God’s Thunder: The Great Bonzo

For the anniversary of the passing of Led Zeppelin‘s great drummer John Bonham, SFN‘s resident drummer and head staff photographer James Aisworth explains why he loves Bonzo so much

John Henry Bonham, born and raised in Redditch, Worcestershire, drummer for angelic Led Zeppelin and possibly the greatest drummer in histroy. Well no, that title goes to somone Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa or Meg White, as I’m sure Bonzo would agree with (except Meg). Anyway, John Bonham was a great drummer, infact, a legendry drummer.
So here, on the aniversary of his death, are my reasons why John Bonham was just so iconic. In my own opinion of course.

Firstly, Bonham was very original in what he did. See, nowerdays absolutely beating the crap out of your drum set is fairly common, when Bonham started it simply wasn’t. Everyone back then was either playing jazz beats or straight eighths to keep time. Then here comes Bonham who lays down these heavy, yet simple and elegant drum beats that just sound unique, new and revolutionary. John Bonham did something different, he confronted the normality and just played what he feeled, and it showed.

Can you tell me, that when you listen to Bonham play you don’t feel anything? Furthermore, can you tell me why? Because I can’t, there is just something about Bonham‘s playing that we all love.


Secondly, he’s creative. Not only did he create a new attitude to the drums, he also created loads of legendary beats and grooves that people are still using to this day. Take what he did with triplets, here’s a story. One day, in December of 1968 the band, Vanilla Fudge went on tour with a little unknown band, called Led Zepellin (their first album had came out yet, for reference) and John Bonham is talking to one of his idols, Carmine Appice and Appice tells him, he loves what he does with his bass drum.

Bonham disregards it as nothing, but thanks him nonetheless. This “bass drum thing” (heard in “Good Times, Bad Times” at about 0:28-0:48) as most drumers would tell you, was amazing and just one of the creative and brillient techniques used by Bonham as well as legendary grooves such as the “Bonham Shuffle” as heard in “Fool In The Rain”, inspired by Bernard Purdie‘s creativaly named “Purdie Shuffle”, most commonly heard on Steely Dan‘s “Home At Last” and “Babylon Sisters”. But Bonham‘s shuffle inpired, Jeff Pocaro to the infamous “Rosanna Shufle” on Toto‘s “Rosanna” (obviously drummers arn’t vey good at naming things), nonetheless, John Bonham used techniques and created grooves that will go down in history.

In addition, John Bonham inspired a generation of new drummers. As previously mentioned, John Bonham‘s technique and styles are now legendary, his name is associated with drumming in general. Because of this he inspired a whole new generation of drummers.


Before Bonham, people showed their drumming skills by showing their jazz chops. Now people let loose with full unbridled power on their kits. It’s not only the kids sitting in their bedrooms playing along to Zeppelin records. Even the big guys cite Bonham as an influence. Dave Grohl, Neil Peart, Peter Criss, Chad Smith, Jeff Pocaro and Phil Collins have all been inspired by Bonzo, and we can be sure he’ll only go on to inspire more people forever.

Penultimately, it runs in the family. John isn’t the only Bonham with flawless skills, his son Jason Bonham also shows a impressive array of drumming skills.

Playing along with Led Zepellin at the O2 Arena reunion show in 2007 and starting his own band, Bonham. Because, no one can replace John Bonham, but Jason gives a good try. John‘s daughter, Zoe, also has her own music career as a singer. It’s clear to see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Bonham household.

Don’t just take my word for it, here’s what a few other drumming legends said about John Bonham.

Dave Grohl [Drummer for Nirvana, briefly Queens of The Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures with Zeppelin‘s John Paul Jones] told Rolling Stone:“John Bonham played the drums like someone who didn’t know what was going to happen next—like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff. No one has come close to that since, and I don’t think anybody ever will. I think he will forever be the greatest drummer of all time”

Chad Smith [Drummer for Red Hot Chili Peppers] remarked to BBC Four:
“To me, hands down, John Bonham was the best rock drummer ever. The style and the sound was so identifiable to one person. Any drum set that he would play, it sounded like him.”
So now, on the anniversary of his death, lets remember the drumming legend that was, and is, John Henry bloody Bohnam, one of the greatest rock drummers to ever have graced the earth with his presence may he rest in peace, just remember, next time you hear a thunderstorm, its not the weather, it’s just the great Bonzo doing a soundcheck…

Words by James Ainsworth.

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