The Music and Influence of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham Discussed With Clementine From Zepparella
Today marks Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham's birthday (May 31, 1948), and to get more insight into one of the most acclaimed musicians in rock history, as his spot atop our Top 10 Drum Songs list recently attested, we decided to talk to someone who celebrates his music night after night, Zepparella drummer Clementine.
Zepparella is an all-female four-piece Led Zeppelin tribute band, and if you've seen them live, you know how well they replicate the spirit of Zeppelin's music without resorting to wigs, costumes or other gimmicks. Clementine, as you can imagine, had much to say about John Bonham's music and how much fun it is to perform live. We hope you enjoy our conversation:
So what made you form a Zeppelin tribute band? How would you describe your band to a Zeppelin fan?
The guitarist, Gretchen Menn, and I started the band as a practice project ... to learn the catalog of our heroes, the ones who made us want to play the instruments we play. Zepparella is four women intent on bringing the passion, musicality and heart of Led Zeppelin's music to the audience, playing the songs as originally written and then branching off into sections of our own improvisation. Basically, hot chicks playing Zeppelin.
What is the key to the massive drum sound Bonham got on 'When the Levee Breaks?' We heard Zeppelin was never fully satisfied with the sound of this one live -- how do you tackle it in concert?
We've all read about the stairwell setup of the drums, and the wonderful reverb that created on the kick drum. Bonham was a master of tuning drums, and nowhere do you hear this better. They sound incredible! There's a reason it's the second most sampled drumbeat ever. I just approach it as the swampy blues that it is, pulling it so far back in the beat that I nearly fall backwards off the drum throne. When you play in a Zeppelin band, you pretty early on make your peace with the fact that you're never going to be as great as the person who originally performed these songs, which is pretty freeing. You just do your best to move people in your own way.
How do you deal with all the improv and changes in 'Dazed and Confused?' What challenges does that pose for a drummer?
I love this song. It's probably my favorite in the set. It's got everything for every instrument -- great vocals, spooky and amazing bass lines, a bow solo, a shredding guitar solo, tempo and feel changes, a killer drum fill coming out of the guitar solo. It's not as improvisational as some of the songs, and the challenge on this one is more about the push and pull of the timing. Pulling it wayyyyyy back after the hectic guitar solo to come in to the heavy, slamming verse ... that's my favorite moment of the whole set.
You stated 'Lemon Song' is one of your favorite Zep tracks. Why is that?
I don't think you can hear the Motown influence in Bonham's playing more in any other song. I love all the groovy little rolls he's doing in the verses. You can really hear him and Plant trading licks, too, which is really fun to play.
Based on 'Coda' stuff like 'Wearing and Tearing,' how do you think Bonham's playing would have progressed if he had lived?
I've thought a lot about that. It's hard to tell. ... I can see him being influenced by and then creating a whole new way of playing metal as the '80s metal bands were coming up. Obviously that's where [his son] Jason Bonham was influenced, and that might have had some say. Or maybe he would have headed in to a heavy prog sort of way of playing? He was so young when he died, he could have really gone anywhere. I know it would have been awesome though, and of course would have had to do with the people he chose to play with.
What the heck is going on in 'Bonzo's Montreaux,' and if forced to choose, to save, lets say your favorite drum kit, do you prefer it or 'Moby Dick?'
I like 'Montreaux' better. 'Moby Dick' is amazing but I'm not really a drum solo gal. My favorite thing about drumming is how it connects the melodies to the ground with rhythm. Jimmy Page screwed around with effects on 'Montreaux,' and I love how melodic it makes the solo.
You can learn more about Zepparella at their official website.
Watch Zepparella Perform Led Zeppelin's 'The Rover'