What if JOHN BONHAM didn’t die? LED ZEPPELIN Engineer on his death, drumming, Jimmy Page Stuart Epps

by | Mar 20, 2022


This transcription is machine subscribed.

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Question: so I mean this is a hypothetical question but from what you may know if Bonham hadn’t died do you know if zeppelin would have continued on for much longer or would they have come to an end inevitably anyways at some point in the near future.

Stuart: Well that’s a good question.

I would say yes, personally I would say they’d have just gone on because had Bonham not died there would have been another album and then they would have wanted to tour that I’m sure. I mean as it turns out, you know, he did die so it’s hypothetical and the fact is that they then had to find their own way in the music business.

Not that they had to I mean they’re all billionaires. But obviously they would want to and so Robert had to find a different career away from zeppelin and I’m sure he’s very happy that that’s what happened because he was, I think he was, getting fed up with screaming his socks off I’ll say that in case there’s any children uh listening.

I think he was getting a bit fed up with that anyway because it was a heavy rock band it was blasting and it was good when they were youngsters but it might be something that you grow out of you know. Of course they could have changed I suppose, they could have changed the format a little bit but well your question really was would they have continued and I think they would have continued.

They would definitely have done another album and maybe they’d have done another two albums because that’s what they love to do to get together and play together and then that’s also why they would have probably carried on doing gigs and also there’s phenomenal money involved, hundreds of millions let’s face it that’s why the stones do it.

No matter how rich they are and also they have fun and they enjoy it hopefully you know that’s interesting.

Question: So I mean we were talking a little bit earlier that if zeppelin hadn’t I mean obviously if Bonham hadn’t passed that there would likely have been another record and you would have been involved with that to some degree or another do you know if there were any demos that the band had prepared if there was any like unreleased material the band was writing with or was there nothing ready for a new album yet from what you from what you may know.

Stuart: There’s no more unreleased material to be heard.

He would have found it because Jimmy doesn’t mess around he’s very much still dedicated to the history of zeppelin and um yeah if there was something else around he would have put it out.

Question: Do you know if there were any like the wheels are turning on starting to write new material for another record?

Stuart: No I don’t know I don’t think so but I don’t know.

See the thing is that we’re only talking I’d only got to know I’d only met jimmy a couple of times when Bonham died so of course yeah I met him yeah we worked together for five years after that with if there was any more material or if they were working together i don’t i don’t really think so because i think that if there would have been if they’d have rehearsed something or anything then it would have come out by now.

You know they’re probably the i see the thing is they’re about to go on tour anyway so and i don’t think they’ve been on tour for a long time this european tour so probably that would have been them getting together to maybe do all sorts of things and they were rehearsing only up the road in bray near where i am so i kept going there in in hopes to meet jimmy but every time i arrived and either just left or they hadn’t arrived yet and uh but anyway not too long after this um before the tour obama was found dead in in jimmy’s uh house in in windsor and um so that was a big blow really because i was you know always was a big blower i mean you know whether i was getting ready to do the next afternoon kind of neither here nor there because this was a terrible thing for the hat to happen to them so it was a bit shocking

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basically what took place then was us starting to work on this uh tribute album um which was really a tribute to bonap to bonham uh starting off with this drum track bonzo’s montreal crazy uh 24 track tape of bonzo’s montro which was all was basically all drums and and i always say it was like being thrown in in the deep end really because you know it could have just been a rock track but it was it was it was quite peculiar being all drums i mean it was magnificent really um but um you know i think it was quite long then we had to edit it and editing it wasn’t wasn’t easy but it was um you know that was the first track we worked on and then um the other tracks that were from that zeppelin album were from uh that made up the zeppelin album coda where there was a couple from uh that were left over from in through the outdoor i mean i haven’t got that album in front of me but i’ve been wearing and tearing there was another one

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uh then there was a track called i can’t quit you yeah which actually was um jimmy didn’t want it to be known was going to be known now isn’t it but jimmy didn’t want it to be known that it was a live track he wanted it to uh to be known that it was some sort of recording so i had to take all the audience off but basically it was led zeppelin i think at the albert hall but it was a great track i can’t quit he’s a really good track and um what else we did there was poor tom and for that one and i remember robert plant coming in that was the first time i met robert and that was that was nice you know because i mean to be honest i wasn’t a huge zeppelin fan the most i got into zeppelin was actually when nelton john bought his first giant stereo system for his mansion he had these he had these massive four speakers in a lounge a huge lounge and we just used to have we had zeppelin too which we used to whack up

