John Bonham

Drummer John "Bonzo" Bonham broke musical ground with hard-rock pioneers Led Zeppelin before his accidental death ended the band's career.

He was born John Henry Bonham on May 31, 1948, in Redditch, England.

Bonham's place in rock history was precipitated by the split of another pioneering British rock band, the Yardbirds, in 1968. When Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page set about forming a new band, he recruited session keyboardist/bassist John Paul Jones and singer Robert Plant. Plant, in turn, recommended Bonham, with whom he played in Birmingham, England's Band of Joy.

The foursome christened itself the New Yardbirds, but changed the name to Led Zeppelin in response to Who drummer Keith Moon's remark that the group would sink like a lead zeppelin.

Zeppelin's eponymous 1969 debut took only two months to reach the top 10 of the Billboard albums chart. In addition to featuring the classics "Communication Breakdown" and "Dazed and Confused" (RealAudio excerpt), the album also offered the first glimpse of Bonham's sparse, monolithic approach to the drums.

The group released Led Zeppelin II the same year as their debut, and Led Zeppelin III a year later. Tunes such as "Immigrant Song" and "Gallows Pole" further defined the band's groundbreaking mix of folk, blues and hard rock. The group's untitled 1971 fourth LP is its biggest seller, thanks to such radio favorites as "Stairway to Heaven" (RealAudio excerpt), "Rock and Roll" and "Black Dog."

Houses of the Holy (1973) included such riff-centric classics as "Dancing Days" and "The Ocean." By the time the double LP Physical Graffiti was released in 1975, Led Zeppelin were the undisputed kings of rock and its most popular touring act.

In addition to their pioneering work in music, the band also broke ground within the realm of rock star excess, often with Bonham leading the charge. Led Zeppelin's exploits included the routine trashing of hotel rooms, heavy drug and alcohol use and liaisons with groupies. The band's mystique was enhanced by Page's supposed interest in the occult.

The band released the quadruple-platinum Presence in 1976 and In Through the Out Door in 1978. On Sept. 25, 1980, as the group was preparing to tour, Bonham died of asphyxiation at Page's house. Medical authorities said the drummer inhaled his vomit during sleep induced by heavy drinking. That December, the remaining bandmembers announced they would not continue without Bonham. However, the drummer's son, Jason, has played drums with Zeppelin at various reunion performances.

The band recently released the greatest-hits sets Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin Vol. 1 (1999) and Latter Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin Vol. 2 (2000).

Zeppelin also recently became one of only three acts to have four or more diamond albums, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Diamond status signifies more than 10 million copies shipped. The four albums are II, the untitled fourth album, Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti.

Innumerable musicians have imitated or sampled Bonham's booming style, including the Beastie Boys, who liberally sampled Zeppelin's early work on their 1986 album, Licensed to Ill.

Other birthdays Wednesday: Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul and Mary), 62; Augie Meyers (Texas Tornados), 60; Corey Hart, 38; Wendy Smith (Prefab Sprout), 37; Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels (Run D.M.C.), 36; and Scott Klopfenstein (Reel Big Fish), 23.