This day in 1980 – John Bonham, drummer with Led Zeppelin, died aged 32 after a heavy drinking session. ‘Bonzo’ was found dead at guitarists Jimmy Page’s house of what was described as asphyxiation, after inhaling his own vomit after excessive vodka consumption, (40 shots in 4 hours). During live sets his drum solo, ‘Moby Dick,’ would often last for half an hour and regularly featured his use of his bare hands. In 2007, Ludwig issued a limited edition drum kit in Bonham’s memory.
In 1964, Bonham joined his first semi-professional band, Terry Webb and the Spiders, and met his future wife, Pat Phillips, around the same time. He played in other Birmingham bands such as The Nicky James Movement and The Senators, which made a single, “She’s a Mod”, in 1964. Bonham took up drumming full-time. Two years later, he joined A Way of Life. After the band’s demise, Bonham joined a blues group called Crawling King Snakes, whose lead singer was Robert Plant.
In 1967, Bonham agreed to return to A Way of Life while keeping in touch with Plant. Plant formed Band of Joy and chose Bonham as the drummer. The band recorded demos but no album. In 1968, American singer Tim Rose toured Britain and asked Band of Joy to open his concerts. When Rose returned months later, Bonham joined Rose’s band.
After the breakup of The Yardbirds in July 1968, guitarist Jimmy Page formed another band and recruited Plant, who in turn suggested Bonham. Page’s choices for drummer included Procol Harum’s B.J. Wilson and Paul Francis. However, on seeing Bonham drum for Tim Rose at a club in Hampstead, north London, in July 1968, Page and manager Peter Grant were convinced he was perfect for the project, first known as the New Yardbirds and later as Led Zeppelin. Bonham was reluctant. Plant sent eight telegrams to Bonham’s pub, the “Three Men in a Boat”, in Bloxwich, which were followed by 40 telegrams from Grant. Bonham was also receiving offers from Joe Cocker and Chris Farlowe but he accepted Grant’s offer. He recalled, “I decided I liked their music better than Cocker’s or Farlowe’s.”
During Led Zeppelin’s first tour of the United States in December 1968, Bonham became friends with Vanilla Fudge’s drummer, Carmine Appice. Appice introduced him to Ludwig drums, which he then used for the rest of his career. Bonham used the longest and heaviest sticks, which he called “trees”.
In 2016, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him No. 1 in its list of the “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time”.