Led Zeppelin Profile John “Bonzo” Bonham

Led Zeppelin Profile John “Bonzo” Bonham

The third member of Led Zeppelin to be interviewed in-depth is drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham, surefly the finest drummer to emerge since Ginger Baker. Once again, like co-Zepps John, Paul and Robert, he answered my queries frankly and willingly.

RY: WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE LZ?

JB: Five months before LZ appeared I was playing with Robert Plant in a group called Band Of Joy. We did a tour as a supporting act with Tim Rose when he playing England. Then Tim went back home and we continued for a bit longer and then we broke up. Tim Rose was coming back for another tour and he remembered me from the Band Of Joy and offered me the job and I took it.

So Robert and I lost contact for about 2 or 3 months. The next time I saw him I was with Tim and he’s joined what was then the Yardbirds. He said they needed a drummer for a new group. About two weeks later he came with Jimmy Page to one of Rose’s concerts, saw my playing and then I got offered the job.

RY: WERE YOU SURPRISED AT LZ SUCCESS?

JB: Yes, very surprised. T the time when I first got offered the job, I thought the Yardbirds were finished, because in England they had been forgotten, but I though: “Well, I’ve got nothing anyway so anything is really better than nothing.” I knew that Jimmy was a good guitarist and I knew that Robert was a good vocalist so that even if he didn’t have any success, it would be a pleasure to play in a good group. And it just happened that we had success as well.

RY: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PLAYING DRUMS?

JB: Six years.

RY: WHICH DRUMMERS HAVE INFLUENCED YOU?

JB: Loads of drummers. I dig listening to drummers I know aren’t hald as good as perhaps I am. I can still enjoy listening to them and they still do things that I don’t do, so therefore I can learn something. I like Vanilla Fudge’s drummer, I like Frosty with Lee Michaels.

I walked into that club last night (Toronto’s Penny Farthing) and there was a group (Milkwood) whose drummer was great. He had such a great feel to the numbers. You know things like this happen all the time. You go somewhere and see areal knockout drummer.

RY: HOW ABOUT BAKER?

JB: I was very influenced by him in the early days because when I first started Baker had a big image in England. He was the first rock guy, like Gene Krupa. In the big band era a drummer was a backing musician and nothing else. And in the early American bands, the drummer played with only brushes in the background. Krupa was the first drummer to be in a big band that was noticed.

You know he came right out into the front and he played drums much louder than they were ever played before and much better. Nobody took much interest in drums really up until that thing and Baker did the same thing with rock.

Rock had been going for a while but Baker was the first to come out with that… a drummer could be a forward thing in a rock band and not a thing who was stuck in the back and forgotten about. I don’t’ think anyone can put Baker down.

I don’t think he’s quite as good as he was, to be honest. He used to be fantastic but it’s a pity the Americans couldn’t have seen the Graham Bond Organisation, cause they were such a good group – Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Graham Bond – a fantastic group.

Baker was more into jazz I think. He still is – he plays with a jazz influence. He does a lot of things in 5/4, 3/4. He’s always been a very weird sort of bloke. You can’t really get to know him. He won’t allow it.

RY: WHAT DID YOU THINK OF RINGO’S DRUMMING ON “ABBEY ROAD”?

JB: Firstly, I wouldn’t really guarantee that it’s Ringo playing because Paul McCartney had been doing a lot of drumming with the Beatles, I Hear. Let’s just say I think the drumming on “Abbey Road” is really good. The drumming on all the Beatles’ records is great. The actually patterns are just right for what they’re doing. Some of the rhythms of the new album are really far out.

RY: ARE YOU PLAYING MUSIC THAT YOU LIKE?

JB: Yeah. I think we do a bit of everything really. We got from anything in a blues field to a soul rhythm. Anything goes.

Jimmy will do a riff and I’ll put in a real funky soul rhythm there or a jazzy swing rhythm or a real heavy rock thing. It’s really strange.

RY: OUR SEEM TO HIT THE SNARE DRUM HARDER THAN ANYBODY AROUND. HOW MANY SKINS HAVE YOU BROKEN ON THIS TOUR?

