John Bonham and Keith Moon were two of the greatest drummers of their generation, but while Moon achieved success early on with The Who, it took Bonham a little longer to make his name with Led Zeppelin. Here, we revisit a story told by Bonham’s Band Of Joy bandmate, Robert Plant, about one particular occasion in which the drummer, in an effort to save his pride, was forced to hide from Moon.
Speaking on to the BBC, Plant set the scene, explaining that The Band Of Joy were, at that time in the mid-1960s, playing at a venue called the Speakeasy, which hosted the likes of Arthur Lee and Hendrix in its heyday – both of whom Plant had the honour of seeing perform. “The Band of Joy were really short of gigs and we could really play about two or three successful places in Britain where people really got the drift of what we were doing,” Plant began. “But it was Psychedelic Blues. We were the kind of poor cousins of the Steam Packet with Rod Stewart and Long John Baldry and Julie Driscoll”.
This was the era of ‘freakbeat’, a term that was coined after the fact to describe a genre that bridged the gap between beat, R&B, and British rock ‘n’ roll. The Speakeasy took pride in putting on some of the scene’s biggest names, including The Actions and The Artwoods. The Band Of Joy were next on the list: “I met Terry Reid at that time,” Plant allegedly said. “So we’ve got the opportunity to play at the Speakeasy and we were starting to get a name. Even though we couldn’t come into the pop world because it wouldn’t have been cool. So we set up at the Speak, the night just about to start. We were unloading the van and we realised that John Bonham had the van, the Band of Joy van and backed it up to some railings in Dudley to make sure nobody could nick the gear. So we drove to Wigmore Street in West End.”
However, when Plant and Bonham arrived at the venue, they realised they’d left something very important behind: “We get out the van to unload the stuff and realise that we left the door handle in the railings back in Dudley,” Plant contained. “So it won’t come out, you can’t get in there. There was a guy working on the road, I said ‘lend us that shovel!’ So Bonzo got hold of the shovel and starts pressing the door of the back of the van and down… this is true…. (laughs). Down the street coming towards us, towards a zebra crossing is a Rolls Royce and it’s Keith Moon”.
Bonham promptly threw the shovel to Plant, desperate not to be seen breaking into the band van by the affluent Moon. “Then, Mooney had a microphone back inside the car and he would get to a zebra crossing and when somebody was walking across he would shout at him through the radiator grill and they would drop their shopping,” Plant went on. “So there was this great moment where I’ve got the shovel, Mooney shouting at some lady with some shopping and Bonzo is hiding. Then we set up on the stage and John, he was desperate to get away from anything I did. (There were people) saying to him ‘you can’t play with him anymore. There is nothing happening in here. You’re not gonna make any money with him’”.
Not one to take an insult lying down, Bonham took his drums right up to the front of the stage. “That is usually where the singer goes, at the sharp end. But instead of that, I had to give a little to him,” Plant said. “He was doing all these tricks playing with one stick and spinning the other in the air, round and round. Also doing all these ridiculous fills while we were playing ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane. It was great, we fought our way through the mid to late ’60s, he and I. There was a lot of funny, absolutely hysterical stuff. Because we don’t know the ways of the world when you’re 17, we did good”.
Listen to the interview below.