Late Led Zeppelin member John Bonham is possibly the most influential drummer of all time. A worldly and tactile rhythmic mastermind, the list of drummers he has inspired is genuinely astonishing. Furthermore, a wide variety of drummers from across the musical realm have found inspiration in his work, which is a remarkable feat.
Never has someone managed to bridge the gaps between disparate genres of music like John Bonham. Blues, jazz and metal drummers all cite him as an essential inspiration. Dave Grohl, Chad Smith, Lars Ulrich and even Joey Jordison have all discussed their admiration for Bonham, noting his power, precision and passion.
Other lesser-known but brilliant drummers such as Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine and Mike Portnoy, the ex-drummer of prog-metal heroes Dream Theater, have also cited the unmistakable impact of Bonham on their drumming. In short, Bonham is your favourite drummer’s favourite drummer.
There exists another celebrated human metronome who cites Bonham as his most significant influence. This is Matt Helders of Sheffield’s favourite sons, Arctic Monkeys. In fact, Helders has discussed his love of Bonham at numerous points across his career. Although Helders is famously a self-taught drummer, taking huge cues from hip-hop rhythms, when you heed his playing style, you quickly see that the influence of Bonham colours his sound. Hard-hitting and versatile, Helders is a brilliant drummer in his own right, and one would posit the best musician in Arctic Monkeys.
In a 2013 interview with Music Radar where he outlined his ten essential drum albums, Helders said that 1969’s Led Zeppelin II is a must-listen for drummers everywhere. He spoke at great length about his love for Bonham and why his admiration runs so deep. He asserted: “For me, it’s not all about the flashy stuff and hearing some guy show off his chops”.
Showing massive respect to ‘Bonzo’, of course, Helders mentioned his iconic solo on the album’s highlight, ‘Moby Dick’. He said: “I’d have to say that John Bonham is my favourite drummer of all time.”
Helders explained the strange, almost orgasmic feeling that it gives him: “He’s somebody that I always come back to. The reason why I picked this record purely comes down to a fill he does at the end of the ‘Moby Dick’ solo — before the band comes back in. It gives me chills, and that’s no exaggeration. I can hardly even express what it does to me. It’s perfect, absolutely perfect.”
Helders then acknowledged why Bonham was so inspirational, attributing it to his unique way of approaching the drums. He said: “I hadn’t been playing the drums all that long when I heard it for the first time, and I thought, ‘It sounds unreachable to get to a standard like that.’ It’s not that it’s so difficult – a lot of people could learn to play it, and I’m sure they have. But the way that he executes it is just so unique – there’s so much character to it.”
He concluded: “Half of the albums on this list could easily have been by Led Zeppelin, but I picked this one because, in addition to being incredible, there is that lick on ‘Moby Dick’. Sure, it’s part of a drum solo, and drummers love drum solos – well, not everybody; some people get bored of them, I guess. But there’s something special to that one moment where he comes out of the solo. It gets me every time.”
Now, in a recent 2021 interview with internet drumming prodigy Nandi Bushell, Helders revealed another track of Led Zeppelin’s that he’s particularly keen on and one that he loves to practice due to how technically difficult it is. This track is ‘Good Times Bad Times’, taken from the band’s 1969 debut album, Led Zeppelin.
Discussing Bonham, the ‘Brianstorm‘ mastermind said: “I like ‘Good Times Bad Times’, it’s a good one. There’s a lot of really difficult bass drum stuff in that one that I actually can’t do.” The song is the one where Bonham’s jazz style comes most blatantly to the fore.
It’s not surprising that Helders loves early Zeppelin and Bonham’s complex work. You hear Helders perform his best impression of Bonham on Arctic Monkeys’ first five albums, and it is most apparent on 2013’s smash-hit AM. An adherent of the triplet and the toms, Helders is just one of many drummers that Bonham continues to live on through.
Listen to Matt Helders’ discussion with Nandi Bushell below.