“Drumming was the only thing I was ever good at.” – John Bonham
Anyone who knows anything about drumming has at least heard the name John Bonham. John Bonham was the drummer for the mighty Led Zeppelin. He is considered by most drummers and drumming aficionados alike to be the greatest rock drummer of all time.
Bonham was born in England in 1948. He got his first drum kit from his dad at the age of 14, and it was a Ludwig kit. He was invited to join Zeppelin by Jimmy Page, who had just left The Yardbirds and was putting together a new band. Page saw Bonham performing at a pub and was convinced John was the only man for the job. He was right.
Led Zeppelin, of course, grew to ginormous proportions, and the band itself is considered by many to be the greatest rock band of all time. This was largely due to all 4 members having world class talent. Bonham became very well known for his amazingly quick foot on the bass drum pedal, and his mammoth solos, some which lasted 30 minutes or more. During his solos, Bonham would often play with his bare hands, which created new and exciting tones from the kit, and also incorporated the use of tympani. John Bonham’s famous drum solo was called “Moby Dick” and he played it in various formats. I have included 2 videos here. The top one is from a 1970 performance at the Royal Albert Hall. The bottom one is from the 1976 movie, The Song Remains The Same. The concerts filmed for the movie were actually from the 1973 world tour. The movie showcased each member on their “signature” song, and they added their own fantasy sequence to it. Bonham loved racing cars, as you will see.
Bonham is most well known for using the Ludwig VistaLite set, pictured below. He used an unusually big bass drum, 26″ in diameter. Most drummers, even today, use 22″ or 24″. (I use 24″.)
Bonham played with ferocity and precision, two traits that very few drummers have ever managed to merge, and no one has ever done it quite like Bonham did. Unfortunately, Bonham’s story ends like far too many rock stories. Bonham enjoyed drinking more than the usual gentleman, and while rehearsing for the band’s upcoming world tour in 1980, he drank so much vodka that he passed out and choked on his own vomit. He was 32.
I personally remember this happening, and how devastated I was at the time. I was 12 years old at the time. My Uncle Harold had purchased tickets for us to see Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden on their upcoming tour. This was never to be, as the band released a statement soon after Bonham passed…Led Zeppelin would be no more.
John Bonham’s legacy lives on through Jason Bonham, his son. A great drummer in his own right, Jason now plays for Foreigner, and has played with many great artists during his career. There was a rumor that Zeppelin was going to do a reunion tour with Jason handling his dad’s chair, but it never came to fruition.
I still hear Robert Plant’s voice, in my own head from time to time, at the end of “Moby Dick”. He is calling out the name that needs no introduction to rock drummers everywhere: “John Bonham…John Henry Bonham!”