Robert Plant Reveals His Favorite John Bonham Moment
Robert Plant in an interview - q on cbc / Youtube
It was surely a predestined convergence of rock’s finest. Yardbirds survivor Jimmy Page wanted the influential blues rock band to continue. After experiencing and playing alongside the likes of Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, he knew what he had and he knew how to go on.
All he needed were the members.
With the help of a devoted Peter Grant, Page selected what he thought were the perfect gears of a future rock and roll machine: a seasoned sessionist he once met and a pair of long-time friends and former bandmates from the Midlands.
A singer by the name of Robert Plant brought along his friend John Bonham, who once told him “You’re alright, but you’d be a lot better if you had the best drummer in the world behind you.’”
By the time they played the first time in August 1968, they knew they were onto something amazing. What they did not realize was that they would basically redefine rock and roll in the next dozen years.
But the lynchpin of the group has always been the inimitable Bonham, who would become one of rock’s greatest drummers, reshaping the genre by putting in the heaviest and most well-thought-of thumps in hard rock
Plant has always been Bonham’s partner in crime, and the singer always had a deep respect and reverence towards his drummer friend. When asked what his favorite bit of Bonzo drumming on record, Plant had a unique answer in mind.
It was the 1973 song “Crunge”, one of the band’s shabbier creations in their otherwise superb discography.
“It’s the drummer that makes it.”
“What Bonzo’s doing is great,” Plant shared in a 1988 interview with Tony Bacon. “Without even having to think it out, he used to come across such—his work was so overly adequate, so extreme, and yet so understated. There were so many different elements of what he was doing. So a fill would only be there if it was necessary, but when it came, well…”
The frontman, who always thought fondly of his close friend, had consistently recognized Bonham as the force behind the success of the band.
Led Zeppelin, 1970. pic.twitter.com/AOTaSQ7X9E
— Classic Rock In Pics (@crockpics) May 5, 2022
“It’s the drummer that makes it. Because Bonzo didn’t start flailing around like a demented octopus, like everybody else was doing at the time.”
“Crunge” was a funk-laden James-Brown-inspired song that critics hated. The song, which evolved out of a jam session, was played in 5/4 as a tongue-in-cheek attempt at creating an undanceable dance tune.
The practical joke was the B-side to another genre-crossing venture, the reggae imitation “D’yer Mak’er” (which was a play on the word “Jamaica”). Both songs are from their 1973 studio album, Houses of the Holy.
While it was indeed a fun song the band did for the lolz, as well as being dismissed as one of the worst tunes they ever did, “Crunge” was still a masterful drum clinic by the devoted Bonham.
Bonham effortlessly navigates through a sequence of changing time signatures, transforming the funky James Brown rhythms with a distinctive Led Zeppelin swagger and sway. This track stands out as one of the band’s most intricate compositions, yet Bonham’s confident and sure-footed performance conceals its complexity masterfully.
Like it’s just another Tuesday for the godly Bonzo.
— TheHookRocks! (@TheHookRocks) September 25, 2021
When asked why he liked “Crunge”, Plant thought the song was “so neat.”
Houses of the Holy seemed to be an important part of the Led Zeppelin repertoire, at least, to the frontman. He also selected “The Ocean” and “The Song Remains the Same” as two other songs that represented the band, each for him and John Paul Jones as their best work.
One song he chose as the highlight for Page was the Physical Graffiti track “In My Time of Dying”.
A hilarious chance encounter
Plant’s friendship with Bonham, was, just like any other magical partnership in rock music, thanks to a chance encounter. A small incident in the universe that somehow led to a cultural big bang.
John Lennon met a ‘confident’ Paul McCartney at a church garden party, where the latter helped his future bandmate tune his guitar. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards might have been friends during their younger days, but it was their fateful encounter at a platform in a Dartford train station that sparked the fire of partnership.
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Plant and Bonham’s meeting was a hilarious affair, on the other hand. It was in the gritty West Midlands’ rock ‘n’ roll circuit that the young Robert saw an unimpressed Bonzo looking at him and his band playing.
The future frontman of Led Zeppelin took the stage with the Kidderminster-based blues band, The Crawling Kingsnakes, performing at Birmingham’s iconic venue, the Old Hill Plaza.
In this particular show, the other acts that shared the bill have long faded into obscurity. Plant not only graced the stage but also served as the master of ceremonies. During a break between sets, he caught the eye of a dissatisfied member of the audience at the front of the crowd.
Plant recalled that the displeased gentleman, future legendary drummer, and Led Zeppelin powerhouse John Bonham, told him “You’re alright, but you’d be a lot better if you had the best drummer in the world behind you”.
“I said, ‘Yeah yeah, and I suppose you’re him?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Okay, good, well that sounds alright. But where do you live?’. He said ‘Redditch’. And I said, ‘So you’ve got a sense of humor then. But Redditch is like 25 miles from where we live. We can’t afford the fuel to go and pick you up. So if you want to try it out, these are the songs we do, just come along and play, but you make your own way there’.”
But the distance proved to be inconsequential, as ‘the best drummer in the world’ joined the Kingsnakes. The band broke up and Plant would wander around before finding himself playing once again with Bonzo in the Band of Joy.
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When Plant got invited by the black-haired guitarist Jimmy Page, he immediately thought of his friend and brought him along. And the rest, as they say, was rock and roll history.
The duo would survive years of recording and touring, and even a fistfight over a £30 debt, as they, along with Page and Jones, reshape the magnificent and time-honored contours of rock music.
After Bonham’s death
Plant did not recall any dull moment in their decade or so of playing together, until 1980. The influential drummer would tragically pass away of alcohol poisoning in late September of that year at the age of 32.
“I drove down with him on the day of the rehearsal and I drove back without him,” a wistful Plant remembered.
The frontman said that Bonham, his good old friend, was an incredible man who always encouraged him “despite the fact he was always taking the mickey out of me.”
“I loved him desperately… We covered most of the squares on the board as time went by, I do miss him.”
On this day in 1980 – Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham died pic.twitter.com/Xl5x54hbli
— NME (@NME) September 25, 2016
With the death of such an important piece of the band, the breakup was inevitable.
“When we lost John, we agreed unanimously that that was that,” Plant revealed in the wake of Bonham’s tragic death. “I had to go and find out if I really want to do it. Did I want to do it, or did I just want to sit back there like a croupier at a gambling thing, and just kind of rake [the money] in. Or, did I want to actually continue this kind of gig of finding out where I’m going. I wanted to take all the trappings away, because I’d lost my best mate.”
Their planned North American tour was scrapped and the remaining band members went in different directions. It was Plant and Page who most of the time got together to create music, with notable projects such as the Honeydrippers and Page and Plant.
Photo: John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page photographed in May 2018 with their working draft of the book “Led Zeppelin By Led Zeppelin”. Published in Oct. by @ReelArtPress to celebrate fifty years since the formation of the band. Pre-order here: https://t.co/kMdbJEDy2x pic.twitter.com/3GnYcfMt4p
— Led Zeppelin (@ledzeppelin) June 8, 2018
The three got back together in 1995 for Led Zeppelin’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and again in 2007 for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert. Bonzo’s son, Jason Bonham, played the drums for the band’s reunions.