Tales of Rock – John “Bonzo” Bonham

1. John Henry Bonham was born in Worcestershire, England on 31 May1948.

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.

3. His early influences included big band jazz drummers like Gene KrupaJoe Morello and Buddy Rich.

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.”

6. At 17 Bonham married Pat Phillips. A year later in 1966, they had their first child, Jason Bonham.

7. Money for the young family was extremely tight and they lived in a small, government-subsidized apartment. Nonetheless, Bonham would often pretend to go work in a factory while instead heading to a music store, where he performed drum demonstrations for a nominal fee.

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.

9. Other bands he played in included the Blue Star Trio, Gerry Levene & the Avengers, Terry Webb and the Spiders, The Nicky James Movement, The Senators, and Band of Joy. Oh, and also Led Zeppelin.

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.

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.

12. Led Zeppelin played their first live gig at the Mayfair Ballroom, in New Castle Upon Tyne, on 4 October 1968.

13. In November, they signed with Atlantic Records and scored an unprecedented $200,000 advance.

14. With his first check from Led Zeppelin, Bonham bought a Jaguar.

15. Led Zeppelin embarked on the first American tour only after the Jeff Beck Group cancelled theirs and Peter Grant convinced promoters to take Zeppelin instead.

16. The band made its American debut in Denver, Colorado, on 26 December 1968.

17. They opened for acts like Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, and Country Joe and the Fish.

18. Vanilla Fudge’s drummer, Carmine Appice, befriended Bonham and introduced him to double bass drum kits incorporating larger, 26-inch Ludwig bass drums (then only used in marching bands), which enabled Bonham to increase his volume onstage.

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.

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.

21. This album featured the instrumental track “Moby Dick.” When performing it live, Bonham would solo anywhere from 6 minutes to half an hour, sometimes tossing his sticks to the audience and beating on his drums with his hands.

22. Led Zeppelin IV, released in 1971, sold 37 million copies worldwide. It features a song you might have heard called “Stairway to Heaven.”

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”).

24. Bonham suffered from stage fright and would often have panic attacks before the band took the stage.

25. In 1972 Bonham bought a 100-acre farm in England’s Midlands called Old Hyde. His father and younger brother helped restore it to a working Hereford cattle ranch and he would enter his calves in livestock competitions. In a bid to keep his home and work life separate, he didn’t even keep a drum kit on the property.

26. Bonham’s second child, daughter Zoe, was born in July 1975.

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.

28. Bonham died at the age of 32 after asphyxiating on his own vomit following a drinking binge on 25 September 1980. Rather than carry on with a new drummer, Led Zeppelin disbanded.

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.

30. Some quotes about Bonham and his legacy:

“The greatest rock-and-roll drummer of all-time was John Bonham.” – Roger Taylor of Queen

“He was the best.” – Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones

“To me, hands down John Bonham was the best rock drummer ever.” – Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers

“I think he will forever be the greatest drummer of all-time.” – Dave Grohl, of Foo Fighters and Nirvana

 

 

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