In The Shadow Of A Giant
As any drummer who has picked up a pair of sticks in the last 30 years can attest, John Bonham is more than an influence, he’s a force of nature. In last month’s DRUM! cover story, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron described Bonzo in exactly those terms, calling him “the king of creating almost a weather system of a drum part. He has storm clouds that you can see on the horizon that are coming to just murder you.” Show of hands for who wouldn’t mind having their drumming described that way. But with Bonham, no metaphor is too overblown, no analogy too big. In the interviews that follow, when these seasoned pros were asked to describe his sound in words, words often failed, replaced instead by sound effects usually reserved for witnesses to a category 5 hurricane (“It was just ... tuuuush, bat! Tuuuush ba-dat pssssshh!”). That colossal, devastating backbeat, full of breath and power and tugging subtly at the back edge of every beat, stretching it to deliver maximum impact and feel but spaced with clocklike precision. A unique combination of equipment, tuning, talent, physicality, and most of all, musicality, are what made Bonham Bonham, and drummers never seem to tire of dissecting his unique formula, searching for the key that might help them unlock that simple yet strangely elusive magic.
It goes without saying, though, that Bonham was Bonham as well because of his band, the only band capable of harnessing such a storm system and directing its full potential. The unique chemistry of the four members of Led Zeppelin is legendary, and it’s kept their sound thrumming through the airwaves of modern rock radio, their logo and images still plastered on T-shirts and bumper stickers, key chains, and wallets, still embedded so deeply into the collective consciousness of each new generation that to be anything other than a Zeppelin fan, no matter your age or musical tastes, seems ... incomprehensible. Nowhere is that more true than among drummers.
Because of this, on May 31, 2012, what would have been John Bonham’s 64th birthday, nearly two dozen professional rock drummers gathered at the House Of Blues in Hollywood, California, to do their best Bonzo impression and pay tribute to the man who, in many respects, they owe their careers to. The event was the fourth of its kind, each orchestrated by self-professed Bonzo fanatic Brian Tichy, who describes the event this way: “Every drummer gets to pick their favorite Zeppelin song in tribute to Bonzo. So I play the first one, I’m out of the way, and then I just pick up a guitar and wherever there is a song that two guitars fits or there’s overdubs there I might be able to do and make it fuller, we do that. I’m in the corner, more or less — and I’ve got a couple solo spots — but I just love watching the drummers come up. I love watching how happy everybody is and it just looks to me like a bunch of kids playing to Zeppelin records. That’s how it feels. Which I think is why everybody does this, is we all love Zeppelin and John Bonham.”
The event seemed the perfect opportunity to corner as many drummers as we could to get their thoughts on Bonham. Here’s what they had to say, along with a transcribed selection from each drummer’s chosen song showcasing a key “Bonhamism.” So whether you’re an old fan or a new one, or are just wondering what all the hype is about, this tribute’s for you.
White Snake, S.U.N
On Bonham’s Legacy: “Who’s really going to dispute John Bonham’s the best rock drummer? Okay, there are a lot of amazing rock drummers, but pound for pound he’s probably the guy. He’s the guy. So when you get 22 or 23 drummers to be here on his birthday, I mean, there’s a reason for that.
“I love Zeppelin more than any other rock band — they’re my favorite band in the world. It’s Bonham and it’s Zeppelin. There’s a combination going on there with those four guys and that band. It sounded bigger than everybody else. Yes, The Who was amazing and they’re very rambunctious. I mean, I love The Who, but there’s something about the groove and the swagger of Zeppelin, and most of that is because of Bonham. When you have that foundation, the guy who can be insane and do things that flip you out, but there’s a sexy groove swagger thing, no matter what he does, it’s there. It’s danceable and it’s funky.”
Most Important Bonham Influence: “The sound and the groove. It’s, like, the same thing. The rest is just icing. It doesn’t matter, some of the sounds are really big, some of them are ... the kick drum, maybe I can’t hear it as much in that song as opposed to that, but it’s amazing because of its impact. ‘When The Levee Breaks,’ I think that’s the most perfect drum sound ever recorded. When that came out there was nothing like that ever in the history of drums. Now you have that to go by. Whoa. You want a big drum sound? You’re going to have to top ‘When The Levee Breaks.’ You know what I’m saying? There’s a lot of great big drum sounds, but that’s the one.