JB: None. You can hit a drum hard if you take a short stab at it and the skin will break easily. But if you let the stick just come down, it looks as though you’re hitting it much harder than I am. I only let it drop with the force of my arm coming down.

But I’ve only lost one skin on this tour. That was a bass drum skin and that was because the beater came off and left the little iron spike there and it went straight through. But that snare skin has been on there for three tours.

When the bass skin went, we were into the last number, “How Many More Times,” and Robert was into his vocal thing just before we all come back in. It was a bit of a bummer.

RY: HOW DID YOU START PLAYING SOLO ROUTINES WITHOUT STICKS? DID YOU BREAK THEM ONE NIGHT?

JB: It did begin with something like that. I don’t really remember, I know I’ve been doing it for an awful long time. It does back to when I first joined Robert, I used to do it then. I don’t know why really. I saw a group years and years ago on a jazz programme do it and I think that started me off. It impressed me a helluva lot.

It wasn’t what you could play with your hands; you just get a lovely little tone out of the drums that you don’t get with sticks. I thought it would be a good thing to do, so I’ve been doing it every since.

RY: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF ROBERT PLANT?

JB: I could talk about Robert for days because I know him so well. I think we were 16 when we first met which is six years ago. That’s a long time. He knows me off by heart and vice versa. I think that’s why we get on so well.

I think when you know someone – when two people get together and know each other’s faults and good points – you can get on with them for a long time because nothing they do can annoy you when you’re already accustomed to it.

RY: HOW ABOUT JOHN PAUL JONES?

JB: We get on well. The whole group gets on well. We have our differences now and then.

But to me some groups get too close and the slightest thing can upset the whole group. In this group, we’re just close enough, without getting on stage and someone saying something and the whole band being on the verge of breaking up. That’s what happens when a group gets too close. You can get more enjoyment out of playing with each other if you don’t know everyone too well.

That’s why so many people like jamming. Sometimes it isn’t any fun anymore to play with a group you’ve been in for years. But with LZ, we’re always writing new stuff, doing new things and every individual is improving and getting into new things.

RY: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF JIMMY PAGE?

JB: I get on well with Jimmy. He’s very good. He’s quite shy in some ways to. When I first met him he was very shy. But after 12 months’ at it, we’re all getting to know one another. That’s why the music has improved a lot, I think. Everybody knows each other well.

Now there are little things we do which we understand about each other. Like, Jimmy might do a certain thing on his guitar and I’m not able to phrase with him. But in the early days i didn’t know what was going to come next.

But I still don’t know Jimmy all that well. Perhaps it takes more than a year to actually sort of know someone deeply. But as far as liking goes, I like Jimmy a lot. To me, he’s a great guitarist in so many fields. He’s not just a group guitarist who plugs in and plays electric guitar.

He’s got interests in so many kinds of music. So many guitarists wont play anything but 12-bar blues, and they think that’s it. And they have an attitude of when they hear a rock record of saying “Oh that’s a load of rubbish.”

Blues has got to be pure and they’re pure because they play it, but really that’s not true either. Some of the greatest musicians in the world have never played blues so you can’t really say that.

When we first came over here, the first American drummer I played with was the Vanilla Fudge’s drummer. He was one of the best I’ve ever seen in a rock group yet so many people put them down. Nobody wants to know, thinking they’re a bubblegum group.

Perhaps they were but you can’t get over the fact that they’re good musicians. No matter which way you look at it, they’re still good. Although they’re playing music that I don’t particularly like, I still admire them.

RY: ARE YOU FED UP WITH TOURING YET?

JB: No, not really. Sometimes it gets to be a bit wearing, but that’s only because I’m married and got kids at home. But I’ve never got browned off with the actual touring. I enjoy playing; I could play every night. It’s just that being away gets you down sometimes.

I enjoy going through different towns we haven’t been to before. But you get fed up with towns like New York where you’ve got to spend a lot of time. It just isn’t interesting any more.