Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Hammer of the Buzz

I've just been getting around to listening to Mothership, yet another Led Zeppelin compilation produced by Jimmy Page to milk the legend. What is new on this otherwise predictable rehash is a nice remastering of the drum track: mainly the enhanced sound of John Bonham's drumming.

Others have described Bonham's style as his special "groove." Yes he had that, but there was something more about his drumming style. Bonham owes some of his sound to Carmine Appice, who introduced Bonham to Ludwig drums during Zeppelin's first American tour (Geez, I wonder if Trooper York knew the Appice family?-Brooklyn, boomer, Italian American?). I also think there's a noticeable difference in drum "sound" between their first album and Led Zeppelin II. The very first song on their first album, Good Times, Bad Times, features those shin-cramping bass drum triplets that marked Bonham's style. Later, he perfected a more fluid, all around triplets sound as demonstrated here by Appice (if the videos won't play for you it may be because they are Quicktime ".mov" videos. You can download quicktime here (thanks Jason!).

Bonham had a certain precision and economy to his style--almost approaching perfection in the sense that one could not easily imagine doing it better. His exquisite, almost metronomic timekeeping was due to his use of his left foot high-hatting between and during breaks, a technique borrowed from earlier drum legends. You can see it in this demo.

Whenever Bonham's right stick came off the high hat during a beat, his left foot would kick in to keep the same rhythm: this style is very obvious in for example this version of Whole Lotta Love. If you still can't view the videos, just crank up your own version of Whole Lotta Love and listen closely to the middle "trippy" part and the remainder of the song until the break. Bonham is left foot high-hatting throughout his turns around the cymbals and tom toms: zsip-zsip-zsip-zsip-zsip-zsip-zsip-zsip-zsip....

I learned these things as a teen (way before Internet tutorials) when I played drums as part of my misspent youth. I used to listen for hours on end to their songs, trying to copy and learn his style. My friends and I even had a little high school garage (basement) band in the mid-70's: we called ourselves "Buzz Hammer."

John Bonham has been dead almost 30 years--can you believe it?


  1. Hey when I was a kid, I didn't want to work, I justed wanted to bang on her drum all day.

    But my old man kicked my ass and sent me out to work.

  2. Hey Trooper I've been working since I was 12 and I still have the Wisconsin child labor work permit to prove it. My first job was a morning paper boy-you know, that job that got outsourced to adults. It was a grind 7 days a week for 2 hrs before school, especially in the cold of winter.
    That reminds that I need to get a photo of something in Wisconsin so I can blog about my past.

  3. Cool post,

    John Bonham was the man, he had a great style and you're right about him being influenced by Carmine Appice too.

  4. Ha. Like anyone could be as fine as Keith Moon.

  5. Dammit Dr. Kill- you read my mind. I have another blog post on Moon written up up I left it on one of this little memory sticks at my work.
    Moon was a a completely different style drummer: his entire center of gravity was much higher. The Who were basically three soloists playing together, hardly keeping it together.
    Give a listen to this this. The Rock Band drum video was the real topic of my "lost" post but I'll wait until I get back to post it.
    "Young Man Blues" off of Live at Leeds is a favorite Moon effort. I really like the part after 2:55 when Daltry yells "Hit it!"

  6. Knowing nothing about drumming I'm always interested to try to learn. I watched the VH-1 hour on "Def Leppard" and the effect on style of losing an arm. Incredible.

    Pete Townshend claims experts were shocked by Moon's quickness saying, "that's not possible" on one particular tune, but I didn't hear which one.
    Do you know?