“And then the groove. You can have a big drum sound, but if the groove isn’t there, who cares about the sound? You need the two. And then all the intricacies, the fills, the tasty fills, the space between the notes — that’s another thing, his space. You don’t play Bonham-style triplets of any kind — any triplet — to a click. It’s not going to work out. You’ve got to play as a human being. And he had all that stuff. There’s no clicks to Zeppelin, but does it stop you from dancing? But that’s drummers; a great drummer makes a song feel good regardless of the click.
Tribute Song: “In The Evening” from In Through The Out Door. “When I was a kid getting into Zeppelin hardcore, that record came out, and I remember hearing ‘In The Evening’ on the radio and it was kind of like, they’re still better than everybody else. That’s how it sounded when it came out. It just sounded badass and bigger and tougher than everybody else. And Bonham just stands out so amazingly on that. And also I just wanted a cool intro song. And that opened up In Through The Out Door, the last record he recorded. It just felt right.”
“In The Evening”
As Bonham’s drum parts go this one’s pretty straightforward, but note his use of hi-hat barks to punctuate the rhythm accents.
First Impression: “I actually went to see what I thought was The Yardbirds. My father took me. This was 1969 at a place called The Image, in Miami, which was formerly a bowling alley that had been converted. When I got there and I went in, I looked up on the stage and the only person I recognized was Jimmy Page. And they started playing ... and that was it. I mean I was sold. I was hooked for life. And I remember coming out at the end of the show, and walking up to my father’s car — because he sat out there smoking De Nobili cigars and drinking espresso — and he looks at me and he goes, ‘What happened?’ And I literally couldn’t speak. And he goes, ‘It was that good?’
“And I said, ‘Yeah.’
“He said, ‘You want to come back tomorrow?’
“And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he bought me a ticket and brought me back the next night.
Most Important Bonham Influence: “I think it would probably have to be the triplets between the kick drum and the snare. You know, a lot of the things that John Bonham did stem from that whole triplet thing, whether it was just a triplet on the kick drum or in combination with the hands. But I think that’s what’s stayed with me the most. I’ve used it, by and large, on just about every record I ever played on to varying degrees.”
Tribute Song: “I Can’t Quit You Baby” from Led Zeppelin I
"I Can't Quit You Baby"
This powerful 12/8 groove is peppered with jazz ride cymbal bits and some slamming drum fills. Led Zeppelin can occassionally be thought of as a blues band on steroids and depressants and songs like "Dazed And Confused," "Since I've Been Loving You," and this one confirm it. It might be a good idea to lock up the guns and sleeping pills before listening to these tracks successively.
First Impression: “Bonham is one of the reasons I started playing drums. When I was a kid, long before I ever picked up a pair of drum sticks, I got into Rush because my friend’s older brother was into that, and then real soon after I got into Zeppelin. And those were the reasons I wanted to start playing drums. What was it about his playing? It was just so big, and lumbering, and somehow as a kid I recognized that he had this big, laidback feel, and it all just sounded so perfectly imperfect, which is the opposite of what everyone’s going for today with the computer, digital age of recording. Somehow, as an 11-year-old, I recognized something about his playing that just was bigger than life. And I wanted to do that.
“And I go through rediscovering Zeppelin and Bonham all the time, like now, this is another rediscovery period, so I’m just going to go back and listen to everything. You hear it differently as the years go by. You pick up other things, you interpret it differently. And then getting to play the songs with a great band like we’ve got, it just makes you appreciate it all the more.”
Most Important Bonham Influence: “The pattern of ‘Four Sticks.’ He’s doing eighth notes on his left foot, the whole song, and the whole song his right foot is on the upbeats, the e’s and the ah’s — that is quintessential Bonham, because from there it leads to so many of his other licks and patterns. Like the triplet [demonstrates on his thighs with feet playing opposite sixteenths], it just makes sense that that’s what that part is, and it leads to all the other Bonhamisms that are out there, like he did on the ‘Moby Dick’ solo and on so many of the songs that we love.”
Tribute Song: “Four Sticks” from Led Zeppelin IV
“It’s played with four sticks, hence the name. And this actually makes the drums sound different. If you haven’t tried this, go to your practice room, two pairs of sticks, two in each hand, see what the drums sound like, and learn the part. I mean, you will get it all of a sudden. I didn’t even do this or try this until I had to do this event. They said, ‘Well, are you going to do it with four sticks’
“I said, ‘I guess I have to.’ And it does make the drums sound more massive. It is a big difference. And you know what I did to prepare for this? In addition to knowing the structure of the song, which is unconventional and weird, I practiced with six sticks. And you know, I could see doing this in the future, if I’m with some rock artist and we’re putting a song together, maybe I’ll suggest that.”
