It is an undeniable fact that John Bonham is one of, if not the, best drummer of all time and if there was still any doubt over this question then this isolated version of ‘When The Levee Breaks’ by Led Zeppelin of just Bonham’s drums is all the proof you need.
If you ask any drummer in the world to name the five best drummers of all time the thundering talent of Bonham is almost guaranteed to feature somewhere on that list.
Bonham’s furious, powerful technique was the pounding heartbeat of Led Zeppelin. Following the drummer’s death, the band were never quite the same live act again. The few and far occasions that the remaining members have reunited since his death in 1980 have always been somewhat disappointing.
Bonham was the powerhouse juggernaut of the band, driving it forward and adding a heavy dose of meat and bones to the Page and Plant’s expertly gilded dinner service.
‘When The Levee Breaks’ is an old bluesy number which when delivered by Led Zeppelin breathed new life into a genre that had been overdone in the swinging London scene. In 1971 Zeppelin would show the world how it should be done. The song is one of Zeppelin’s finest moments on record, thanks to some studio wizardry, and despite difficulties with reproducing the sound on stage, the track remains a fan favourite.
Zeppelin recorded the track in a stairwell to gather that muffled and echoing drum sound, Bonham is powerful and commanding on every last beat, so much so that Page and co. built the song around it. The band couldn’t recreate this same sound live to do the recording justice.
It meant they only ever played it once at a warm-up gig in Denmark before their 1975 US tour, and again on their second night in Chicago.
In Mick Bonham’s book on his late brother titled John Bonham: The Powerhouse Behind Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant said this about his former bandmate: “Bonzo was the main part of the band. He was the man who made whatever Page and I wrote basically work, by what he held back, by what he didn’t do to the tempos. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who could replace him.”
This isolated drum version of ‘When The Levee Breaks’ is the perfect encapsulation of Bonham’s masterful drumming expertise and why he’s still revered as one of the greatest people to ever step behind a drum kit of all time.
Listen to it, below.