Whole Lotta Glove: When John Bonham punched Robert Plant in the mouth over £30 worth of petrol

John Bonham and Robert Plant during a rehearsal in Hiroshima, Japan, 1971
(Image credit: Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images)

We lost perhaps the greatest, most influential rock drummer of all time on this day in 1980. It's fair to say John Bonham was a handful both behind and in front of the kit, boasting what Keith Richards, talking of Charlie Watts, called a "drummer’s punch - a punch I’ve seen a couple of times and it’s lethal."

By 1971, Led Zeppelin had embarked on their biggest, longest and most gruelling world tour to-date. However, by the time the band took to the stage at Tokyo's Budokan Hall on September 23, Robert Plant was sporting a split lip. 

According to CM Kushin’s Bonham biography, Beast: John Bonham and the Rise of Led Zeppelin, the injury was caused by John Bonham socking Plant in the kisser moments before taking to the stage.

It’s really none of your fucking business, it’s just between me and Bonzo

Robert Plant

Recalling the incident, which followed a night of madness at the Tokyo Hilton hotel where Bonham reached peak Bonzo by chopping up every piece of furniture in his room, along with the door to John Paul Jones' room to bits with a Samurai sword he'd just purchased, the book explains that the root of Bonham’s flying fists was a dispute over £30 of petrol.

The story goes that Bonzo had filled-up a car with petrol while the pair were on a roadtrip in Scotland, and continued to nag the Zeppelin frontman for reimbursement for many weeks after. 

Presumably with the strain of touring beginning to show, coupled with a boatload of booze on-board, Bonham chose the final minutes before going on stage to dredge up the subject once more.

Beast… explains that Plant disputed the debt, and was left in disbelief at the drummer’s decision to revisit the argument right before the gig. The argument escalated, and Bonham threw a punch Plant’s way. 

Plant was allegedly still dabbing the blood from his lip as the band were called to the stage, with Bonham later telling Zeppelin tour manager Richard Cole, “Robert and I have known each other for so long that there’s never any maliciousness in these fights. We just lose our tempers sometimes.”  

Meanwhile Plant told questioning reporters, telling questioning reporters after the show, “It’s really none of your fucking business, it’s just between me and Bonzo.”

Of course, following the argument Zeppelin went on to perform two triumphant nights at the Budokan, although we can’t confirm whether or not Bonham ever got his petrol money. And you thought the current fuel crisis was bad… 

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.