The measure by which I judge all rock drummers would ultimately be, to compare them to this man; John Henry Bonham, the late drummer and percussionist of arguably the world’s biggest rock band; Led Zeppelin.
In my view, no one matches up to Bonham’s power, control, virtuosity, improvisational genius, feel, and sense of rhythm. He really had it all. I am hardly the only one who feels this way, and whilst the looming shadow of his accidental death in 1980 taints his legacy, I truly believe he would have gone on to only further demonstrate his monstrous abilities.
Known to his friends as a shy, quiet man, who channelled his furious energy and pent up aggression through his drumming, this is something I can openly relate to. Drums for me are the channel for my energy and frustrations, my release. Whilst I may be expressing myself on the same instrument as John, if only I had the dexterity, natural ability and the almost nonchalant confidence to pull off his astounding skills. I’ll stick to walking-pace 4/4 beats, but I’ll get my kicks all the same!
Some may say argue that there are contemporary session drummers who can run rings around “Bonzo” – admittedly, there are some phenomenal players around who simply astound me when I watch or hear them, but Bonham was an innovator. A first of his kind. Along perhaps with wildcard, the late Keith Moon (The Who), he paved the way for drummers to really let loose and show physicality in their playing. Before this, drummers were largely still, stiff-postured figures, with only their wrists moving.
John’s drum sound is also instantly recognisable. He was truly an individual. Outside of drumming he was not adverse to a healthy does of manual labour, he was a strong man, definitely working hard and playing harder! Along with a gruelling set with Zep, his infamous “” solo could last upwards of half an hour.
There simply are no words to describe how much admiration for this man. I (along with Dave Grohl, in fact) have Bonham’s Led Zeppelin symbol tattooed on my upper arm, immortalising my respect for him.