John Bonhams Drumming Explained
Rather a heady title I admit. I don’t think anyone can fully explain him. However I have been playing the drums for roughly 38 years, and I started out wanting to be like him at the age of 5. (And Ringo). So I thought some of you might want some insight from a drummer who has studied a master. Because after all, to become a master one must study a master. This could well be a 100 page essay, but in the interest of brevity I have selected a few songs hopefully everyone has access to, and noted time marks where applicable to illustrate my examples.
John Bonham could play with feel, a deep enveloping feel. He was a drummer where “feel” came first, time second. Whereas, in the case of Neil Peart for example, time is first, feel is second. Bonzo also had the amazing quality of being powerful, yet nimble. He also had swing, as is evident in Candy Store Rock, Kashmir, Out On The Tiles, just to name a few. It is easy to see his jazz/swing influences such as Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and Joe Morello. In fact John Bonham borrowed a lot of of Joe Morello’s triplet ideas.
Dazed and Confused
Of course the most noticeable God like quality of his drumming was his speed. He could bend time. The good drummers can do this, our brains can move in nanoseconds, calculating what you just played, what you are playing, and what you are going to play all at once. The best example of John’s speed is the end of Dazed and Confused (from The Song Remains The Same). There have been fierce debates as to whether it is has been sped up, but I can assure it has not. The hand is quicker than the eye. I also know because I can play it.
Same song now, different example: Note at the 11:59 mark how Jimmy Page lets Jonesy and Bonzo take over in this rhythmic interlude. This is a great example of how fast and tight the rhythm section was, and how important it was to the success of the band.
Trampled Under Foot
Here is another example of the blistering speed at which he could play. And maintain throughout a 10 minute song. At the 4:36 mark we get a glimpse of John’s concentration, he is definitely “in the zone”, and as you can see, sweating and working very hard.
Moby Dick/Over The Top
Another great glimpse into the happiness and concentration on John’s face occurs at 4:56, 5:20, and 6:04. One of things I believe that made Zeppelin great was the happiness in their music.
The Song Remains The Same
The happiest and most swinging Zeppelin song, in my opinion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=he6TQsU8d6k
John has an interesting approach to this song where alternates the lead beat of the bar between the snare drum and the bass drum. Just another example of his jazz feel, and his attention to detail.
When The Levee Breaks
Some more interesting attention to detail here at the 1:35 mark. At one time I thought this was tape noise, but I’m convinced it’s John making the sound of water bursting through a small hole. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEKkJHSO8A0
Of course this is also one of the best known songs for capturing his drum sound. Although there were some interesting recording techniques used, the sound still came from the drummer. He played the first note on his bass drum with an accent (hitting it harder) then silencing his drum head with his bass drum mallet before striking the second note just after. Simple yet genius.
Here is a great example of his speed and nimbleness around the kit at 5:16, and his incredible foot speed at 5:26
We can also witness the sheer speed of his wrists with his machine gun drum rolls at 6:48.
In closing I want to say happy birthday to the most intelligent, powerful, soulful, nimble, quickest, passionate and and talented rock drummer of all time.