Happy Birthday - John Bonham!

Today celebrates the birth of Bonzo John Bonham – still rock's best drummer.

Not only did he establish the navvy beer-n-muscles stereotype for the public at large (see him pulling a bull about on his farm in the Song Remains the Same movie), but he set the bar for evvy-ittin' the skins, triplet kick drum action, epic drum solos replete with gongs-a-blazin', and a cunning approach to Page and Plant's material that belies what we just wrote before about him basically being a meat-head.

Bonzo's contribution to Led Zeppelin is also be the highlight of the lacklustre swan song tunes Zep were putting out towards the end. Steady as a roque, man.

But here's the thing – the real secret to his playing isn't ballistic stamina, but the fact that the man had bags of swing. His early influences were Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, swing meisters par excellence, and teaching himself through copying their playing got swing into his bones. Check it out here, on an isolated drum track sans mixing effects:

Next time you hear a band doing a cover, the flat-headed take most drummers display will be bleedin' obvious.

Note also that he was usually recorded with either 2 or 3 mics only. These days it's mics up the ying-yang and peeps still can't get anyway near the cuts he put down. The balance between the instruments in his set (kick, snare, toms, hi-hats, cymbals) is made through his playing, and not from fader action or mixing tricks. This underscores Bonzo's mastery of the kit as a whole, and adds some aromatics to his secret sauce.

BTW, all the reverb here is from the stairway the kit was set up in*. Zep tracked as a band live, and it's likely this is a single take.

There was also lashings of live improvisation - as Pagey explains, Zep's shows were different every night, as the whole band could cook. Another lost art – band interplay and jamming.

Here's Bonzo drag racing. Oh, and doing his Moby Dick solo.

So happy birthday Bonzo – we miss you, dude.

* Puns uneccesary here.

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