“Every gig is important to us. In this business, you can’t afford to become complacent. If you adopt that attitude, you’re dead.” — John Bonham
Few drummers can match up to the powerhouse performances that John Bonham dished out on regular occasions. The mercurial madman behind the kit was known to put his all into every single live show and with a setlist as healthy and heavy as Led Zeppelin’s Bonham was always complemented by the content and deliver show after show jam-packed with the blood, sweat and tears he gave to all his work. But what was the drummer’s favourite song to play live? We think we might have an inkling.
Bonham never explicitly picked out a single song as his favourite Led Zeppelin song to play live. The percussionist wasn’t one for really offering his opinion on much, rarely giving interviews, instead keeping himself focused on the music at hand. Bonham was also one of the finest drum soloists around, which means that during most performances, he would be allowed to go off and deliver solos that sometimes lasted for 30 minutes. It means he likely preferred playing those more than any traditional ‘song’.
There was one song that the shy performer did note as being a joy to play live, ‘Trampled Under Foot’. The song was one of the funkier sections of the group’s 1975 record Physical Graffiti and provided the band with a nuanced setlist when they came to perform the song. It was the funk rhythm that Bonham was attracted, clearly jam to sit within the groove and jam out.
“It’s great for me. Great rhythm for a drummer,” he explained within Led Zeppelin: The Oral History of the World’s Greatest Rock Band. “It’s just at the right pace, and you can do a lot of frills.” Couple this with the sheer joy on Bonham’s face when he’s playing the song in comparison to others and you get a pretty clear image of the track being one of his favourites to perform.
“For a big white man from England, he was pretty funky,” once recalled Foo Fighters and Nirvana man Dave Grohl of the track. “It’s a fast-forward funk beat with another machine-gun roll — so quick across the drums. His sense of funk and feel were so natural.”
Though the big man indeed had some swaying hips on him, the song’s origination may have something to do with this funky beat. Allegedly, according to bassist John Paul Jones, this track was written after inspiration from the mercurial soulman Stevie Wonder and his iconic song, ‘Superstitious’, which owes to the track’s funky nature.
Speaking as part of the aforementioned book, John Paul Jones explained further about the song’s origination: “I just started playing ‘Trampled Under Foot’ on the clavinet, and [Bonham] came in with this glorious stomp that had this great feel. He could play in front of the beat, and he could play behind it, depending on what was needed. ‘Trampled Under Foot’ had this swagger.”
It’s clear that Bonham took to the song instantly and never really fell out of love with it, enjoying performing the track right up until his very last show. Below, you can see just how much fun he is having as Led Zeppelin perform ‘Trampled Under Foot’ live in Los Angeles back in 1975.