JOHN BONHAM AND ME
A True Story by Steve Acker
STEVE ACKER JOHN BONHAM
There's a pivotal scene in the movie "Almost Famous" that's set at
Swingo's Celebrity Hotel in Cleveland, 1977. Kate Hudson as
supergroupie Penny Lane calls it "the hippest hotel in America."
Or something to that effect.
Well, I had the good fortune to live at Swingo's for about three
months in the summer of '77. My band LAW had been on the road
for three months and Cleveland was our last stop.. Soon LAW was
working on its third album and I didn't have a home at the time.
Somehow our manager Gary LoConti swung a deal that allowed me
to stay at Swingo's and even dine in their restaurant twice a day.
What a scene! Every day, there was a new set of stars staying at the
hotel, and I hung out with many of them. The Average White Band, the
Crusaders, Ray Charles, Melissa Manchester...it was great fun.
Led Zeppelin stayed there for a week in mid-July, occupying the two
floors just above mine. They were flying out to various Midwest gigs
and flying back the same night. The week culminated in two concerts in
Cleveland, Friday and Saturday nights.
Friday night, after the show, Swingo's was swinging just like it was
in the movie. Reporters, paparazzi, groupies. It was wild. The hotel
lounge was called the Keg and Quarter and after the concert all the
members of Led Zeppelin were there. So was I. I was sitting at the bar
having a conversation with one of Cleveland's most prominent groupies.
I observed John Bonham. He was smashed. Totally drunk. I watched as he
spotted someone across the room he wanted to speak to. He literally
plowed through the crowd, rudely shoving people out of his way.
The young lady I was speaking with told me that he had tried to get her to go to his room with
him, but she turned him down. She was holding out for Jimmy Page.
That's when Bonham stopped in front of me. He glanced at the groupie with
a dull, stupid look on his face, then focused on me. Without a word,
he suddenly reached out, took my bright blue rock and roll glasses off
my face, twisted them 'til they broke, and handed them back to me. Oh
shit! He could have had my friend, for all I cared. He could have spit
in my face. He could have done just about anything. But fuck with my
glasses?! Fuck him!
Without thinking I grabbed a glass ash tray on the bar and smashed it
against the asshole's head. In a split second his bodyguard throttled
me against the bar, and the bartender, with whom I had become
friendly, reached over the bar to push him away.
It was over in a few seconds. I was furious and embarrassed and stunned
for a few minutes. Storming out of the bar I called Gary and told him
what had happened. Gary suggested that I threaten to file assault
charges against Bonham and his bodyguard Saturday afternoon so that
the arrest would force Zeppelin to cancel the show. That sounded good.
So I found one of Zeppelin's crew who happened to be road manager
Richard Cole's top assistant. I demanded $500 for my broken
glasses...or else. He tried to bargain with me, but I was in no mood
to bargain. Five hundred bucks, that's the deal.
The next morning I went down to the front desk and there was an
envelope in my mailbox. It contained five one-hundred dollar bills. No
note. No release form, just $500.
Years later I learned from LAW's manager Gary LoConti, that they
good reason to pay me.
"Didn't you ever wonder why they paid you that money so easily?" he
asked. Then he told me that he called a friend of his on the Cleveland Police
that night and that two huge off-duty cops knocked on Bonham's door and
told him they would break his arms if he didn't pay me, or something
to that effect.
So he paid me. LOL!
One week later, John Bonham was arrested in a famous incident in San
Francisco. He assaulted one of concert promoter Bill Graham's stage
Bonham was definitely one of rock's greatest drummers. But he was a
miserable and ugly human being when he was drunk. I wasn't at all surprised
when he killed himself with an overdose of vodka a couple of years later.