This Day in Music Spotlight: The Funeral of John Bonham
October 10, 1980
Sean Patrick Dooley
Special Thanks to ThisDayinMusic.com.
Considered one of — if not the – greatest rock and roll drummers in history, Led Zeppelin percussionist John Henry Bonham was born on May 31, 1948 in Redditch, Worcestershire, England. An early fan of legendary drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, Bonham began playing drums at the age of five, first on a homemade kit of coffee tins and containers, then on his first real drum set, a Trixton kit his father, Jack, acquired for him.
An entirely self-taught drummer, Bonham joined a couple of musical outfits while still in school, including the Blue Star Trio then Gerry Levene and the Avengers. The headmaster at Bonham’s secondary school once scribbled on the cheeky lad’s report card that he’ll “…either end up a dustman or a millionaire.”
After leaving school, Bonham continued playing in different bands while also working as an apprentice carpenter for his father. In 1964, he joined his first professional band, Terry Webb and the Spiders. He soon met his future wife, Pat Phillips. Membership in more bands followed, including stints with the Nicky James Movement and The Senators, who released the moderately successful hit, “She’s a Mod.” This success helped convince Bonham to pursue music as a full-time profession. Two years later he joined the blues group, Crawling King Snakes, which featured a young Robert Plant on lead vocals.
Bonham and Plant eventually went their separate ways but kept in touch. When Plant formed Band of Joy, he contacted Bonham to play drums. When The Yardbirds broke up, guitarist Jimmy Page met Plant, who suggested Bonham for drums. Bonham already knew Page through session work, as well as bassist John Paul Jones. He was initially hesitant on joining the new project, partly because he was being heavily courted by already established artists like Joe Cocker and Chris Farlowe. In the end, Bonham accepted the offer to join Led Zeppelin, partly because he simply preferred their type of music over that of Cocker or Farlowe’s.
In September of 1980, Led Zeppelin was preparing for their first tour of the U.S. in three years. Bonham was on his way to rehearsals at Bray Studios when he and Led Zeppelin assistant, Rex King, stopped for breakfast. Bonham reportedly drank vodka heavily during the meal, as well as during the rehearsals. Later that evening after rehearsals, the band retired to Page’s home, where Bonham eventually fell asleep. John Paul Jones and Benji LeFevre, Led Zeppelin’s tour manager at the time, found Bonham dead the next afternoon. He was 32-years old. The coroner returned a verdict of accidental death.
John Bonham’s funeral was held on this day, October 10, 1980. His body was cremated and is interred at Rushock Parish Church in Worcestershire, England. Bonham’s headstone reads:
“Cherished Memories Of A Loving Husband And Father John Henry Bonham Who Died Sept. 25th, 1980. Aged 32 Years. He will always be remembered in our hearts. Goodnight my Love, God Bless.”