This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2004. Reprinted with permission.
Ask any aspiring drummer for his influences, and odds are the name John Bonham will appear on his/her top five list. Voted the second most influential drummer ever by Rhythm readers (only Buddy Rich was higher), John "Bonzo" Bonham's effect on modern drumming (especially hard rock and heavy metal) cannot be overestimated. Not bad for a working class bloke from Redditch in a band that was only recording for a decade.
Unfortunately, John Bonham: A Thunder of Drums is only partially successful in capturing that in print. The book is divided into two portions: rock journalist Chris Welch covers the biographical portion while drummer/writer Geoff Nichols analyzes Bonham's style.
Welch is thorough, I'll give him that. He combines research with personal experience to give a full readout of the important events (musically speaking, primarily) in Bonham's life. However, he utilizes such pedestrian prose that his portion is only interesting from an informational standpoint. I can't see myself reading his chapters over again.
Nichols, on the other hand, writes with such passion for the instruments and with such a true appreciation for Bonham's oeuvre that his two chapters of analysis are a joy to read. John Bonham: A Thunder of Drums will be going on my music reference shelf on the basis of his input alone; specifically his coverage of each album individually and his picking out of representative songs on which to focus.
As a fan of Led Zeppelin, I appreciate Welch's depth of research and I feel I learned a lot about Bonham's place in the band's legacy. However, Geoff Nichols' analysis taught me more in the way of Bonham's place in the creation of the band's sound. As a drummer, I find that infinitely more valuable.