Loyal Followers

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Bonzo and the Raging Moon (Part 1)*

* Was first published at Navel Gazing on 6th October 2008. The 2nd part to this article never came, till now, and nobody knows when it will come, or whether it will come at all.

The date was September 24th, 1980. The place was The Old Hyde. He was picked up by the band's assistant, Rex King, that morning and was to be brought to the band's rehearsal at Bay Studios. It was a part of the band's preparation for an upcoming tour of the United States, the first US tour since 1977.

At that time, he had just overcome a heroin problem. He was taking a drug to treat his anxiety and depression. While on the way to the studios, he asked King to stop for breakfast. Legend has it that he downed 4 quadruple vodkas (which is of course equivalent to 16 vodkas!) and ate a ham roll. Taking a bite at the roll, he said to King, "Breakfast!"

When he arrived at the studios, he was obviously drunk. The band's singer remembered that he was "tired and disconsolate". He continued drinking throughout the rehearsal and the band later called off the rehearsal. He would tell the singer, "I don't want to do this. You play the drums and I'll sing."

After calling off the rehearsal, the band convened at the lead guitarist's house in Windsor. He drank some more double vodkas before he finally passed out at around midnight. The band members moved him to a spare room. The next day, in the afternoon, the bassist together with the band's tour manager, Benji LeFevre, went to wake him up. He never did. They found him dead. Apparently he had rolled over in his sleep, vomited into his lungs and choked to his death.

John Henry "Bonzo" Bonham. The drummer of Led Zeppelin. He was born on May 31st 1948. Found dead on September 25th 1980. He was 32.

*** *** ***

Apparently, when Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, who were then in the Yardbirds, flirted with the idea of forming a group with John Entwistle and himself as the drummer, he jokingly remarked, "it will probably go over like a lead zeppelin!" He was non other than Keith Moon, the drummer for the Who, a group consisting of Entwistle, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.

Keith John Moon was born on August 23rd, 1946. As a teenager, Moon was into surfing music, such as those which were popularised by the Beach Boys. He joined a surfing music band called the Beachcombers and became part of a club circuit to which, coincidentally, the Who also belonged. Moon's drumming style was unorthodox, to put it mildly. He was loud! He later realised that he was kind of out of sync in a band which emphasised tight-knit harmony. The fact that he could not sing well served only to exacerbate the situation. The band would ban him from singing although sometime, in the heat of the moment, he would instinctively joined the chorus to disastrous result. While performing "Behind Blue Eyes", which requires precise harmony, Moon would be sent offstage just in case he forget that he wasn't supposed to sing!

At the time he joined, the Who was known as the Detours. The band consisted of Townshend, Entwistle, Daltrey and Dougie Sandom as the drummer. The Detours later became the Who, the High Numbers and later, the Who again. Upon hearing that the Detours was having problems with Sandom and had later sacked him, Moon "laid plans to insinuate myself (himself) into the band", to borrow his own words. He went to the Oldfield, a pub where the Detours was playing, had several drinks and summoned up enough courage to go on the stage to tell Daltrey and gang that he could do better than the sessions drummer who was standing in for the night. The band told him to go ahead and play and he then played drums in one song, "The Road Runner".

In an interview with the Rolling Stones in 1972, Moon vividly recalled what happened. "I'd had several drinks to get me courage up, and when I got onstage I went arrrrrggGHHHHHHH on the drums, broke the base drum pedal and two skins and got off. I figured that was it, I was scared to death." While sitting at the bar later, Townshend came to ask him whether he was free the next Monday as there was to be a gig. He said he was and the rest, as they say, would be carved in stone and hung in Rock 'n' roll's historical archives. "And that was it. Nobody ever said, "You're in." They just said, "What're you doing Monday?", said Moon.

*** *** ***

Suddenly, there was no Zeppelin. Robert Plant said later, "the band didn't exist, the minute Bonzo died." The band was in a stupor. No statement. No news. No plan. The music and history were left unfinished. "It was so . . . final," Plant said. "I never even thought about the future of the band or music."

Finally on December the 4th, Atlantic Records issued a one-sentence press release: "we wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep respect we have for his family, together with the sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were." It was simply signed, "Led Zeppelin." The world lost a truly great band that day. A band which had managed to infuse super stardom with real talents and British white rock and the North American deep blues culture and music. A band which had managed to marry Plant's rasping voice with Page's emotive riffs backed by the towering musicianship of John Paul Jones and of course, the power, energy and anger of John Bonham on the drums.

Twelve years earlier, in 1968, Jimmy Page was in the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck on guitars. Beck's temper tantrums caused all the band members to leave the group in the middle of that year. Page assumed the band's name and he set out to find new members. His search for a singer brought him to Terry Reid, a former singer of the group Jaywalkers, which had then disbanded. Reid declined Page's invitation and suggested that Page check out Robert Plant instead.

