For many, John Bonham is the most talented person to step behind a drum kit. Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward knew Bonham was cut from a different cloth, and he immediately made him feel something deep inside that he previously didn’t know was possible.
Astonishingly, both drummers were born in the Midlands in May 1948 and knew each other from an early age. Before they both found fame in their respective groups, they were already crucial parts of the local music scene, and Ward still vividly recalls the first time he witnessed Bonham in action.
Bonham was somewhat of a prodigal talent and began playing his instrument of choice when he was only five years old. Although at that age, he didn’t even have a drum kit and instead used household items until he was 15, a time in which he’d honed his talent.
While at school, Bonham played in several groups such as the Blue Star Trio and Gerry Levene & the Avengers. None of his early bands took the world by storm, but it was part of his learning curve and helped improve him as an artist.
In 1964, Bonham left education behind and became an apprentice carpenter while focussing on his musicianship. Around this time, he first crossed paths with Ward, who was playing in a band called Rest. Speaking on the radio show Lava Lamps & 8-Track Theatre, Ward remembered: “Besides being a brilliant drummer, when he was really young when he was 16, I would watch him play. We were both playing drums by the time we were 16 years old”.
He added: “When he played, I thought he was playing out of time because I would hear his bass drum kind of doing these really odd hits. I didn’t understand what he was talking about, I couldn’t understand how his drums were talking to me.”
Ward struggled to comprehend Bonham’s skillset, and then one day, it unexpectedly clicked. He continued: “It took me at least one year to understand that he was talking in a completely different language. Then I got it and I just woke up to it. I went ‘Oh my God. I don’t believe that he is doing this’.
“And I didn’t really heard a lot of the big bands drummers do it, I hadn’t heard anybody in rock do it before him. Not quite how he was doing it. I am talking about his bass drum work, specifically. I just watched and went ‘Oh my god, I don’t believe this guy!'”
From that point, the two became close friends and went on to achieve their respective dreams. A decade since those two 16-year-olds met, thanks to their involvement in the Birmingham music scene, the pair had cemented their place in the history books forever while also becoming wildly rich in the process.