John Bonham was the legendary drummer for Led Zeppelin. Bonham went down as a legacy after dying from an alcohol overdose.
John Henry Bonham was born on May 31, 1948, in Redditch, Wercestershire, England to parents Joan and Jack Bonham. At the age of five, Bonham learned how to play the drums out of containers and tins. He was given a snare drum by his mother at the age of ten and then at the age of fifteen, a drum kit from his father - a Premier Percussion set. He never took drum lessons although he would get advice from other drummers. His idols were Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.
When he was fourteen or fifteen, Bonham joined the Blue Star Trio and Gerry Levene & the Avengers. He attended Lodge Farm Secondary Modern School. His headmaster wrote on a report card, "He will either end up a dustman or a millionaire." When he left school in 1964, Bonham worked for his father as an apprentice carpenter and was in between drumming for different local bands. The same year, he joined the band Terry Web and the Spiders where he met his future wife, Pat Phillips. He joined other bands such as The Nicky James Movement and The Senators. Two years later, he joined A Way of Life, but the band became inactive. He then joined a blues band called Crawling King Snakes, whose lead singer was Robert Plant.
In 1967, Bonham rejoined A Way of Life. During this time, he kept in contact with Plant, who immediately asked Bonham to play drums in his new band, Band of Joy. Band of Joy opened concerts for Tim Rose in 1968. Rose formally invited Bonham into his band, giving him regular income.
The New Yardbirds
As Jimmy Page was forming The New Yardbirds, new singer Plant suggested Bonham as the drummer. When Page watched Bonham play for Rose at a club in Hampstead, London in July of 1968, he and manager Peter Grant knew Bonham was the perfect drummer for his band. Unfortunately, Bonham didn't accept Page's invitation. While playing with Rose, he was getting offers from other bands as well, and forty-eight telegrams from Plant and Grant. But finally, he accepted the offer.
The four musicians first played together at a record store on Gerrard Street in London. They played "Train Kept A Rollin," suggested by Page, where keyboardist and bass guitar player John Paul Jones knew they were going to be a hit as soon as he heard Bonham play. The first studio track Led Zeppelin did was "Jim's Blues," a Three Week Hero album for P.J. Proby.
The band had done a Scandinivian Tour in September of 1968. Page had used every penny he had to make the tour work, Plant had recalled, and they made no money at all. They continued on to make a first album, based upon their live set. Page covered the costs himself. After the album was complete, the band was forced to change their name due to a cease and desist letter via Chris Dreja.
Gaining $200,000 from Atlantic Records that November, Led Zeppelin was now under a contract, having been signed without even auditioning for the record company. Their contract stated that the band would have to release albums, tour, and design the album and its contents. They would also have to promote each release and decide which tracks to release as singles. So Led Zeppelin formed their own company, Superhype, to handle all publishing rights. Jimmy Page decided to produce all of it.
The band announced their new name on October 14, 1968 and played their first show at the University of Surrey in Guildford on October 25. They then played a short British tour. Afterwards, Richard Cole organized their first North American Tour from December to February. They first played in Denver on the 26th followed by East Coast dates before moving to California to play in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The band completed four US and four UK tours during their first year.
Led Zeppelin I, the band's eponymous debut, was
released on January 12, 1969 during the US tour and on March 31, 1969 in the UK. Even thought Plant wrote the lyrics with Page, he received no credit. The album itself was number 10 on the Billboard chart and number 6 in the UK.
Led Zeppelin II, their second album, was released on October 22, 1969 to the US and UK. In both countries the album reached number 1. On November 15, the album received a 12x Platinum by the RIAA for selling over 12 million copies. Steve Waksman has said that Led Zeppelin II was "the musical starting point for heavy metal."
Led Zeppelin III was released on October 5, 1970. Page and Plant had originally gone to a cottage in Wales called Bron-Yr-Aur to write the songs on the album. The acoustic sound was due to the influenced folk and Celtic music. Critics and fans were surprised at the turn of electric arrangements from the first two albums to the now third album. "Immigrant Song" was released in November of 1970 against the band's wishes as a single, reaching the top twenty on the Billboard chart.
By now Led Zeppelin had reached to the top and were critically a success. The band members began to change up their image to more flamboyant clothing. They began to travel in a private jet called The Starship. They would rent out entire sections of hotels. They became the subject of repeated stories of debauchery. Bonham even rode a motorcycle through a rented floor of the Riot House, or the Continental Hyatt House. They were even banned from the Tokyo Hilton for trashing a room they were staying in.
Led Zeppelin IV was released on November 8, 1971. It was a blank album cover as they band wished to be anonymous. It was called Untitled, IV, and Led Zeppelin IV to fans because of the Four Symbols on the sides. Led Zeppelin IV is one of the best-selling albums in history, selling over 23 million copies by 2006.
Houses of the Holy was released on March 28, 1973. It used more experimented sounds, such as the mellotron orchestration and synthesizers. The song "Houses of the Holy" did not appear on the album, but on Physical Graffiti, as it had been being recorded at the same time. The cover of the album was very controversial as it had nude children climbing the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. It was even banned in some parts of the world, like the Bible Belt. The album, though, topped the charts.
