John Henry Bonham (31 May 1948 – 25 September 1980) was an English musician and songwriter, best known as the drummer of Led Zeppelin. Bonham was esteemed for his speed, power, fast right foot, distinctive sound, and "feel" for the groove. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest drummers in the history of rock music by many drummers, other musicians, and commentators in the industry. Over 30 years after his death, Bonham continues to garner awards and praise, including a Rolling Stone readers' pick in 2011 placing him in first place of the magazine's "best drummers of all time"
After the break-up of The Yardbirds, guitarist Jimmy Page was forming a new band when he recruited Robert Plant, who in turn suggested Bonham. Page's choices for drummer included Procol Harum's B.J. Wilson, and session drummers Clem Cattini and Aynsley Dunbar. Ginger Baker was also rumoured to be on Page's list. However, upon seeing Bonham drum for Tim Rose at a club in Hampstead, north London, in July 1968, Page and manager Peter Grant were instantly convinced that he was the perfect fit for the new project, first known as the New Yardbirds and later as Led Zeppelin.
Despite an intensive campaign to snare the drummer, Bonham was initially reluctant to join the band. Plant sent eight telegrams to Bonham's pub, the "Three Men in a Boat", in Walsall, which were followed by 40 telegrams from Grant. However, at the same time he was also receiving lucrative offers from established artists Joe Cocker and Chris Farlowe. Eventually, Bonham accepted Grant's offer. He later recalled, "I decided I liked their music better than Cocker's or Farlowe's."
John Bonham's three intersecting circles sigil for the Led Zeppelin IV album
During Led Zeppelin's first tour of the United States in December 1968, Bonham became friends with Vanilla Fudge's drummer Carmine Appice. Appice introduced him to Ludwig Drums, which he then used for the rest of his career. Bonham used the longest and heaviest sticks available, which he referred to as "trees." His hard hitting style was displayed to great effect on many Led Zeppelin songs, including "Immigrant Song" (Led Zeppelin III), "When the Levee Breaks" (Led Zeppelin IV / ), "Kashmir" (Physical Graffiti), "The Ocean" (Houses of the Holy), and "Achilles Last Stand" (Presence). In fact, Page once admitted to letting Bonham use a double bass drum in an early demo of "Communication Breakdown" but claimed he scratched the track because of Bonham's "over-use" of it. The double bass style of drumming didn't become popular for another twenty years. The studio recording of "Misty Mountain Hop" perfectly captures his keen sense of dynamics, and this is similarly exhibited by his precise drumming on "No Quarter". On several cuts from later albums, Bonham rather adeptly handled funk and Latin-influenced drumming. Songs like "Royal Orleans" and "Fool in the Rain" are good examples, respectively displaying great skill with a New Orleans shuffle and a samba rhythm.
His famous drum solo, first entitled "Pat's Delight," later renamed "Moby Dick", would often last for 30 minutes and regularly featured his use of bare hands to achieve different sound effects. Bonham's action sequence for the film, The Song Remains the Same, featured him in a drag race at Santa Pod Raceway to the sound of his signature drum solo, "Moby Dick". In Led Zeppelin concert tours after 1969, Bonham would expand his basic kit to include congas, orchestral timpani, and a symphonic gong. Bonham is also credited (by the Dallas Times Herald) with the first in-concert use of electronic timpani drum synthesisers (most likely made by Syndrum) during a performance of the song "Kashmir" in Dallas, Texas in 1977. Many modern rappers would later heavily sample his drumming and incorporate it into their compositions, such as Beastie Boys, who sampled "Moby Dick," "The Ocean," and "When the Levee Breaks."
During his time with Led Zeppelin, Bonham was also an avid collector of antique sports cars and motorcycles, which he kept on his family's farm called The Old Hyde. He bought The Plough pub in the nearby village of Shenstone, which shows signs of conversion work to allow him to drive his bikes or cars right behind the bar. This was not the pub featured in the film The Song Remains the Same. It was the New Inn, which is currently boarded up, the only clue to its famous past being a picture hanging close to the bar