Did John Bonham Need 2 Bass Drums to Pull Off ‘Good Times Bad Times’?

When you read about Led Zeppelin, you might get caught up in the band’s antics on tour. Considering Zep had stories of a mud shark (red snapper?), ugly brawls, trashed hotel rooms, and more groupies than square meals, there are plenty of interesting tales to hear.

However, as Jimmy Page has noted, no one would be interested in these stories if the music wasn’t so good. For Zep, the band’s impressive recording history began with the Atlantic release of their self-titled debut in January 1969.

In March ’69, the album’s opening track, “Good Times Bad Times,” went out as the group’s debut single. And it did an excellent job representing the band. Starting with a John Paul Jones-penned riff and featuring a show-stopping drum part by John Bonham, Zep came straight after listeners.

Bonham’s kick-drum work in particular caught the attention of professional drummers. In most cases, people thought Bonham has used two drums to play his brilliant part on “Good Times Bad Times.” But Page said that wasn’t the case.

Jimmy Page insisted John Bonham did it with 1 kick drum

John Paul Jones John Bonham Robert Plant – Led Zeppelin, March 15, 1969 – Gladsaxe Teen Club, Copenhagen Denmark | Jorgen Angel/Redferns

In his wide-ranging Guitar World interview from 1993, Page revealed a tremendous amount of detail about Zeppelin songwriting and recording sessions. And he started with the group’s first album. Before long, he mentioned Bonham’s drum part.

“The most stunning thing about the track, of course, is Bonzo’s amazing kick drum,” Page said. “It’s superhuman when you realize he was not playing with double kick. That’s one kick drum! That’s when people started understanding what he was all about.”

Indeed, Bonham started hearing about it from other drummers on the Zep’s first tour. Carmine Appice, who played in Vanilla Fudge (for whom Zep opened in ’69), recalled complimenting Bonham on his bass-drum work on the track.

“John, that is amazing,” Appice told Bonham in a Classic Rock Revisited interview. “I have to admit that I took that from you.” But Bonham corrected Appice, saying he (Bonham) had taken it from Appice, who played a part somewhat like it on an earlier Vanilla Fudge album.

“He was right,” Appice later realized. “I only did it for a moment on that album and he took it and made something bigger and better out of it.”

Bonham never stopped wowing great drummers

Led Zeppelin, 1969: John Bonham at the Bath Festival | Walter/WireImage

When you read about Bonham, it’s clear he took a great deal of pride in his drumming. In 1975, after losing to Karen Carpenter in a “Best Drummer” poll in Playboy magazine, he made a point of ranting about it to the journalists on tour with Zep.

“How do you think I feel, not being taken seriously, coming in after Karen Carpenter in the Playboy poll?” he asked Lisa Robinson. “Karen Carpenter … what a load of sh*t. She couldn’t last 10 minutes with a Zeppelin number.” These days, there aren’t many people who’d vote for Carpenter over Bonzo.

In fact, when Rolling Stone got drummers and critics together to vote on the best drummers of all time, Bonham topped that list. Dave Grohl explained Bonzo’s influence on him.

“John Bonham played the drums like someone who didn’t know what was going to happen next,” Grohl said. “I spent years listening to his drums and trying to emulate his swing or his behind-the-beat swagger or his speed or power. I think he will forever be the greatest drummer of all time.”

Also see: The Funky Led Zeppelin Song That Was Zep’s Salute to James Brown