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to test out his um his stereo and actually my favorite album was in through the outdoor without a doubt okay you know i i thought that was a great album but um you know so also i think i think uh at that time pretty sure john paul jones popped in because i seem to remember playing something and he said can you turn that down and what do you think i am you know and i thought well i thought you were the bass player in one of the biggest rock bands in the world so i thought chances are you like live loud music you know you would go ah turn it down so i mean prior to john bonham’s passing were you thinking about how you’d approach working on the next zeppelin record oh yeah i i was yeah i mean i was thinking about how i would do it i mean it’s awful to talk about it now because i mean i would have loved it would have been absolutely brilliant to have uh to have done that but um i suppose the booby prize which wasn’t a bad one though was when i got to work with jimmy and paul rogers with the firm yeah you know because that was you know in some ways you could say it

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was maybe even better than maybe what the zeppelin would have been you know because you got you’ve definitely got one of the best singers on the planet with paul rogers uh we had chris slade on drums he’s totally totally amazing and tony um tony can’t remember his surname on base simon kirk who’s the drummer with their bad company yeah he’s a great drummer well and free wasn’t he was a drummer in free as well so i think he thought because they were signed to uh swanson which is um zeppelin’s record company i’m pretty i think maybe simon thought he must be in for that job you know to take over and he would have been amazing totally brilliant without a doubt but i think you know the mark of jimmy if you like and robert and john paul jones is that they you know they felt that the zeppelin was four people sorry and um you know and without um without bonham it wasn’t they didn’t want to carry on that ban that’s the thing which i think is pretty

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uh that’s pretty good of them really you know not not you know like this well i mean i shouldn’t sort of bad mouth but i’m in the stones you know charlie watts died right getting another drummer off we go you know but i think i think zeppelin were more like a you know bonhams i don’t say that charlie watts country contribution was any less than john than bonhams but i don’t know i think they were a closer closer unit like definitely bonham and jimmy and bonham and robert you know they were just so tight and close that they couldn’t imagine going out without him the thing with bonham was his feel you know his that’s what made them so heavy really because they did everything you know it was fairly slow you know and uh slow tempos but what makes it heavy is that is their timing and their and the sound and giving it plenty of space you know that’s when you were talking when we were talking about sound and i was

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uh you know thinking about the mill for john bonham’s uh drum sound you know it’s possible to do that but you need the space i i don’t mean physical space i mean you need the space in the sound so if the drum is playing at 100 million miles an hour and he’s hitting the cymbals all over the place and the hayek’s all over the place there’s nowhere for that sound to go whereas it stomps you know you can have a nice big rock sound which is what they used to get and the thing is that’s what i was going to say is that zeppelin didn’t always work in giant rooms you know like abby road or something you know that was the other great thing about jimmy as a producer is that he no matter what studio they went to he’d make sure they got he he got a zeppelin drum sound or a zeppelin sound which was generally a big big roomy sound and i know they worked at the abbas studios and yeah jimmy used to say they’d i don’t know they’d put a microphone in a cupboard or down the

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hall or something like that you know inventing ways of getting that sound which wouldn’t just be uh using a big room you know and anyway i i recorded you know i mixed john bonham’s drums so i know what the drum sound is like and the bass drum was enormous sounding it sounded like one of those you get an affair you know with the beaters whereas you know the the the the rock drummer normally uses a takes the front skin off and puts a load of cushions inside this sounded like it definitely had the front skin on and um it’s just enormous but you know and then the snare sound as well you know he’s not bashing it away he’s probably not he’s probably got quite a light touch in the way and anyway he’s he was a remarkable drummer like charlie watts in a way he was sort of more like a jazz drum or ringo stan you know jazz would have been

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part of his upbringing you know not just um straight ahead rock so he’s very uh bloody good basically so i mean what did you think i mean i know you didn’t get to work physically with him but having been like intimately involved and mixing his tracks on coda what did you think of him as a drummer in particular like what was it about john bonham that people say he’s the greatest of all time first of all his sound like i say it was enormous and and listening to the individual multi-tracks when i lifted up the bass drum i thought plummy it does say bass drum on it but that’s not a bass drum i’ve normally heard it was like one of them fairground things you know bom bom and what you had to do with that sound you had to compress it quite a lot so that you got you still got the attack you know but you had to work on it because it had so many frequencies anyway it was obviously a very deep and sounds like a very large bass drum that’s for sure it wasn’t a tiny little

