In this month’s Rock ’n’ Jazz Clinic, the drummer and educator Powell Randolph explores a classic John Bonham foot pattern. In keeping with the “Bonzo” theme, we were curious to find out from our readers and social media followers which specific performances best captured the late rock legend’s iconic sound.
“Moby Dick” from Led Zeppelin II. It was the first time that I heard a drummer truly unleash his jazz influence on a rock record. Sure, it’s an extended drum solo. But it also demonstrates the language Bonham had accumulated up to that point. We see that he doesn’t just have chops, but also dynamics and space. “Moby Dick” is one of a select few drum solos to reach a pinnacle that only some of the greatest rock drummers of the past have reached.
Houses of the Holy, hands down. Every song is a masterpiece, as is the whole album. There’s not a wasted note or breath to be heard. It’s rock’s equivalent to Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue or John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. This album displays the full range of Bonham’s abilities and talent. From the blazing open hi-hat and almost punk rock savagery of “The Song Remains the Same,” to the gorgeous ballad, “The Rain Song,” the epic stoner ballad, “No Quarter,” the insane breakbeat opening of “The Crunge,” the funkiness of “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and the classic, implied dub phrasing and perfect fills of “D’yer Mak’er.” How can you go wrong? Obviously, all of Zeppelin’s albums are great, but Houses brings it all together in one concise package—and that’s not to mention the iconic album cover!
“The Ocean” from Houses of the Holy is a perfect example of Bonham’s ability to switch between a groove that accentuates Jimmy Page’s guitar riff and a hard-hitting rock beat that’s as heavy as anything. Throw in a classic shuffle feel at the end for good measure, and you’ve got a consummate Bonham performance.
I’d say “Bonzo’s Montreux” from Coda because of the layers and the depth of tone and resonance. Wow. The story he tells while crafting this percussion instrumental spoke to me from an early time in my drumming years. Just as watching a drum battle between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich had captivated me, “Bonzo’s Montreux” entranced me through my headphones the first time I borrowed my brother’s Coda album. Since then I’ve tried to emulate some of that same funk, power, and grace into my own playing.
Led ZeppelinIV. This album was part of my childhood and taught me to have solid and coherent grooves. After many years, I decided to revisit this masterpiece, and there was still a lot of information to be learned. Bonham left a legacy and wrote an incredible chapter in rock ’n’ roll history.
His playing on the live album How the West Was Won stands out to me. Everything he’s known for is showcased perfectly, such as his dynamics, power, and beautiful improvisation. It’s all there. Buy this album and absorb every note, phrase, and fill. It’ll make you a better drummer.
I’d pick “The Ocean” because of the odd time signature and incredible pocket. It’s an awesome display of his technique and approach. And the live version of the song from How the West Was Won just kills. Bonham plays the verse groove on the ride, and it really opens up going into the chorus.
I’d choose “Black Dog” from Led ZeppelinIV as the definitive Bonzo drum track. His drums are in lockstep with the guitar and bass, plus it has that great heavy rock groove, and he effectively navigates the various time signatures throughout with perfect feel. He also throws in some killer fills for added emphasis. This song has it all.
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