John was the eldest of three children by his parents Joan Isobel Sargent and John Henry Bonham. John's younger brother was called Michael and his younger sister was named Debbie Bonham. (Debbie went on to become a successful singer whose album 'For You and the Moon' reached the top 5 in the UK NME chart.)
The Bonham family lived in a small house on the outskirts of Redditch in Hunt End. John, his father, and grandfather all shared the name John Henry Bonham, but Bonzo's father was known as Jack. Jack was a carpenter who helped run the family business established by his father: JH Bonham & Son, a building company. John’s mother Joan, ran a local newsagents shop. These two sources of income enabled John and his younger brother Michael to be sent to the Wilton House private school. At the age of 11, John attended the Lodge Farm County Secondary School from 1960-1964. It was at this school that John received a school report from his headteacher stating: "He will either end up a dustman or a millionaire." John left school aged sixteen and began working for his father as a builder whilst also playing the drums for local bands.
According to John's parents, his enthusiasm for drumming was evident when he was still a small child of five. He would transform handy household objects laying around into percussion instruments for him to bang on. These included bath salt containers, pots and pans from the kitchen and a circular coffee tin which he would beat with knives and forks as a substitute for drumsticks, resulting in a snare drum like sound.
At the age of ten, Joan bought him his first piece of true drumming equipment: a snare drum. Although buying a drum kit for a teenager can be an alarming decision for any parent to make, John's parents knew that their young son had a true passion to learn the instrument. John received his first full drum kit from them aged 15. John later recalled: "It was almost prehistoric... Most of it was rust."
Early Drumming Influences
John Bonham struck up a friendship with a fellow drummer who lived nearby called Garry Allcock, who may have had some influence on John's drumming. Garry was a few years older than John and had already played with orchestras and was into big-bands and jazz. John made his first acquaintance with Garry by turning up outside his house one day and introducing himself: "My name's John Bonham, I'm a drummer and I'm potty about cars."
Allcock recalls: “I never gave him lessons as such – I didn’t teach him at all – but we’d sit in the front room with sticks and a practice pad and I’d show him a few things. It was just a case of: do you know this one? I remember him playing on one of my snare drums and me saying, 'For Christ-sakes, John, take it steady!' I thought he was going to knock it through the floorboards. He certainly hit hard.”
According to John's brother Michael, John was heavily inspired when he watched the 1956 biopic film 'The Benny Goodman Story' which starred Gene Krupa, the swing-era master, playing the drums. Michael recalled that "John went to see the film with his dad" in the cinema and that for John “Gene Krupa was god." A notable scene from the film is when he plays his theme tune 'Sing Sing Sing' brilliantly on the Tom Tom drums. John also liked the scene in the film 'Beat The Band' (1946), another film in which Gene Krupa features in, where he plays with the sticks on boiler-room steam pipes.
John was an ardent listener of music on the radio and records. Amongst John's favourite British groups were: Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, The Hollies and The Graham Bond Organisation with one of his drum idols Ginger Baker on drums. He was also a keen listener of American Jazz with