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bass drum i didn’t ask jimmy i didn’t say so how big was this back i just got on with it i just got on with it and also you could hear that there are microphones above you know like above the uh picking up the snare picking up the tomtoms the main word is feel uh fwl that’s the main word that we would use to describe what separates john bonham from a lot of other drummers is his feel and and i think that uh you know even hearing him playing on his own he’s got a great feel and i still love listening to bonzo’s montreal and talking about it whereas it’s just drums so that’s just him and he’s not playing to a click yeah that’s what uh separates him out from other drummers there was something else i was going to say i was going to say that also within zeppelin and also because they’re not playing to a metronomic click they’re making their own feel

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and when you get a great rhythm guitarist like jimmy playing with a great drummer like bonham they’re setting up a unique feel that can’t be replicated by machines or anything like that really you know it’s it’s very individualistic and uh separate separated zeppelin out from other bands yeah i mean there’s some great other dramas phil collins is a great drummer charlie watts is a great drama uh zack starkey absolutely brilliant drama but um i mean i suppose you know when someone dies however terrible it is they get they get frozen in time don’t they yep and the thing is that when we did the when we did the um coder album i mean this was a tribute to john wasn’t it so we were living john bonham you know every day when putting when putting his drums together and i was very aware that of course the poor guy died and but but this is great what

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we’re doing is this tribute and in fact um there’s a little while ago that um an absolutely brilliant drummer who comes close to john bonham who’s zack starkey i don’t know if you know of course who he is but anyway he’s a brilliant guy brilliant drummer and i think he rang me up or he got in touch with me and that was mainly because he was a total bottom fanatic and when he heard that i did the bonzo’s montreal he had to meet me he wanted to work with me and all this thing you know because um so you know it was great to be doing that and and so we were living bonham every day really one thing i wanted to ask you is you know obviously jimmy page is known as being one of the greatest guitarists ever rightfully so he’s also one of the greatest producers but people often kind of overlook that to a certain extent how would you compare from your experience with jimmy um i know you’ve worked with him as a guitarist have you also worked with him producing wise like together of course yeah how would you compare his approach producing and recording guitars

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yeah good question so um and i do talk about that because uh yeah jimmy very eccentric guy not always easy to understand when i was working with him for one reason or another uh but when we were doing the very first project that we did as i say was the uh putting together the um code around and um all right so there wasn’t one interesting thing was that that you knew that i knew that jimmy page was the producer of all the zeppelin albums so i suppose i was waiting to be told what to do or i do this now we do this then we do that now you do this he didn’t he didn’t do that but even when we were doing the bonzo’s ridiculous drum thing he he didn’t tell me what drum sound he wanted or what reverbs to use i mean the thing is that when jimmy came to the mill he brought a load of his equipment with him because jimmy which also people don’t know is he’s an incredibly uh

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you know he’s really into equipment he’s really into technology the whole sound technology he had a desk at his uh previous house which was one of the first fully automated desks he had all these incredible sort of computer ideas and machines that would be uh running delays he had tons of rack equipment to do with reverbs and not reverse but delays that he used to use on robert plant’s voice so he was very very much into technology so i sort of assumed he was going to tell me what to do here but he didn’t he just sat back and kind of you know i got the feeling if i was doing something wrong he’d have said oh no now do this and um but he he very much let me get on with it when it came to more of his ideas as a producer i would say that was when we were doing the death wish uh 2 soundtrack because he had some great ideas and backwards pianos and he was much more it was the producer

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side of him that came out much more during that uh project he was really putting together singers he had plenty of ideas that’s for sure you know as i think he’s well absolutely great producer um very very uh good to work with in the studio you know good good atmosphere not telling people what you know not telling people what to do hopefully just putting together the right bunch of people like you did with zeppelin really you know that’s a good that’s a good way of doing it i mean put the right bunch of people together and then you don’t have to tell them to do anything do you because you know that they’re going to do the job the way you want it you know so so i think that’s how jimmy goes about stuff really because let’s face it he was in the music business and working in studios from such a young age as a as a and not everyone knows that either so as a top session guy you know going around the studios doing all the middle-of-the-road stuff god knows of some of the things he might have done he probably did adverts and all sorts of

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stuff apart from as we know playing with the kinks and playing on some big pop records so he was very very knowledgeable about the studio there wasn’t much he didn’t know about it you know he might want he might know what he wanted to play and that wasn’t always easy but he definitely didn’t have a problem with i want to do this idea so we’re doing that you know and actually those things are easier to uh to sort of have happen you know but um so definitely switched on producer no doubt about it yeah so when you’re recording him as it like now you’re in producer engineer mode you’re recording him are there any particular mics he prefers having his guitars recorded with like what is his approach technically in the studio very good question very good question i’ve forgotten that so i’ve got a very good answer for that because people will want to know this because this is this is different so what he would do is he he’d uh he he