Plant was from the English Midlands and was a singer who dabbled in American country-blues. While Keith Moon had a deep interest in surfing, Plant had a thing for Lord of the Rings, which explained his band's name, Hobbstweedle. Listening to Plant's rendition of Jefferson's Airplane's "Somebody To Love", Page immediately knew that his search had come to an end.

Meanwhile, John Paul Jones, a well known arranger for the likes of Donovan and the Rolling Stones, to name but a few, called up Page and asked to join even though that would mean he had to leave his lucrative cheques as an established and accomplished sessionist.

Bonham was then already known as the loudest drummer in Great Britain with a propensity to break drum heads. He was so loud so much so that he was often asked to leave studios and clubs. He was once asked to leave a studio in Birmingham for being too loud for the owner's liking and 10 years later, he sent a card to the owner which said "thanks for the career advice" accompanied by a Led Zep gold record! Throughout his early career, he once joined a band called Crawling King Snakes whose singer was non other than Robert Plant. The band broke up without an album. Later Plant formed Band of Joy and Bonham joined in as the drummer.

It was Plant who told Page to try out Bonham for the new Yardbirds. History was in the making. Page; Plant; Jones and Bonham came together for the first time in a room below a record store in London. They played "Train Kept-a Rollin", a song popularised by Johnny Burnette and given a new lease of life by the Yardbirds. "As soon as I heard John Bonham play," Jones told the drummer's biographer, Chris Welch, "I knew this was going to be great—somebody who knows what he's doing and swings like a bastard. We locked together as a team immediately." Plant has said that was the moment that he found the potential of what he could do with his voice, and also that it was the moment that defined the band: "Even though we were all steeped in blues and R&B, we found in that first hour and a half that we had our own identity."

With that the New Yardbirds was formed. Legend has it that Page later changed the name to Led Zeppelin in reference to the remark made by Moon earlier. Peter Grant, the band's manager, apparently took out the letter "a" from the word "lead" because he was worried that the Americans might pronounce it as "leed". And Led Zeppelin was born.

Rock 'n' roll was never going to be the same again. Ever!

*** *** ***

The Detours was changing its name to the Who at that time. The eighteen year old Moon brought a whole new dimension to the Who with a completely different drive from the rhythm section. Moon complimented Entwistle's bass drives and that gave a new sense of musicality to the Who's music. Pete Townshend later said, "From the time we found Keith it was a complete turning point. He was so assertive and confident. Before then we had just been foolin' about."

That was the start to a roller coaster world they called rock 'n' roll. Moon bashed up the skins so hard that the whole rock experience was going to take a rolling like never before. Initially, the Who was playing a lot of rock and blues, drawing inspiration from the likes of BB King, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. Moon said they would take up songs cover and they would "Who'd" them. "Summertime Blues" was one of the song which was being "Who'd".

He has an interesting story about Daltrey's stuttering "effect" in "My Generation" though. According to him, Townshend - he was the primary composer for the band - came to the studio with the song and gave it to Daltrey one day. Daltrey, who was not familiar with the lyrics stuttered and Kit Lambert, who was producing for them then, decided to leave the stuttering to see what happen. "When we realised what'd happened, it knocked us all sideways. And it happened simply because Roger couldn't read the words," said Moon.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Moon actually revolutionised the drums. He was the first to treat the drums as an equal to the guitars in a rock band. In fact, during the early days in the Who, Daltrey recalled that Moon had wanted to be placed in front during shows. Before Moon, drums were just a part of the rhythm section of any rock band but Moon changed that image and brought the drums to the front of the rock culture. In doing so, he inspired other drummers, among whom, was Bonham.

Daltrey says the energy in "I Can See For Miles" - in which Moon's accelerating drum rolls and cymbal smashes seemed to compete with, but perfectly complemented, guitarist Pete Townshend's power chords - " is just unbelievable... He sounds like a steam locomotive at full pelt. His speed is incredible." Moon combined a variety of styles and made very much his own thing out of the drums."

"Keith was the first to treat the drums as though they were a lead instrument..." Tony Fletcher, author of Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend, says. "He really made the drums an instrument that spoke very much in the same way that a lead guitar does."

Off stage though, Moon was just as explosive.

*** *** ***

After a brief visit to Copenhagen and Stockholm, the band was ensconced in the Olympics Studio for their first album. In November 1968, Grant visited New York and procured a contract with Atlantic Record. Atlantic made a modest announcement about the company having signed "the hot, new English group Led Zeppelin" and that it was "one of the most substantial deals Atlantic had ever made". It was indeed a substantial deal as Grant had procured a USD200000 advance for a band which was then unknown and whose album nobody had ever even heard of. A tour of the US was then in the offing.

