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In this part 2 of the drumming of John Bonham I will look at the rock and roll influences and first drum solos that were the fuel for Moby Dick.

The Drum Solo in Rock and Roll

Ginger Baker of the band Cream was the first rock drummer to record and regularly perform a drum solo in concert. In 1966, Baker composed and recorded the solo Toad on the Fresh Cream album. Two years later it would appear on the Wheels of Fire, Live at Filmore West album. Baker had previously played with the band Graham Band Organization with whom he recorded the drum solo Camels and Elephants[1], but still his performance of Toad is recognized as having “the dubious distinction of introducing the drum solo to the rock LP.”[2] Toad would be his signature piece and was performed through out his career with the band and in more recent years during reunion tours. The composed style and structure of his solo with intro and outros played by the full band, would be a major influence on the soloing of such drummers as Tommy Lee, Neil Peart and John Bonham.

Listen to the recording of Camels and Elephants with Ginger Baker.

Watch a recent performance of Toad by Cream with Ginger Baker.

Next in the timeline of historical rock and roll drum soloists is Mitch Mitchell who played for Jimi Hendrix. Blending jazz styles with his aggressive rock and blues drumming, Mitch “used the big band pyrotechnics of Buddy Rich as a jumping-off point for his influential performances.”[3] His most famous solo appeared in the song Voodoo Chile from the Electric Ladyland album in 1968 (drum solo begins about nine minutes in). With both Mitchell and Baker bringing recognition the rock and roll drummer, the young John Bonham would pick up where they left off with a heavier, more aggressive sound that the world had never heard before.

John Bonham

John Henry Bonham was born in Redditch, England on May 31 1948. He was given his first drumset at the age of 15 and as a teen was into rock, blues and jazz. In the 1960’s, he and Robert Plant played in the band the Crawling King Snakes. Robert Plant was a friend with Jimmy Page of the Yardbirds and once the group broke up, Page, Plant and Bonham would form the New Yardbirds. John Paul Jones would join the group and after a few months of performing they would change their name to Led Zeppelin (this was the very, very abridged version of the story).

John Bonham’s physical appearance was an important part of what made Led Zeppelin powerful. “Rock drummers materialize the concept of music making as manual labor to a greater extent than most musicians through the kind of physical gestures they make: repeated blows to the instrument (this might also be equated with a kind of primitiveness or naturalness of the instrument and its players) applicable, certainly, in Bonham’s case.”[4] Bonham could also be very subtle with moments of quiet and controlled playing. The idea of such a massive man, whom we associate with huge sound, actually playing gently, adds to the effect of these moments. “No drummer ever created such a monstrous sound, and in Bonham’s force field of rhythm there ranks the basis of the sound now called heavy metal.”[5]

Not only did John Bonham influence generations of rock and metal drummers, he was also heavily sampled in hip hop and dance music, by artists such as the Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre, Bjork, Enigma, Coldcut and Massive Attack. Without Bonham’s combination of power and subtlety the music would have sounded substantially different, would generally have been much less effective, and would have been received in a completely different way. The other members knew this, which is why the band broke up in 1980 after Bonham’s sudden death.

Next post will look specifically at 3 different performances of Moby Dick which help trace the evolution of John Bonham’s improvisation.

[1] Graham Band Organization, “Camels and Elephants,” Accessed April 18, 2012.

[2] 35 Most Memorable Moments In Rock ‘n’ Roll Drumming, Spin Magazine, Accessed April 18, 2012.

[3] Adam Budofsky, The Drummer: 100 Years of Rhythmic Power and Invention, (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation, 2006) 62.

[4] Susan Fast, In the Houses of the Holy: Led Zeppelin and the Power of Rock Music, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) 149-150.

[5] Jon Bream, Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin: The Illustrated History of the Heaviest Band of All Time, (Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2008) 42-43.


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Through out the history of Rock music, the drum solo has been a standard addition to many live acts. These moments bring audience recognition to drummers and raise their status beyond simply being a band member and timekeeper, to more of a soloist and music icon.

Drummers like Ginger Baker (Cream), Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix), Neil Peart (Rush), Tommy Lee (Motley Crue) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) used the drum solo to bring them to this iconic status.

My next few blog entries will look at improvisation in Rock drum solos, using John Bonham from Led Zeppelin as my focus. I will discus the history of the drum solo, analyze three separate versions of John Bonham’s solo called Moby Dick, and briefly look at the playing style of Bonham’s son Jason.

For today I am starting with a few examples of early Jazz drumset solos that directly influenced a generation of Rock drummers and specifically John Bonham.

The modern day solo, as we know it, began with the drumming of Gene Krupa. While others came before him, Krupa played his solos with a strength and flare that communicated to the audience. Spinning sticks and tossing his hair, he brought attention to the drummer as a soloist (Steve Smith).

Watch this video: Gene Krupa

Buddy Rich took the Krupa style to a new level. He was faster, more intricate and technically more advanced then any other drummer in the world.

Rich didn’t play the usual thematic-style solo that many others were doing. His ideas were free flowing, as if telling a story (Steve Smith).  I will discuss more about how the playing style of Rich directly influenced John Bonham’s soloing in my next blog, but while watching this video, notice the speed and accuracy of the 16th notes on the snare and the transferring of these patterns around the kit. This and the showmanship of Buddy Rich will be a major influence on Bonham’s soloing in Moby Dick.

Watch this video: Buddy Rich

Of course many other jazz players put their own mark on the drum solo, such as Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Joe Morello, Tony Williams and so many more.

In the coming days I will continue to look at the drumming of John Bonham who came out of this generation of young drummers influenced by Jazz, Blues and Rock and Roll.



Zulaica, Don. Going for It: Steve Smith – The Art and History of Drum Soloing. DRUM! Magazine, October 2000.


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Hello, and welcome! I’m thrilled to be sharing this new website and want to thank my good friend David Pensato for making this happen along with Lucas Pauls for creating the BR logo. I feel that this site represents a new phase in my life, maybe a turning point where I better understand what it is I want to do musically and creatively. If nothing else, it is simply a new look and a more informative site.

This blog is about the drumset and my experiences with the relatively new genre of contemporary solo drumset music that I have been researching, performing and commissioning over the past few years. I hope to create an open dialogue with other drummers and composers, sharing ideas about performing, writing and developing contemporary drumset music.

What is Contemporary music? I don’t really know… This music has been described as Classical, Modern, 21st Century or Art Music. I can confuse things even more by putting all of these terms together for one long definition: Contemporary music is written by modern composers (living in the 21st century) using classical music techniques, usually performed in a concert hall or art music stage.

However you define it, this is the world I live in and where I choose to find a place for my instrument, the drumset. I look forward to digging deeper into this topic in future posts, defining the new role of drumset in contemporary music and sharing experiences along the way.

Here is one of the “classics” of the contemporary solo drumset repertoire by James Dillon called “Ti-Re-Ti-Ke-Dha”.