As CMT All-Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice continues to count down the most influential artists ever according to country stars, some picks are more surprising than others. Arriving at No. 32 are legendary hard rockers Led Zeppelin .
Based on a poll conducted by CMT of some of the biggest stars in country music, the ballot is clearly not limited to country artists. Over the course of 2014, the list will be revealed on CMT Hot 20 Countdown .
Formed in London in 1968 by vocalist Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, drummer John Bonham and bassist John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin was heavily inspired by American blues and would create a sound defined by howling vocals, screaming guitar leads and ferocious drumming.
With enduring rock anthems like “Whole Lotta Love,” “Black Dog,” “Stairway to Heaven” and “Kashmir,” the band is a forerunner to heavy metal but also a watershed moment in popular music as a whole.
“I was exposed to Led Zeppelin when I was about 10 or 11 years old when my older brother used to come to town in the summertime,” says Jake Owen. “He had this 1985 Chevy Tahoe … with an amazing stereo system in it, and he would turn up ‘When the Levee Breaks.’ Just the sound of the drums on that thing hooked me when I was a kid.”
“The thing that I love so much about his voice … is that no one sounds like [lead singer] Robert Plant,” Rucker says. “He’s got so much soul in his voice. For a band that was considered such a hard rock band, I just thought he’s such a soul singer. I mean, no one sounds like Robert Plant, and even when they try, they can’t. He does what he does better than anybody else. His voice is one of the real wonders of music history — how he can just bring it.
“And … he just exudes sex appeal. That’s what you want from a lead singer. You want somebody who just gets up there and gives everything, and Robert Plant does that. He’s the man. One of the best singers of all time.”
Though he’s too young to have experienced Zeppelin in its heyday, even Rhett — the 24-year-old singer-songwriter known for his recent hit, “Get Me Some of That” — could not escape the influence of the band’s memorable lineup.
“You watch Robert Plant swing his microphone around,” he says. “I’ve never heard anybody sing like that in my entire life. I think what separates them is when you hear a Zeppelin song, it doesn’t matter if you had heard it before, you knew it was Led Zeppelin. … Every guitar lick could have been the hook of the song. There could have been [no] words in the song, and it would still have rocked.”
As longtime fans know, Plant was very open about his love of the American South and its music. In recent years, he has recorded projects with Alison Krauss (2007’s Grammy album of the year, Raising Sand) and Band of Joy, a group that includes Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin, among others.
“Robert loved Southern, country, rootsy music,” says Lisa Marie Presley. “Robert’s into the South. He loves the South a lot. He appreciates it. I mean, he said they were influenced by a lot of stuff, all these old blues albums. It was amazing. Their take on it was incredible.”
“Robert Plant many times has talked about his love of Robert Johnson, who’s also one of my favorite blues artists,” adds Williams. “His love for Hank Williams, his love for modern artists, doing this with Alison Krauss. (Led Zeppelin) just came in like the (Rolling) Stones did and made their own brand of music … and never won a Grammy but kept doing their thing for years.
“I found a Rolling Stone [magazine] in my house from 1971, and I was reading the reviews … and they got a really bad review. It said like ‘Oh, these guys are just a flash in the pan.’ It’s like, that’s an artist that stuck to it and kept putting out music for the fans. Robert Plant, I think, is a musical genius and blended all those things growing up and elements into his own thing.”
Tune in to CMT Hot 20 Countdown each week at 11 a.m. ET/PT to check out the next star revealed on CMT All-Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice.