Basic Background Info
Born in 1948 in Worcestershire, England, John Henry Bonham started playing makeshift drums on leftover containers and coffee tins when he was five years old. "Plus there were always my mum's pots and pans." Five years later, his mom tired of surrendering her cookware and bought him a snare drum. And when he was fifteen he received his first real drum kit from his father. "It was almost prehistoric--most of the metal had rusted. Later I learned how to properly look after my drums. People who don't care for their drums really annoy me."
While he worked with various local bands, John Bonham also worked for his father in the construction business. While playing with Terry Web and the Spiders in 1964, John Bonham met his wife, Pat Philips. John Bonham continued playing in a variety of bands, including The Nicky James movement, The Blue Star Trio, The Senators, and A Way of Life. Searching for a steadier gig with a steadier income, John Bonham joined the Crawling King Snakes, a blues group led by Robert Plant. Although John left Crawling King Snakes and returned to A Way of Life in 1967, he remained in touch with Robert Plant, and when Plant decided to create Band of Joy, he invited John Bonham to join him. The following year, Band of Joy opened for American vocalist Tim Rose, and Rose eventually hired Bonham to drum in his supporting band. After his tour with Rose ended, John Bonham evolved into one of the most in-demand drummers in England at the time and kept very busy.
After inheriting the touring obligation of The Yardbirds, Jimmy Page began working to create a new band. Page asked vocalist Terry Reid to join him but Reid declined and recommended Robert Plant. Robert Plant agreed and suggested John Bonham to fill their drum seat. John Bonham was reluctant to join the group; he thought The Yardbirds name was going nowhere and he had several lucrative prospects with established artists. Eventually, John recalled, "I decided I liked their music better than [Joe] Cocker's or [Chris] Farlowe's."
The band, Page, Plant, Bonham, and John Paul Jones, originally toured as the New Yardbirds, but quickly changed their name to Led Zeppelin. Their self-titled album, released in 1969, was full of intense vocals, a wide range of guitar sounds, and a powerful rhythm section, and became a chart-topper. After the release of their second album, Led Zeppelin II, their concerts filled auditoriums and arenas and fans of all ages purchased their records.
John Bonham's drumming was integral to Led Zeppelinís success. He was the hardest-hitting, most powerful drummer playing. Bonham's raw power pounded the bass, snares, and cymbals. John Bonham used the heaviest sticks he could find (often called tree trunks) and later started playing with his bare hands. "It wasn't so much what you could play with your hands--you got a lovely little tone out of the drums that you couldn't get with sticks. I thought it would be a good thing to do so I've been doing it ever since. You really get an absolutely true drum sound because there's no wood involved. It hurts your hands at first, but then the skin hardens. I think I can hit a drum harder with my hands than with sticks." Just as famous as his power and volume was his drum solo, better known as Moby Dick, that often lasted 30 to 45 minutes. Nonetheless, John Bonham also played with respected restraint in some of the bands folk-toned songs.
In September of 1980, while rehearsing for an upcoming American tour, John Bonham unexpectedly passed away. Coroners reported that he asphyxiated on his own vomit in his sleep, induced by heavy drinking. After John Bonham's untimely death, Led Zeppelin disbanded. "We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep respect we have for his family, together with the sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were."
John Bonham's son Jason, an accomplished drummer in his own right, has sat in for his father during a few performances with the remaining members of Led Zeppelin. His daughter Zoe also regularly appears at Led Zeppelin awards events.
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