At Tampa Stadium, Florida, they played to 56, 800 fans, grossing $309, 000. The film The Song Remains The Same was filmed at Madison Square Garden where they performed three sold out shows. The movie was delayed until 1976 though. $180, 000 of the band's money was stolen from a safe deposit box at the Drake Hotel, causing a huge problem for the band, and striking tons of news.
In 1974, Led Zeppelin took a small break and formed their own record label, Swan Song. named after their unreleased song. Their logo was based off of a drawing called Evening: Fall of Day by William Rimmer. The drawing can be found on Led Zeppelin memorabilia, especially tee shirts. Besides using Swan Song to promote their own albums, they promoted other artists such as Bad Company, The Pretty Things, and Maggie Bell. The label lasted only three years after the band disbanded.
Physical Graffiti was released on February 24, 1975, as the band's sixth studio and double album. Recording the songs were put on hold as Jones debated whether or not to leave the band. But they eventually reunited at Headley Grange to finish recording. Rolling Stone magazine referred to the album as Led Zeppelin's "bid for artistic respectability." Not to mentioned they had to compete with The Rolling Stones and The Who for "The World's Best Rock Band."
In May 1975, Led Zeppelin played five sold-out nights at the Earls Court Arena in London, at the time the largest arena in Britain. Afterwards, they took off and planned a fall tour in America. Unfortunately that August, Plant and his wife, Maureen, were involved in a car crash whole on holiday in Rhodes, Greece. Plant suffered a broken ankle. Maureen was badly injury. A blood transfusion saved her life. Plant stayed in the Channel Island of Jersey that fall to recuperate. They later reconvened in Malibu, California, where they began to write their next album.
Presence was released on March 31, 1976. Many ideas for the album came from the hiatus concerning the cancelled album due to Plant's car accident. During the recording of the album, Page had begun to use heroin, which may have affected their live shows and studio recordings, although Page denies this. The album, however, was a platinum record, but critics suggested that the band's excesses may have caught up with them.
The band did not tour because of Plant's injuries, but instead, they completed the concert film, The Song Remains The Same, and the soundtrack album. Because they had not toured since 1975, the film was not popular in the UK. Led Zeppelin was forced to face an uphill battle to recapture the public's affection.
In 1977, Led Zeppelin toured North America. They set another attendance record of an audience of 76, 229 at Pontiac Silverdome on April 30. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it was the largest attendance to date for a single act show. On April 19, over 70 people were arrested as about 1,000 fans tried to gatecrash the Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum for two sold out concerts. Others tried to enter by throwing rocks and bottles through glass doors. On June 3, a riot broke out at the Tampa Stadium because of a severe thunderstorm causing the concert to be cut short. Arrests were made and people were seriously injured.
On July 23, Led Zeppelin held a show at the Days on the Green festival at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. Unfortunately, Bonham and members of the band's support staff were arrested after a promoter from Bill Graham's staff had been badly beaten during the band's performance. The following day's second Oakland concert was the band's final live appearance in the United States.
Two days later, on July 26, as the band checked into a French Quarter hotel, Plant received news that his five year old son, Karac Pendragon, had died from a stomach virus. The rest of the tour was immediately cancelled. Plant retreated to his home in the Midlands, reflecting on his future, mourning the death of his son.
In Through The Out Door was released August 15, 1979, the band's eighth album, and the last album before the death of Bonham. The album reached number 1 on both US and UK sales charts. The song "All My Love" was written by Plant, inspired by the death of Karac.
On October 17, 1980, the band was scheduled for a North American Tour. On September 24, Bonham was picked up by Led Zeppelin assistant Rex King to attend rehearsals at Bray Studio. They stopped for breakfast where Bonham drank four vodkas (450ml/15 oz) with a ham roll, which he simply said to King, "Breakfast." He drank heavily at the studio and was later taken to Page's house - The Old Mill House in Clewer, Windsor. Bonham had fallen asleep after midnight and was taken to his bed, being placed on his side.
At 1:45PM the next day, Led Zeppelin's new tour manager Benji LeFevre and Jones found Bonham dead. The cause of death was asphyxiation from vomit, accidental death. The verdict was found on October 27. An autopsy found no drugs in his system. Bonham was
cremated on October 10, 1980, and his ashes were buried at Rishock parish church in Droitwich, Worcestershire.
His headstone reads: "CHERISHED MEMORIES OF A LOVING HUSBAND AND FATHER JOHN HENRY BONHAM WHO DIED SEPT. 25TH AGED 32 YEARS He will always be Remembered in our hearts. Goodnight my Love, God Bless.
The tour was cancelled and despite rumors that others would join the group to replace him, the remaining members - Plant, Page, and Jones - decided to disband. A December 5, 1980 press statement stated that, "We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were," and was signed, "Led Zeppelin."
- Joan (mother, died February 10, 2011, 81 years old)
- Mick Bonham (1951-2000)
- Deborah Bonham (1962)
- Billy Bonham (1950)
- Pat Phillips
- Zoe Bonham (July 1975)
- Jason Bonham (1966)