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JOHN BONHAM - THOUGHTS ON A HERO

Probably the greatest rock drummer in history. His huge sound and approach are often shadowed by the sheer intensity of his choices. Each song is a gem of drumming. You can listen to them over and over again and eventually you see how this genius drove the band ... chose the less obvious and subtly made it seem the only choice. Everybody cites the Moby Dick, Whole lotta love, Levi breaks examples of his work, but I have the complete boxed set and let me tell you there are those rarer songs where you see what an enormously creative guy he was.

Try listening to:

Fool in the rain - one of the most beautiful Purdy shuffles (better that Rosanna in my opinion). That hi hat accent is perfectly placed and a bastard to mimic. He swings it just right. There is a studio-drums-only bootleg (see below). If you haven't heard it yet you will be glad you did.

Gallows pole - the drumming only rushes in at the end of the song. It is an exciting blue grass (or is it motown?) that comes in on the off and then shifts back and forth like breathing. And what on earth is his bassdrum doing in there?

Stairway to heaven - also drumming only appears near the end of the song. Some beautiful open grooving so orchestrated that no 30 seconds is the same. The figure he throws in at the end of the guitar solo eluded me for years.

Dazed and confused - the song that taught me 6/8 blues drumming and also alerted me to the usefulness of triplets, starting huge fills in very odd places and riding on a crash cymbal.

Good time bad times - the first song on the first record and look at how Bonzo introduces himself to the world. It's a drummer's song. The broken one footed triplets, the power, the choice of groove. What a way to establish your reputation.

Black dog - did Keith moon ever do something so un-obvious? Bonzo starts each phrase so off it is like a hiccup. Then he releases the tension the third time around and goes ontp his ride. Then there those thunder-crack like fills near the end of the song.

Rock n' roll - a song with a hook of a start, the exact time of which still confounds many drummers who try to cover this song. A drumsolo ending that blisters the ear with enviable hand speed. Best to watch it on disc two of the DVD. When Robert plant grins and looks around at the end of the song it is because he knew his mate was about to do something awesome on a drum kit...

Bonzo's montreaux - a more musical solo than Moby dick. An Everest for single bass-drum drummers to climb for sure.

Four sticks - can anyone actually play this song? I heard even Bonzo avoided it after he got it down on tape. It’s a monster.

Heartbreaker - listen to the bass drum work in the fill at 2:00. wha? Unfortunately badly recorded but listen carefully to how much is there.

Celebration day - at 1:52 Bonzo shows some masterful snare flams at incredible speed. The man was a master at rudiments.

Misty mountain hop - a great groove but go and find the wavering dynamic roll near the end of the song.

Rain song - for Bonzo's beautiful brushwork. A dynamics genius not just a basher. He uses brushes for the whole song even the parts where it sounds like sticks.

Lemon song - beautiful gong start but LISTEN TO THE FILLS BETWEEN 5:13 AND 5:27 ... IF YOU ARE NOT YET A CONVINCED BONZO FAN, YOU WILL BE!!! According to the legend this was all done in one take and BEFORE 1970!

Over the hills and far away - hi-hat foot work is exceptional. He holds it open for an unusual amount of time and there in is the groove. In this song his bass drum sound is wonderful. This is what I want my bass drum to sound like. At 3:10ish you even hear his speedking pedal squeaking.

Living loving maid - what a cool beat! I love the way the whole groove changes (and swings) at 00:20, 00:54 and 1:27. This song has a really cool snare sound.

The crunge - odd times. 9/8 this is a terrible beat to try and copy.

The ocean - more odd times.17/8 ('we've done for already but now we're steady and then they went one...two...three...four...' what a count in.)

Poor tom - I love this snare work and that bass drum punches it out undeniably. Perfect control throughout almost as if they looped it in the studio ... but they didn't.

I could go on

and on...

He's my hero.

what can I say.

FURTHER THOUGHTS...

I don't model my drumming on Bonzo (well not much). I model my creativity on him. When confronting a new song I like to think of how Bonzo would approach it. I like to imagine he is watching me and that usually makes me kick up my drumming a notch.

Bonham was a drummer's drummer behind the kit, but in real life he was a cool dad, a bar room brawler, a loving husband, a speeding driver, a drunk, a flashy dresser, a best friend, a worst enemy... something to everyone he knew but different. Such is life. Most of us are different things to different people. I like to believe that, had I known him, I would have been his friend. There are loads of blanket statements about Bonham that are, not to put too fine a point on it, rubbish. To say Bonzo didn't do his own tuning for example shows a lack of chronological understanding and a blind ignorance. Come on, do you think Jeff Ocheltree was tuning for Bonzo from the start? Tuning for Bonzo ... there's a statement. FOR Bonzo. Which implies a learning of what Bonzo wanted and some interaction between Ocheltree and him about his sound. Bonham might not have wanted to change drum heads, this would be in line with a lot of personality indicators he had, but Ocheltree admitted to 'sneaking new heads onto the kits over the years and sanding them to give them a worn look'.

Bonham may not have been the first at a lot of the things that are claimed of him but he was a brummy who developed a lot of stuff in parallel to stuff that was going on elsewhere. The real chronology of who made who in terms of the broken triplet, hard hitting, paradiddle usage etc etc etc can never be properly determined historically. Since a lot of stuff could have been shared live or informally, we cannot ever know the right answers. Studio recordings are the only evidence and they always occur after the fact. This combined with the fact that parallel development often occurred, particularly across the Atlantic, makes such bold statements as 'Bonham did or did not invent this or that drum thing' ludicrous. We shall mostly have to accept that we will never know the real truth. Let the legend live on, let the mystery intrigue us but don't go overboard. It is embarrassing to the true fans.

Bonham was a communicator. The more I listen to drummers the more I hear it ... some of us do the job exceptionally well and if you analysed the results with musical criteria you would judge the drumming as excellent. Then along comes drummers with sometimes even far less chops but there is an element that I hesitate to call 'magic'. Something about the expression and personality that they show through their choices.

Bonham was and is one of the all time untouchable drummers because of this. You get a sense from him that when he is playing, studio or live, that he is having fun ... he is damn good and he knows it. He is mentally and creatively everything I want to be as a drummer.

He has that element of drumming skill which I would argue cannot be practiced or taught or even adequately described. I would rather have this element of Bonham in my drumming than all of Thomas Lang’s chops or all of Mangini's speed.

He died on the night of my fifth birthday.

bonham bootleg one

bonham bootleg two

bonham bootleg three

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click here for much more on Bonham (drummerworld)

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