John Bonham

John Bonham (born John Henry Bonham; 31 May 1948 - 25 September 1980) English musician, born in Redditch, Worcestershire, England, UK, died Clewer, Berkshire, England, UK. Married: Patricia Phillips, 1965 (2 children).

Drummer, a member of A Way of Life, Band of Joy, and Led Zeppelin, Bonham was the eldest of three children to John Henry 'Jack' Bonham and Joan Isobel Sargent. Bonham senior was a carpenter and building contractor in Redditch, outside of Birmingham, while Joan operated a newsagency. The drummer had two younger siblings, Michael 'Mick' (1950 - 2000) and Deborah Louise (born 1962). Bonham married Pat Phillips in 1965, and had two children with her: Jason Paul (born 1966) and Zoe Louise (born 1975).

Bonham is also famous for his bare hand drum solos which he developed as a young drummer for Blue Star Trio in 1962.

Early career

The son of carpenter John 'Jacko' Bonham, he grew up near Robert Plant in Kidderminster, drumming objects. He was a natural percussionist, sensitive to rhythm from an early age. He beat pots and pans in his parents' kitchen, and built his first drum at the age of five, from a bath salts can with wires on the bottom and a coffee tin that his father had rigged with a loose wire for a snare effect. Bonham received his first snare drum at ten, a present from his mother Joan Bonham, and at age fifteen his father gave him a used, slightly oxidized Trixon drum kit. Like many aspiring drummers of his generation, Bonham's musical awareness transcended rock and roll; his idols included such percussive swing icons as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, whose careers dated from the 1930s. He spent most of his youth in Birmingham, England, and left Lodge Farm middle school in his mid-teens, and for a time worked for his father's construction company J. H. Bonham & Son. He also worked as a tailors assistant at George Osbourne & Son. He joined his first band, Terry Webb and the Spiders, at the age of sixteen in 1964, wearing purple jackets with velveteen lapels. He worked with a multitude of bands, mostly based in the West Midlands, including the Blue Stars, the Nicky James Movement, Locomotive, Steve Brett and the Mavericks, and the Senators, of whom the latter saw some success with a single entitled 'She's a Mod'. In 1965, he joined A Way of Life, and met Pat Phillips at a dance near his home in Kidderminster. At age seventeen, they were married.

The band became inactive and Bonham, with a new wife to support, had either to make a go of drumming financially or quit. He had met a young singer, Robert Plant, a couple of years earlier when Plant was in a band called Crawling King Snakes, and they needed a drummer. Bonham fitted the bill. Plant became friends, and was very much an admirer of Bonham's playing. Bonham lived quite a way from the rest of the band and transportation costs (i.e. petrol money) stretched the finances of a struggling band to the limit. Within a few months, Bonham had left the band to rejoin the local A Way of Life.

He was completely self-taught as a drummer, and despite this fact, or maybe because of it, Bonham's drumming, the power and the loudness, rapidly became known around the Midlands. Some of the bands wouldn't hire Bonham, since local clubs often wouldn't even book bands that he played with. They said he played too loud. But Bonham gradually developed a lighter touch as well; he stopped breaking drumheads when he learned to play louder with out hitting as hard. He was one of the first drummers to line his base drum with aluminium foil, and was already playing drum solos with his hands when he started out with Plant. He would team up again with Plant when he joined Band of Joy, whose history included a series of demos that didn't elicit them a contract. In 1968, American folk singer, Tim Rose, asked the band to open his United Kingdom tour. For various reasons, the Band of Joy soon disbanded, but Rose remembered Bonham and offered him a gig as the drummer of his band, when Rose returned to England for another tour a few months later.

Led Zeppelin

For several months, Bonham and Plant lost contact but when guitarist Jimmy Page (The Yardbirds) was starting to form a new band that would be Led Zeppelin he linked up with Robert Plant who, in turn, suggested Bonham. Page had considered several well-known name musicians as possible drummers for the group, including B. J. Wilson of Procol Harum, veteran sessionman Clem Cattini, and Aynsley Dunbar, but Plant urged him to hear Bonham. In July 1968, after seeing Bonham drum for Tim Rose in Hampstead, north London, Page and Yardbirds manager Peter Grant and within days signed up Bonham. Bonham actually hesitated to accept at first as Page and Grant weren't offering as much money to start with as a lot of other outfits interested in his services, but he eventually finally come around and joined, after reportedly many telegrams were sent to his local public house trying to access contact with him.

Bonham's powerful, hard-hitting drumming style soon became the signature tune for the band. He took another step up following Led Zeppelin's first tour of the United States, on which they briefly opened for Vanilla Fudge; their drummer, Carmine Appice turned Bonham on to Ludwig drums, which became his brand instruments of choice for the rest of his life. He also used 'trees', the longest and heaviest drumsticks available. He regularly performed Led Zeppelin solos with his bare hands to achieve a tone out of the drums that couldn't be got with sticks. Bonham's drumming was a key part of Led Zeppelin's appeal. His most straight-forward playing, demonstrated on early classics such as 'Whole Lotta Love', had an explosive power that was larger-than-life (even beside Plant's singing and Page's soloing), especially in combination with John Paul Jones' bass lines. With Jones, Bonham provided the solid foundation and backbone of the band, which made it all possible. He was publicly as well known as Plant or Page, and his featured solo spot, the at-times 40-minute-long instrumental showcase known as 'Moby Dick', was a recognized musical reference point. 'Moby Dick' had evolved out of an earlier 1960s drum solo entitled 'Pat's Delight', in honour of his wife Pat.

