Posted May, 2011
I remember the first time that I saw the epic Led Zeppelin movie, The Song Remains The Same. It was during the long Thanksgiving weekend of 1976. I distinctly remember the collage of family footage of the Bonham family that were intertwined within the footage of John “Bonzo” Bonham’s signature drum solo during Moby Dick.
Among the various scenes of Bonzo with his lovely wife, the lovely Pat Phillips, walking the country side or driving one of his favorite hot rods or chopper. What I found (and still find) particularly cool, though, is scenes of his young son, Jason, playing on a miniature, clear drum kit with all the coolness, seriousness and confidence in the world.
Fast forward to 2011.
Watching footage of a now 45 year old Jason, on a near exact, “grown up” version of that drum set, one still sees the same coolness, seriousness and confidence as he plays for his own band as well as a wide variety of other groups. The most notorious performance being, of course, the one show reunion of his dad’s Zeppelin band mates for the Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert in 2007 in London. Clearly, his dad would continue to beam with uncontainable pride watching his son pound the skins.
Bonham Sr., would also be very proud of Jason’s show, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, currently touring the U.S. One would be sadly mistaken if they thought that this was some lame attempt of a Zeppelin tribute band. In fact, Jason addressed that question during a recent phone interview.
“Well, one thing I kind of give it is that I’ve actually played with the band a couple of times and had some moments in authenticity. First and foremost JBLZE is a concert. But I give it a slightly different angle from the story content of the show and I release and show some very tender and pure moments that not many people have seen such as my dad as a child growing up with his father and interacting with his own family and his brother and his children.
“And, you know, this is a man that would grow up to be the Beast, the guy--Bonzo, the legendary guy that was one of the first to throw a TV set through a window. But realistically he was my dad and just an everyday guy, really. So within the context of the show I talk a little about him as a personal person, you know, as a guy that I knew not so much as the guy that you know as ‘Bonzo’, but as my father. I show some of the moments we shared together which were and are, you know, very cherished now.
“We didn’t live in the era of everything being recordable on your phone and very easily accessible. So when you see these moments, they’re very few and far between as my Dad could record and capture. And also, I like to touch on the love I have of the music, playing with the guys every kind of song that has a different story, a different element of where I put it in the show. And each song is chosen for a reason. There’s nothing we’ve put there because it was a popular song or whatever.
“I have a story for each one. But the music does the talking in itself and I just, tell a few moments that were not spoken too much about, the reasons I do certain songs in the set and my own personal take on when I played them with Led Zeppelin.
“So that’s why it’s my, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience and this is where, I suppose, it’s different from the others. But obviously one of the major differences is I have been lucky enough to have played with the band a couple of times. Not many of them can say that . . .”
For most of us who love music, certain songs serve as benchmarks to our soul, tied to memories and events that are burned into our minds that turn up, front and center, and the sound of the first notes. Bonham shares his personal memories behind his choice of songs for his Experience show.
“Well for me the song choices had to be everything that meant something to me. From my first memory of hearing Zeppelin, which was Your Time is Going to Come. The song is in the show, all my life from the first moment I ever heard that song it stood out to me, since as a child I was terrified of church organists (re the song intro). Other key early memories of Led Zeppelin for me, was the black and white TV Danish TV special which included, Babe I’m Going to Leave You. That was a key moment and I always thought Lemon Song was a key moment for me from the early days of Zeppelin.”
While those are Bonham’s “special memory” tunes, they are aren’t considered his favorite songs. When asked what his favorite Zep song is, he replied, “Well, there is always going to be two, there’s number one which is Kashmir and The Rain Song. And while I didn’t do The Rain Song on the last tour and this time around, I never really imagined this thing to be taken in as well as it has been, to be honest. But since we’re in this position now where we can go out there with our heads held high, I wanted to make sure that this time we have some of the later Zeppelin.
“On the second half of the show this time we’re having songs like The Rain Song, Achilles’ Last Stand, and In the Light, which is another rare one which Zeppelin never, ever did live. So I always come and try and keep some element of a natural show and make it a little unique.”
With what I consider to be the most touching statement by Jason, he shares the story behind the more surreal parts of the show.
“We do When The Levee Breaks, which is a wonderful part of the show and one of my favorites, because I get to play with Dad like when I do Moby Dick - it’s a moment when I’m actually playing with my father.
“We didn’t have two drum kits in our house. So when I get to do this these days it’s, you know, really for the first time ever that we actually get to play in tandem together because, sadly, we never did in real life. We never actually got to experience that. I’ve read in many articles that my father had said, ‘My son plays drums and I’d really love for him to play next to me at the Royal Albert Hall.’
