There’s no heavier hitter in the history of rock and roll than John Bonham. Through a decade of recorded work with Led Zeppelin, Bonham proved his power on songs like ‘Good Times, Bad Times’, ‘Immigrant Song’, and ‘The Ocean’. But it was his performance on ‘Stairway to Heaven’ that solidified Bonham’s place among the drum gods.
Bonham doesn’t even come in until halfway through ‘Stairway’, and the gentle folk instrumentation that his bandmates are playing requires Bonham to play with softer dynamics. Still, he can’t help but explode in, and as the song increases in both tempo and volume, Bonham turns his take into a tour de force that becomes a clinic in rock drumming.
Jimmy Page had a simple formula to get Bonham to play well: make him angry. Page’s attempt to get Bonham riled up during the song’s recording included a request to redo what everyone thought was a perfect take. Bonham was furious, and reacted by playing even harder, resulting in a legendary performance. It was sneaky, but it’s hard to argue with Page’s methods. Just listen to the results.
Producer Glyn Johns pioneered the perfect way to capture Bonham’s power behind the kit. It involved just three microphones, strategically placed on the bass drum, the floor tom, and above the drums, the balance of which would result in an explosive sound. By the time the band were recording Led Zeppelin IV, they were experimenting with recordings techniques, aided by Glyn’s brother Andy Johns. That’s how songs like ‘When the Levee Breaks’ were created, but it sounds as though Andy likely retained Glyn’s original mic placement for ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Whatever the specifics may be, the results speak for themselves, and Bonham remains one of the most influential drummers of all time.
Check out the isolated drum track down below.