by Joe Boone
Robert Plant dropped by Royal Studios on Saturday to cut harmonica tracks for the North Mississippi Allstars. Allstars Luther and Cody Dickinson had thought their new album was all but done, when they found themselves in town at the same time as the former Zeppelin front man and blues aficionado. The Dickinson brothers had opened a few dates for Plant in recent years and had talked about getting in some studio time.
“It was unexpected,” said Boo Mitchell, owner of the storied Royal Studios and a man not easily star-struck. Royal Studios is famous primarily for recording Al Green’s hits under the direction of Boo Mitchell’s father, the legendary producer Willie Mitchell. The house rhythm section, known as the Hi Rhythm section, backed tons of soul hits and is legendary in its own right.
There are few musical stars as accomplished as Plant. Led Zeppelin’s IV has sold a reported 37 million copies. Still Plant was moved by the experience of working at Royal.
“We let him use Al Green’s mic,” Mitchell said. He dug the sound and the fact that we haven’t changed anything. He had a fabulous time.”
They worked on two tracks and were joined by Lightnin' Malcolm on bass.
Both Plant and the Allstars had gigs that night. Plant played at the Live at the Garden series and the Allstars at the Recording Academy Memphis Chapter’s 40th Anniversary at the Levitt Shell.
“It was funny, Plant missed his sound check and Cody and Luther did too,” Mitchell said.
The session got off to a wobbly start.
“About 4 my phone rings,” Mitchell said, cutting to a British accent. “‘Is this the studio? This is Robert. I need another harmonica.’ He said he had dropped his into some Indian incense.”
A harp was found and to great effect.
“He should play harmonica more than he does. He is a bad ass harmonica player,” Mitchell said.