Led Zep opened in Denver, Colorado on 26th December 1968 as the third act after Vanilla Fudge and Spirit and was promptly welcome in the usual US manner, namely, as a doormat! The promoter even deducted the cost of the backstage grub from the band's pay. Page had to operate the PA system himself and Bonham even had no mike for his set (which did not really matter as he was loud enough even without them). In Detroit, a newspaper ad announced the band's appearance as "Led Zeptlin"! It looked like Grant's worry over the word "lead" being mispronounced by the Americans was justified after all.

But that was not to last. Page recalled, "you could feel something was happening - first this row, then that row. It was like a tornado, and it went rolling across the country." By the end of 1969, Led Zep had toured through the country 4 times, each time to a bigger, sold out audiences. In Britain, they quickly followed Cream into the Royal Albert Hall, filling it in June 1969 and again, in January 1970. In that year too,the eponymous album, Led Zeppelin and followed by Led Zeppelin II, were released. Rock 'n' roll was changing its face and sound. The basic premise of hard rock was being redefined and the fundamentals of heavy metal were being laid.

*** *** ***

It was with Daltrey that Moon had his first clash, among many clashes, in the Who. Daltrey described the relationship among the band members in the early days of the band as a clash of egos. To him, Moon especially, did everything in excess. "He was the most generous, the most mean, he was the funniest... he could be the most unfunny, everything — the most loving, the most hateful... Everything about him was extreme," Daltrey says.

When asked by a reporter in 1965 about the flare-ups in the band, Moon innocently blurted out, "Yes, It's Roger, he hates me!" The reporter asked why and Keith replied, "Because I told him he can't sing. . . I don't like half our records and Roger is the reason."

Daltrey even knocked Moon out one day in the dressing room after a terrible performance. Apparently, Daltrey flushed out all of Moon's pills - Moon was taking pills for his alcoholism problems then - and Moon had wanted to beat him up for that. Moon was actually kicked out of the band for a while. He was brought back when Daltrey promised to be more peaceful with him.

By this time, Moon had a new love. He loved bashing up and breaking his drum sets. Finally Townshend would join him in destroying their respective instruments on stage. In America, during the Smothers Brothers show, he bribed a back stage hand to allow him to load explosives into his bass drum. At the conclusion of "My Generation" he blew up his kit and pieces flew everywhere. Moon got a piece of a cymbal embedded into his leg and Townshend temporarily lost his hearing. The guest on the show, Betty Davis, fainted into Mickey Rooney's arms.

Moon's and the band's appetite for destruction became stuffs of legends. Together they would wreak total havocs in every hotel they checked in which resulted in the band incurring loads of claims from the hotels. "It was fucking expensive. We were smashing up probably ten times if not more than we were earning. We've been going successfully for ten years, but we've only made money the last three. It took us five years to pay off three years, our most destructive period," Moon told Rolling Stones in 1972.

Trying to explain the band's knack for destroying hotel rooms, Moon said, "I get bored, you see. There was a time in Saskatoon, in Canada. It was another 'Oliday Inn, and I was bored. Now, when I get bored, I rebel. I said, "FUCK IT, FUCK THE LOT OF YA!" And I took out me 'atchet and chopped the 'otel room to bits. The television. The chairs. The dresser. The cupboard doors. The bed. The lot of it. Ah-ha-ha-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHA! It happens all the time."

The most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) of Moon's antic was of course the car-in-the-pool legend. Tony Fletcher said in the book that Moon had never driven a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool in his biography. Daltrey disagreed and said had it not happened, he must have been living in someone else's life. Both of them were only half correct.

It wasn't a Rolls Royce. And no, Moon wasn't driving.

They were in Holiday Inns, in Flint, Michigan when the record company booked a nice big hall to celebrate Moon's birthday. Moon was presented with a 5 tier cake. Soon the party generated into one big booze fest and everybody was dead stoned. They were all dancing with their pants off! Moon of course had to excel at this stage. He threw the whole cake onto the carpet and a slanging match ensued. When the hotel manager walked in, he noticed everybody was dancing without their pants and the carpet had all been stained with the cake and its icing. He called the sheriff. Moon was in his underpants when he saw the sheriff and he made a dash. He got into a brand new Lincoln Continental parked somewhere near and released the handbrake. As the car was on a slope, it just rolled down, smashed the swimming pool fencing and went down straight into the pool with Moon in it. He managed to escape.

He than ran into the hall again, streaming in water and still in his underpants! Moon recalled, "The first person I see is the sheriff, and he's got 'is 'and on 'is gun. Sod this! And I ran, I started to leg it out the door, and I slipped on a piece of marzipan and fell flat on me face and knocked out me tooth. Ah-ha-ha HA-HA-HAHAHA!" He later spent time at the dentist with the sheriff and also in jail the next day. The whole band was packed off in an airplane the next day and while boarding the plane, the sheriff apparently said, "Son, don't ever dock in Flint, Michigan, again," to which Moon said, "Dear boy, I wouldn't dream of it."

