It’s been 40 years since “Bonzo,” the mighty John Bonham, backbone of the mightier Led Zeppelin, died in 1980 after choking on his own vomit.
He was just 32 years old.
Gone. But not forgotten. And widely revered as one of rock’s greatest drummers, Bonham is remembered by a score plus 10 of his contemporaries and acolytes in music journalist Greg Prato’s “BONZO: 30 Rock Drummers Remember the Legendary John Bonham.”
Thirty drummers may have been too many as Prato runs out of unique questions and repeats himself often, making the final third feel like a rehash of what came before. Still, there’s something satisfying in hearing famous musicians speaking as fans.
Prato wisely allows the drummers to talk about the drummer and his drumming, asking simple, concise questions and geting out of the way. He then lays out his conversations with journeyman Kenny Arnoff, Quiet Riot’s Frankie Banali, Gregg Bissonette (Ringo Starr), Grand Funk’s Don Brewer, Liberty DeVitto (Billy Joel), the Black Crowes’ Steve Gorman, Marky Ramone and others in Q&A style over 275 pages.
Although “BONZO” is a book about drumming as told by drummers, the interview subjects don’t speak in any kind of secret language, making it comprehensible to anyone.
While the subjects universally agreed Bonham is among the best of the best, other names – Starr, Carmine Appice, Neil Peart, Mitch Mitchell, Phil Collins, et al. – pop up with surprising regularity in interviews that took place after Peart’s death in January and before Banali’s in August 2020.
The book puts an end to the apocryphal stories of Bonham playing with inordinately large sticks or whacking the drums with extraordinary force, instead explaining his big sound is attributable mostly to Bonham’s tuning, expert mic’ing, Jimmy Page’s sage production and the fact he was in Led Zeppelin.
“Bonham is to rock ‘n’ roll what Buddy Rich was to jazz,” Arnoff says. “There’s only one human being like that – and so different and so unique.”