When one thinks of the best drummers of all time, you’re typically met with the same faces, and for good reason. Neil Peart, Ginger Baker, Dave Grohl, Keith Moon; you get the picture. Given how rare it is for a drummer to be truly astounding, the list of certified “great” drummers is a rather short one in comparison to that of guitarists and frontmen.
Dextrous, versatile and more often than not slightly unhinged, drummers are a rare breed. Billy Moony, the sticksman in Roddy Doyle’s 1987 novel The Commitments and the 1991 film of the same name, is a perfectly accentuated take on this stereotype.
Perhaps the most iconic figure in drumming is Led Zeppelin’s rhythmic maestro, John Bonham. Although he passed away aged only 32 in 1980, to this day, Bonham’s work is still revered by critics and fans alike. Rivalling Ginger Baker in technique and surpassing Moon in style, Bonham is often hailed as the greatest drummer of all time.
Bonham hit the drums so incredibly hard, and his fluid style of playing set him out from the crowd. Speed, power and groove were his forte, and without him, the esoteric might of Led Zeppelin would not have flourished. Taking his style in equal parts from jazz, rock and world music, Bonham’s tactile and varied style is one that many have tried and failed to imitate.
Due to the mythos he created in life through his work, coupled with the peculiar human craft of canonising an artist when they die prematurely, today Bonham is one of the ultimate examples of a ‘rock god’, for want of a better term. His legend precedes his music, and since his death, fans have strived to get to know him a little better, given just how captivating of a musician he was.
Whether that be who he considered being his drumming heroes, what his off-stage lifestyle was like, or even what his beer of choice was, Bonham’s life has been forensically picked apart by fans of all ages from across the globe. Amongst all the nuggets of information that fans have picked out, there exists a real gem, a surprising fact that accounts for just how varied his musical tastes were, showing that he was a mere mortal like the rest of us. This is John Bonham‘s love for British art-rockers, Supertramp, and specifically, their third album, 1974’s Crime of the Century.
Featuring classic tracks such as ‘Dreamer’ and the hard-rocking ‘Bloody Well Right’, the album was huge at the time of release and today is hailed as a classic from the experimental mid-1970s. It was the legendary producer Ken Scott that helmed the album, and, years later, he managed to bring the information back to the fore in his 2012 book, Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust. Of Crime of the Century, he said: “Even John Bonham, drummer of Led Zeppelin was a fan and would invite people over to hear the album at his home often at noise crushing volume.”
What a brilliant picture Scott’s account conjures. Unfortunately, information on Bonham’s love for Supertramp and their 1974 offering is sparse, but when you dig deeper, you find that it was journalist Chris Welch who first broke the news in the now-defunct Melody Maker, all the way back in 1975. It was in an article entitled ‘John Bonham: Over The Hills And Far Away…’ in which Welch had visited Bonham at his rural Worcestershire home, The Old Hyde Farm.
A revealing article, it painted a picture of Bonham that was the complete opposite to the hard-rocking, hard-partying drummer of Led Zeppelin. Welch wrote that after a customary “sojourn at the pub”, he and Bonham “returned to the farmhouse to sample some brandy and the delights of a quad sound system that threatened to stampede the sleeping herd of Herefords”.
Welch continued: “‘Listen to this. It’s great.’ John put on the Pretty Things’ new single ‘I’m Keeping’. They’re a band who seem to be enjoying a whole new lease of life since they signed to Swan Song, Zeppelin’s own label. He was also raving about Supertramp’s album and admitted a new interest in country music.”
If this does not paint the perfect picture of Bonham, then I don’t know what does. Welch’s account depicts him in his element, outside of the confines of one of the world’s biggest bands, loving a drink and discussing some of the best new music out there. Then, later in a 2007 article for Traps Magazine, Welch again gave us an honest reflection of Bonham, and again mentioned his love for the eclectic British troupe: “We sat in his lounge in front of a big juke-box loaded with his favourite Supertramp tracks, and Bonham confided that he was suffering from panic attacks before every concert.”
In addition to suffering from crippling nerves, Welch said that on his farm, Bonham was “someone who preferred bricklaying, decorating, and gardening to the itinerant life of a rock star – Bonham busied himself running the farm and breeding cattle in the peace of the countryside”.
Together, Welch and Scott’s assertion of Bonham’s love for Supertramp is highly significant. They dispel the myth of him being a larger than life, out-of-control ‘rock god’ and show him to be the gentleman he truly was. An ordinary man who, regardless of his genius, was a lover of music, a tipple, and the simpler things in life, just like the rest of us.
You can just imagine him gardening, listening to the infectious melodies of Supertramp, amongst the pastoral dream of his country home. Here’s to hoping that more information about Bonham‘s love for Supertramp come to light.