John Bonham Wasn't Playing That Hard, According to Simon Phillips

Vistalite Black

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Simon Phillips has a looooong interview with Rolling Stone about drumming for Jimmy Page, the Who, Jeff Beck and Judas Priest.

Interviewer fails to ask the obvious question about why Drum magazine snubbed him for 10 Drumming Chameleons Who Can Adapt to Any Style article.

On John Bonham: "The thing that makes me laugh, though, is a lot of young players think that to play like John, you have to play real hard. No. It’s not like that. We were playing drum kits that would have fallen over had people played as hard as people play now. They weren’t that strong. The whole tone came from the fact that he wasn’t playing that hard."

Oh, he's also not keen to play with Toto ever again ...

Drummer Simon Phillips Interview: the Who, Mick Jagger, Toto - Rolling Stone
 

Talktotommy

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I agree 100%
I believe to get the best sound out of the drum you almost have to have no finger or hand pressure on the stick when it strikes the drum. Like the difference of burying the bass drum beater into the head- you never get the full tone from the drum.
I believe this is a major part of his sound. Jason talks briefly about it in his Howard Stern interview.
 

Whitten

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Absolutely 100%. I'm not specifically a Bonham fan, but he was a master musician with an amazing groove and fabulous (world beating) sound.
When compared to most contemporary drummers, especially in rock, hard rock, metal etc, Bonham hit about half as loud. Played with the correct velocity, drums sing, as is ably demonstrated by Bonham's work. When smacked like many modern drummers, the drums sound harsh and often choke.
Porcaro and Newmark hit relatively hard, but many of the other great studio drummers of the 70's played very softly.
 

bbunks

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And The Drum article was stupid. Vinnie wasn’t even on the list!
 

chillybase

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I've heard about drummers playing big and not hard-hitting. The visual of playing big makes it seem like you are hitting harder. I bet Dave Grohl would be in the same category.
 

KevinD

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In most video clips that are out there he gets a very large sound, but he isn't bashing away. Those videos show him playing with pretty loose hands and lots of wrist and fingers motion. Even using a pretty broad range of dynamics - given the size of the venues they were playing. BUT I don't see him "over hitting" or choking the drums.
 

John DeChristopher

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Watch any video of Bonzo and you can see he wasn’t a "hard hitter." He knew how to hit his drums to get maximum tone and a big, full, sound without bashing them. Same with his cymbals. I think his ability to hit his drums properly is often overlooked because he was such a powerful sounding bada**. Jason told me a long time ago his dad wasn't a "hard hitter" and I would agree with that.

This is Rock And Roll in 1973...

Rock And Roll in 1979...

God he was amazing!
 
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gmiller598

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With my background in marching percussion I can definitely agree with the fact that sound quality doesn't have to come from hitting "hard."

You can absolutely produce sound quality without bashing hard and "gripping and ripping" it. Volume can be created with very little effort and good technique.
 

Cauldronics

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Porcaro and Newmark hit relatively hard, but many of the other great studio drummers of the 70's played very softly.
Liberty DeVitto is another guy I'd put in that group, but he hit even harder than them. Smacking drums doesn't make for a bad player.. just louder and a but more limited in tone.
 

thejohnlec

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Watch any video of Bonzo and you can see he wasn't playing at a velocity that I'd consider "hard." He knew how to hit his drums to get maximum tone and a big, full sound without bashing them. Same with his cymbals.
I’ve always thought this about Alex Van Halen as well - I wouldn’t define him as a bruiser. Peart played harder than both of them pre-Gruber.

 

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Echoing the sentiment that huge sound =/= forceful strokes. Stick height, gravity, and "surrender" all go a lot further to produce a large sound than muscling the down stroke, in my experience.

Beating the crap out of your drums has its place stylistically, though your heads, cymbals, and tendons may not be too happy about it long-term. This also produces a shorter, flatter sound which I would not associate with Bonzo.
 

DamnSingerAlsoDrums

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In my experience, the drummers getting the best tones out of recordings are the light to medium hitters. There's a point past wich the drums themselves, the mics and or the preamps crap out and hitting harder becomes counter productive. Same goes for compressors and other processing gear.


Just like pretty much everybody, I've spent years thinking Bonzo was on top of the Heavy hitters pyramid. Until I started recording on a lot of vintage gear and began understanding how most of these tones were achieved and how those old machines behave and interract. Then one day I saw an interview with Jason where he set the record straight and that pretty much confirmed that Bonzo wasn't in fact an all out steamroller.


It makes a whole lot of sense, not only on tape, but on stage as well. Who could withstand night after night of gigging 2 and a half hours high-energy sets with 30 mins solos, hungover, jetlagged and with just a few hours of sleep, playing at full throttle all the time? No amount of booze and booger sugar can get you there, not for a full decade anyway...
 

jaymandude

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While it may be/is likely true that you get a better sound out of the drums and cymbals when you’re not beating the snot out of them, people who hit hard aren't generally thinking about that. So for me it’s a mistake to put those things together.

People hit hard because that’s how they feel it. The sound and feel of the music takes a back seat to the passion and enthusiasm and drive they have to make their statement. To suggest that someone lighten up to get a better sound misses the point.

In my opinion
 

DamnSingerAlsoDrums

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While it may be/is likely true that you get a better sound out of the drums and cymbals when you’re not beating the snot out of them, people who hit hard aren't generally thinking about that. So for me it’s a mistake to put those things together.

People hit hard because that’s how they feel it. The sound and feel of the music takes a back seat to the passion and enthusiasm and drive they have to make their statement. To suggest that someone lighten up to get a better sound misses the point.

In my opinion
Yes and no... I've been on sessions where over-enthusiastic drummers made their tracks barely useable, hi-hat bleed galore, harsher than harsh cymbals, "small" sounding crapped-out snares etc etc.

It's like in acting: some of the best actors can convey anger or aggression without necessarily resorting to shouting, sometimes with a much more convincing and potent bone-chilling effect.
 

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I could believe it. I think that likely the powerful sound of his drumming was due to the evenness of his technique and his choices/setup of gear. I've always felt that it's easier to get a really full sound out of the drums with higher tuning and even more importantly a ligher approach than what a lot of rock drumemrs do. I heard an interview with the producer T-Bone Burnett which stuck in my mind where he said the very same thing and said it not just about drums, but about any instrument; when you hit it really hard (even an acoustic guitar, for example) it chokes the tone, so that though it might be louder to hear it in the room, when it's mixed up with the other instruments in a recording, it has a thinner less full sound than if the same instrument were played more softly.

I watched a video by a young metal drummer online that stuck with me. I think that the guy is a pretty big, well respected name in that scene and the video was demoing some gear that he's an endorser of. He played some really fast, flashy type stuff (designed to impress!), but I could see that the way that he was hitting the drums was with very little rebound so that these probably very high end drums that he was demoing sounded lifeless and flat. Also, every stroke seemed to be about the same intensity, which isn't a great way to approach the instrument (accents and ghost notes are your friends!). To be fair, I have seen demos by other metal drummers, even ones who play very extreme versions of the music (which I personally have little love for), but the best ones, even when they're playing the most intense, busiest type patterns seem to be hitting the drums in a far more measured way. Their technique is much more like a jazz drummer's in that they're relaxed, play with plenty of accents and get plenty of rebound off of the drums...
 


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