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if we were doing a solo saying he’d do a few solos like most people would like you know he’d do one song do it again do it yeah but then what he do is he tell me to put all three solos up or all four solos up and i think blimey that’s that’s different so he’d play them all and then what he would do is he’d design a solo he designed a solo made up of the three or four or five solos and sometimes that was hard to follow and sometimes i’d think to ask him a lot of questions but then i i found it was better not to ask questions just to do try and do what he’s saying and it all turned out hopefully all right in the end so it might you know because i’ve done that i i’ve done many uh use many guitarists where you choose bits of their solos but it was um it was something when someone else is trying to tell you what to do it’s not quite so easy but basically he designed the solo

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in that way so there’d be two notes from that one one note from that one there might even be a part where there were two solos playing at the same time that’s what i mean it was quite complicated and hard to follow and there’d probably be times when i was thinking this is going to be awful you know this isn’t going to work but then we finish it we play it back and i think bloody hell that’s that’s bloody good that’s a bloody good solo and actually when i listen now to uh to zeppelin uh tracks and i hear a solo i can hear i can hear sort of how it’s been it’s been made up you know that it wasn’t always uh a live solo that’s a producer you know that’s a producer guitarist producing his own guitar solos also he used to use i don’t know about mike’s that was pretty much left to me but uh that’s also another good question because it’s i’m remembering back now and um the whole time i worked with jimmy we used an ac30

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dialed up to number 12 i would say it was definitely more than 10. and it was an ac30 and it was a particularly great one and it would be definitely almost flat down and then he would use he very rarely use the les paul in the studio if ever it would be the fender telecaster and and that combination was a massive sound he’d also use his string bender fender string bender a lot which that might have been a telecaster i’m not quite sure um you know you know do you know this string bender guitar yeah so so actually when you know and if you don’t know about that guitar that’s actually a bit of a you know it’s it gives his solos a lot of personality because you hear all this bendy stuff which you imagine you might have done with his finger but he does it with the uh it’s kind of like a country normally it would be for country sounds i guess but with it wound up to 10 you know it worked for rock absolutely

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but um so sound wise um yeah i don’t know what mike i probably would stick an 87 i’m sure on his uh ac30 and it was a it was a blasting sound yeah it’s a great sound great sound and actually i’m going to say it as well because i always i i often say this but i haven’t said it for a long time is that my favorite thing that jimmy would do is his rhythm playing yeah you know he’s he got this phenomenal way of um of like hitting the the chord right at the last millisecond you know on the downbeat so that’s going wow you know it just gives it gives it more power that way it’s not like in front of the b or way behind it it’s just as it’s coming up and when he was playing because i never got to work with him with with john bonham but uh you know when i put dave mattox i don’t know if you know the drum drama dave mattox but uh brilliant drama and him and jimmy because jimmy seems to work off of the drums you know not not the bass or not uh

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there’s not many other people in led zeppelin wasn’t it but all the vocal it was definitely him and bonham you know so they set up this great rhythm and drums and and i watched jimmy doing that with dave mattox and it was it was great because that he is a great rhythm player i i that’s one of the things that maybe even people don’t realize you know but for me in the studio his rhythm playing was uh very very good when you were working with jimmy page is there anything that he ever did in the studio that really surprised you like wow that’s an interesting way of approaching this or i never thought a guitar should do that like was there any one thing that stuck out to you everything surprised me because i’d never worked with anyone like that i’ve got a very good answer for that okay perfect answer right so we’re sitting there we’re doing death wish and we were using this guitar synth i mean that was surprising and then cause one guitar synth wasn’t enough so he had like the diet roll and bring down two two of these uh

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pedal boards and the and basically the guitar synth you could make it do all sorts of weird stuff like going up going up and down you know like swooping up the note and swooping down and jimmy would be tapping away on all these things you know and then he had another one brought in so it was surprising he did stand up through all that and not fall over but um but then we were in there one day and someone said his guitar tech suddenly said what about the theremin on this and i i never heard of a theron and i’m thinking what the hell is a theremin so then suddenly someone comes in with this big cardboard box with aerials sticking out of it and i’m sure there was like straw coming out of it as well and i just thought i thought they were having a joke on me you know i thought this was for my benefit and uh and they start setting this thing up and i’m just thinking i think i’ve seen everything now you know this is

