Why did Led Zeppelin split-up after John Bonham died?

In many ways, drummer John Bonham was Led Zeppelin. A rhythmic titan that fused the jazz flourishes of his hero Gene Krupa with a natural thunder that only a few are blessed with, Bonham facilitated the dynamism of all of the band’s best-loved moments, from the winding genius of ‘Black Dog’ to his defining moment, ‘Moby Dick’.

It reflects Bonham’s importance to Led Zeppelin that they almost immediately called it a day following his tragic death in 1980. Whilst the group might have had oscillating personal relationships throughout the 1970s as their fame was at its peak, they had entered the new decade reinvigorated. Unlike many of their peers, they had survived punk, new wave and post-punk, and after a successful low-key European tour, they had decided to return to America for another run.

However, things would take a dark turn, and less than a month before the band reasserted themselves across the Atlantic, Bonham died, and just like that, Led Zeppelin was over. What had once been a cultural force so potent it even knocked The Beatles off their perch quietly faded away into the night.

“When we lost John, we agreed unanimously that that was that,” frontman Robert Plant explained shortly after Bonham’s death. “I had to go and find out if I really want to do it. Did I want to do it, or did I just want to sit back there like a croupier at a gambling thing, and just kind of rake [the money] in. Or, did I want to actually continue this kind of gig of finding out where I’m going. I wanted to take all the trappings away, because I’d lost my best mate.”

This sentiment was echoed when the group’s surviving members, Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist John Paul Jones, appeared on Letterman in 2012. Asked by the host if carrying on with another drummer ever crossed their minds, Page revealed that hiring someone else would have been too complicated. The songs had changed drastically from their original form on the records due to their propensity to improvise live. Bonham was the key to all of this.

He explained: “No. No. The fact was, we had the records out, and then we put the songs into the set, and it was almost like another beginning, a second wind for the songs, because they were changing every night with the improvisation we were putting in, and there was no way with the amount of work and mutation that had gone on with those songs, that we could say to another drummer, ‘Well, can you learn this bit and can you learn that bit?” It just wouldn’t work.”

Watch Led Zeppelin on Letterman below.

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