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Remembering John Bonham

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It was 31 years ago today that we lost one of the best drummers in the history of rock n’ roll, if not the world. Here is a little bit about John Bonham’s life, his music and one of my favorite drum based Led Zeppelin songs. 

John Bonham learned to play the drums at the age of five making his first kit out of coffee cans. At the age of ten his mother gave him a real snare drum and he got his first honest-to-goodness Ludwig drum kit when he was 14. Believe it or not, John never had any formal lessons and just learned how to play by asking other drummers for tips and advice and at the age of 18, he joined a band called Crawling King Snakes fronted by a young Robert Plant. Shortly thereafter, another group called A Way of Life Lured Bonham away from Crawling King Snakes, but he did keep in touch with Plant after he left.

Following the breakup of the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page contacted Plant to start a new band and Plant in turn contacted Bonham to play drums for this new group. Jimmy already had a few drummers in mind for the group, but after seeing Bonham perform in London in July of 1968, Peter Grant and Jimmy Page were both convinced that Bonham was the right guy for the job. The project was first known as the New Yardbirds and finally Led Zeppelin.

On September 24, 1980, Bonham was picked up to go to Bray Studios so Led Zeppelin could begin rehearsing for their U.S. Tour. On the way, Bonham asked to go to breakfast where upon he proceeded to drink four quadruple vodkas and continued to drink heavily at the studios. The group stopped practice and decided that Bonham should go and try to sleep it off. He was taken to bed at Jimmy Page’s house and placed on his side around midnight on September 25. Sometime in the afternoon that day, Zeppelin’s tour manager and John Paul Jones discovered that John Bonham had died in his sleep. He was just 32 years old.

His two children Zoe and Jason were just five and 14 at the time. Jason has decided to carry on the family name and has drummed for several bands including UFO, Foreigner and Bonham. He also drummed for Zeppelin at their 2007 reunion at the O2 in London and has his own group called Black Country Communion.

Last year, Jason put together a group called Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. I was fortunate enough to see them from the sixth row when they stopped in Minneapolis and it was definitely worth the price.

Yes, there is Poor Tom, Moby Dick and Bonzo’s Montreaux, but during part of the show last year, Jason stopped the music and told the crowd that there was one song that they wanted to perform for us, but just couldn’t get the drum track right, so Jason said they would do the song, but he wouldn’t play. He asked if we would help him by shouting “Bonzo” at the count of three. We obliged, Jason said, “Dad?” The lights went out and this song began playing. It was one of the most unreal things I have ever heard.

Jimmy Page had been working on the riff for this song for quite some time, but said that it was John’s drum track that made all the difference. Though Led Zeppelin never performed the song live because there were so many production elements to the vocals and drums, here is a video of Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience (with Zoe Bonham on harmonica) doing When the Levee Breaks.



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