This song is a great showcase for Bonham's inventive grooving. He played the song with a pair of sticks in each hand — hence the song title, much like studio star Steve Gadd did a decade later on Paul Simon's great drum song "Late In The Evening." This song shifts between 5/8 and 6/8 and the drum patterns for this song employ an ostinato pattern where the hi-hat and floor tom play unisons on the numbers, and the bass drum plays on all the &'s. The mounted tom is used to outline the guitar accents with his left hand and I always thought Bonham played on all the guitar acccents (1 (2) & 4 5) but after I transcribed it I didn't hear him accenting the & of 2, it seems the guitar just stressed that count.
Ringo Starr All Starr Band, David Lee Roth
On Bonham’s Legacy: “My favorite drummers were always Ringo Starr, John Bonham, Buddy Rich. Those three guys played the song. Buddy Rich did it in a big band; Ringo did it with The Beatles; and Bonham did it with Zeppelin. And they all played musically. They all played for the song. The parts work with the bass part. The parts work with the guitar. They work with the vocals, the keyboards. They work with the horns — the trombone, the trumpet, the saxophones. When I hear Bonzo’s drum solos, on How The West Was Won or The Song Remains The Same, they remind me very much of Buddy Rich.
“When I think about the tuning ... I was in Maynard Fergusson’s band and we used to play a lot of the same bills as Buddy. And sometimes Maynard would go first, and sometimes Buddy would go first. I got to hear his drums a lot. And they sound like the wide-open boom ... boom ... boom ... crack. And that to me is the greatest way to tune drums.
“And everybody thinks he was just pounding, pounding, pounding. Not so; Bonham had a lot of finesse.”
Most Important Bonham Influence: “His foot” (offered without hesitation). “From the first time I heard ‘Good Times Bad Times’ — everything about him influenced me, but especially his foot.”
Personal Anecdote: “One of my favorite albums, drum-sounds-wise, that I ever did was Joe Satriani’s The Extremist. Andy Johns says, ‘What kind of drum sound do you want to get on this album?’
“And I said, ‘How about any of those ones you got with John Bonham.’
“And he says, ‘We can do that.’ We used Ocean Way, which is now East West [Studios], and we had that big room, and he close-miked all the drums, told me to take everything out of the kick, use a couple of felt strips, we’re going to take a Sennheiser 421, dangle it in the middle through the breather hole, he told me all his tricks — how to tune the kick drum, how to tune the snare, then he put mikes up all over that room. And if you get a chance check out a song called ‘Friends.’ It’s Andy Johns getting those drum sounds.
“I’ve been with Ringo since 2003 and this is my fourth All Starr Band tour since 2008. To hear Ringo talk about Bonham, they were great friends. One time we were on the plane, and Ringo came into the back, and we were playing a bunch of songs, and all of a sudden, on my Bose dock, I played [vocalizes the opening riff to ‘Dancing Days’] and Ringo goes, ‘That’s the band I want to be in!’”
Tribute Song: “Dancing Days” off Houses Of The Holy
“What’s great about the way Bonham played this song in particular is that he just kept it really steady. You can check the tempo, and it’s solid, number one. But the way he plays — to me it’s intro, A, B, A, B, intro, A, B, A, B, intro, solo, outro. And his musicality — the way he plays it, the hi-hat is tighter on the intro. Usually on the intro I think the hi-hat should be washy, and then on the verse, suck it up and play tighter on the hi-hat. He does the opposite, but it’s perfect.
“And just some of the fills: The way he lays out for the & of 4. The ways he chooses, like a big band drummer, to set up the & of 4. He’s like Buddy Rich to me in a lot of ways.”
This harmonic powerful song is hard to get out of your head — but in this case that's a good thing. Bonham's groove feels very unsettled, stressing the &'s and rarely landing on 1, which makes the song all the more unique.
On Bonham’s Legacy: “This [tribute] has been such a blessing to me being able to go back and listen to all these records and remembering what made John Bonham so important to me as a drummer. Because I loved a lot of drummers growing up, but I think for any drummer, or musician, for that matter, who listens to Led Zeppelin, when they become aware of what he does, it’s like, it changes your life.”
