What Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham Thought of Ringo Starr’s Drumming

When Led Zeppelin topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 1969, the rock press realized it had a story on its hands. As rumors of The Beatles’ demise swirled, a powerful new British act had emerged. And it looked as if the Zeppelin could be as successful as the Fab Four.

That didn’t change when the calendar pages flipped to 1970. As The Beatles tried out solo projects and broke up, the Zep continued selling out concert halls and released another No. 1 record. And by the end of the year Melody Maker readers named Zeppelin the top British band.

So when John Bonham and his bandmates began giving interviews, journalists wanted to know how they felt about the Fab Four and their latest release, Abbey Road. Bonham had nothing but good things to say about the drums on Beatles albums. The only thing was, he wasn’t sure whether Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr played them.

Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham said he liked the drums on every Beatles record

Ringo with Paul McCartney and John Lennon
Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and John Lennon of The Beatles pose on 24 June 1967. | Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns

RELATED: How Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones Rated Paul McCartney as a Bass Player

When a drummer like Bonham arrives on the scene, people want to know about his influences. Speaking to Ritchie Yorke of NME in an April ’70 interview (reprinted in 2014’s Led Zeppelin on Led Zeppelin), Bonham ran down some of the drummers he liked.

The list included Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge, Lee Michaels’ drummer Frosty Smith, and of course Ginger Baker. After Bonham spoke extensively on the subject of Baker, Yorke asked what he thought of Ringo’s work on Abbey Road.

Bonham began by saying he couldn’t guarantee McCartney hadn’t played drums on Abbey Road. (McCartney had recorded drums on several White Album tracks.) But he definitely liked the work. “Let’s just say I think the drumming on Abbey Road is really good,” Bonham said. “Some of the rhythms on the album are really far out.”

That didn’t come as a surprise to him, though. Bonham said he’d been a fan of Beatles drum work (and thus Ringo) from way back. “The drumming on all the Beatles’ records is great,” Bonham told NME. “The actual patterns are just right for what they are doing.”

Bonham would record with Paul McCartney and Wings later in the ’70s

John Bonham with Led Zeppelin in 1971
Led Zeppelin speaks with the press at Tokyo Hilton Hotel, September 1971. | Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

In the following years, McCartney became a big fan of Zep’s drummer. When running down his all-time favorite drummers, McCartney once put Bonham and Keith Moon of The Who in his top three alongside Ringo.

McCartney also brought in Bonham on two Wings projects in the second half of the ’70s. When McCartney put together his Rockestra at the end of the decade, he made sure to have Bonham aboard. (Moon had passed away before the Rockestra could perform live.)

Thinking back on his collaborations with Bonham on Twitter in 2014, McCartney used an adjective that makes perfect sense. “[Bonham] was a great friend and a ballsy drummer,” McCartney wrote.