– “Moby Dick” by Led Zeppelin
37 years ago today, one of the greatest drummers of all time died after a fatally legendary night of drinking. Today, John Bonham is remembered in his music, especially with my favorite band, Led Zeppelin. Bonham was the heart of the band in that all that Zeppelin did was built on his beat, and after his death the band did not attempt to replace him as they knew it would be impossible. Instead, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones disbanded and ended Led Zeppelin.
The man known as Bonzo has been revered by many a drummer and rock fan since Led Zeppelin was released in 1969, including this list comprised by Legacy.com on the 30th anniversary of his death seven years ago. Today, I am going to take a look at this list and add some input where I see fit in the hope that you too will take a closer look, or rather listen, to one of the best musicians to master his instrument.
1. John Henry Bonham was born in Worcestershire, England on 31 May 1948.
Specifically, Bonham was born in Redditch, also the birthplace of Charles Dance (a.k.a. Tywin Lannister) and the home of the high school of John Taylor, bassist and founding member of Duran Duran.
2. He began teaching himself drums at age 5, making a primitive drum kit out of empty coffee containers, pots and pans, and other assorted kitchenware. He got his first real snare drum at age 10, and his first full kit at 15.
This would not be the last time he would play with unconventional instruments. Led Zeppelin utilized many unique sound tricks and items to make all sorts of sweet noise. Bonham frequently played with just his hands, and supposedly used a trash can as a drum on more than one occasion.
3. His early influences included big band jazz drummers like Gene Krupa, Joe Morello, and Buddy Rich.
Buddy Rich of course paricipated in the greatest drum battle of all time:
4. By 16 he was playing in his first semi-professional band. While they were recording a demo, the sound engineer told Bonham that he played too loud and was unrecordable. Bonham later sent him a gold record with a snarky note saying, “Thanks for your advice.”
5. A middle school principal once wrote on Bonham’s report card, “He’ll either be a dustman or a millionaire.”
Wouldn’t it be great for all of us to have one of these moments?
6. At 17 Bonham married Pat Phillips. A year later in 1966, they had their first child, Jason Bonham.
Jason has gone on to drum with the likes of many rock acts, both as a fill in for his father on some Led Zeppelin songs and with his own material. He has played with Zeppelin in his dad’s place for a few charity and tribute shows.
8. He first played with Robert Plant in a group called The Crawling King Snakes; the band took their name from a John Lee Hooker song.
This awesome blues track, in fact:
10. When Page and Plant began to form Led Zeppelin after the demise of the Yardbirds, other drummers they considered included Ginger Baker, Clem Cattini, Aynsley Dunbar, and B.J. Wilson.
Ginger Baker is the best known of these as he founded Cream, probably the most influential rock trio ever formed even though they only played for about three years from 1966-1968. Such is the case when you have Eric Clapton in his prime.
11. Bonham was at the time also considering offers from Joe Cocker and Chris Farlowe. Robert Plant and manager Peter Grant besieged the reluctant Bonham with dozens of telegrams sent to his favorite pub, until he finally agreed to join.
The pub is Bloxwich’s Three Men in a Boat.
17. They opened for acts like Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, and Country Joe and the Fish.
At many of the concerts that Led Zeppelin opened for, the fans would cheer for them to return the stage in preference to see more of them than the featured band.
Vanilla Fudge is best known for cover versions of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by The Supremes and “Season of the Witch” by Donovan; Iron Butterfly made the lengthy jam classic “Inna Gadda Da Vida”; and Country Joe and the Fish have the “Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die-Rag”.
19. The band’s first album, Led Zeppelin, was recorded in only 36 hours. Released in early 1969 to generally poor reviews, it would nonetheless remain on the Billboard charts for 73 weeks and to date has reached sales in excess of 8 million in the United States alone.
The album equivalent of “look at me now, haters!”
20. Their second album, the imaginatively titled Led Zeppelin II, also released in 1969, has sold over 12 million copies and is widely considered as one of the most groundbreaking and influential albums of all time.
A rare instance of the sequel being better – a trend they would continue for a while.
22. Led Zeppelin IV, released in 1971, sold 37 million copies worldwide. It features a song you might have heard called “Stairway to Heaven.”
And “Black Dog”. And “Rock and Roll”. And “The Battle of Evermore”, “Misty Mountain Hop”, “Four Sticks”, and “Going to California”. Oh, and “When the Levee Breaks”. This album, which is actually technically untitled, is stacked, but then I don’t need to tell you that… because I already have.
23. Led Zeppelin’s excesses on tour were legendary. Bonham once drove a motorcycle – a gift for his 25th birthday – through the halls of the Continental Hyatt House Hotel in Los Angeles, where the band had rented out multiple floors for their entourage (both Keith Moon and Keith Richards reportedly dropped TVs out the windows of the same hotel, which acquired the nickname “The Riot House”).
Partying at the same level as the Keiths is a dangerous proposition that only a select few have been hardy enough for. Ozzy Osbourne also certainly falls into this exclusive unit.
27. In 1976 he appeared in the film Son of Dracula, along with Ringo Star, Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson. The rock ‘n’ roll vampire movie was poorly received and remains unavailable on either VHS or DVD.
At least they didn’t call it Drummercula.
29. The band did play a one-off, 2007 reunion show, with Jason Bonham taking his father’s seat behind the drum kit. Reunion tour rumors have arisen every year since.
Rumors of Jason replacing John began as soon as John Bonham died. The concerts with Led Zeppelin have merely more greatly encouraged this wishful thinking for fans.
Here’s one more for you from yours truly: John Bonham was the best man at Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi’s first wedding.
Thanks for reading, and hopefully for listening. Do yourself a favor and check out some of Bonham’s best songs from Led Zeppelin. “Moby Dick” is a great place to start, and you may as well work your way along chronologically through to “Bonzo’s Montreux”.
Check this site out again next week for more riveting posts!
Rock the fuck out of those drums!