First Impression: “You know what’s funny is I was a Zeppelin fan before I became a drummer. I became a drummer when I was 13, but I was into Led Zeppelin when I was ten. The older kids down the block would play Zeppelin and we’d hear it outside, and of course you become mesmerized immediately. But then, when I became a drummer and then I began to learn the songs on my own in my bedroom, it was a whole new world of musicality. It was just amazing.”
Most Important Bonham Influence: “For me it’s a really simple question — it’s groove. It really is. It’s knowing how to play a song — when given the opportunity, it’s knowing when to play more verbose and more on top, and then there are parts where you just pull it back and you learn how to play for the song, but still all the while knowing you have ace cards you can deal out at any time. And he would pull out some drum riffs and stuff that was just so amazing. Like in ‘Kashmir,’ it’s a very simple part, but the very tag of the song [mouths elaborate fill]. It’s just so amazing to think that this whole song he’s just been playing this hypnotic rhythm and at the end he starts to flare up and you’re like, ‘Oh, my god, this is so amazing.’ So being able to play the song and then being able to throw out some ace cards is the thing I learned most from him. It’s very signature for him.”
Tribute Song: “We’re Gonna Groove” off Coda.
“Man, once you get into that verse, it just sounds like what music was supposed to be about when it was first being conceived.”
"We're Gonna Groove"
The intro to this one may throw you, especially if you mistakenly think it starts on 1. Bonham's funky and slightly swung feel is present and as groovy as ever.
Zappa Plays Zappa
First Impression: “The first thing I ever saw was a midnight movie showing of The Song Remains The Same in my hometown of Eerie, Pennsylvania, and I got to see the ‘Moby Dick’ solo in that, and I just went, ‘Ugh, wow.’ And it opened up the Bonham world to me, and I had to go there.
“He influenced me so much that whenever anyone asks me who my favorite drummers are or my most important influences, my stock answer is always the drummers of Frank Zappa and John Bonham.”
Most Important Bonham Influence: “I think that when I listened to him I realized how much he swung. And that was when I was like, ‘Uh, god, I want to sound like that when I play.’ So, I think the grease that he had, it just hits you right where it needs to hit you. And you don’t get that in a lot of other drummers. He was listening to Buddy Rich, so he swung, and that’s what really separated him for me from everybody else. Because I was going through a lot of phases with a lot of drummers when I discovered him, ’cause I was kind of young, and I discovered him a little bit later. But as soon as I heard him I went, ‘Ugh, that’s it.’”
Tribute Song: “Out On The Tiles” from Led Zeppelin III
“There’s always the classic split triplet, double bass thing in there that’s always fun to play. I wanted to make sure I was doing that nicely. I did play it note-for-note for most of it, but I wanted to open it up a bit at the end, so it was kind of a challenge to just do drum fills at that tempo so I wanted to see creatively what I could get together without just doing Bonham rip-off fills.”
Out On The Tiles
The title is an English drinking phrase that refers to hitting the bars. THere are lots of ghost notes in this one and some of Bonham's signature single-bass kick drum work seen in the second-to-last measure.
Zeppelin Formula Revealed: “Now, here’s the secret of the Zeppelin groove: The bass tracks were always right in the middle, Bonham was always a little behind, and Jimmy Page was always a little in front. So people talk about Bonham having that heavy, fat, relaxed drum sound, it’s because of the relative placement of all the players. Because I’ve analyzed this. And you listen back to any of the Zeppelin catalog and you’ll see that I’m right.”
Most Important Bonham Influence: “I think the biggest influence Bonham has had on me is that there’s always a bit of a swing to everything. Like he very rarely played straight, so there was this amazing kind of sexy hump. And that component has stuck with me so much. It’s like he combined the big band and jazz background that he obviously had and put it into rock and roll. So there was this slight swing, this slight lilt. And of course, the Bonham sound. The 26" by 14", close-headed bass drum, and the openness of the snare drum and the way he would hit the snare drum. The sounds he would get out of the drums and the cymbals. He’d tune his toms kind of high, because, again, I think it was an offshoot a little bit more of the jazz background. So although he was known for having a big, fat tone, in actuality — the bass drum was tuned down, but the toms and snare were tuned at a mid-range. And it was just magic, the combination of how he hit the drums, the fact that they would record with a lot of room mikes — I’m a real freak for recording with room mikes as a result of Bonham. That’s one of the things in my studio is putting a stereo mike away from the drums so you get that sound.
