“Not everybody likes or understands a drum solo, so I like to bring in effects and sounds to keep their interest.” – John Bonham
Often, for musicians, being talented and skilled is not enough. To reach out to the audience and connect on a visceral level, it’s essential to understand and deliver what the listeners crave to share with them authentically. John Bonham’s success had much to do with this theory. Not only was he a fantastic drummer, but also a crowd-pleaser. He had the ability even to capture the attention of people who were blank on the subject of drums.
Esteemed for his power-packed fast drumming style, Bonham also stole hearts with his groovy and expressive form that he mainly showcased on the latter part of his career. Once introduced to the Ludwig drums, the only type that could withstand his high-speed rolls, he endorsed it throughout his musical journey despite its pedal being unbearably squeaky. In fact, that’s exactly why Bonham was far from being a perfectionist. He played from the heart and let the rhythm flow within him, passing on the energy and passion to the audience.
“With Zeppelin, I tried to play something different every night in my solos,” Bonham once recalled. “I’d play for 20 minutes, but the longest ever was 30 minutes. It’s a long time, but when I was playing, it seemed to fly by.”
Bonham’s time with Led Zeppelin witnessed some exceptional drum pieces, among which ‘Rock and Roll’ is one. The song was released as the second single of the band’s 1971 album Led Zeppelin IV and has been a hard-rock anthem and a typifying song for the band ever since then. The song was based on three-chords, the most popular rock and roll structure and, even within the title, made subtle references to the tropes permeating pop music at the time. According to the band’s guitarist Jimmy Page, the song was churned during an impromptu jam session that they engaged in to clear their heads to open their minds and finish the ‘Four Sticks’ track. The tapes were rolling, and 15 minutes later they realised that they had a new song.
The percussionist started playing the introduction from Little Richards version of ‘Keep-A-Knockin’’ but improvised it as he went along into a unique piece. This intro has made drummers wonder what was so special about this piece as it was a bit challenging to imitate it.
In reality, it’s not the speed or the number of notes but the count that makes it a standout song. It can be broken down, revealing its richness and complexity, but then it would defeat Bonham’s purpose to make his music enjoyable to everyone. At the end of the song, the drum solo is a classic example of Bonham going with the flow, refusing to stick to the formula and creating his own landmark as he did.
Enjoy Bonham’s isolated drums track for Led Zeppelin’s song ‘Rock and Roll’.