Those who know me know three things for certain: one, I hate onions; two, I am impatient; and, three, I am a John Bonham freak. Not necessarily in the creepy I-want-to-wear-John’s-clothes way (although the Bolar hat was a very cool look), but I admire the man who was able to take a prolific act like Led Zeppelin and use it as a vessel to deliver some of the most influential grooves known to Drummerkind.
I was flipping through the most recent edition of another drum magazine and, of course, I was absolutely ecstatic to see that their cover story was one Jason “Son of Thunder” Bonham! Not ecstatic that they beat me to the punch with the article on Bonzo Jr. and his ascension to the Zeppelin throne (Jason apparently forgot to return my calls), but to feature the man who was Bonzo’s pride and joy. I hate to say it but said competitor magazine did a bang up job of an article that left me completely fulfilled. I felt I knew Jason on a whole new level and, by familiarizing myself with Bonzo Jr, I got to know John a little bit more as well.
Almost immediately after reading the article I sat down, threw on the ear buds and started in on the Zeppelin tunes I have been working on. Anything John has laid down over the years amazes me, and it doesn’t even have to be intentional. Case in point, I was jamming to the breakdown/bridge section in “Whole Lotta Love” and, in total Bonham fashion, he used the rhythm of not only the hats, but the sound of the air rushing out of the hats. All the while I sat right along side Bonzo and tried to emulate the timing on that one simple action, trying to match the air escaping as I bounced my leg up and down on the pedal board as I have seen John do so many times before. Then it happened. The moment that I believe every musician has every once and awhile (an epiphany if you will) in which that which has eluded you, becomes ridiculously clear.
I realized that evening how John was still very much mortal at the time of his demise. Jason has been quoted as saying that John rarely practiced at home; and, considering that Buddy Rich was one of Bonzo’s heroes, I don’t doubt that for a moment. In many ways the man once dubbed “The God of Thunder” was afforded a vessel in Led Zeppelin that enabled him to cultivate his creative thought process rather than practice rudiments and chops. Not that chop building and practice isn’t important (quite the contrary), but sometimes what you hear in your head can’t necessarily be expressed through regimented practice routines.
Not necessarily is it the player who creates a legend, but the situation and expectations that (s)he rises to within a creative group. Everyone has the inherent ability to be genius even if for only a moment. Some even surround themselves with other geniuses to increase their chances of virtuosity. This was the brilliance of John Bonham. Everything he put to tape came from the mind of a mortal man who was allowed to express himself beyond technique and rudiments.
That night Bonzo came down from the pedestal I once placed him on, sat down beside me and showed me a thing or two about what it was like to be John Henry Bonham.
Sean Mitchell is a drummer, artist, songwriter for Echo Drop and the creator of Drum Geek.