Here are some things that former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant—the honorary Texan who, until recently, called Austin his home—is more likely to do than reunite with guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist John Paul Jones to play shows as “Led Zeppelin”: Run for (and win!) Governor of Texas in 2018. Open a chain of Fiesta supermarkets throughout the UK. Donate all of his worldly possessions to the Moonies and spend the rest of his life singing the breakdown from “Whole Lotta Love” on Sixth Street. Take a job as a fry cook and refuse to ever acknowledge that he was in one of the most beloved rock bands in history. Outbid Phil Collins for every piece of recently-unearthed Alamo memorabilia that he comes across because, who knew, maybe Robert Plant has a big grudge against Phil Collins for something. Basically you can put anything you want on this list, and it’ll be true.
How do we know that? Because last week, according to the British tabloid The Mirror, Plant and his bandmates were offered a check for the downright obscene figure of $800,000,000 by Virgin founder Richard Branson to play a 35-date tour—and Plant, the paper reports, tore the check up in front of the gazillionaire who offered it to him:
“Jimmy, John and Jason signed up immediately,” the source told the paper. “It was a no-brainer for them but Robert asked for 48 hours to think about it. When he said no and ripped up the paperwork he had been given, there was an enormous sense of shock. There is no way they can go ahead without him.”
Branson would have flown the group around in one of his jets and offered the group the opportunity to do more gigs if they so desired.
“He is gutted,” the source said.
Led Zeppelin, one of the most influential groups of all time, broke up in 1980 following Bonham’s death, but reunited for four occasions, most recently a show at London’s O2 Arena in honor of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, who signed the band in 1968.
Now, there is some question regarding the credibility of the Mirror in this instance—Plant’s publicist characterized the report as “rubbish,” and a story built around nothing but an anonymous source from a paper not known for its dilligent reporting can raise a few flags. But the element of the story that rings true is that Plant has been steadfast in his refusal to ever cash in on Led Zeppelin’s legacy for a quick payday, no matter how much money is on the table.
This is, after all, the era of the reunion tour, when giant music festivals from Bonnaroo and Coachella to Glastonbury and Reading in the UK all struggle to outdo one another with once-in-a-lifetime headliners. The Eagles came back again in recent years to tour and play Austin City Limits, despite hating one another so much that they’re as famous for their internal lawsuits as “Take It Easy;” legendary pre-grunge rockers The Pixies overcame their interpersonal disputes long enough to get through a Coachella headlining set, playing to audiences larger than any they might have imagined in their early days (the band continues to this day, albeit strictly as a museum act playing old material); Sting rejoined The Police when the check was big enough; even bands as relatively obscure as My Bloody Valentine nabbed big paydays to hit the road.
So while the specifics of the Robert Plant story may be fabricated—or they may not, who knows for sure—the broader picture certainly rings true: The amount of money on the table for a Led Zeppelin reunion tour would be truly staggering (that one-off 2007 show in London, through which the right to buy tickets was awarded by lottery, saw a pair go for £83,000, or nearly $150,000), and Plant has always been the bulwark against the potential reunion coming to pass.
Led Zeppelin is by far the biggest-name act with the bulk of its membership still in playing shape to refuse to reunite, and whether the checks they’ve been offered to go on the road are $800 million or some number smaller than that, the figure would have to be fairly obscene. In 2000, Swedish popsters ABBA turned down $1 billion to do a 100-date tour, and it’s probably safe to say that Zeppelin could outdraw ABBA. At some point, it’s clear that some very rich people, like Plant, aren’t motivated by a desire to get even richer—so whether or not he ripped up a check in front of Richard Branson, it still seems clear that the list of things that Robert Plant is more inclined to do than reunite Led Zeppelin includes, well, just about anything you can think of.
(Press Association via AP Images)