“That means so much to me, especially when, at the start of the tour I had no idea that the first part of Moby Dick that I use to solo with dad on the screens where we play in tandem is his original performance at the Royal Albert Hall.
“So in essence I actually get to fulfill one of his wishes as well as mine: to play with him. And then somebody pointed out, ‘Well, what’s it like being the kid who’s now the old man playing with the young kid?’ Because now I’m playing live along with my father, who’s 22 years younger than me in the clip.
“It’s kind of a twist on things but, you know, I try and give it a - make it as real as possible to make it. There’s no fake in the show, you’re there. You’re exposed to all the elements that could go wrong, but it’s heartfelt and that’s what makes it very unique.
“Each night’s a different feeling, and a different experience to the people coming. The people that come share stories with me after the show as much as I share stories with them during the show. And that’s been one of the key elements of keeping this thing going: the story, the fans, the letters I get and receive and it’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience for me. The tour is something that I will treasure because I’ve learned so much about my father, more so than I ever imagined I would know - from just the moments where people met him in their life and captured, photographs of them together and - yeah, it’s been very special."
Closing out his thoughts about his song choices for the show, Bonham says, “The song choices will always be a key part of this because I listen to what the fans say but I also want to keep it as true as I can. We’ll never do a song we don’t think we can do well. So, if for some reason there’s certain songs we don’t do in the show, we probably haven’t tried it yet or we have tried it, and it wasn’t up to standard. We’ll only do the best ones we can so they sound the best.”
When asked how he feels playing his dad’s part on the songs, expecting a short answer like, “Weird” or “Surreal”, I’m surprised at the thoroughness of his answer.
“To go out and play these songs on a nightly basis on a tour like this is a big task to take in and I try and stay as true as I can to what I grew up on. Most of that is generally The Song Remains the Same version, which is a major part of my performance. The people who really know the movie, they’ll know some of the things that I might change from the album which would be the live version to what I remember, you know? Like my version of “Kashmir” is more from the version of how dad would play it.
“In my head I have all these, outlines, sketches of what I’m taking different versions of Dad actually performing. And I try and stay as true as I can to those - mixing up the different styles as he evolved. One thing it was made clear to me at one point and something that Dad could never do- was go back through time.
“Now I can play a song like, A Whole Lotta Love, and sometimes I like to put drum fills in that he did from the Presence period, so I get to mix the two together. It’s something that he hadn’t done yet, I mean, he hadn’t starting playing that way. So you can incorporate the two different styles of how he progressed as he got older as a player and mix them into the one time period. At the same time I try to stay as true to the original groove as I possibly can which, with the wonders of bootleggers now, there’s copies of the drum track of Whole Lotta Love on the internet. I get a hold of those and listen to the nitty-gritty of what actually was playing and it’s very funky. It was a lot funkier than people really remember.
“So, it’s been a wonderful learning experience to actually go back and study the music again. I really do feel like sometimes I’m hearing it for the first time - it’s been that much of a learning curve. Recently, we just added a couple of different songs into the set which we started before I left to come to England.
“In just the very first rehearsal for the spring shows, I said to the guys, “If we get it that good on the first night, I’ll be happy. We did The Rain Song first and it sent the hairs on the back of my neck up. It’s such a beautiful piece of music; I can’t wait to perform it live. Such great drum parts, such beauty within a song in itself, these days you don’t write a song where you go right into the next segment and don’t have any vocals for another minute and a half. Nobody does that anymore.
“As I said, I try and stay as true as I can to the different performances and I think on the next tour what we’re going to, hopefully, do is have some kind of description of where we get the ideas from within a program or something. So people can actually do their homework after and go, ‘Well, yeah, I see why he did that version.’”
Later in the chat, Bonham shares who the band is made up of.
“On guitar is a friend of mine Tony Catania who’s been playing on and off with me for 20 years or more now, he is from Long Island. Big Zep fan, big Hendrix fan, big Floyd fan - just an all around good guitarist that really excels on these songs. I know some people have seen the YouTube clips that people have put up and now obviously the news is out there but before we did the first tour, we did not tell anybody who was in the band. I didn’t want anyone to have a prejudged idea of what we might sound like until we actually played because then people could make their own judgments. This worked because there was no preconceived idea.
“The singer himself, James Dylan, I found on the internet through a virtual Zeppelin Website. He’s now fantastic if you go onto YouTube clips look him up doing That’s The Way. I saw it and went, ‘Okay, he’s in.’ What really pleased me was the fact that he didn’t have brown curly hair and he wasn’t, you know, a look-alike. The last thing I wanted to do is go out there and do a dress up that would have felt weird."
“I’ll play on my Vistalite which is a play on what my Dad used to use but it’s a slightly different color, it’s yellow rather than amber. I wear the bowler hat for a couple of songs as a tongue-in-cheek reminder and a tip-of-the-hat to the master himself. As far as the dress up, no, it’s about the music and the love and the passion that we all have for it.
