Name - John | Born - 05/1948 | Nationality - British | Genre - Rock
John Bonham, or "Bonzo" as he was also known, was drummer for the rock super-group Led Zeppelin, possibly the greastest rock band ever. Not only that, John is himself considered to be one of, if not the the greatest rock drummers ever.
When people think of John, they often think of his powerful and creative drumming style, great bass drum technique, and big open drum sound.
There was a furious and intense energy about his playing that was matched with a great feel. His style has been imitated and sampled by countless drummers and recording artists over the years. The reason? His playing was original, unique, and it totally kicked ass!
Bonham had always wanted to be a drummer from an early age, and he had amazing success with Zeppelin, but his life wasn't without it's downsides. He had a problem with alcohol that plauged him from the early days with the band, and it ultimately contributed to his early death.
John is still a drumming mega-star many years after his death and has countless fans worldwide including many of today's top pros.
Bonham playing with Led Zeppelin, and performing his famous 'Moby Dick' drum solo.
John was born on May 31, 1948 in Redditch, England. He started showing an interest in drumming at the age of five, when he made a drum set out of tins and containers. At this early age, he was already imitating his idols - Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa.
John continued to play around and practice on whatever was available until his mother bought him a snare drum when he was ten. He finally got a full drum set, a Premier, at age fifteen as a gift from his father. Now he started getting serious about his drumming and practiced heavily. As John later said - "Drumming was the only thing I was ever good at". Intriguingly, John's school teacher once wrote on one of his report cards that "He will either end up a dustman or a millionaire."
John never took any formal drum lessons, but as a teenager he did knock on the doors of other drummers in Redditch to ask for advice. And between 1962 and 1963 while he was still at school, he occasionally stood-in as drummer for the Blue Star Trio and Gerry Levene & The Avengers. It gave him plenty of experience, and got him off to a good start.
A year later in 1964, John finished school and started to work to work for his father in the construction industry. But, he still played with some of the local bands when he had chance. He joined a semi-pro group called Terry and the Spiders, and also played for other bands like The Nicky James Movement and The Senators.
John loved playing with these groups and made the decision to pursue drumming as a full-time career. A couple of years later in 1966, he joined another group called A Way Of Life. Unfortunately they fizzled out and eventually stopped playing. So, John again moved on to his next band - Crawling King Snakes. This is were he met and became good friends with lead singer Robert Plant.
The following year in 1967, John was asked to rejoin A Way Of Life who had started playing again. He did rejoin the group, but still kept in-touch with his good friend Robert Plant. Later that year, Robert formed his own group called Band of Joy, and he wanted Bonham to play drums.
John decided to take Robert up on his offer and joined him. They rehearsed, performed, and recored a few demos but didn't get much closer towards a record deal. But, the band did get a break in 1968 when American singer Tim Rose asked them to be the support act for his UK Tour.
Tim Rose came back to tour the UK again four months later, but needed a new band. He offered John the drum seat, and John seized the oppotunity to work with an established act. It gave John a much needed regular income, and cemented him as being one of the best up and coming drummers around in the UK.
During this time, Jimmy Page, guitarist from the recently split Yardbirds, wanted to form a new band to explore a new musical direction. He got fellow session musician John Paul Jones to play bass, but needed a singer and drummer. Robert Plant was reccomended to Jimmy to be lead singer, and Robert then reccomended Bonham to play drums. Jimmy Page had seen Bonham playing with Tim Rose in July of 1968, and thought he would be perfect.
However, John Bonham wasn't eager to join the band and resisted their efforts to get him on board. He associated Jimmy Page with the Yardbirds who were a band with an old sound and no future.
Jimmy and manager Peter Grant, sent John numerous telegrams and pestered him, but John was also getting well paid job offers from big name singers like Joe Cocker and Chris Farlowe.
