Bonham 77 – Father to Son

“To me, hands down, John Bonham was the best rock drummer ever. The style and the sound was so identifiable to one person. Any drum set that he would play, it sounded like him”. ”Charlie Watts (The Rolling Stones)

“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“. John Bonham

John Henry Bonham (31 May 1948 – 25 September 1980) was an English musician and songwriter, best known as the drummer of Led Zeppelin. Bonham was esteemed for his speed, power, fast right foot, distinctive sound, and “feel” for the groove. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest drummers in the history of rock music

Not everybody likes or understands a drum solo, so I like to bring in effects and sounds to keep their interest”. John Bonham


Bonham was born on 31 May 1948, in Redditch, Worcestershire, England, to Joan and Jack Bonham. He began learning to play drums at the age of five, making a drum kit out of containers and coffee tins, imitating his idols Max Roach, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. His mother gave him a snare drum at the age of ten. He received his first proper drum kit from his father at fifteen, a Premier Percussion set. Bonham never took any formal drum lessons, though as a teen he would get advice from other Redditch drummers. Between 1962–63, while still at school, Bonham joined the Blue Star Trio, and Gerry Levene & the Avengers.

Bonham attended Lodge Farm Secondary Modern School, where his headmaster once wrote in his school report card that “He will either end up a dustman or a millionaire”. After leaving school in 1964, he worked for his father as an apprentice carpenter in between drumming for different local bands. In 1964, Bonham joined his first semi-professional band, Terry Webb and the Spiders, and met his future wife Pat Phillips around the same time. He also played in other Birmingham bands such as The Nicky James Movement and The Senators, who released a moderately successful single “She’s a Mod,” in 1964. Bonham then took up drumming full-time.

Two years later, he joined A Way of Life, but the band soon became inactive. Desperate for a regular income, he joined a blues group called Crawling King Snakes, whose lead singer was a young Robert Plant.


In 1967, A Way of Life asked Bonham to return to the group, and he agreed—though throughout this period, Plant kept in contact with Bonham. When Plant decided to form Band of Joy, Bonham was first choice as drummer. The band recorded a number of demos but no album. In 1968 American singer Tim Rose toured Britain and invited Band of Joy to open his concerts. When Rose returned for another tour months later, Bonham was formally invited by the singer to drum for his band, which gave him a regular income.

“My nerves before a gig got worse; I had terrible bad nerves all the time. Once we started… I was fine”. John Bonham

Bonham initially used Premier drums, but in the late 1960s was introduced to Ludwig drums by Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge. Throughout the remainder of his career, Bonham was a major endorser of Ludwig Drums. In concert, he used a wide range of different drum kits, but mostly of the same sizes. From 1970 onwards, he used a 26×14ʺ bass drum, which was the most identifiable part of his setup. He used 16×16ʺ, 18×16ʺ and (on certain live performances) a 20×18ʺ floor tom, while occasionally changing his tom sizes, which included sizes 14×12ʺ, 14×10ʺ, and 15×12ʺ.

“The only real problem I can remember encountering was when we were putting the first boxed set together. There was an awfully squeaky bass drum pedal on “Since I’ve Been Loving You”. It sounds louder and louder every time I hear it! [laughs]. That was something that was obviously sadly overlooked at the time”. Jimmy Page

Bonham was married to Pat Phillips, and the couple had two children; his daughter Zoë Bonham (born 10 June 1975), is a singer-songwriter and also appears regularly at Led Zeppelin conventions and awards, and his son Jason Bonham (born 15 July 1966), a rock drummer who has gained success with various bands including UFO, Foreigner, and Bonham.

On 10 December 2007, he played with Led Zeppelin on the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert, as well as their previous reunion at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary show on 15 May 1988. A 1970 film clip of a four-year-old Jason playing drums appears in the Led Zeppelin film The Song Remains the Same. Zoë and Jason appeared at the induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 along with the surviving members of Led Zeppelin.

“I don’t think he could’ve ever dreamed or imagined what he actually meant to music or to drummers in this world, including every drummer I’ve ever met. Every drummer I’ve ever spoken to, or even read about, no matter what drummers change in their top five, my dad’s always in their top three. So it’s pretty clear that he was hugely influential to a whole lot of players and that in of itself would be surprising to a guy who was basically from a very humble background; a guy who just really liked to play drums. I don’t think he would ever be able to imagine that the music would be so big today or that he would be such an icon in the drumming world”. Jason

“When he was at home he was dad. I really didn’t know the other side of him until I grew older and was working and spending time with people who knew him. As I grew older, Jimmy and Robert could tell me the stories (laughs). I soon found out that he was a character and a half (laughs) but it’s so funny if you think about it. The guys were so young back then, everything they were achieving was before they were even in their thirties, before he was even 25 he had already recorded Led Zeppelin IV, which is one of the biggest selling record albums of all time. He’d done so much by that time but he was still a kid really”. Jason

“My father pretty much gave me every thing he could possibly give me in life but looking back, the things that I valued more, were his time. Riding bikes, beating on the drum kit, that kind of thing. When I look back now, I don’t think about “Oh that was such a great gift” or whatever. The fondest memories I recall are just sitting in the car and listening to Fleetwood Mac “Rumours” over and over again while driving to Wales. So now, every once in a while, my wife will just prod me or remind me that I’m being hard on my kid or remind me of how much those memories with my dad meant to me”. Jason

Zoe Bonham

 
“The greatest rock ‘n’ roll drummer of all time was John Bonham who did things that nobody had ever even thought possible before with the drum kit. And also the greatest sound out of his drums—they sounded enormous, and just one bass drum. So fast on it that he did more with one bass drum than most people could do with three, if they could manage them. And he had technique to burn and fantastic power and tremendous feel for rock`n`roll. ”Dave Grohl

“Drumming was the only thing I was ever good at”. John Bonham

A word in your ear
From father to son
Hear the word that I say
I fought with you
Fought on your side
Long before you were born
Joyful the sound
The word goes around
From father to son

 

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