Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bonzo the skeptic

On this day in 1968, a 20-year-old British carpenter and farmer by the name of John Bonham was drumming at a concert for American singer Tim Rose when he was approached by a manager named Peter Grant and a 24-year-old guitarist named Jimmy Page.

The visitors were with the Yardbirds and went to this gig at the Hampstead Country Club upon the recommendation of a 19-year-old singer named Robert Plant, to listen to Bonham's playing and ask if he was interested in replacing Jim McCarty as drummer for the Yardbirds for a tour in Scandinavia. Plant, who was a friend and occasional bandmate of Bonham's, was replacing Keith Relf.

The story sounded a little far-fetched to Bonham, who was skeptical and also preoccupied with the first well-paying gigs of his lifetime. He and his wife Pat had been struggling for three years to pay their bills each month, and it was only very recently that Bonham's drumming was yielding some steady pay. Author Chris Welch writes that Bonham "was touring with Tim Rose and had some gigs lined up with Chris Farlowe. Joe Cocker was also interested in hiring him."

We can imagine how the conversation would have gone: Peter Grant and Jimmy Page probably sounded to Bonham like they were from another planet. All he had on his mind was money. He said would consider the job offer if he could be assured of making some serious money. Grant and Page told him not to worry. Bonham said he would think about it. Grant asked him for his phone number. Bonham said he didn't have a phone. Grant, probably suspicious of that, asked for a mailing address. Bonham gave him that.

Then Bonham started receiving telegrams from Grant's RAK Records office in London, asking him to respond about the offer to join the Yardbirds and start playing with them on a Scandinavian tour in September. "It seemed like a gift from heaven, you know what I mean?" Bonham once said in an interview. "I was pretty shy and I thought the best thing was not to say much but suss it all out."

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