John Bonham’s drumming credentials were almost unparalleled, and for Jimmy Page, one Led Zeppelin song defined his hell-raising ability. Following Bonham’s death in 1980, the band simply couldn’t bring themselves to carry on without him, and during the moments that the surviving members have reconvened in his absence, there remained a void that proved impossible to fill.
Bonham’s skill set and talent has never been questioned, and when it comes to drummers, he’s one of the very few that every fan adores. Not only that, but Bonham also had an undeniable aura to him, one that helped propel him to superstardom. Even though drummers don’t typically have a beguiling presence to them, Bonham was different, and every time he thrashed his sticks, it filled the room. His brilliance was once summed up by Nirvana sticksman Dave Grohl, who professed: “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.”
However, after his tragic death in 1980, Led Zeppelin knew that they’d lost a jewel in the crown, and making another album with somebody else sitting where he used to sit was simply inconceivable. After all, according to Jimmy Page, John Bonham was Led Zeppelin, and he revealed they demonstrated this at the outset. “Well, the first track of the first album is ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ and that’s no accident,” he reflected in an interview with Rolling Stone.
Adding: “The reason why it’s on there is because it’s actually quite a short piece of music, but it sums up so much in so many ideas, all in one go. It’s just an explosion that hits you. But one of the key factors of it, apart from the riff, is the actual drumming, because what he does on the drums during that track just changes people’s attitude to drums overnight. That’s all there is to it.”
Page elaborated: “One of the other things that he could do was a roll on the bass drum with one foot and one pedal. It wasn’t two bass drums; it was one foot. You might hear people say, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ But the thing is, you see how long they can do it for, and they’ll soon pack up. They might do it just for a little bit, but he could do it for ages. His technique was just out of this world, but he had the imagination to go with it as well.”
As Page explained, Bonham was a different breed of drummer in comparison to anybody that came before him. Not only was he a powerhouse who could go as hard as anybody, but he was also graced with lethal technical prowess. These two skills made for a dazzling combination that few have ever replicated. “So, yes, John Bonham could get a lot of volume out of his drums, not by forehand smashes, but just because he knew how to tune the drums in such a way that they would project,” Page continued.
“He would have a natural balance to everything he was playing. And then he’d give a bass-drum accent that you’d feel it go into your stomach. His technique was just amazing. He was such fun to play with. But the other thing was that he loved Led Zeppelin. He really loved the band, and he used to play the music at home. So we had a lot of fun, and a lot of fun improvising onstage.”
Clearly, the memories from the time that Page spent in the company of his late friend are ones that he greatly cherishes to this day. Additionally, it’s heartening to discover that his whole existence revolved around Led Zeppelin, although, in total honesty, they revolved around him too.