After leaving Wilton House public school, he worked for his father Jack Bonham in the construction industry in between drumming for bands. In 1964, Bonham joined his first band, Terry Webb and the Spiders, meeting his future wife Pat Phillips at a dance in Kidderminster. He also drummed for local Birmingham bands such as The Blue Star Trio and The Senators who released a moderately successful single "She's a Mod". Bonham enjoyed the experience and decided to take up drumming full-time. Two years later, he joined A Way of Life however the band became inactive and in desperation for a regular income, joined blues group Crawling King Snakes whose lead singer was a young Robert Plant. During this period, Bonham developed a reputation of being the loudest drummer in England, often breaking drumheads and being asked by clubs to stop playing. By 1967, A Way of Life asked Bonham to return to their group, during this period Plant kept in constant contact with Bonham and when he decided to form Band of Joy, Bonham was first choice for the drum stool. The band recorded a number of demos but no album. In 1968 American singer Tim Rose toured Britain and invited Band of Joy to open his concerts. When Tim Rose returned for another tour months later, Bonham was formally invited by the singer to drum for his band which gave him a regular income. Both singers Joe Cocker and Chris Farlowe had also sought out Bonham for their touring bands.
When Jimmy Page wanted to start a band in the wake of The
Yardbirds break-up, His first choice for singer was Terry Reid,
however Reid had already signed with Mickie Most for a solo career.
Reid suggested Robert Plant, who in turn suggested Bonham, who had
already drummed with Plant and knew Page from session work. Page?s
choice for drummer included Procol Harum?s B.J. Wilson, session
drummers Clem Cattini and Aynsley Dunbar. Ginger Baker was also
rumoured to be on Page's list. After seeing Bonham drum for Tim Rose
in Hampstead, north London, in July 1968, Page and Peter Grant were
convinced to sign up Bonham.
During Led Zeppelin?s first tour of the United States in December 1968, he became friends with Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice who introduced him to Ludwig drums, which he then used for the rest of his career. Bonham used the longest and heaviest sticks available, which he referred to as "trees". His initial hard hitting style was displayed to great effect on "Immigrant Song" (Led Zeppelin III), "When the Levee Breaks" (Four Symbols), and "The Ocean" (Houses of the Holy). He is credited by the group for thinking up the riff in ?Kashmir? as well as the riff to "Out On the Tiles". On later albums, Bonham rather adeptly handled funk and Latin influenced drumming on several cuts. While not as loose and unhinged as Keith Moon, nor as critically respected as Ginger Baker, his sheer power behind the drum kit has influenced nearly every hard rock and heavy metal drummer since. Bonham?s signature style was a steady rhythmic beat that swung and his use of phasing cymbals. His drum solos, first "Pat's Delight" then later "Moby Dick", would often last for half-an-hour and regularly featured his use of bare hands to achieve different sound effects. Rap artists such as the Beastie Boys would heavily sample his drumming.
In 1974, Bonham appeared in the film Son of Dracula, playing drums in Count Downe's (Harry Nilsson) backing band. Most fans agree that Bonham's action sequence for the film The Song Remains the Same was the best out of all four musicians. It featured him in a drag race at Santa Pod speedway in California to the sound of his signature drum solo, "Moby Dick". During his time with Led Zeppelin, Bonham was also an avid collector of antique sports cars and motorcycles, which he kept on his family's farm called The Old Hyde.
As well as recording with Led Zeppelin, Bonham also found time to session with other artists. In 1970, Bonham drummed for Screaming Lord Sutch on his album Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends. Bonham also drummed for his Birmingham friend, Roy Wood, on the 1979 Wizzard album, On the Road Again. Then for Wings on their Back to the Egg Rockestra project.
Bonham both disliked being away from his home and family for long periods and also flying. This led him to use alcohol to work off his nerves. On September 24, 1980, Bonham was picked up by Led Zeppelin assistant Rex King from The Old Hyde hotel to be at rehearsals at Bray Studios for the upcoming tour of the United States, the bands first since 1977. During the journey Bonham had downed four quadruple vodkas before continuing drinking at the studio. A halt was called to the rehearsals late in the evening and the band retired to Page's house in Windsor . After midnight, Bonham had fallen asleep and was taken to bed on his side. Tour manager Benji LeFevre found him dead the next morning. Despite the sensationalist press which indulged themselves, a subsequent coroners inquest found no drugs in Bonham?s body. His death was a tragic accident. John Bonham was buried on October 10, 1980 at Rushock parish churchyard, near The Old Hyde farm.
Rumours quickly abound that Cozy Powell, Carmine Appice, Simon Kirke, Bev Bevan or B.P. Fallon would join the group as his replacement but Bonham's passing has been the single biggest factor in why Led Zeppelin has never successfully reformed. His influence in the band?s sound was unique.
Bonham?s young sister, Debbie Bonham, is a singer. His younger brother, Mick Bonham (died 2000), was a disc jockey and respected photographer. John Bonham's son, Jason Bonham (born 1966), also became a rock drummer. Bonham?s daughter, Zoe Bonham, appears regularly at Led Zeppelin conventions and awards.
Led Zeppelin Lyrics