Moon's sense of humour - which was at times rather warped - was also well known. After forgetting an interview which was due to take place at 3pm one day, Moon phoned in to say sorry that the hospital had delayed him (when in fact he was at a pub!). He told the managers that a bus had actually run him over on Oxford Street. "I was just crossing Oxford Street and a Number Eight from Shepherd's Bush 'it me right up the arse and sent me spinning across Oxford Circus,", he told the managers.

He then asked his driver to bring plaster and bandages which he wrapped around his legs. An arm strap and a walking stick then completed the whole charade. He then made the managers and some assistants carry him down four flights of stairs down to the road. While being carried across the road, a truck almost hit all of them leading Moon to curse the driver, "you 'eartless bastard, can't you see this man's injured! 'Ave you no 'eart, 'ave you no soul, you bastard! Trying to run over a cripple!"

Telling the finale to the story with his usual humorous manners, Moon said, "We went on to the interview and in the middle, after about four brandies, I just ripped off all the plaster and jumped up on the seat and started dancing. Ah-HAHAHAHAH-ha-haHAHA! HAHA!"

In the mid-60s, Moon met Kim Kerigan (when she was only 16) and married her. They were blessed with a daughter, named Mandy. On this Moon recalled that Kim was a 16 year old girl who used to hang out at the club where he and the band used to play at, in Bournemouth. According to him, "Sometime later when I went down to see her, I was on a train and Rod Stewart was on the train. This was about ten years ago. We got chatting, and we went to the bar car. It was Rod "The Mod" Stewart in those glorious days, and he'd just been working with Long John Baldry. He was playing a lot of small discotheques and pubs, doing the sort of work we were doing. I said to Rod, "Where are you going?" He said, "Bournemouth." "So'm I," I said, "I'm going down there to see my chick." he said, "So'm I." So I showed Rod a picture of Kim and he said, "Yeah . . . that's 'er." HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

*** *** ***

"It was a series of dynamic crescendos, one right after the other ," Plant describing Led Zep's first American tour in 1968 and '69. "There was no room for letdown," added Plant. That just about encapsulated Led Zep's approach towards their music and was reflective of their aspirations to be the biggest rock band of the time. Led Zeppelin, the 1st album, was recorded in 30 hours - claimed Page - and Led Zeppelin 11 was recorded during off days in between shows in nearly a dozen different studios in the summer of '69. Considering the gems which could be found in both of the albums - the thunderous "Good Times Bad Times'; the ultimate journeyman-who-can't-be-at-one-place-and-with-one-gal-for-too-long- ballad "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You"; the psychedelic "Dazed and Confused" in the 1st album alone - this must have been a band with superhuman powers and some talents!

Meanwhile, Bonham came into the forefront of rock drumming with his mastery of the grooves, sense of timing, rhythm and of course the sheer loudness of it all. The signature grooves in "Whole Lotta Love" and the sheer speed in the hard hitting "Immigrant Song" from the second album marked Bonham's entry into super stardom. He was not afraid to experiment either as he was the first known drummer to have included in his kit the congas, timpani, and drum synthesizers. He was also fast gaining a reputation for ecstatic drum solos with so much power, speed and variation.

Meanwhile, Plant was learning fast to exploit Page's masterful guitar riffs and chord movements with his voice. "I am not a guitarist as far as a technician goes - I just pick up and play it. Technique doesn't come into it. I deal in emotions'" explained Page. Such raw emotions shine in his crazed slashing outbursts in "Whole Lotta Love"; "Heartbreaker" and in one of the most emotive and heart wrenching rock and blues riffs ever to be recorded, in "Since I've Been Loving You" on Led Zeppelin 111. Plant was also adapting to Page's wailing and weeping on his guitars by exploring and adopting various vocal landscapes. "I had a long way to go with my voice then. But at the same time, the enthusiasm and spark of working with Jimmy's (Page's) guitar shows quite well," said Plant while explaining the obvious chemistry between the two. Amidst all these super virtuosos and abundance of masterful display of talents was the towering skills of the "Quiet One", John Paul Jones. Not unlike Richard Wright - the keyboardist of Pink Floyd - in character, disposition and musicianship, Jones was the backbone of the band, providing the solidity of craftsmanship, his quiet and almost intellectual demeanor providing the band a sense of stability. He was the element which had glued the band together. He provided sanity in a band which, in terms of hard rock 'n" roll life, was far from sane.

The album which would elevate Led Zep to rawkenroll God-like status soon came.

LedZeppelinFourSymbols

...to be continued...

1 comment:

Jack said...

Whoa, over 2.5 years later! Can't wait for round3!
-Jack @ Pool Fencing