“So ambiance was a really, really big part of the Bonham sound. When people talk about it, they’re actually talking about this full drum sound, totally unmuted bass drum that’s closed, toms that are closed with no muting, and some distant room mikes that were getting the ambience of the room. Those were all the components of that Bonham drum sound to me.”
Tribute Song: “Heartbreaker” from Led Zeppelin II
“The interesting thing about ‘Heartbreaker’ is that Bonham played it straight, and they had a sort of swing delay [with the guitar riff]. So when I listened to it in the headphones I thought, Okay, I’m either going to play it straight or I’m going to re-create the swing component. And I opted to re-create the swing component. But I was really on the fence about that. And I even asked Brian Tichy about it, who’s putting this whole thing on, and Abe Loboriel Jr. played it last year and he said, ‘Abe played it straight.’ And I thought, Well, that’s great — of course I’m a big fan of Abe — but I thought, I gotta put some swing factor in it. I opted to play the swing on the left hand just to capture that bit of delay and give it kind of more of the record sound, even though I’m sure live Bonham just played it straight like when he did when he recorded it originally.”
Bonham played much of this track as a two-handed sixteenth-note hi-hat part that he played with a much heavier right hand, creating subtle ghost note quality to all the e's and ahs. Note the 5/4 bar; the occassional odd-time measure was a staple of Zeppelin's music.
Adrenaline Mob, ex–Dream Theater
On Bonham’s Legacy: “He’s the most universally loved rock drummer. There’s people that love Peart. There’s people that love Keith Moon. But sometimes Peart is too technical for people or Keith Moon is too sloppy for people. But Bonham, just everybody loves Bonham. He’s got the groove, the attitude. And it was his body. Everybody talks about how did Bonham get that sound? Was it the mikes? Was it his drums, the pedals, the hi-hat? No. It was him. That’s where you get the Bonham sound. You’re not going to get the Bonham sound unless you’re John Bonham.”
Most Important Bonham Influence: “Just that sheer brute backbeat. You know? Just like, he had such an attitude. He played with such balls and attitude. And the groove. It was impeccable. How many drummers can you name ten classic drum fills? You can name like, a couple from every drummer. But Bonham you got ‘Rock And Roll,’ ‘When The Levee Breaks,’ ‘D’Yer Mak’er,’ ‘The Crunge,’ ‘Whole Lotta Love’ ... I mean, just like, every groove is famous within itself. He made the drums sing like any instrument.”
Tribute Song: “Dazed And Confused” from Led Zeppelin I
“I had a Zeppelin tribute in 2003 and we did a whole Song Remains The Same version of ‘Dazed And Confused.’ And I think I might have been one of the first to choose a song for this lineup. Brian came to me early. So I had, like, the whole catalog to chose from. And I wanted to do the live ‘Dazed.’ I figured, I’ll get a 30-minute piece out of it. I could hog up the whole show. [laughs] No, I just love [that song] ... that was quintessential jamming.”
"Dazed And Confused"
This dark and disturbing song starts with a damn-near suicidal guitar riff and Bonham's powerful take on 12/8 slow blues drumming. This feel contrasts sharply with the double-time feels later in the song.
On Bonham’s Sound: “He tuned his drums up a little bit, more like a jazz guy, and had them wide open, and it was different than what a lot of the guys were doing. And when he played that groove, it worked. I mean, nobody else was really working it that way in rock. That’s what was so cool about the ’60s and early ’70s, is that there were so many drummers that would learn traditional or learn jazz growing up, and that’s the lessons that they took, and just sort of popular music and standards. And then all of a sudden they join a rock band and have to figure out how to make that work in a rock band. And I think it created an interesting blend. I think it’s why we had so many different kinds of rock. Everything that fell under the rock umbrella was just this whole mixture. I mean you had everything from Loggins & Messina to Iron Butterfly and Queen, and everything in between. And John was one of those guys that made rock rock somehow. He didn’t squeeze it in there; he forced it in there, and made everybody work around him.”
Most Important Bonham Influence: “The halftime shuffle. He just made it feel good.”
Tribute Song: “Moby Dick” from Led Zeppelin II
This excerpt from a live concert video shows Bonham briefly quoting Max Roach’s “The Drum Also Waltzes,” as Stanton Moore mentions on page 45. Note the 3/4 bass drum and hi-hat ostinato, which also has been employed by Steve Smith and Neil Peart for their solos.
