In Through the Out Door
Led Zeppelin Drummer John Bonham Comes Clean
John Bonham, of Redditch, Worcestershire, England, is the son of a carpenter and is undoubtedly one of the greatest drummers the earth has ever been pummeled by. Bonham grew up swinging hammers and laying bricks, instilling heaviness into his hands and limbs. His friend Robert Plant recruited him to play in the band Led Zeppelin, and with them, his ancient futuristic meter was set into stone. Bonham's playing is multidimensional—innovative with stamina and feel. His inhumanly hefty and fast right foot pounds out a two-ton stomp. You hear it and know it's Bonzo Bonham. Live, his solos go on for 25 minutes, incorporating an effected orchestral timpani drum that hooks cables into hovering alien crafts outside the venue and brings them in for landing.
Led Zeppelin are rehearsing at guitarist Jimmy Page's mansion in Windsor. I'm excited to hear new songs, like "Poor Tom," off their forthcoming album Coda. John Bonham spoke. It took seven separate managers to connect the call. Bonham said he was outside, in a field, and that the sun was out. The reception was surprisingly clear.
What have you been up to, John?
I've been playing lots. Feeling good. I had a rough time there for a bit, but everything's under control now. This place where I'm staying is so far out here, it's hard to get drum parts. The roads to get here are nuts. I discovered fro-yo a couple months ago, and it's blowing my mind. The Reese's/graham cracker combination is tops.
Who are your favorite drummers? Could you talk about how you get your sound?
Max Roach, Gene Krupa, and Buddy Rich. I think you gotta spend time with your drums. Learn to tune them. I use a 14-by-6.5-inch Ludwig Chrome Supraphonic 402 snare. I keep the bottom heads tight. My kick drum is 26 by 14 inches, and I don't like a hole in the front head. The large amount of air needed to move through the shell has to travel very quickly to properly excite the resonant head.
Did you really record "When the Levee Breaks" in a cave?
No [laughs]. We were using the Rolling Stones' mobile recording studio at Headley Grange in Hampshire. At one time, the grange was a three-story Victorian workhouse with a huge open hall and a staircase going up—that's where we got the drums for "Levee Breaks." We had the drums in the hall close-mic'd, but also had mics three stories up getting that echo sound.
What happened with the fish at the Edgewater here in Seattle? The famous mud shark incident. Rumor has it there was a groupie and a sexual act that involved a fish. What really happened, John?
We liked the Edgewater, you could fish right from the room—we'd caught about two dozen fish. There was a 17-year-old redhead named Jackie who wouldn't leave us alone. She said she really liked being tied up. As gentlemen, we obliged, and ordered a rope from room service. Our road manager entertained us by taking a red snapper and introducing it into Jackie's private parts. It was the snapper's nose that was used on Jackie. I think someone filmed the whole thing. The girl loved it. She said she was up for anything. It wasn't anything malicious or harmful.
Do you regret it?
Looking back, I'd say it wasn't the wisest use of our time. We should have just kept fishing. But the groupies were persistent. Jackie came in and said that she wanted sex, that she loved being tied up. She sort of instigated it.
She was 17.
We were drunk and high.
Oh, so it's okay. You were married—what did your wife think?
It wasn't something we really talked about. It wasn't like I came home from tour and said, "Honey, you should have seen her face." [Laughs] You're right, it was stupid. We'd be gone for so long. Long stretches out on the road. Drumming was the only thing I was ever any good at. [Pauses] I've never told anyone this before, but after everyone else left the room, Jackie said I might like the fish. I was so drunk, and no one was around. I thought, why not. So I took my pants off, got on the bed, and she put it in my bum. She put the snapper in my arse.
Whoa. How was it?
I loved it. I was surprised—none of us guys did that sort of thing. We were tough. I was supposed to be this great, burly drummer, but I learned something that day. Most men don't know about their own G-spot. The prostate is, essentially, the male equivalent of a woman's G-spot. If you're open to it, it can lead to the best orgasms you could ever hope for.
I had all these drum questions, but this is way more interesting. What's your process for finding the male G-spot?
Once you've made yourself as comfortable as possible, start by gently massaging the area around your anus. Use the soft pad of your index finger and be gentle. When you're comfortable enough, begin probing. Relax your sphincter. The male G-spot is a small, chestnut-sized bump about two inches in.
Got it. I'll spread the word. So you guys are rehearsing, and I heard you drank 40 shots of alcohol. I could see five or six. But Jesus, your liver must look like a volcanic rock.
Well, the 40 shots were over the span of 12 hours. I'm a tank, what can I say, mate. Once I get going, it's hard to stop. You'd think after 10 hours of drinking, someone would say, "Hey, Bonzo, that's enough."
I'm glad you were able to face your problem, though, and get some help. I think this next tour is going to be your best. The Paramount is the perfect venue to see y'all in. I've waited to see you my whole life. Will you be staying at the Edgewater again?
Wait, I didn't face anything—I died. I'm dead. I passed out and choked on my own vomit on September 25, 1980.
What? But we're speaking. I called. I was connected seven times by your seven managers.
Yeah. I have the iPhone 50. It lets you speak to the dead. I fucking hate the touch screen on it, though.
You can't be dead. If the Stones can still do it you can still do it. You guys have to play—my friend Joel bought mushrooms.
Sorry laddie, I'm dead as a doorknob. The 40 shots did me in. I would if I could, believe me, but they haven't figured out the technology for drumming from this dimension.