“On keyboards is Stephen LeBlanc - another fantastic musician all around. He plays guitar and he plays rap steel - he plays numerous instruments. We all agreed that everyone had to have the knowledge that we all had musically, if we called it out, we could play it, you know?
“On this leg of the tour I have a friend of mine that’s had prior commitments, some scheduling issues and he actually auditioned another bass player for me that’s going to be on this tour: Dorean Heartsong. Dorean is a wonderful bass player who was found by my original bass player, Michael Devin, who had a prior commitment with his other band, Whitesnake. Michael found me a phenomenal bass player that gelled with us all from the get-go.”
The subject of how long this show will be offered came up. One can tell that he’s given this matter some careful, serious thought.
“Well if you’d have asked me that about a year ago I’d have said it was going to be a one-time deal. The stories that people have shared with me over the last 12 months, and onward since the first round, inspired me. I spoke to my mom and she said, ‘Listen, you’re representing the family here and I appreciate you doing it.’ She came out to see the show and said, ‘You know, I was a little skeptical at first, but the show is so wonderfully put together and it’s very special.’ She said, ‘Please continue this for me as long as you feel comfortable doing it.’”
“I’m, hopefully, filming one of the shows on the tour. I know we’re doing the Greek at the end of the tour and that would be a wonderful thing to document. I was very overwhelmed when they told me we were going to do the Greek because I’ve seen so many great bands there over the years. I was like, ‘Wow! I’m doing the Greek!’ Especially with the way it’s been going this year and I just look at it like this: as long as the demand’s there, I enjoy playing this music and as a representation of my father and the family and the music he created with Jimmy and John Paul and Robert.
“I feel very honored and blessed that people want to go and see it, as I say, we will only do it while people want to experience it. The last thing I want to do is tarnish something so beautiful that is held so highly in my thoughts. So it’s one of those things I always say, ‘Come and see it because it might not be here next time.’”
Since the subject of his mother came up, Bonham was asked to share some thoughts about his dad.
“Sure. A lot of people always ask me what kind of music I was into when I was younger, you know, when dad was alive. My dad got me into a band called The Police, which, at the time, my dad had a blue vinyl version of Outlandos d’Amour, which we still might have somewhere so I’ll keep that - treasure it. But he took me to see The Police and it was a cool moment. I had never, I mean, I had never been to a concert with my Dad ever before.
“I remember we also saw the Osmond’s and Bay City Rollers. Yes, Dad did take me to see the Osmond’s and I saw Marie Osmond with her hair in curlers which ruined the illusion at the time. But I fondly remember The Police and it was a very, very cool concert and I remember my Dad put me on his shoulders so I could see the band better.
“He got us backstage afterwards so we could say ‘hello’ and it was just a great moment when my Dad stepped on Sting’s foot and he was wearing blue suede shoes at the time and Sting said something like ‘Don’t step on my blue suede shoes’. My Dad turned to him and said ‘I’ll step on your head in a minute.’ So that was a nice father, son relationship - the meeting of old and new. It was quite funny looking across and seeing Andy and Stewart sniggering underneath and I’m thinking, ‘Dad, come on! Don’t cause any trouble!’
“We had some very special times. Dad was a gentle giant really. He was a sweet, you know, nervous kind of guy. You’d never imagine that we’d sit and drive. I used to race dirt bikes, so on the weekends, when he was home, he would always be the first one up making the sandwiches in the morning. We’d get in the Range Rover and head off to the race.
“If it was a three hour drive we’d listen to Rumours (by Fleetwood Mac) about four or five times on the way and he was very into his, you know, it was usually Rumours and Steve - Buffalo Springfield - Stephen Stills album or Neil Young or Crosby, Stills and Nash and, Abandoned Luncheonette, Hall & Oates’ first album.
“I found some footage now which I’ve got on film and also audio of Dad being interviewed in ’72 which is really special. One of the extra special ones is the interview from 1970 is a reporter asks, ‘Do you have any family?’ He goes, ‘Oh, I’ve got a wife and a son called Jason and he’s a drummer.’ The interviewer says, ‘Oh, really?’ ‘Yeah’, he says, ‘He’s four years old now. His technique is crap, but he’s got good time. My ambition is that one day he’ll play next to me at the Royal Albert Hall.’ And just reading some of those moments were very, you know, kind of things that you, well I had forgotten what he sounded like."
“You know when you suddenly take things for granted somebody says, what did he sound like and I went, I have no idea. I can’t remember. That hurt me, that the fact I couldn’t remember his voice. So when I found this audio of him talking and the strangest thing was at first I thought it was me because we sound very similar.
