Last night, while watching the Kennedy Center Led Zeppelin induction on CBS, several thoughts ran through my head. When the camera panned on John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, I couldn’t help but gauge their personal character beyond any music. There sat (in the spirit of the holiday season) the three wise men. Three common fellows, but extremely gifted musicians, who were forced to make a big decision some thirty-three years ago following the death of their only drummer, John Bonham. They could call it a day and preserve a legacy that was created by all four of them, or continue on to more financial and egotistical rewards within Led Zeppelin at any cost. The three wise men chose to preserve their band’s legacy.
At the time of his death, John Bonham was miserable on the road, drank too much, and according to most- often came to physical blows. These are perfect excuses for a lead guitarist or lead singer to begin the replacement process.
Dead or alive, John Bonham was never replaceable. He didn’t plan out drum parts in advance before executing. He naturally fell into the song. He drummed on instinct. Things came to Bonham on drums from somewhere that many of us drummers will never figure out. Bonham was, and always will be, the unexplainable in drumming. His parts were unpredictable and radical, and yet fit so beautifully perfect. Only John Bonham was meant to be in Led Zeppelin. Like Ringo Starr was meant to be in the Beatles. Like Neal Peart is meant to be in Rush. Like Rick Allen is meant to be in Def Lepard. Drummers who all faced tragedy and loss in one-way or another, but were blessed by the undying loyalty of their band mates who never sold them out. At the end of the day it’s really only about a little thing in life called music.
Zeppelin could have made a very bad decision following John Bonham’s death. Ironically in making the right one the remaining members have been blessed with greater fortunes and radio airplay than any other rock band since.
It was very disappointing many years ago when one of my favorite bands, Chicago, suddenly fired their drummer Danny Serephine. Though I guess they were probably doomed after Peter Cetera split for a solo career. Then there is Guns N’ Roses, who turned into a giant sloppy mess after letting Steven Adler go following Appetite for Destruction. Matt Sorum, with all due respect is a very good drummer, but so am I. I just don’t belong in the Rolling Stones.
And so it remains- how do the greatest bands unravel themselves at the height of their game? The short answer: Ego.
I read some news recently on Cheap Trick and “tension” regarding Bun E. Carlos, their drummer of over 40 years. As their number one fan I hope they work it out because they are one band that deserves a Kennedy Center slot and more. It’s not rocket science to me the ordinary fan. Without Rick, Robin, Tom and BUN E., it’s simply not Cheap Trick.
I enjoyed the Kennedy Center tribute to Led Zeppelin. Jason Bonham was seemingly emotional but once again pulled it off solidly. You have to hand it to Jason with the pressure of being the son of one of the greatest ever–a shadow of your father that few drummers would ever wish for.
I did think two important musicians were missing from the Zep-Kennedy tribute. Glenn Hughes and Carmine Appice. No one could probably knock a Zep tune out better on lead vocals (and bass) than Glenn Hughes, who over whiskey and smokes sat with John Bonham one night many years ago listening to Stairway to Heaven before most of the world heard it. It’s quite a story and you’ll be sure to enjoy it in our film. Carmine Appice was in all accounts the only serious choice (if ever a thought) to replace John Bonham on drums. He and Bonzo were not only close buddies, but Appice’s drumming played a major influence early on with Bonzo. Oh well. That’s why we’re doing a film and not a television show.
Be safe and hit em’ hard–BM