Few artists are synonymous with their instruments, like John Bonham with his drums. The late, great rock drummer — perhaps even the greatest of all time — changed pop culture with his imposing style and fearsome fills. If you ask any real drummer worth their weight in brass symbols who the greatest rock percussionist of all time is, chances are every single one of them would have a different top five sticksmen. That said, we’d also bet that every single one of them would include the motorcycle-riding, gong smashing Led Zeppelin man.
As well as being one of the pivotal figures in one of the most significant heavy rock groups of all time, the drummer was also the archetypal rocker in every single way. It meant that he was loud, destructive, would drive motorcycles through hotel lobbies and even slam through a few shows here and there—performances which invariably included a double helping of proof to Bonham’s thunderous genius on the kit. Below, we’re looking back at one of his finest moments as we devour the isolated drum track of Led Zeppelin song ‘Kashmir’.
Sadly, being the archetypal rock ‘n’ roller meant Bonham’s excesses would eventually catch up with the drummer, and he sadly passed away way before his time. Before his untimely death in 1980, Bonham was the powerhouse juggernaut of the band, driving it forward and adding a heavy dose of meat and bones to the Jimmy Page and Robert Plant’s expertly gilded dinner service. He was the engine of a runaway steam train.
With his juggernaut performances and unstoppable rock attitude, Bonham quickly became the darling of the rock world. He even had Hendrix positively purring as the legendary guitarist once told Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant: “That drummer of yours has a right foot like a pair of castanets.” It was a style all of Bonham’s own too. “I don’t consider that I’m particularly influenced by anyone or anything. But when I started playing, I was influenced by early soul. It was just that feel, that sound,” the drummer told his brother in an interview way back in 1973.
Performed on stage but perfected in the studio, what Bonham could do with his kit was unimaginable just a few short years before he broke through with Led Zeppelin. One song which the band can pretty much all agree that both the drummer and the group shined on was the suitably wonderful ‘Kashmir’.
“It’s difficult to be asked, ‘What’s your favourite Zeppelin track?’ They all were,” guitarist Jimmy Page told Rolling Stone with a knowing buoyance when asked the inevitable question. “They were all intended to be on those albums.” But he decided to narrow it down soon after. “I suppose ‘Kashmir’ has to be the one,” he said.
‘Kashmir’ had begun its life during some sessions at Headley Grange in 1973 where Page and Zep’s drummer John Bonham, “It’s the first thing I ran through with Bonzo,” Page said. “I just know that [Bonham] is gonna love it, and he loves it, and we just play the riff over and over and over because it’s like a child’s riff,” Page remembered.
You can hear every single bit of that joy within the isolated drum track below. Witness the unabashed brilliance of John Bonham as he thunders through a drum fill that would engage with his primal talent and pronounce Bonham as one of the greats.