His quick right foot on the bass pedal, and lightning-fast triplets were his instant trademark. He later refined his style from the hard skin-bashing approach to a more delicate wrist controlled one - which produced an even more powerful and louder sound with less effort. Bonham could also play with restraint and measure, as on 'Bron-Y-Aur Stomp', and his versatility on some of the band's middle-period material, such as the funk inflected 'The Crunge', the rock-reggae of 'D'yer Mak'er' both from Houses of the Holy, and the later epic showcase 'Achilles Last Stand' from Presence, and Latin groove of 'Fool in the Rain' from In Through the Out Door, showed that Bonham was no one-trick pony. In 1976 Bonham recorded a percussion instrumental with electronic embellishments added by Jimmy Page, called 'Bonzo's Montreux', which later appeared on the 1982 album Coda. Bonham's great musical virtue was always his signature raw swing power.

On a personal level, Bonham fulfilled his dream of owning his own working farm, the Old Hyde in Cutnall Green, visited to by family friends including Bill Ward, Ozzy Osbourne, and Glenn Hughes, for whom Bonham often sat in and jammed with his band Trapeze. Bonham was best man at Ozzy Osbourne's wedding to Thelma Mayfair in 1971. He also owned a sizeable car and motorcycle collection house on the property. John and Pat Bonham had two children, Jason (born 1966) became a drummer, and appeared at Led Zeppelin reunion concerts, most notably in 1988 and 2007, and Zoe Bonham (born 1975) who became a singer-songwriter in her own right. John's parents, and his younger sister Deborah Bonham also lived on the estate, and his brother Mick assisted in running the farm. Bonham disliked being away for long periods from his home and family he loved, and this led to an anxiety he felt he had to calm with alcohol.

On 5 September 1980, Swan Song (Zeppelin's music company) announced a US tour for October. Tickets sold like wildfire and expectations were high. But it was not to be. Ten days after the announcement of the North American tour dates, the band members gathered at Jimmy Page's new mansion on the banks of the River Thames near Windsor for rehearsals. On 24 September, Bonham was chauffeured to Page's house by his personal assistant Rex King. En route, he stopped at a pub for breakfast and downed four quadruple vodkɑs. During the rehearsal, his drinking continued. Around midnight, he passed out on a sofa and was helped to a bedroom by Page's assistant, Rick Hobbs.

Hobbs left Bonham lying on his side, propped up with pillows, and turned out the lights. Hobbs checked on Bonham's room around 8.00 a.m. He appeared to be sleeping fine. At 1.45 p.m. John Paul Jones and roadie Benji Le Fevre entered Bonham's room to check on him again. He did not stir and on Le Fevre checking his pulse, Bonham was found deceased. Sometime during the morning hours Bonham turned onto his back and asphyxiated. The coroner later returned a verdict of accidental death by pulmonary oedema. The ambulance was called but John Bonham, aged 32, had died several hours earlier and was far beyond resuscitation. Weeks later at the coroner's inquest, it emerged that in the 24 hours before he died, John Bonham had drunk forty measures of vodkɑ which resulted in pulmonary oedema - waterlogging of the lungs caused by inhalation of emesis. The death was ruled accidental.

Bonham was cremated and a memorial service was held for him on 10 October 1980, at Rushock parish churchyard, near the Old Hyde farm. His private service attended by family, friends, and members of Led Zeppelin and Swan Song Records, included flowers that covered every blade of grass in the cemetery, a motorbike fashioned from carnations, and wreathes from Wings and Black Sabbath. His headstone reads:

He will always be remembered in our hearts - goodnight my love, God bless.

The band never really contemplated finding a replacement. Still in shock, it took until 4 December 1980, for the band to announce: 'The loss of our dear friend, and the deep sense of harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.'

Legacy

Besides being considered a role model for rock drummers, Bonham's beat is one of the most heavily sampled sources for drum tracks, such as Frankie Goes to Hollywood's hit 'Relax', and has been extensively used in rap beat compilations. He can be heard (in sampled form) on Power Station and unauthorized early Beastie Boys albums, among others.

John's son Jason, dedicated an entire album to his father entitled In the Name of My Father: The Zepset in 1997. In June 2010, John Bonham won the BBC Radio 2 Rock and Roll Band poll for Best Drummer. To mark 30 years since the passing of John Bonham, an all-star drumming tribute entitled Bonzo: The Groove Remains the Same, was held on 25 September 2010 at the Key Club, Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, California. Jason Bonham also launched a tribute tour to his father, entitled Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience on 8 October 2010, with over 30 performances scheduled to mark the 30 years. Both John Bonham and Jason were featured in a Drum magazine special 'rock royalty' edition in October 2010.

Bibliography

  • Bonham, Mick (2003) Bonham by Bonham: My Brother John. London: Icarus Publications. ISBN 978-0-9545717-0-2
  • Bonham, Mick (2005) John Bonham: The Powerhouse Behind Led Zeppelin. London: Southbank Publishing. ISBN 978-1-904915-11-9 (OCLC 61302889)
  • Carr, Roy (2009) Talk on the Wild Side: Roy Carr's Interviews with John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Pete Townsend, Keith Moon, John Entwistle, John Bonham, Cat Stevens and Phil Spector. Hamburg: Ear Books. ISBN 978-3-940004-29-1 (OCLC 421815018)
  • Lewis, Dave & Kendall, Paul (eds.) (2004) Led Zeppelin 'Talking': Led Zeppelin in Their Own Words. London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-1-84449-100-1 (OCLC 56760515)
  • Welch, Chris; and Nicholls, Geoff (2001) John Bonham: A Thunder of Drums; the Powerhouse Behind Led Zeppelin and the Godfather of Heavy Rock Drumming. London: Hi Marketing. ISBN 978-0-87930-658-8 (OCLC 47232599)

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