Saturday, September 24, 2005

Good night, Bonzo

On this day in 1980, Led Zeppelin rehearsed for the last time ever. The band had gotten together to practice for a full-scale tour of North America that would begin Oct. 17. Having just completed a comeback summer tour of Europe after a year off from touring, the group was re-energized and ready to roll on.

Around the time, Jimmy Page had been quoted as saying that the band was ready to write the next chapter in its history. "I feel there is a lot more to do, simply because this band thrives on a challenge," the guitarist said. He and his bandmates were planning the live debut of "Carouselambra," a long and complicated song from In Through the Out Door that they had never played out on the road.

Years later, John Paul Jones recalled their first rehearsal together after the 1980 Tour Over Europe. They gathered at Bray Studios in Windsor for what Jones called the "first-day fooling-around rehearsal." He said everybody was "in particularly high spirits."

At the start of the day, 32-year-old John Bonham and his driver left the drummer's home at Old Hyde Farm. On their way to Windsor, the two stopped along the way and entered a pub where Bonzo reportedly ate two ham rolls and drank four quadruple vodkas. His drinking continued through the rehearsal, where he was seen downing "two or three" more large drinks.

Following the rehearsal at Bray Studios, the band stayed at Page's newly acquired house in Windsor. They had a celebration there, and Bonzo continued to down "a couple of large ones every hour." Around midnight, he crashed on a sofa, and Page's assistant, Rick Hobbs, helped him to a guest bedroom. Bonham was left on his side, propped up with pillows.

The following day, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones were together wondering where the other member of the band was. They found it odd that none of them had seen Bonzo since the previous night, so they probably figured he was still sleeping.

They sent Plant's assistant, Benji LeFevre, to check on Bonham in the room. What he discovered there was utterly disturbing: Bonham was lying on his back in a pool of vomit. LeFevre charged from the room and spread the word to the others. Jones phoned an ambulance, but Bonham was far beyond resuscitation and had apparently been dead for several hours.

Responding to the tragedy, Plant drove to the Old Hyde Farm to console Bonzo's wife, Pat Bonham, and their son Jason and daughter Zoe. Jones went home to his own family, "terribly shocked," he said later. Page remained on at his own house, trying to cope.

Once the news had broken across England, Page stood inside, watching at his window as a group of fans held a silent vigil outside.

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