My Thoughts: Best Rock Drummer Ever

So this morning I’m watching “Sunday NFL Countdown” on ESPN, and they keep playing this ANNOYING 30 second cologne ad (Dior Homme Eau for Men–this longer version is uncensored, no nudity but definitely NOT annoying). The only good thing about it is the music, “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin. And, after a few viewings, then it occurs to me….

IMHO, the best drummer in rock and roll history is:

Led Zeppelin’s John “Bonzo” Bonham.

For some of you, that’s probably no surprise.

I’ve got a short list of guys whose work I’ve admired over the years. For example, I’ve always liked the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts–while not spectacular, he’s been a good consistent drummer throughout his career. Phil Collins is much more high profile–his work has a more distinct style and sound than most. The Who’s Keith Moon was a very loud drummer–he didn’t just play the drums, he attacked them.

While I’ve enjoyed the work of all these artists, I would not have considered any of them to be my favorite. That honor has belonged to Bill Bruford, who played with King Crimson and Yes (amongst others). The way he tuned his drums for his certain trademark sound, almost a hollow tom tom-like beat–listen to the middle 8 of Yes’ “Yours Is No Disgrace” for a great example–his work made the musicians around him and their collected music better. It’s hard to hear any of his stuff and not come away with a better understanding and appreciation of the art of playing the drums.

Still, Bruford played primarily with progressive rock bands. For the pure driving force required from a good rock drummer, I believe you need look no further than Bonham.

And the readers of Rolling Stone magazine apparently agree…or, at least they did in 2011, when he was named “Best Drummer of All Time.”

I think it’s telling that, while The Who decided to continue on without Moon, Led Zeppelin called it quits after Bonzo died–he was that good, irreplaceable.

Listen to any of Zep’s music: from the sheer joy of the high-hat cymbal/bass drum sound in “Bront-Y-Aur Stomp” to the brassy cymbal opening of “Rock and Roll” to the pure power beats that drive “When the Levee Breaks” to the moment when “Stairway to Heaven” kicks into high gear with Bonham’s entrance halfway in–and of course, the aforementioned “Whole Lotta Love” (with too many more to mention)–and you might just agree with me.

Good drummers keep the band in correct time…the best ones do so with style.


The BEST post-Zeppelin version of ‘Stairway’…maybe, ever


How lucky are we to have the surviving members of Led Zeppelin view the core of the 70s superband Heart perform “Stairway to Heaven”? Wow…yes, they shortened it and left some verses out…but this version should stand forever. The late John Bonham’s son Jason on drums, Robert Plant tearing up at the end, Jimmy Page enthusiastically supporting it, John Paul Jones smiling throughout…a huge choir, a string section, Ann Wilson’s British-affected lyrics. What a masterful performance! I don’t know when we’ll see the likes of this again.

I love Led Zeppelin but I have to admit that “Stairway to Heaven,” after several hundred listenings of “Led Zeppelin IV” and radio play, has grown a bit threadbare to me, overworn and a little tired. So, imagine how it must feel to Page, Plant and Jones, after playing the song what in the end must be thousands of times.

Still, they clearly loved it.

I got chills.

The performance transcended the music…meaning, you could appreciate it even if you didn’t like the song.

That’s a very rare occurrence.