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Remembering the Legend of John Bonham

The man with the golden groove remains in the top rock drummers of all time.

There’s no denying the talent of Zeppelin drummer John Bonham and the impact his sound brought to the band and future rock drummers. Everyone from his bandmates, peers, and audience recognized the incredible talent the lovable bloke from Birmingham brought to the table. His unusual style (loud, fast, and instinctive) inspired countless musicians and brought attention to the power of rock across the pond.

Recalling their times on tour together, Vanilla Fudge’s Carmine Appice was impressed: “John was new and fresh, with plenty of aggression and energy. I was blown away by his sixteenth-note right-foot triplet. He said he got that from the first Vanilla Fudge album, which confused me, as I didn’t remember doing it. So he showed me where I played it – once! He took that lick and created his trademark triplet thing. He had great hands, feet, and feel, and said his idols were the same as mine.”

Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward has an admission. “In 1964/’65, I didn’t understand what John was doing. Often, on the many occasions I watched him play, I thought he was ruining the song, like maybe he’d lost his 1. Uncannily, however, after several bars, he’d bring his beats into alignment with whomever he was playing with. At last, I realized what he’d done. He was always in his 1, even when it sounded like he wasn’t.”

A few years later Ward saw Bonham on a different setup. “I watched him play his son Jason’s kit in the ’70s. It was small in comparison to a regular kit, but John sounded incredible. Whatever drums he had, he could make them sound huge and very tonal.” Without hesitation, Bill Ward fondly remembers Bonham as The One. “Absolutely! I admired him. I respected him. He was the groove master. He wrote the bible on rock drumming. To learn the primal basis that will bring a drummer up to the current era of rock or metal drumming, one has to listen to John Bonham. He was an institution unto himself. He was his own guy. Thank you, Mr. Bonham.”

Liberty DeVitto considers the options: “If I said he was the best, I would be putting him above Keith Moon, Mick Avory, Bobby Elliott, Micky Waller – but I will say John Bonham was in there with the best of them.” Liberty DeVitto, whose drumming propelled Billy Joel’s many hits, feels “John Bonham was an R&B drummer in a heavy metal band. He had the heavy sound and attack of Carmine with ’D’yer Maker,’ the R&B fills and feel of Roger Hawkins on ’What Is And What Should Never Be,’ and as he developed he added jazz feels or more swing, like the Purdie-style shuffle for ’Fool In The Rain.’” 

Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy says, “Bonzo’s sound came from a combination of brute power, subtle finesse, and impeccable groove. John Bonham is the only one who could ever truly sound like John Bonham. That sound was him – not necessarily his drums.”

“John Henry Bonham, in my humble opinion,” states Chad Smith emphatically, “is hands down the greatest rock drummer of all time. His sound, technique, musicianship, groove, and feel have never been duplicated. No-one comes close today and probably nobody ever will.” One of Chad Smith’s favorite Bonham tracks is “Wanton Song.” “The use of space in the verse is breathtaking. I also love ’Since I’ve Been Loving You,’ live at Albert Hall, with its awesome use of dynamics and that famous footwork on full display.”

Glen Hughes agrees: “Everyone, from rock stars to milk men, love Bonham.”

Jon Hiseman considers the lost potential: “Bonham’s reputation was built in one band, and because of his untimely death we never heard later developments.”

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