The Story of John Bonham
You cant talk about rock music without measuring Led Zeppelin. John Bonham, also known as "Bonzo", remains one of the most influential and skilled drummers of all time. Bonzo's unique way of applying jazz beats into rock'n'roll, made Led Zeppelin stand out amongst other rock bands in the 60s and 70s.
Even though all of the members of Led Zeppelin was musically talented, all of them claims that their powerful sound came from John Bonham.
In September 2020 was the 40th anniversary of John Bonham tragic death. To honour his memory, we would like to tell his story.
John Henry Bonham was born in May of 1948 in a small community named Redditch, England. John was born to be a drummer. From a very early age, John would drum on everything he could find in the house. By the age of five, he had already built his own drum kit out of old containers and coffee cans.
John's biggest idols as a kid were artists like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, real jazz percussion icons from the 1930s.
John went to the Lodge Farm Secondary Modern School and from 1962 to 1963 he played for the Blue Star Trio and Gerry Levene & the Avengers before dropping out of school in 1964.
The same year he started to drum for bands like Terry Webb and the Spiders, The Blue Stars and the Senators.
Bonham already had a strong reputation and was called the loudest drummer in music.
He formed his first own group in the mid-60s named "A Way of Life". However, he left the band just a few months later to join the blues band "Crawling King Snakes". Their lead singer Robert Plant and Bonham became very close friends and they formed the band "Band of Joy". The band was not successful with their demos but they did book some gigs opening for other bands.
That's how Bonham met Tim Rose. When "Band of Joy" split up, he asked Bonham to join his new band.
John Bonham & Robert Plant
The Beginning of Led Zeppelin
At the same time, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones had formed a band and they were looking for a drummer. They had thought of several talented drummers such as B.J Wilson and Procol Harum. But Plant urged the other band members and their manager, Peter Grant, to look into Bonham. So they went to see Tim Rose's band perform in Hampstead. Peter Grant offered Bonham the job on the spot.
In 1968 the band was in place and they named them self - Led Zeppelin. They immediately started to work on their self-titled album under a contract with Atlantic Records. The album was released in 1969 and from the start, changed the way people looked at rock music.
If you listen to the opening track on "Led Zepplin I", "Good Times", pay close attention to how Bonzo plays the bass drum. Instead of playing the bass drum clean, he accents the beat with triplets. A triplet is a string of three notes played within the length of one note.
This was nothing new sort to say, but it was mainly used in jazz music.
What is so unique with John Bonham was his technique and skilful way of transferring his jazz influences into rock music. Legendary drummers like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich had inspired Bonzo for years.
(Bass drum triplets starts at 00:25)
The way that Bonzo plays around with the bass drum and adding "funky" accents along the way and changing the whole flow of the bar. This way of drumming really gets the rest of a band into a specific kind of groove. Bonzo got the idea for this sound from listening to a lot of 60s funk music where this was used frequently. Just take a listen to some of James Brown's hits and see if you can spot the similarities.
Led Zepplin released their first album in early 1969 and their second album "Led Zepplin II" only eight months later. It had even greater success than their first album, claiming the number one spot on the charts for almost two months.
Within the first 30 months, Led Zepplin had released three albums and been on the road on tour almost constantly. The band was now recognised worldwide and racked alongside The Roling Stones and The Who.
One of the things that made Led Zeppelin stand out is the way the band worked together. Especially how Bonzo and guitarist Jimmy Page followed each other. Most often Bonzo played along with Page. Instead of playing 4/4, Bonzo followed the guitar riff. Listen to the drumbeat and guitar riff below.
Led Zeppelin - When the Levee Breaks (Pay special attention at 01:07)
This chemistry between Page and Bonham was truly important to the music. Especially because Led Zepplin's music became more and more advanced along the way.
A good example of this is one of their biggest hits "Kashmir".
The drums are playing a 4/4 beat, which is a very typical beat and very often used in rock music. In short, it means that there can fit four quoter notes in a phrase.
However, if you listen to the guitar and strings, they are playing a 3/4 beat on top of the drums. Here, you can only fit three quarter notes in a phrase.
This means that the drums and the guitar/strings only sync up once every 12th beat. This gives the intro a very intense and dramatic sound.
Take a listen!
Bonzo Was One Of a Kind
None of this would be possible with just any drummer. You need to have a steady drummer like Bonzo to make sure everyone in the band has someone to follow.
Another cool example of this is "Fool in the Rain". Where Bonzo is playing the song polyrhythmic, which means that there are two different rhythms playing at the same time. On top of that, the guitar and piano are playing in a 12/8 time. Have a listen
Led Zepplin had huge success. Soldout arenas and millions of albums sold around the world. Like a lot of other musicians in the rock and roll scene, Bonzo was burning the candle at both ends. In the fall of 1980, Bonham was only 33 years old but had been a member of Led Zeppelin for a dozen years. He was well known for being a heavy drinker and on September 24, Bonham drank more than 40 shots of vodka in just a few hours. He died in his sleep, choking on his own vomit. Bonham left his wife and two kids along with all of his fans.
The band didn't feel that they could continue after the loss of John Bonham and they split just three months later.
The remaining members of the band did perform together again in 2007 honouring the 50th anniversary of Atlantic Records with Jason Bonham- John Bonham's son behind the drum kit.
Biography by Clara Marie Lund
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What Makes John Bonham Such a Good Drummer?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvOm2oZRQIk
John Bonham Wikipedia