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Mick Hinton, Feb. 20, 1972
Mick Hinton, Sep. 14, 1974
Mick Hinton, Apr. 30, 1977

Drums and Percussion (1971-80)

Mick Hinton was John Bonham's roadie, assistant and loyal companion from 1971 until John's death in 1980. Today, Mick lives a quieter life, well away from the rock'n'roll circus. When John died Mick was offered large sums of money to tell his story. "I didn't really have a story." he says. "Because all they ever want is sex and drugs, and I wouldn't reveal that and never will." Mick is however happy to talk about his real job, looking after the world's greatest rock drummer.

Hear it through the grapevine

During the '60s, Mick worked with bands like Mr. Lucifer and Uriah Heap and roading for Ginger Baker after the break-up of Cream. He hung out at a bar called La Chasse in Wardour Street next to the old Marquee club. La Chasse was a meeting place for rock musicians and roadies, and Mick was approached through the grapevine by Led Zeppelin's formidable tour manager Ricard Cole. "He offered me a tour starting in Belfast at 15 quid a week. I said, 'No, it's not enough'. Then Peter Grant (Led Zeppelin's larger-than-life manager) phone and said, 'Come on, I'll pay you 30 quid', and I said yes. Three of us started at the same time and we met the band on the ferry to Belfast."

Mick's first gig was the Belfast Ulster Hall on 5 March 1971. "They were on the third album by then. They were big in the states, but not that big over here. My job was to have the kit in exactly the same position every night. Everything was geared to him playing immediately without making any adjustments. I'd code the stands with different coloured tape, and I used jubilee clips (proto-memory locks) so everything was the same height every night. We had a riser with holes drilled for all the tom legs, spurs and hi-hat. The holes were about a half-inch deep so everything slotted in. And I'd put a strip of gaffer tape over each leg to stick it to the floor. I got Ludwig to drill holes in the front bass drum hoop so I could stick a bolt through to anchor the bass drum down. If I hadn't anchored that bass drum down I promise you it would have been in row four the first time he hit it."

When Mick joined John he was using the famous Green Sparkle Ludwig kit for recording, rehearsing and touring. Apparently it was a double kit with two bass drums, two top toms and two floor toms. "He only ever used the single bass drum," Mick explains. "And I had the other set up as a spare - a 26" bass drum, 14" tom and a cymbal arm mounted on the bass drum. It was an exact replica, tuned the same, so if a skin went, all you had to do was take that part of the kit out. He used a Rogers hi-hat pedal and Ludwig Speedking bass pedal with a wooden beater. He hit the bass drum so hard that sometimes the beater would fly off and he'd put the road through the bass drum head. It happened the first time out and I wasn't expecting it. After that, if I saw the beater go, I'd get in there and pull his foot off the pedal and put another complete Speedking on. Sometimes it was too late because he played so fast. I just couldn't fathom whenI first started how he played so quick. He told me that one day he was going to do two bass drums; it was on his mind for a long time. We set them up in rehearsal and it was just so loud. Jimmy said 'You can't do that', and he never did."

Breaking sticks and records

Mick also kept a spare snare drum ready on a stand in case the snare batter head broke. For such a heavy hitter, John rarely broke cymbals, although, not suprisingly, he got through quite a few sticks. "Every tour I'd phone Ludwig and ask for a gross (144) of sticks. They were Ludwig 2A hickory. I'd go through them and put the bent ones to one side and then throw them out to the audience. Sometimes I'd bang them on the table to make it look like he'd used them.

"We used Remo heads, (CS) black dots. It was always the 14"x6-1/2" metal snare. And I introduced the Gretsch 42-strand snare to him - I got hi to try it out and he loved it. There was no damping in the bass drum at all, no felt strip, just a Dr Scholl's moleskin patch (where the beater impacted). He tuned it up fairly high, but his great thing was the snare drum. That had to be absolutely spot on, so he tuned it himself. I'd take his snare drum down to the dressing room on its stand with a pair of stick. But I don't think he wamed up. They came on-stage and there was never any tuning up or anything, it was straight into the first number. Soon as he sat down he'd be off. He made sure the snare was tuned and I tuned the rest, mostly to his liking. I'd tune the bottom heads quite tight but I don't think I ever changed them. The top heads were slacker than the bottoms, but his sound was more to do with the way he played - it was nothing to do with me."

Mick's box of tricks

One thing that's always puzzled many drummers is how Bonham managed to use a 24" ride cymbal on a relatively unstable bass drum mount. "You'd be amazed how tight I could do that," says Mick. "I had a heavy duty spanner. I had so many spares in a wooden flight case about six foot by three foot, with a tray in the top for the cymbals. I carried spare symbals but we never used them. I'd check the cymbals every night for cracks. It took me about three hours to set up and that included miking. We used mostly Shure SM57s. The bass drum had three mics, two in front and one on the batter. Two on the snare, above and below, one on each tom and two overheads. Then one pointing directly, almost horizontal, at the side of the hi-hat. One on the gong and one on each timp. Our main soundman was Rusty Brutsche who co-owned Showco in Dallas, Texas. They did all the PA and the lighting. He was really good and that's why the band never did any soundchecks after the first night of each tourr. John had a huge monitor behind him, made by Showco. John's mix was a lot of drums, especially snare and kick, a lot of guitar and some bass. Voice and keyboards weren't that important to what he wanted to hear.

"I think he probably was the greatest rock drummer ever," says Mick. "That's really what motivated me to get in with Led Zeppelin. He did a 25-minute solo every night, and half of that with his bare hands. They'd be cut and bleeding and he just did it again the next night - no Elastoplasts or anything."

After John died Mick says the band did briefly consider various replacements. "John had always liked Cozy Powell and he was mentioned, and so were various other people, but as you know it didn't come to anything. I was living in Cornwall at the time and [the band] said,'We want to give you something'. Not money but a business, like a tobacconist or something. But I couldn't find anything. In the end they sent me a cheque for £14,999 and 99p - because if it had been 15 grand I'd have to pay tax. So I paid off the mortgage on my cottage - and spent the rest very frivously."

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