On Bonham’s Legacy: “John Bonham is my favorite drummer, ever, in the whole world. Led Zeppelin’s music and his drumming are literally part of my DNA at this point. I’ve listened to them my whole entire life, since I was a baby — four or five years old. I heard them on the radio for the first time and I was hooked ever since.
“I instinctively was a drummer before I knew what a drummer was, until I’d heard and seen other drummers. Like him or Neil Peart, or Peter Criss, or Bill Ward. I mean, I’d watch TV and see what a drummer does and be like, Okay, that’s what I want to do. But I’d already been playing. But by that point when I heard Led Zeppelin and heard John Bonham, that really set the tone of how I wanted to play and how I wanted to sound. I’m not saying I sound exactly like Bonham; nobody sounds like Bonham. But I think every drummer out there tries to channel his essence in their playing. It’s just there.”
Personal Anecdote: “I got to use one of Bonham’s snare drums. Jeff Ocheltree got a snare drum from Bonham years ago, and it was one of the snare drums that was used on In Through The Out Door, supposedly, which I got to use on the new Stone Sour record, on a tuned drum kit — kind of like a Bonham-style kit: 26, 14, 16, 18, but pitched up high. Tuned correctly. It’s tuned the way Jeff has tuned it before, working on Physical Graffiti and stuff like that. So we really worked on getting the tone, and we really got it. Right down to the miking, right down to that snare drum: a Ludwig 402 Supra-Phonic. He used two different snares on that record, the Black Beauty that he always used and that 402.”
Most Important Bonham Influence: “The groove and swing that he’s got. He’s got a really big jazz background, which made him the kind of drummer he is. A lot of rock drummers at that time, especially throughout the ’60s to ’70s, all their drummer influences were jazz. And then they turned into this rock drummer. And knowing that Bonham had a background loving jazz, loving guys like Elvin Jones, Buddy Rich, and Gene Krupa, I went back and listened to those drummers to really capture what he was hearing, which also helped me try to get that style he had. Which is impossible. You can’t really copy somebody else’s style to a T, but you can try. A lot of drummers out there do. We all do. We all love Bonham.”
Tribute Song: “Fool In The Rain” from In Through The Out Door.
“From what I’m hearing, a lot of people didn’t really feel In Through The Out Door was like, the big record by Zeppelin. It’s one of my favorite records by Zeppelin. When I first heard that song, it made a huge impact on me, and for days I had to lock myself in a room to learn that groove. And it took me years to get that. But finally, when I saw Jeff Porcaro demonstrate the Purdie shuffle into his shuffle with [Toto’s] ‘Rosanna,’ it broke it down and actually helped me learn ‘Fool In The Rain’ a lot better.
“Fool In The Rain”
This stellar half-time shuffle uses lots of ghost notes to create this memorable groove that’s become a grandfather to many other well-known half-time shuffles. For the sambaesque chorus, Bonham plays a polyrhythmic three-over-two ride pattern that is sometimes overlooked but is quite remarkable in its own right.
Opiate For The Masses
On Bonham’s Legacy “His phrasing — as I get older, I get an appreciation for his playing that I didn’t have. Even though I’ve always been listening to his playing. But now, after years and years of touring and doing clinics and sessions and everything else, it’s like I’ve gained this new appreciation for his playing, at how nuanced and subtle [it was]. He wasn’t just a basher. I mean, he could bash his brains out. But also, he could lay back and leave space. And that’s the hardest thing to do is leave that space and leave that interesting.”
Most Important Bonham Influence: “There’s a thing that kind of encompasses his playing that to me is one word: tasty. He could be balls-out; he could be subtle; he could play repetitive kinds of grooves; and he could play grooves that were kind of all over the place; and everything in between. And he had this swing that maybe you don’t see as often nowadays because you’ve got Pro Tools, everything’s on a click, most all professional tours nowadays you’re tied to the click — that’s a good thing too. I appreciate playing to the click and it’s made me a better player and it’s given me a great meter — but there’s something to be said for the way that Bonham could swing and just make you feel something. It could be just 2 and 4, and just the way he would play them. You could play those notes, but if it’s not swinging and it’s not making you feel something then you’ve kind of missed the point. All the ghost notes and everything. I could play all that when I was younger, but it’s one of those things where one day you wake up and go, ‘Oh, that’s how it’s supposed to feel.’ And his feel is so iconic. In my book, and in most drummers’ books, he is the be-all, end-all. He managed to put all the pieces of the drumming puzzle together — feel, meter, time, swing, technical ability — and still have this ferocious kind of edge.”
