Why John Bonham’s Dad Once Called the Police on His Son Before a Gig

John Bonham packed a powerful punch behind the drum kit for Led Zeppelin. Yet he had already earned his Bonzo nickname years before joining the legendary band. The moniker fit his playing style, but it had nothing to do with the time Bonham’s dad called the police on his son as he headed out for a gig.

Drummer John Bonham performs with Led Zeppelin at London's Earl's Court in 1975.
John Bonham | Michael Putland/Getty Images

John Bonham’s parents supported their son’s dumming ambitions

Bonham grew up in a house filled with music. His parents frequently listened to tunes around the house. Their affinity for jazz and Bonham’s craving for early rock ‘n’ roll music helped him develop his signature style — rhythmically complex heavy playing. 

His parents bought him a drum kit when it was clear his passion for drumming wasn’t a phase. Bonham’s dad employed him at his construction company, C.M. Kushins writes in Beast. The steady employment helped Bonzo make ends meet since his gigs were sporadic and low-paying.

Though generally supportive, Bonham’s dad threatened to call the police on his son as the drummer brazenly headed out for one of his early gigs.

Bonham’s dad threatened to call the police when his son broke into the family shed before a gig

His parents supported his drumming passion, and Bonham’s dad gave him a job to ensure he had a steady income, but papa Bonham’s patience had limits. Crashing the family van was well beyond the threshold. 

When Bonham crashed the family car (and not for the first time), Kushins writes that the family patriarch locked his son’s drum kit in the shed. The teenage drummer had a gig that night, so he and bandmate Nicky James devised a plot to liberate the kit:

“We had this black and maroon Bedford van with side-loading doors, so I pulled up outside the alleyway that led to the garden and met John ’round the corner,” James said. 

Bonham jumped out from his hiding place behind a tree, James lifted the shed’s roof for the drummer to slip inside, and Bonham started passing pieces out to his bandmate.

“‘John was yelling, ‘Quick! Grab this,’ and started passing the gear to me. I went running down the alley, banging against the fence and wall, and as we were piling everything into the van, we heard a cry of, ‘Call the police!’ So, we shot off down the road roaring with laughter at what had happened. When we arrived at the gig, John began to unpack his kit, only to find he’d left most of it behind.’”

Nicky James recalls John Bonham’s dad calling the police on his son

When Bonham’s dad threatened to call the police, the drummer and his bandmate scrambled away. They managed to pilfer only the snare drum and stand and the bass drum with pedal. Cymbals and sticks got left behind. James recalled Bonham playing that gig with his hands, something he regularly did with Led Zeppelin.

Bonzo ignored his wife’s advice before joining Led Zeppelin

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John Bonham’s Drum Mentor ‘Never Thought He Was Very Good’

It’s nearly impossible to imagine another drummer sitting in with Led Zeppelin. It’s one of the reasons the band broke up instead of trying to replace Bonham.

Yet founding guitarist Jimmy Page had another drummer lined up. Robert Plant, who performed with Bonham in Band of Joy before Zep, suggested Bonzo sit in the drum seat. Bonham’s wife always told her husband to stay away from Plant, the singer once recalled, but he ignored her advice and found fame with Led Zeppelin.

Zep’s debut came only a few years after John Bonham’s dad threatened to call the police on his son. He stole part of his drum set to play a gig that time. We’re pretty sure Bonzo never had a problem procuring his drum set when he manned the kit for Led Zeppelin.

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