John Bonham was an imposing drummer, often portrayed as a cartoonish, larger than life figure that existed in a different universe to everybody else. However, his favourite artists show his seldom seen tender side.
Bonham’s powerhouse technique and eloquent precision behind the drum kit asserted him to a place of power within the pantheon of greats to ever play the instrument. Additionally, his attention-grabbing persona and unpredictability played a significant role in his appeal outside of drumming and his time with Led Zepplin at large.
Dave Grohl once epitomised why he was such a musical heavyweight, “John Bonham played the drums like someone who didn’t know what was going to happen next—like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff. No one has come close to that since, and I don’t think anybody ever will. I think he will forever be the greatest drummer of all time,” he said.
With Bonham, as Grohl pointed out, you felt on-stage that “he was teetering on the edge of a cliff”. Then off-stage, there have also been a plethora of wild stories about him and his partying exploits, which almost glamourise his battle with alcoholism.
People often see Bonham as a species from a different planet and forget that he also expressed emotion like the rest of us. Few souls knew him more than Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and since his death, he has supplied countless nuggets of information about the drummer, which show him in a different light.
If you believed everything you heard about Bonham, you’d think he’d be incapable of sitting still long enough to listen to music, let alone possess a taste as genre-spanning as the one he had.
Interestingly, in Thunder Of Drums, Jones revealed, “Bonzo had very broad listening tastes. When we weren’t listening to James Brown or Otis Redding, he might be listening to Joni Mitchell or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Bonzo was a great lover of songs.”
The Laurel Canyon drenched sounds of CSNY, and Joni Mitchell had little in common with the flamboyance of Led Zeppelin, yet, Bonham could enjoy eminently spellbinding music regardless.
Perhaps, his wide-spanning pallet helped him become the quicksilver drummer that was the beating heart of Led Zeppelin and helped him create his tirelessly incalculable approach that kept audiences on their feet.
Bonham may have channelled a different strain of energy through his drumming than Joni Mitchell did with her lyricism, but the destination was still a visceral one. For that reason, he built a reputation that is only comparable with a handful of people ever to pick up a pair of drum sticks.