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The Legend: John Henry Bonham

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In around 1964, a local session drummer was asked to leave one Birmingham Studio because he was too loud for the owner. Furthermore, he was told that there was no future for a drummer as loud as him. Ten years later, the owner received a note reading "Thanks for the career advice” and accompanied by a LED ZEPPLIN gold record. It was simply signed “Bonzo”.

25th September, 2010 marks the 30th Death Anniversary of the legendary Sir John Henry Bonham, drummer for LED ZEPPLIN. As the entire music fraternity fondly remembers him on this day, I decided to bring to light some of his most memorable and successful works during his career. Some of them may not be Zeppelin’s most popular songs, but has had aspiring drummers hooked on to them, mainly because of Bonham’s mastery.
The period from 1965-1980 was a time when Rock ‘n’ Roll was undergoing the vital transition into mainstream Rock. Soon, Punk and Metal would follow. But this was the time when music underwent a serious change in terms of the “pop’ish” sound and became slightly darker. Hard Rock was the term coined for this new form of music. The songs were becoming lengthier, the guitar parts were more structured, the solos longer. The drumming was more than the usual 2/4 and 4/4 beats. LED ZEPPLIN was one group which led from the front in this new change. Under the leadership of Jimmy Page, one of rock’s greatest sonic architects, Zeppelin’s music encompassed several genres – Hard Rock, Psychedelic, Folk Rock. However, Zeppelin’s sound wouldn’t have been half that good, if it hadn’t been for the intense, mainly cymbal-oriented thrashing provided by John Bonham. A lesser known sessions-drummer then, Bonham was the most perfect accompaniment to Page’s riffs. As Zeppelin produced gold after gold records, Bonham went on to establish himself as the most influential Rock ‘N’ Roll drummers in the history of Rock music. Armed with “the biggest and heaviest possible drumsticks” which he liked to refer to as “trees”, he provided the furious rhythm section that defines LED ZEPPLIN.

For the serious percussionist out there, the following pieces are a real treat to the ears:
DAZED AND CONFUSED, WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS, BONZO’s MONTREAUX, KASSHMIR, MOBY DICK, ACHILLIE’s LAST STAND, HEARTBREAKER, SONG REMAINS THE SAME, FOOL IN THE RAIN, GOOD TIMES BAD TIMES.

MOBY DICK deserves a special mention. This was John Bonham's showcase song on early tours. His solo would last up to 30 minutes, while the rest of the band would leave the stage and grab a smoke. If sticks were not enough, he used his bare hands on drums to produce sounds. Bonham sometimes drew blood performing this on stage from beating his hands on his snare and tom toms for half an hour at a stretch.

Bonzo’s drumming skills were extra-ordinarily different from the general trend of Rock-N-Roll. His use of the symphonic gong in songs like FOOL IN THE RAIN and ROYAL ORLEAN show his versatile use of percussion instruments. The sound that he managed to get out of his bass-drum was ‘insane’ as Jimmy Page puts it. Eddie Kramer, LED ZEPPLIN engineer, insisted that Bonham's famous volume didn't present him with any difficulties in the studio. "No, it enhanced [the recording]," he related. "He tuned the kit the way he heard it; the front skin on the bass drum was tuned to the point where you could touch it very lightly and it would ring like crazy. But when he hit [the drum] with a wooden beater! He was a brick layer, and he had a lot of weight in his legs. He hit it bloody hard, and that, to me, is the art of drumming. But at the same time, he could be delicate, too."

His drum sets(Ludwig) and cymbals(Paiste) were his trademark drum-kits. One of his sets is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

John Bonham was the godfather of Hard Rock drumming, and he has inspired legends of modern age drummers, worldwide. That he died at the young age of 32 due to asphyxiation, is tragic. It was a mark of how much he contributed to LED ZEPPLIN, that its remaining members decided to call it quits.
“There ain’t no LED ZEPPLIN without Bonzo.” were Robert Plant’s exact words. And the same is true for Rock music.

Vishal Shah

Pravin Prajapati

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