Tribute Song: “Dy’er Mak’er” from Houses Of The Holy
“With this Bonham tune, I wanted to nail everything note-for-note because ... you have to. These songs are so iconic. This song is so nuanced, and there are so many subtleties to it. And it’s really slow — it’s a little over 80 bpm. It’s a tricky tempo. It’s a tricky feel. The verse pattern never really repeats. But I enjoy being challenged in that way. And to pay tribute to Bonham, that’s one of the coolest things I could have done.”
This song has a bit of a reggae influence that’s enhanced by the overdubbed upbeat cabasa part. Bonham’s massive drum sound — created by just three microphones, great swinging feel, and laidback fills — is truly remarkable and unique.
Black Sabbath, Dio, Kill Devil Hill
*For the record, he pronounces it “App-eh-sea” while his brother Carmine pronounces it “Ah-peace.” There, settled.
Most Important Bonham Influence: “It’s hard to say one thing, but the sound. It was just an incredible drum sound that was more out front than more of the other recordings of the day. It sounded like the music was built around the drums and the big foundation of the drums. Besides that, then it’s all tricks and all the licks and all the cool stuff.
“I’m not a fan of too many people. I listen to Zeppelin, and all the great drummers — Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, even Ringo. People laugh, but Ringo played tastefully. He thought creatively. He played musically, and that’s really important with playing.”
Personal Anecdote: “When I first joined Black Sabbath in 1980, we were going to play Hammersmith Odeon four nights. It was sold out four nights, and Tony Iommi said Bonham and Page would come down, and they’d probably get up and jam. And I went, ‘Oh, my god, unbelievable.’ But that was about two months before the show, and that’s when he died. So I didn’t get to meet him, but I have one of his drum sticks. Some girl gave it to me in Spain about 25 years ago. So I’ve had this stick for all these years, but I didn’t know if it was real. And recently I was at the Hard Rock in Biloxi, Mississippi. And I’m sitting there having a drink, and saw this pair of drum sticks. So I thought, Let me get off my ass and go see what those drum sticks are. So I go and they’re John Bonham’s drum sticks. I happened to be sitting right across from them. And I look at them, and it’s the same exact stick. So that actually authenticated it for me.”
Tribute Song: “The Wanton Song” off Physical Graffiti
“The Wanton Song”
This is another example of Bonham’s impressive footwork. Check out all the groups of three successive bass drum notes he played.
“The Wanton Song”
This is another example of Bonham’s impressive footwork. Check out all the groups of three successive bass drum notes he played.
First Impression: “I was a kid when I was getting into the rock thing. I was nine, ten years old. I was already listening to Deep Purple. And then Zeppelin I came out. I saw it on the Record Club Catalog and I thought, I’m going to buy that. It has an interesting cover. I was just a kid; I didn’t know. I bought it and I didn’t like it. That first record, it bent my ear — which is a good thing, actually. But I just couldn’t handle it at the time. And then, with the successive records, I really got into it. It was a little more, for lack of a better word, melodic, and a little more understandable for my ear. And I really got into it then. And then the rest is history.
“I was inspired by so many drummers as a young student, but in terms of the rock drummers, it was Bonham and Paice for me. I think they kind of summed up everything you needed as a rock drummer. Paice was more fluid and a little more technical, whereas Bonham was just solid, driving, so that combination just appealed to me, and I think I drew from both of them.”
Most Important Bonham Influence: “Unwavering time. It’s just, his concept of groove — that’s what he’s known for, just that solid, fat sound, and it’s just right on the money. I think the combination of the groove and the sound is the legacy that he left us.”
Tribute Song: “Kashmir” off Physical Grafitti
“All of Zep’s catalog is all killer. ‘Kashmir’ had that really fat huge heavy medium-tempo groove, and I like the thought of that so I went for it.”
If you have a spare eight-and-a-half minutes today, treat yourself to this polymetric masterpiece. The guitar and string parts play a 3/4 phrase for four bars while the drums play a 4/4 phrase for three bars so these two differing patterns cycle hypnotically against one another realigning ever 12 beats. The bass drum pattern was played with single hits on 1 and 3, the doubling you hear on the e's of those beats was created by an early echo unit applied to the bass drum track.