We can argue until the heavy-footed, dull-eyed but strangely placid cows come home about who the best drummers in rock history are. No one will be satisfied, and everyone will go home unhappy and unsure why. It is more fun and productive to speak of influence, especially if we keep in mind the idea that culture may not always choose wisely – that there is nothing infallible about the process, nothing inevitable about what prevails and what falls away. It could have gone another way. Near-miss alternative worlds abound, just out of our sight.
When John Bonham dropped that crazy foot of his 12 seconds into “Good Times, Bad Times” on Led Zeppelin’s 1969 self-titled debut, rock drumming changed instantly and forever. The world in which Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker were the virtuosi of heavy rock suddenly seemed…well, among other things, much less heavy. Bonham’s deep pocket, his tightly integrated grooves, his quick foot and his rare blend of sophistication and savagery (that high-hat will lacerate your throat with sound alone) changed the game.
For a decade after his untimely death in 1980, he was just “one of the greats of the old school,” while a younger generation of drummers – Stewart Copeland foremost among them – defined the new. Sometimes cultural impact has a latency, a delay. It was in the ’90s, the grunge and modern-rock decade, in which Bonhamism graduated from being one style among many into the template: simply the way you play rock drums.
John’s son Jason Bonham can hardly be accused of cashing in on his father’s thing. The talented younger Bonham has been at the family business for much longer than John ever was, and by no means has all of his work been Zeppelincentric. But he hasn’t shied away from the family brand, either. He has recorded with Page and played with Zeppelin at several of their more significant one-offs over the years.
Bardavon presents Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening at the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in Kingston on Sunday, June 24 at 7 p.m. Ticket prices are $49, $59 and $85. Members get $5 off and preferred seating. Purchase tickets at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; the UPAC box office at 601 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; or online at www.bardavon.org.