Led Zeppelin has to be one of the greatest rock bands in history. Their intense and psychedelic way of playing rock translated into loud but in-tune notes that later gave birth to the heavy metal genre. The band’s originality emerged from styles like blues, jazz, and classic rock-and-roll that together created a mix of speed, power, and contrasting instrumental rhythms. The band consisted of guitarist Jimmy Page, with his double-neck electric guitar that drove the crowds wild; singer Robert Plant with his high-pitched vocal notes; bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, who wrote most of the music; and drummer John Bonham, whose sudden and tragic death led to the end of the British band.
The first time the world heard Bonham – aka Bonzo or The Beast – play the drums, was at minute 0:26 of Led Zeppelin‘s “Good Times Bad Times.” His style was undeniable, and he was best known for playing triplets instead of clean single beats, a style he learned from his favorite jazz musicians, which added flair to the band’s songs. Although every member contributed their own specific talent, Bonzo was considered the heartbeat of the group, since his way of playing the drums added power, emotion, and originality to the music. In fact, aspiring and expert drummers saw him as one of the greatest drummers in history. His tragic departure was not only a loss for the band and his family, but the music world. After his death, Page, Plant, and Jones, decided to break up the band, since Bonzo “was irreplaceable,” and their music would never sound the same. Three decades later, the chain of events that lead to his unusual death still intrigues fans. However, in order to understand the motives and actions that led to the accident, we must think about the difficulties that come with being a rock star.
In 1980, Led Zeppelin was rehearsing for their huge comeback tour in North America, which was to start in a month from then. They were staying at Page’s house in Windsor. Apparently, Bonzo had been drinking vodka non-stop all day until his body couldn’t take it anymore, and he passed out on the floor. When the rest of the members saw him unconscious, they attempted to wake him up, but failed, so they let him rest, expecting him to be hungover all day. The following morning, Benje LeFevre, Led Zeppelin’s road manager, found the drummer dead.
According to newspaper reports, Bonzo had consumed about 40 measures of vodka in a period of 12 hours. I understand everyone’s body is different, but I’ve never met or known of a person who can tolerate more than 10 shots of vodka. On October 18th of the same year, on a day they were supposed to be performing, a verdict of accidental death was reached at a courtroom. Bonzo’s cause of death was an accumulation of liquids in the lungs, which causes respiratory problems known as pulmonary edema. The doctor who inspected him said he had died due to shock from inhaling vomit with alcohol in his system.
The news of his death spread rapidly across the world. A star had died, and the world of music would forever miss one of the fathers of heavy metal. Plus, Led Zeppelin’s fans feared the worst: the band coming to an end, which was announced in the months that followed. It’s hard to picture the remaining band members on these tragic days. Page, Plant, and Jones, came to the realization that their talented drummer was gone forever. One day, they had been rehearsing and playing together; and the next, one of them was being taken to the morgue.
After some time, Led Zeppelin stopped performing, and although they remained commercially active, no more albums were produced. In 2007, however, they had a reunion at Ahmet Ert Tribute Concert in London, where Bonzo’s son, Jason Bonham, took his father’s place and played the drums.
Bonzo, a former builder and carpenter, died at the age of 32, joining the list of rock stars who have died young due to substance abuse. Always with his distinctive look – a full beard and long hair – his iconic image and drum playing will be remembered forever.
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