Led Zeppelin and The Damned: When John Bonham Taunted the Punk Rock Upstarts

When punk rockers spoke about their revulsion for arena rock, they had bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd in mind. But the feeling wasn’t mutual. On a few occasions, Zeppelin mastermind Jimmy Page has spoken of his admiration for the Sex Pistols and The Damned.

The members of Zep didn’t hide it. While The Damned was making waves at London’s Roxy in January ’77, Page went to see the band play along with Zep singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham. The three of them — then at the height of their fame — didn’t go unnoticed at the club.

A drunken Bonham made his presence felt the most. After The Damned finished their first set, Bonham got on stage and demanded the band play more, calling them names while he did so. Zep’s rambunctious drummer didn’t go quietly that night.

Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham took to the stage in the middle of a Damned show

John Bonham, wearing a hat at the drum kit, yells at something off-camera
John Bonham (1948-80) performs with Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in June 1977. | Michael Putland/Getty Images

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By the late ’70s, Bonham was drinking alarming quantities of alcohol, and he had more than his fair share the night Zeppelin caught The Damned at the Roxy. In Mick Bonham’s John Bonham: The Powerhouse Behind Led Zeppelin (2005), Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock recalled his on-stage antics.

“John let out a tirade of abuse at [The Damned],” Matlock said. “He was shouting, ‘Where’s the f*cking band gone? They’ve only been playing for 15 minutes. We play for three f*cking hours because we’re real men and not a bunch of wimps. Where’s that Mouse Scabies?'”

After The Damned’s drummer didn’t return, Bonham vowed to play a set himself. However, by that point the punks in the audience had grown impatient with Bonham. As members of the Zeppelin entourage tried to intervene, Bonham continued his tirade.

In 2017, Damned singer Dave Vanian spoke about the incident in a Rolling Stone interview. “All the punks were throwing things at [Bonham], and he was very, very pissed,” Vanian recalled. “Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to play very well and made a bit of a mess of things.”

Bonham was eventually carried out of the Roxy by roadies

John Bonham blows smoke from a cigarette looking into the crowd as Jimmy Page covers his mouth on stage.
Jimmy Page and John Bonham at a 1977 Led Zeppelin show | George De Sota/Redferns

While many Led Zeppelin stories got blown out of proportion over the years, Bonham’s episode at The Damned’s show was corroborated by multiple people. Andrew Czezowski, who founded the club, told more or less the same story to Dante Mag in 2017.

Czezowski recalled Bonham smashing cymbals all over the place and generally causing a ruckus before getting removed by roadies. “He had to be dragged out of the club,” Czezowski said. For their parts, Page and Plant were much more behaved.

They chatted with Matlock of the Sex Pistols and checked in with the members of The Damned as well. “We used to call Brian [James] the riff-meister,” Captain Sensible told Rolling Stone. “That’s why Jimmy Page was such a fan of the band at the time. He saw something special in Brian’s guitar style and writing.”