However, John did finally join the band after giving it some thought. He later said - "I decided I Liked their music better than Cocker's or Farlowe's." All the pieces where in place. The group finished some contracted gigs under the name 'The New Yardbirds', before renaming themselves 'Led Zeppelin'.
With a record contract in place thanks to Peter Grant, the band started working on an album in September 1968, the self titled Led Zeppelin. They later went on a tour of the United States in December 1968 supporting Vanilla Fudge. During the tour, John met and became friends with Carmine Appice, drummer for Vanilla Fudge, who introduced him to Ludwig drums.
In January 1969, Led Zeppelin released their debut album. It was an intense and deep sound, that was driven by John's powerful, loud playing. The album reached number 1 in the charts, and eight months later they had more success with their follow up album - Led Zeppelin II. John was living his dream, playing drums in a massively successful band. But, he had started to drink quite heavily, possibly because he was enjoying himself or maybe because of the pressure. Either way, it was becoming a habit.
The band went on to release their third album, Led Zeppelin III, in October 1970. It was much more experimental than the first two albums, and didn't do quite so well.
John was still in-demand for sessions even though virtually all of his time was spent touring and recording with Zeppelin. But, during 1970, he found some time to record drums on Screaming Lord Sutch's album - Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends.
It was soon time to get back to work with Zeppelin though, and two more albums were released, Led Zeppelin IV in 1971 and Houses of the Holy in 1973. Both albums further cemented the bands place at the top of the rock ladder. By late 1973, Led Zeppelin had been on tour almost non-stop since they formed, they'd released five ablums, and were filling arena's worldwide as the headline act. They were huge.
The fame of the band wasn't just focused on Jimmy Page and Robert Plant though. Bonham was just as well known as the two out front. When playing live, he would take an extended drum solo that was first called 'Pat's Delight' and later became 'Moby Dick'. The solo could last for up to 30 minutes or more, and allowed John to flex his drumming muscles. It often included him playing the drum set with his hands, playing congas, as well as him showing his power, speed, and dynamics with the sticks.
John had still been drinking a lot, but despite this, he was playing really well and success for Zeppelin continued throughout the 1970's. The band released further albums - Physical Graffiti in 1975, and Presence in 1976. The band finsihed a world tour in 1977 and then decided to take a break from touring and recording.
Away from music and the band, John enjoyed collecting vintage sports cars, spending time on his family's farm - The Old Hyde, and being with his two kids, Jason and Zoe.
He taught drums to Jason, who can be seen on Zeppelin DVD 'The Song Remains The Same' playing remarkably well at just four years old.
In 1979, Bonham recorded another Zeppelin album - In Through The Out Door. He also played drums on the track Keep Your Hands On The Wheel for Roy Wood, and for Wings on Paul McCartney's tracks Rockestra Theme and So Glad To See You Here.
By the time 1980 came around, the band decided that they would hit the road again for the first time in three years. A tour was planned including a trek around the US.
On September 25th, 1980, John was picked up to attend a Led Zeppelin rehersal for the tour. John, who was still a very heavy drinker, asked to stop off on the way there for some breakfast. During the meal, he drank four quadruple vodaks (16 shots) and then went to the rehersal where he continued to drink a lot.
The rehersal came to and end late in the evening, and all of the band went back to Jimmy Page's house to relax. After midnight, John had fallen asleep, so he was put into a bed on his side for the night. Sadly, he following afternoon, he was found dead by John Paul Jones and Zeppelin's tour manager Benji LeFevre.
At the coroner's inquest a couple of weeks later, it was revealed that John had consumed forty shots of vodka, causing a pulmonary edema (waterlogging of the lungs caused by inhaling his own vomit).
No other substances were found. The alcohol problem that John had struggled with for the past ten years had finally caught up with him and indirectly caused his death.
John was cremated and on October 12, 1980 interred at Rushock Parish Church, Worcestershire. His headstone reads:
"Cherished memories of a loving husband and father, John Henry Bonham Who died Sept. 25th 1980. aged 32 years. He will always be remembered in our hearts, Goodnight my Love, God Bless."