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what the hell is this anyway so they set up this uh yeah i mean people who know the theremin they set up this aerial you know and then it’s connected to an echoplex tape and uh and then he’s doing all that business with the with the sick you know [Music] all that business and uh and i yeah i’d never heard of a theraman i mean i’ve checked it out you know i checked it out after that and found out it was a 19th century instrument and you know one of the early electronic earliest electronic instruments talk about surprising yeah that was but you see that’s the thing i mean jimmy was full of surprises you know you uh he was he’s that sort of a guy and that’s sort of a that’s that’s the way he sort of conducted himself i mean the whole fact he put you know zeppelin was a surprise wasn’t it if you were around you’re too young but when but when zeppelin arrived it was like what is that you know it was like i mean

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all right there were a lot of bands around at the time that were sort of similar but they were they were a phenomenon without a doubt you know i mean they were like um brilliant musicians not many of them i mean talking about a three piece really you know you’re talking about bass drums and guitar one guitar one bass and drums you know making this amazing sound great musicians and uh you know they also followed their own um they followed their own way didn’t they you know didn’t put out singles you know they wouldn’t do this we don’t do that we don’t do this you know they’re very much like designed they designed themselves you know so um you know that’s the background that jimmy came from like you say he’s considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time you know and that’s not bad actually what i always say now you know i often say and i’m very i think very lucky that this happened this way because i work

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with led zeppelin and i’m very proud of that is because a lot of young bands you know you say to them and they could be 15 or 16 or 18 and you say who’s your favorite man they say led zeppelin i said but led zeppelin disbanded 40 years ago you know isn’t there anything a little bit later on you know they go no no that’s up and that was it and that’s what’s happening unfortunately then you listen to their music and it’s nothing like led zeppelin you know because i’m always looking out for another lens happening when you’re working with jimmy in studio on tape how many takes do you guys do typically and like do you often double the takes afterwards like what was what was that aspect of it like it’s two different things really so first of all you said um how many takes would you do yeah yeah well um if i was working with gus it could be hundreds gus being elton john’s producer used to do many many takes with the rhythm section in the studio we might do 20 different takes of the same song and then what he would do is cut between

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them cut all the best takes together even only to make up a four minute track song so but but when you’re talking about that’s the difference between some pop productions and and a rock band because a rock band would tend to not want to do that a rock band like jimmy like with zeppelin i’m sure or with the fern is that you go out there and you do a great take and you go that’s the one basically they’d go out there and they’d get a good groove and then they go was it how was that and i’d go bloody brilliant come in and hear it and they go you’re right and that’s it and as i say even to the extent when you’re talking about double track vocals paul rodgers didn’t even want to do the song again he didn’t want to sing the song again let alone double track it that’s it it’s finished so basically what you’re talking about there is a band trying to reproduce what they might do live on stage in the studio and that’s quite a different um

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that’s quite a different thing to the way pop records are made now or even what records are made now where you’re layering and layering and layering you know and you’re using pro tools and you’re copying and pasting and all this sort of stuff it’s very very different and and basically yeah you still end up you can end up with amazing results absolutely and some might say you end up with better results but but then if you go back to some of the 70s music and 80s music which wasn’t done that way and you go wow that’s that’s better you know and then if you describe how it was recorded which was just four or five people playing live in the studio and an engineer recording it you go wow they’re geniuses you know compared to today unfortunately without getting too depressed about it [Music] you know musicians today i mean very difficult it’s not often you come across amazing drummers like john bonham

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incredible singers like paul rogers and amazing producer guitarists like jimmy page you talk about jimmy page he was playing guitar when he was about eight you know and only wanted to be a great guitarist you know not being the biggest band in the world he probably had no idea about that he just wanted to be a great guitarist and be playing live you know and so he made it his thing to be that person and the same with paul rogers as far as singing was concerned not to be the greatest songwriter in the world not to be in the biggest man he just wanted to be able to sing the best and that’s what i say to a lot of youngsters and hopefully someone that are watching is that you know try not to be everything and and it’s not actually very possible to be everything in music you know but try and be the best at even just one thing is is sometimes definitely good enough that’s unfortunately what a lot of youngsters they want to be the singer

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the guitarist the bass player the producer the engineer the writer this that and the other you know unfortunately not so many uh records are done these days in teams of people and the best teams of people being bands that’s where the best music was made within you know i mean with a little with a lot of heartache a lot of the time a lot of screaming and shouting and pulling and pushing and this that and the other but but out of it came some great music.

Record Producer Stuart Epps Gold Disc For His Work With The Firm