John Bonham: Drumset Improvisation in Led Zeppelin’s Moby Dick, Part 1

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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