Happy Birthday John Bonham: Led Zeppelin Performs ‘Moby Dick’ Live In 1970

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Today would have been legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham’s 72nd birthday. He died tragically on September 25, 1980 at just 32 years old from complications due to alcohol. Bonham is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock drummers of all time, if not the GOAT. His ferocity on the throne was perhaps only eclipsed by his impeccable time. At the risk of being hyperbolic, he never missed a beat. To play as violently and sometimes tenderly — as any drummer will tell you it’s harder to play softly then it is to bang out a rhythm — as he did, completely in time, requires raw, natural talent that can’t be taught or learned as well as an innate internal tick-tock like an atomic clock. Atomic is a good way to describe Bonzo.

Nowhere is his immense skill more on display than during his signature song, “Moby Dick.” Perhaps one of the most famous versions of the song comes from Led Zeppelin’s performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall on January 9, 1970 featured in the 2003 Led Zeppelin DVD. Lead singer Robert Plant introduces his friend before leaving the stage as guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist John Paul Jones rock out on the song’s opening riff before leaving John to do what he does best.

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During the 13+-minute drum solo a 21-year-old Bonzo shows off his power but also his finesse. Sometimes ravaging the drums and sometimes tapping out the softest of rhythms. At one point he forgoes sticks and delivers a barehanded whirlwind across his congas and the kit proper (it’s important to remember that drums have metal rims). There are times when he is just a blur of arms, like a deranged octopus. It will give you the chills to watch in the best way possible. After the solo ends and Bonham bangs out the snare shots before Jimmy and JPJ come back in he still isn’t through and delivers a stick twirling ending flourish to cap off the amazing performance.

To celebrate John Bonham’s birthday, check out “Moby Dick” from the Royal Albert Hall in 1970 below for this special edition of Sunday Cinema:

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