you think you learned from Alison making this record?
Don’t go home early!

Would you like to elaborate?
I mean, I went to Nashville to cut this record. She lives in Nashville, so she’d go about her business and I’d end up with Lucinda Williams and the gang some place. I went to that many different musical things there so I learned again, I saw amazing young artists, incredible people… so don’t go home early. That’s it. Look, I have to flee.

Go for it. Cheers Robert.
It’s pleasure, nice to speak to you, all the best!


The Story Behind The Song

How we birthed a classic

Woke Up This Morning, 1997, by Alabama 3

Alabama 3 singer Rob Spragg (also known as Larry Love) tells Niall how the track that became The Sopranos theme came together and the mistake they made in originally signing it away for just $500...

“The song started as a 20-minute acid-house track. We had an Akai sampler and we nicked a King Tubby bassline, put down the guitar riff and then I said, “why don't we put Howlin’ Wolf going “woke up this morning” over the top?” and it kind of went from there. It started as a 20 minutes acid-house, trippy, ambient track and then from that, we developed it into a lyric about a woman having enough of a husband threatening her.

At the time, it was 1996-97, we were doing acid raves but we were mixing in Hank Williams and some blues stuff. No-one was picking up on it really, it was the height of Britpop and we were quite out on a limb. I knew it sounded good but it took a while to get people to get used to that. We were taking records which were recorded 60-50 years ago and putting them with modern house music.

David Chase told me that the first time he heard it, he was driving down the New Jersey freeway, which is at the start of every episode, and the track came on the radio. He heard it and thought it was perfect. We’d just signed to Geffen Records at the time, it was just on the radio at random and he chased us down. He thought we were three black kids from Brooklyn, and then he found out it was a Welshman and a Scotsman in Brixton in London.

Initially, we signed it away for $500, because we didn’t have a very savvy manager. We didn’t know what it was, all we’d heard was that HBO was a small cable channel in New York, no-one thought much of it, so it was signed off quite cheaply and there was no recognition of us on the credits. I think it was about six months after The Sopranos came out, we were getting calls from people in America going, “you know there’s fucking massive billboards everywhere with James Gandolfini on?!”. We were going, “what?!”. Cos it started on a cable channel, no-one had much optimism for it but it just grew from there. I like the fact it built up slowly, it came from the underground. I think it gave it more integrity. Over the years, because it got synced again, we've done alright out of it, but the initial deal was a bit fucking stupid.

I think the fact that it wasn't written about the mafia, it was written about a woman Sara Thornton whose husband was a policeman who abused her, it has a different narrative to what people think and that keeps it sort of quite fresh in our minds all the time.

They got in touch to put it in The Many Saints Of Newark through our old record label, One Little Indian. It was out the blue, with the pandemic and everything we didn’t really know what was going on, they approached us to use it at the very end of the film, which was great news. You can knock the track down and do an acoustic blues version or do a banging acid version of it, within that style it allows itself to be many genres.”

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