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Long Live Bonzo

From coffee tins to drum skins, the amazing journey of John Henry Bonham began on this day 66 years ago.

Bonham was born in Redditch, Worcestershire, England on May 31st, 1948. It only took five years for little John to find his musical calling. He began learning to play drums at the age of five, making a drum kit out of containers and coffee tins. He never took any formal drum lessons. That’s right, not one formal drum lesson.

I remember hearing Bonham’s drum playing as a kid when my older brothers had the local FM rock radio station on. Then one night my brother Chad played Led Zeppelin II in full on his cassette player with the lights out in our bedroom. He figured it was the ideal way to fall asleep on a school night. I agreed.

It was about 12 minutes into side two when my Bonham moment hit. The popping of the snare drum leads into a killer guitar riff and then….. What….Is…..THAT??!! I AM IN THE ZONE!!!!! THE BONZO ZONE!!!

I HAD to know what the name of the track was. I got up, turned on the lights, picked up the cassette case, checked the track listing and there it was…..“Moby Dick”. Perfect.

From that point on I was no longer hearing Bonham’s drums. I was LISTENING to Bonham play drums in amazement. I still do.

Here are ten things you may not have known about the great John Henry Bonham:

1. He attended Lodge Farm Secondary Modern School, where his headmaster once wrote in his school report card that “He will either end up a dustman or a millionaire”. After leaving school in 1964, he worked for his father as an apprentice carpenter in between drumming for different local bands.

2. In the mid 60s, he joined a blues group called Crawling King Snakes, whose lead singer was a young Robert Plant.

3. Despite an intensive campaign to snare the drummer, Bonham was initially reluctant to join Led Zeppelin. Plant sent eight telegrams to Bonham’s pub, the “Three Men in a Boat”, in Walsall, which were followed by 40 telegrams from manager Peter Grant. However, at the same time he was also receiving lucrative offers from established artists Joe Cocker and Chris Farlowe. Eventually, Bonham accepted Grant’s offer. He later recalled, “I decided I liked their music better than Cocker’s or Farlowe’s.”

4. He used the longest and heaviest sticks available, which he referred to as “trees.”

5. His famous drum solo, first entitled “Pat’s Delight,” later renamed “Moby Dick”, would often last for 30 minutes and regularly featured his use of bare hands to achieve different sound effects. Bonham is also credited with the first in-concert use of electronic timpani drum synthesizers during a performance of the song “Kashmir” in Dallas, Texas in 1977.

6. Many modern rappers would later heavily sample his drumming and incorporate it into their compositions, such as Beastie Boys, who sampled “Moby Dick,” “The Ocean,” and “When the Levee Breaks.”

7. During his time with Led Zeppelin, Bonham was also an avid collector of antique sports cars and motorcycles, which he kept on his family’s farm called The Old Hyde.

9. In 1974, he appeared in the film Son of Dracula, playing drums in Count Downe’s (Harry Nilsson) backing band. This was an Apple film directed by Freddie Francis. Bonham appeared in an overcrowded drum line-up including Keith Moon and Ringo Starr on the soundtrack album.

10. Former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighter Dave Grohl has Bonham’s three-circle Led Zeppelin IV logo tattooed on his body in three different places.

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