When guitarist Darrell Scott started playing roots and Americana music professionally 30 years ago, he probably never imagined becoming a bandmate with former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant.
Scott joined Plant's latest project, Band of Joy, last year when songwriter Buddy Miller and harmonist Patty Griffin helped Plant form a backing band for a recording project. Handling banjo, mandolin, pedal steel, and guitar duties, Scott fit right in with the all-star cast of American players.
"I think Robert is having a great time. From what I can tell he likes this expression of this band," Scott says of his new colleague. Judging by the critical acclaim of the new album Band of Joy (Rounder) and the rave reviews of recent performances, everyone is certainly having a great time.
Band of Joy sparked out of Raising Sand, Plant's 2009 duet album with vocalist Alison Krauss. Miller co-produced the disc, and it was his circle of friends that Plant called on.
This year's Grammy Awards jury nominated Band of Joy for Best Americana Album. Plant also nagged a nomination for the Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance category for the cover of Low's "Silver Rider." The harmonies when Plant and Griffin sing, "She passes through you like a knife," inspire epic levels of goosebumps.
Plant originally formed Band of Joy in 1966 before joining Led Zeppelin. Plant's new version of Band of Joy is undeniably one of the most talented ensembles ever put together.
Miller and Griffin, both accomplished songwriters with significant fanbases of their own, jumped at the chance to back the Golden God. Scott, bassist Byron House, and drummer Marco Giovino signed on, and the biggest Americana super-group since the Traveling Wilburys was born.
With Miller at the helm, Plant and the band assembled at Woodland Studios in Nashville, recording the album over the course of two weeks. The final set included four originals and renditions of Los Lobos' "Angel Dance," the traditional "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down," and an R&B tune from the '60s titled "I'm Falling in Love Again," among others.
After recording and touring last summer, Scott felt that they'd become a proper band.
"When something needs to change, going to the chorus or to an extended solo, it's all in the moment," Scott says. "I think it must be very expressive for Robert because whatever he wants to do, in a musical way, that feels right, we kind of all feel it at the same time."
A favorite musical moment for Scott since joining on with Plant came in Italy, during the sound check for a TV show appearance, when the band broke into an impromptu "A Hard Rain's A'Gonna Fall."
"It was real in-the-moment," he recalls. "That was like a revelation for us, and we all kind of knew it. It just came out of nowhere."
Scott says that while Plant can be quiet in conversation and private while on the road, he's elaborately open in his musical dialogue. Apparently, sound checks before concerts are when the magic tends to happen. A tune worked out in a pre-show session can become the opening song later that night.
Comfortable moments like that lead to jams, riffs, and snippets of new tunes, generating early talk of a second album. It would make sense, considering Plant passed up a Zeppelin reunion and another project with Krauss to pursue Band of Joy and the further study of Appalachian music.
"He's an absolute historian of roots music," Scott says of Plant. "He could be teaching the history of the blues at a post-graduate level."
Scott admits he's no scholar on Led Zeppelin's music. He never covered them before joining his band, but may work up "All of My Love" from Zep's In Through the Out Door into his future repertoire. Still, he says, playing and singing with the legend is like studying for a master's degree.
Scott sings extra harmonies on "Silver Rider," possibly the slowest song on the album.
"That whole tune is just haunting," he says. "There are times in the song where there's seemingly absolutely no tempo, the slowest count imaginable. I take it as a challenge to play in time and do it that slowly. You feel your way through it."
A feeling, no doubt, of pure joy.