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What John Bonham really thought of Ginger Baker

@TomTaylorFO

John Bohnam is the eponymous thunder of drums. With Led Zeppelin he changed the game for rock ‘n’ roll drummers, hurtling his sticks like Thor’s hammer and ensuring that the drumkit wasn’t something that merely tapped away in the background. 

The likes of Neil Peart were inspired by the famed “big triplets” Bonham bashed out on his “giant bass drum”. Continuing to inspire younger sticksmiths today, Matt Helders of the Arctic Monkeys opined: “I’d have to say that John Bonham is my favourite drummer of all time. He’s somebody that I always come back to. The reason why I picked this record purely comes down to a fill he does at the end of the ‘Moby Dick’ solo — before the band comes back in. It gives me chills, and that’s no exaggeration. I can hardly even express what it does to me. It’s perfect, absolutely perfect.”

Alas, even heroes have a hero and the late Bonham is no different. One of the first favourites to turn his head was Gene Krupa and he remained obsessed with drumming ever since, exclaiming: “I’ve always been obsessed with drums. They fascinate me. Any other instrument – nothing.” However, despite putting drums towards the centre of the stage, the stuff Krupa was playing wasn’t quite ‘Moby Dick’ and Bonham had his eye on a hybrid. 

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“People hadn’t taken much notice of drums before Krupa,” Bonham explains in the book In Their Own Words. “And Ginger Baker was responsible for the same thing in rock.” Continuing, he added: “[Baker] was the first to come out with this ‘new’ attitude — that a drummer could be a forward musician in a rock band, and not something that was stuck in the background and forgotten about.”

If Baker had ever complimented anyone else in his vitriolic lifetime, then he too may have admitted that Krupa was in the welter of his influences, which is something Bonham seems to hint at when he explains: “I think Baker was really more into jazz than rock. He plays with a jazz influence. He’s always doing things in 5/4 and 3/4 tempos. […] Ginger’s thing as a drummer is that he was always himself.”

Another point on the biography of Bonham, A Thunder of Drums, sees a special mention of The Graham Bond Organisation as one of his favourite bands during his formative years as a sincere music lover, the drummer of which was, of course, the aforementioned uber-iconoclast, Ginger Baker. He explains that this early period was when he found Baker most appealing as he bristled through four-stroke ruff’s as though he was simply keeping time. 

The duo later crossed over during their careers, operating simultaneously but in extremely different circumstances as Baker departed to Africa to team up with Fela Kuti and Bonham toured the world pioneering a new brand of rock. At the time, Baker (unsurprisingly) never took too kindly to the comparisons between them. In his memoir, Hellraiser: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Drummer, Baker writes: “John Bonham once made a statement that there were only two drummers in British rock ‘n’ roll; himself and Ginger Baker. My reaction to this was: ‘You cheeky little bastard!’” 

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