One of the most praised musicians of all time, the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham influenced a whole generation of players that would later on help on the evolution of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal music.
But as those musicians, Bonham was also inspired by drummers that came before. His bandmate and singer Robert Plant revealed in an interview with Ray Gun magazine back in 1998 the name of a drummer that John Bonahm loved.
The drummer that John Bonham loved according to Robert Plant
“I’ll tell you who Bonzo loved. [Legendary funk drummer] Bernard Purdie. Yeah, Pretty Purdie,” Robert Plant told Ray Gun magazine. The influence of Purdie’s playing technique can be heard on Led Zeppelin’s famous track “Fool In The Rain” from the band’s final album “In Through The Out Door” released in 1979. According to Open Culture, John Bonham plays a variant of the half-time Purdie shuffle in the track.
The American drummer was born in Elkton, Maryland back in 1941, seven years before Bonham. As a side man he worked with many famous musicians like: Nina Simone, Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, John Lee Hooker, Al Kooper, Herbie Hancock, Louis Armstrong, B.B King and Aretha Franklin. His two nicknames are: Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and Mississippi Bigfoot.
In a conversation with Music Radar back in 2019, the American drummer said that he developed the shuffle used by Bonham when he was young and was trying to reproduce “the way a locomotive kind of pushes and pulls,” Bernard Purdie said.
Called “Purdie Half-Time Shuffle”, the Blues shuffle variation created by the American drummer was used by many famous artits. Variations of the shuffle can be heard in tracks like “Walking On The Moon” from The Police, and “Rosanna” from Toto.
One of the most prolific and influential drummers of all time, Purdie was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame back in 2013.
Bonham might have started to like Purdie because of a drum shop that Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward also used to visit
The Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward knew John Bonham before both of them became famous. He recalled in an interview with Drum Magazine back in 2010 that the Led Zeppelin drummer might have started to like Bernard Purdie because Mike Evans, owner of a drum shop, used to play there and show the visitors Purdie’s playing techniques: “Sometimes on trips to Drum City, the Birmingham city-centre shop owned by BBC Light Jazz Orchestra drummer Mike Evans, I’d bump into Bonham, along with other fine drummers. Offshoots of the cosmopolitan hordes who’d chosen Birmingham as home.”
“Some visits turned into mini-clinics. I’d watch Mike do his ’Purdie.’ I think he turned everyone on to Bernard Purdie, whose hi-hat work was incomparable. Bonham would sit in and funk out. His bass drum playing that language everyone seemed to be speaking. But still not applying as well as he did,” Bill Ward said.
The two musicians continued to be friends after both of them became Rock stars. However, Ward didn’t let Bonham plays his drums. The reason was that the Led Zeppelin musician would hit them so hard it would damage the instrument.
John Bonham died at the at age of 32 back in 1980. After that the remaining members of Led Zeppelin decided that they could no longer continue as a band. The group would only reunite for a couple of concerts in 2007 with Bonham’s son Jason as the drummer. From 1969 to 1979 the band released 8 successful studio albums and several singles. They still are one of the best-selling bands of all time. Zeppelin have sold with an estimated amount of more than 200 million records worldwide.