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Why John Bonham is One of the Greatest Drummers Ever

John Bonham. Screenshot via YouTube / Polyphonic

Led Zeppelin are rightfully rock legends and one of the reasons for that is they had one of the greatest drummers in the world. In the video essay below by YouTube channel Polyphonic, they detail exactly what made Bonham, or Bonzo, so damn good.

“Led Zeppelin stormed onto the music scene in 1968,” the video begins. “Their raucous take on rock and roll redefined the genre and made them the biggest band on earth for the better part of a decade.”

But while all of the band were talented, one of them in particular was especially brilliant. It was Bonham who laid down the foundation from which the band grew, and came to define themselves from. Bonham was the bedrock for the group’s powerful sound.

Robert Plant & Jimmy Page performing at Madison Square Garden in New York City in June 1977. Photographer © Bob Gruen

Polyphonic illustrates Bonham’s genius by analysing his performances and playing. For instance, detailing how on the opening track, “Good Times Bad Times”, for Led Zeppelin’s debut album he was already defining his style while also forging a new, untravelled path for what drumming in a rock band could mean—a path that would go on to affect and influence pretty much every rock drummer who came after him.

“From the first listen his style was evident.” notes the video, pointing out his use of the bass drum. “Instead of playing the bass clean on every beat, Bonham accents the beats with triplets which spices up the rhythm.”

This way of adding flair to the drumbeat by breaking the rhythm with triplets is something Bonham picked up from jazz musicians. He took influence from jazz drummers like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich applying their techniques to rock music. His method of displacing the beats and accents also took inspiration from blues and funk, notably James Brown.

Jimmy Page in action at a concert in Copenhagen in February 1970. Photographer © Jorgen Angel

But what also impressed with Bonham, explains the video, is that he wasn’t just doing this in a vacuum on his own. It was the way he integrated this unusual drumming technique with the other band members’ instruments. So, playing along with Jimmy Page’s guitar riffs for instance, which ultimately helped tighten and heighten the band’s sound, helping them gel.

It all adds up to a fascinating—and quite technical—look at a fascinating drummer. A drummer that Rolling Stone named as the greatest of all time in their list of the top 100.

Writing about Bonzo they said, “On the very first cut of the very first Led Zeppelin LP, John Bonham changed rock drumming forever. Years later, Jimmy Page was still amused by the disorienting impact that ‘Good Times Bad Times,’ with its jaw-dropping bass-drum hiccups, had on listeners: ‘Everyone was laying bets that Bonzo was using two bass drums, but he only had one.’ Heavy, lively, virtuosic and deliberate, that performance laid out the terrain Bonham's artful clobbering would conquer before his untimely death in 1980. At his most brutally paleolithic he never bludgeoned dully, at his most rhythmically dumbfounding he never stooped to unnecessary wankery, and every night on tour he dodged both pitfalls with his glorious stampede through ‘Moby Dick.’”

Check out the video below and you can check out more videos from Polyphonic at their YouTube channel here.

Rockarchive is delighted to be able to offer many iconic images of Led Zeppelin as limited edition photographic prints which you can buy here.