Following this tragic loss, the remaining members of Led Zeppelin decided that they couldn't continue without John, even though drummers like Cozy Powell, Aynsley Dunbar, Carmine Appice, Barriemore Barlow, Simon Kirke, and Bev Bevanwere were rumoured to be his replacement.
Bonham's style of playing has inspired countless thousands of drummers, and his drumming has been sampled and copied extensivley. He achieved a lot in his short life, and left behind his wife, two children, an army of fans, and a legacy.
Drums - Ludwig and Premier | Cymbals - Paiste | Heads - Remo
Bonham has played a few different Ludwig sets in his time including a Green Sparkle Super Classic, Black Diamond Pearl, Silver Sparkle, Stainless Steel, and probably most famously, an Amber Ludwig Vistalite set.
The sets included a 26"x14" bass drum, 14"x10" tom, 16"x16" and 18"x16" floor toms, and a 14"x6.5" Ludwig Supraphonic 402 metal snare drum.
The cymbals John played were by Paiste. First he used the Paiste 'Giant Beat' series, then moved on to the '2002' series.
He used 15" sound edge hi-hats, an 18" medium crash on the left, 24" ride, and 20" medium crash on the right. Sometimes he'd have another 18" crash on the right too. He also used a Paiste cowbell and a 'ching ring' attached to his hi-hat stand. The gong at the back was a 38" symphonic by Paiste.
As for heads, John used Coated Remo Emporer's on the batter side of all his drums. The resonant head on the bass drum was medium weight, and he used felt pads on both the batter and resonant bass drum heads to focus the sound. The resonant heads on the toms were Coated Remo Ambassador's, and the resonant snare drum head was an Ambassador or sometimes a Remo Diplomat. Later he also used Remo CS 'black dot' heads too.
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* Led Zeppelin (Zeppelin)
* Lord Sutch & His Heavy Friends (Screaming Lord Sutch)
* Led Zeppelin II (Zeppelin)
* Led Zeppelin III (Zeppelin)
* Led Zeppelin IV (Zeppelin)
* Led Zeppelin (Zeppelin)
* How The West Was Won (Zeppelin)
* Houses Of The Holy (Zeppelin)
* Physical Graffiti (Zeppelin)
* Presence (Zeppelin)
* Troubadour: Definitive Collection (Donovan)
* Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions (Zeppelin)
* Bonham: A Thunder Of Drums (Book)
* Bonham: The Powerhouse Behind Led Zeppelin (Book)
* Drum Techniques Of Led Zeppelin (Book)
* Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980 (Book)
* The Song Remains The Same (DVD)
* Led Zeppelin
* John paul Jones
* Jimmy Page
* Robert Plant
* Terry Web and The Spiders
* Chris Dreja
* Ron Wood
* Jeff Beck
* Mickie Most
* Keith Harwood
* Peter Grant
* Paul McCartney
* Andy Johns
* Eddie Kramer
* Viram Jasani
* Sandy Denny
* John Timperley
* Screaming Lord Sutch
* Ron Nevison
* Vic Maile
* Stuart Epps
* George Chkiantz
* Tony Carr
* And More...
"Drumming was the only thing I was ever good at."
"I remember in the early days when we played six nights a week for a month and I was doing my long drum solo every night. My hands were covered in blisters."
"My nerves before a gig got worse; I had terrible bad nerves all the time. Once we started... I was fine."
"Not everybody likes or understands a drum solo, so I like to bring in effects and sounds to keep their interest."
"There were times when I blundered and got the dreaded look from the lads. But that was a good sign. It showed I'd attempted something I'd not tried before."
"With Zeppelin, I tried to play something different every night in my solos. I'd play for 20 minutes but the longest ever was 30 minutes. It's a long time, but when I was playing it seemed to fly by."
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