One of the main reasons Led Zeppelin became the almighty behemoth of rock is that each facet of the band was supremely talented. Whether it was guitar impresario, Jimmy Page, the archetypal lead singer, Robert Plant, the rhythmic soul of John Paul Jones or, indeed, the powerhouse percussionist, John Bonham—the group had every corner of the rock band covered with one of the instrument’s finest performers. There’s a good reason for it too.
Jimmy Page had been a session musician for some years when he decided to join the Yardbirds and get his first taste of being in a rock band. He quickly caught the bug and began planning his own band. He would lean on another session musician, John Paul Jones, before finding a singer and drummer in the Midlands. But, like every colossus of culture, the reality of their meeting would have to be conducted face to face. In a recent interview, the bassist opened up about the experience of forming Led Zeppelin and, most importantly, the first time he ever met John Bonham.
“I rang Jimmy when I read he was going to form a new band,” begins John Paul Jones‘ story of how Led Zeppelin were formed. “Because I was doing sessions at the time, and I asked him if he needed a bass player. He told me he was going up to Birmingham to see a singer who knows a drummer and that we might have a band by the time he gets back.”
“When he got back he rang me to say that John was playing with Tim Rose, and at that time,” the musician continued. “I think, he was making either £100 a week; or was it £40? Anyway, could we top it? John didn’t really want to leave Rosy. Because he thought it was steady work so it took a lot of time and trouble to get him to leave.” Given the precarious position of musicians at the time, it’s expected that Bonham wouldn’t want to turn down work.
The opportunity proved too much of a lure for Bonham and Plant to ignore, and the dup would sign up to be a part of Jimmy Page’s new project. Jones remembers the first time he crossed paths with John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham and the giant impression it left on him: “The first time I ever met John was in a tiny basement room we had rented in Lyle Street. We just had loads of amps and speaker cabs there that had been begged, borrowed or stolen, and it was literally, ‘This is Robert, this is John ‘How do you do? What shall we do now?’ ‘What do you know?”
After a brief standoff, the formation continued and proved to be an instant success, “I said I’d been playing sessions and knew nothing at all so Page just said, “Well I don’t know, do you know any Yardbirds songs?” We went with ‘Train Keep A Rollin’ in E, and he counted us in. There was like this instant explosion and an instant recognition that this would be a really good outfit to be with.”
“The first thing to strike me about Bonzo was his confidence,” the bassist and composer continued, “and you know he was a real cocky bugger in those days. Still, you have to be to play like that. I t was great, instant concentration. He wasn’t showing off, but was just aware of what he could do. He was just rock solid.”
“John was rock solid and because drummers and bass players have to work so closely together you soon get to recognise each other’s ability. You soon know if you’ve got a duffer onboard. When you’re young and come up through the bands you know immediately, well he’s not up to much or my God, I can’t work with this blike. With Bonzo and I, we just listened to each other rather than look at each other and we knew immediately because we were so solid. From the first count in we were absolutely together.”
The duo would become one of the finest rhythm sections in rock and roll history and have since defined what it means to be a bassist and drummer working in unison.