Here I am at a rural church in Worcestershire countryside where one of the world’s best drummers ended up after a typical rock-n-roll death. John’s distinctive sound with super-group Led Zeppelin deemed him irreplaceable and they disbanded after his death.
He was born in Redditch (not far from this grave) and started banging on stuff from five years old, hitting containers and tins. When he was ten his mum bought him a snare drum and when he was fifteen his dad bought him a full drum kit. Still at school he joined the Blue Star Trio. Over the years there must have been armies of teenagers like him and when John’s headmaster wrote "He will either end up a dustman or a millionaire" he probably doubted it would be the latter. He was right for John was a multi-millionaire in his twenties having made seminal albums with Led Zeppelin followed by lucrative world tours. I’ve got the most of the LP’s myself, the fourth one being the whopper.
I won’t go into all the groups John was in before Led Zep but he was soon semi-professional (while working as a carpenter through the day time) and he soon became well known for his power and speed. He was drumming full time by aged twenty-six and had met his future wife Pat. (His drum solo entitled "Pat's Delight," later "Moby Dick", often lasted 30 minutes.)
In September 1980 Led Zep were in Windsor rehearsing for a tour of North America. They hadn’t toured there for three years and were practising. John was collected in the morning and asked to stop for some breakfast. He swigged down four quadruple vodka Screwdrivers (equating to 16 shots.) The drinking continued (40% vodka shots) as the band rehearsed through the afternoon. They stopped early evening and went to Jimmy Page's house in Windsor. John who was quite drunk fell asleep after midnight and was taken to bed and laid on his side. The next afternoon he had not appeared and was found unresponsive. The inquest found John had consumed approximately 40 shots and his body had tried to naturally disgorge the excess. However he was so drunk he was still unconsciousness and choked on the vomit. He had been taking heroine intermittently for years but none was found in his blood. He had been taking Motival for anxiety but the inquest could not conclude if this acted with the alcohol to bring about death.
Led Zeppelin lost one of the best drummers ever and disbanded. John’s family lost more. He left behind a wife, two kids and two younger siblings. Family tree branches still reach across to a village near the grave. Rich from world tours John had bought The Old Hyde farm to store his huge car and motorcycle collection and they still own it.
While walking round the churchyard I was startled by three loud sudden gun shots (I suppose this was deep countryside) but couldn’t see anyone. I was hoping I might see a burglar who’d had his leg shot off by a rich farmer but did not. I was going to nick a couple of drumsticks off the grave but put them back thinking I’d be cursed. I wandered in the church and found the visitor’s book full of entries from people from Sweden, Iraq, Canada, Oz – everywhere. It’s uplifting to know geeks like me are out there. I couldn’t find any entry in the book saying stuff like “organ wonderful” or “church bell end is a beauty!” but every line related to the famous resident. I saved the life of a fly. I saw one stuck on the wall inside the church. It was so motionless I think it was plastic but when I touched it I saw it fall to the floor. I put it on my finger and put it on a bench outside, dropping a patina of saliva in front of it. It must have needed a drink as it soon flew off. I soon flew off myself – I just nipped back into the church to preach to the imaginary flock about animal welfare (someone has to) and went. I doubt I’ll pass this way again so I waved at John’s grave and drove away.
The visitors book showed how many people had visited John…
The church was in the middle of rural Worcestershire. Around the church were a couple of houses and a community building…