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Rock legend Robert Plant covers Austin songwriter on 'Band of Joy'

Patrick Caldwell
The Monahans have been releasing one track a month for fans to download for free on the band's website. This month's song is 'We Tremble.'

Several years ago, Austin musician Greg Vanderpool at the time slinging guitar and singing for locally born country-folk crafters Milton Mapes bumped into Robert Plant in a Nashville airport. Vanderpool, a lifelong fan of Led Zeppelin and Plant's solo work, stole a few minutes with the rock legend, never mentioning that he himself was a working musician.

On Sept. 14, Plant will release ‘Band of Joy,' his first solo album since 2007's Grammy-winning ‘Raising Sand.' Reprising the name of Plant's first band — a band which also included future Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham — the album and accompanying tour unites a cast of musicians including Darrell Scott and Austin's Patty Griffin. And it was produced by Nashville icon Buddy Miller — who mastered Milton Mapes seven-song 2001 debut, ‘The State Line.'

The curious thing is this, neither of those unlikely connections between Vanderpool and Plant had anything to do with Plant covering Milton Mapes' ‘The Only Sound That Matters' on the new record — and, probably, at Monday's sold-out show at Stubb's.

‘Working with Buddy and meeting Robert at the airport and having neither of those things having anything to do with how the song ended up on the record ... that's pretty strange,' Vanderpool says.

Instead, Plant chose to cover the song — one of an array of covers that appear on ‘Band of Joy,' including numbers from Los Lobos, Low, and the Kelly Brothers — after it was recommended to him by a friend. Vanderpool learned of the addition after receiving a phone call from a music publisher and — cynical that it might not be true — verifying the news with Miller. Vanderpool first heard Plant's version last week — and the results, he says, are striking.

‘It's pretty surreal to hear anyone else playing your song, but there was an extra layer of goosebumps listening to Robert Plant singing it,' Vanderpool says. ‘It's really an honor for someone who you've grown up listening to to take the time to record your song. As a songwriter, that's one of the highest honors you can receive.'

Vanderpool's current project, the ‘landscape rock' quartet Monahans — born in 2006 and featuring former Milton Mapes bandmate Roberto Sanchez and longtime Spoon bassist Joshua Zarbo — will play a show mere days after Plant at the Club De Ville on July 30, across the street from Stubb's. They released ‘We Tremble' on Tuesday, the latest in a 10-song project that's seeing the band release one track for download every month through the end of the year. While Vanderpool might have moved on from his Milton Mapes days, he still holds the song covered by Plant in the fondest regard.

‘It's probably my favorite song from that Milton Mapes record,' says Vanderpool. ‘Of all the songs, I'm really glad it was that one.'