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Music

John Bonham's five favourite artists of all time

@SamWKemp

John Bonham: a name so stitched into the fabric of rock ‘n’ roll that the two are practically synonymous. As the snarling, chest-thumping, hard-drinking drummer of Led Zeppelin, Bonham cemented himself as one of the most impressive and revered rock drummers of his day, carving out a space for himself in the annals of music history in the process. And yet, because of his tragic demise at the age of 32, we know far less about John Bonham’s influences, passions and tastes than many of us would like.

This is partly because, for obvious reasons, Bonham never had the chance to look back on his career in the way that Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones did. However, the lack of in-depth material we have from Bonham may also have something to do with the fact that he was famously difficult to interview. It revealed that Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant, came up with a list of rules that journalists were instructed to follow when they sat down to talk to the rock group, one of which told the poor souls at Melody Maker and Rolling Stone not to make “any sort of eye contact with John Bonham”.

But there were occasions when Bonham revealed glimmers of himself in his own words. Here, we’ve taken a look through interviews with Bonham and the rest of Led Zeppelin to bring you a list of the drummer’s five favourite artists of all time. So, what are you waiting for?

John Bonham’s five favourite artists:

James Brown

James Brown’s influence is astounding. Without the innovative work of his drummers, Clyde Stubblefield and John ‘Jabo’ Starks, funk as we know it wouldn’t sound the same.

Bonham understood the power of Brown’s polyrhythmic grooves. As John Paul Jones explained in the liner notes to Led Zeppelin’s box set, he and Bonham would listen to James Brown tapes on the plane: “Bonzo had very broad listening tastes,” Jones began. “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.”

Joni Mitchell

The countercultural age wouldn’t have been the same without the continually surprising work of one of its greatest voices, Joni Mitchell. After establishing herself as the West Coast’s key purveyor of philosophically-explorative folk music, Mitchell gradually started absorbing jazz into her songwriting, culminating in the release of Mingus in 1978. Since then, she has continued to push her style into untapped territory.

Bonham wasn’t the only member of Led Zeppelin who adored Joni Mitchell. Robert Plant was once besotted with her, but never built up the courage to make a move, while Jimmy Page told Rolling Stone that Joni Mitchell’s music was his go-to choice when he was at home: “The main thing with Joni is that she’s able to look at something that’s happened to her, draw back and crystallize the whole situation, then write about it, he noted. “She brings tears to me eyes, what more can I say?”.

Otis Redding

Otis Redding is undoubtedly one of the greatest singers to ever emerge from the United States. Taking the vocal prowess of gospel singers and blending it with the rhythmic grooves of funk and R&B, Redding’s style became the benchmark by which wall other soul singers were measured.

But, as Dizzie Gillespie once said: “A band is only as good as its drummer,” and, for Bonham, it was Redding’s drummer, Al Jackson Jr, who really made the soul man’s tracks sing. As well as being one of the founding members of Booker T. & The MG’s, Jackson was one of the sessions drummers for Stax Records, to whom Redding was signed. Without Jackson, Redding greatest tracks, including ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ simply wouldn’t have the same raw, underlying energy.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Widely regarded as one of the first supergroups in music history, Crosby Stills, Nash & Young comprised The Byrds’ David Crosby, Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills, The Hollies’ Graham Nash, and, of course, Neil Young, who had played alongside Stills in Buffalo Springfield’s band.

While the folkish tones of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young might seem like a surprisingly quaint choice for a drummer famed for his ferocity, its important to remember that Led Zeppelin had folk and country music in their DNA from with off, with the sound of British and American folk – making its way into tracks like Physical Graffiti’s ‘Down By The Seaside’, and ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’ from ‘Houses of The Holy’.

Supertramp

In 1975, Melody Maker published an article entitled: ‘John Bonham: Over The Hills And Far Away…’ in which journalist Chris Welch visited Bonham at his Worcestershire home, The Old Hyde Farm. During the interview, Bonham was asked to demonstrate his quad sound system, one that was so loud that, according to Welch, it “threatened to stampede the sleeping herd of Herefords” nearby.

Welch went on to recall how Bonham shuffled through his record collection before making a surprising selection: “‘Listen to this. It’s great.’ John put on the Pretty Things’ new single ‘I’m Keeping’. They’re a band who seem to be enjoying a whole new lease of life since they signed to Swan Song, Zeppelin’s own label. He was also raving about Supertramp’s album and admitted a new interest in country music,” Welch wrote.

The Supertramp album in question was Crime Of The Century, which, as legendary producer Ken Scott recalled in his 2012 memoir, Bonham used to play at maximum volume for his friends. “Even John Bonham, drummer of Led Zeppelin was a fan and would invite people over to hear the album at his home often at noise crushing volume,” Scott said of the 1974 album.