Like most great artists and musicians, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith would likely always tell you how his own skill set was a simple amalgamation of all his favourite performers. A figurative sketch of everything he had ever heard and loved, roughly slammed onto paper and delivered with gusto However, one person has shaped his sound more than anyone else; Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.
“I steal loads of stuff,” Smith once admitted. “So go ahead and steal from me if there’s anything I do that you like. Everyone has their own personality that comes through on the drums. So it’s never going to sound exactly like me when you play it anyway”.
Smith has always offered himself up as simply a whirring cog in the music machine. He doesn’t see anything precious or sacred about his style and is therefore always open to change and manipulation. One of the clearest examples of this is how his love of John Bonham has manifested in his approach, and the Chili’s drummer is on a mission to keep the spirit of ‘Bonzo’ alive. Although, he’s under no illusions that he is the reincarnation of Bonham.
Bonham was the powerhouse heartbeat of Led Zeppelin, and, following his death in 1980, the band simply couldn’t continue. Even though many – including Smith – have attempted to be more like Bonham in their technique, replicating him is a thankless and impossible task, something Zeppelin quickly recognised. Without the late drummer’s relentless pursuit of percussive perfection, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones wouldn’t have hit the heights they climbed to as a unit.
Speaking about artists he’d like to meet beyond the graves, Smith once revealed: “I’d love to have had the chance to chat with Jimi Hendrix. He is the coolest musician of all time, if you ask me. And then I’d like to have gone out and partied with Keith Moon and played drums with John Bonham, probably have partied with him too, actually”.
While Smith still idolised The Who percussionist and wild icon, Keith Moon, his love for John Bonham remains unparalleled. The Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer has even made a pilgrimage to his grave in Rushock, a tiny village in Worcestershire with a population of just 138.
Smith heartwarmingly revealed that the “good slew of drumsticks sitting at the bottom of his stone” alerted him to the grave that he was searching for. Although, his overarching emotion from that day was dejection. “It made me really sad. Such a waste of life,” he said.
Speaking about what specifically attracted him to Bonham, Smith added: “It was the sheer power of ‘Bonzo’ that appealed to me. And his sound! I’d never heard drums with that sound; Page’s production was important of course. Bono had depth and air, and he played so musically. The way he played around those Page riffs with such power, musicality and finesse was very impressive.”
For Smith, Bonham is in his own league and irreplaceable. Almost every percussionist names ‘Bonzo’ as an inspiration. He was a technician and a powerhouse in equal measure, whose pedigree we’ll perhaps never witness again.