“But yeah, this tour, no matter how old I get I don’t know if it’s because I’ve just become more of a sensitive kind of person, but the hardship is some of these songs to perform them live, they just trigger emotions off of me, memories that some people won’t understand what are you crying for. It’s just moments in my childhood or my past where I go oh my god, I remember doing this.
“We started doing My Brother Jake in the show - which is an old Free song - and I remembered when my dad used to put it on the jukebox and make me play it when I was eight years old. It sent me back to when I was a kid. I closed my eyes and I was looking out and my mom and dad were watching me. It was very special. These songs mean so much to me, they really do. There isn’t any other way of doing this but honestly and people see this in the show.”
“So yeah he was a very sweet guy that, as I say, you all know as this ‘Beast’, this animal, but he was actually kind of a quiet chap at home.”
At the tender age of 11, one would have to wonder if Bonham really understood what a big deal his dad and his band mates were at the time.
“Yes and no. I was 11 years old and I remember coming over to the Tampa Bowl Stadium when the riot happened and 78,000 people suddenly decided that’s is wasn’t not fair and if they weren’t coming back on stage we’ll have a piece of them. As an 11-year-old you still don’t really get it, you’re like okay, that’s what my Dad does. I didn’t know anything else.
“It was normal that Dad played in the band. That was normal. So for me when the real thought process came about, it was much later after he died and much later still - not till I was about 30 - that I suddenly appreciated it, as well, and understood what dad had done in his life.
“When I got the chance to play with them in 2007, which is four years ago now, I had just turned 40 so for me to do that, it was a great feeling to get the chance to go back in there, listen to it all again, study it and to know I’ve really done my homework this time.
“So yeah, that was the realization, full circle. That’s when you suddenly go, ‘Wow, they were good!’”
The conversational gears shifted from the Experience tour to his work with former Deep Purple bassist, Glenn Hughes, keyboardist, Derek Sherinian (Alice Cooper, Kiss, Alice In Chains), and guitar phenomenon, Joe Bonamassa, in the super group, Black Country Communion. Jason is, obviously, very stoked about the band.
“Yeah, I have a new album coming out with Black Country Communion which comes out in June which is going exceedingly well. I am very, very pleased with the new album. It’s definitely more of a group effort on this project. It went from a side project to a band which definitely on the second album I was able to get involved more with the writing part of it this time and became a lot more - felt a lot more - comfortable as a person in the band. And it went very, very well.
“There’s a song (on the new album) that started off as an idea that I worked on with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, so I was happy to finish it off with this band and have it come out. I’m looking forward to hitting the road in June. As soon as I literally finish with (Paul Rodgers) on Friday here in England, I’m starting the tour with JBLZE . . . and then, when it ends, I jump on with the Black Country Communion.”
Asked about the song he originally collaborated with Page and Jones, Jason adds, “Oh on the new album, it’s called Save Me. You’ll notice it in the rift. You’ll hear a slight Zep-esque rift and you’ll go, ‘I wonder if that’s the one he meant?’ and, yes, it’s got a definite feel to it.”
Naturally, the question that begs to be asked is: What about working with Page, Plant and Jones on another project?
“Well, I was very much under the illusion for what it’s, that we were going to write an album and we were going to put together a new project. Whether it be under the banner of Led Zeppelin, which I doubted, but it was going to be a new project that would feature Jimmy and John Paul and myself.
“It was the winter, like early December of 2008, when it kind of came to a halt - which was a hard thing for me to get over for a while. You know, I had just played the concert of my life. Playing with them was a great point, one of the greatest points of my life. Then when I got the call to come back and do some work with Jimmy and John Paul in the writing environment, it was fantastic. I believed it was eventually going to continue on and be whatever it was going to be.
“But, you know, who knows? There are a lot of things I will never understand and it’s purely, as I say, you’d have to ask them. But on my end, I enjoyed every moment. Anybody would when you get a chance to again. You get the phone call from them to go and jam and in a writing element and go over ideas. It was fun - a lot of fun.”
A question that die hard musicians and rock historians would want to ask Bonham is what did he learn from the couple of Led Zeppelin reunion gigs he sat in on?
“What I managed to take away from the last one was the element of ‘Wow!’ because I was at an age where I was just honored and humbled to be up there. I was such a fan at this point in my life that I always felt that, early on, I’d taken things for granted. When I got the chance to go up there and have a go at it, it was a very special time. Just to play with those guys and to play their songs and to do the show that we did at the O2 - it was a very special moment that I will treasure forever. Being in the rehearsals and hanging with them and getting to know them as adults - you know, I always knew them when I was a young kid so to relate to them on another level now, in another element was phenomenal.
“I felt like a journalist because I barraged them with questions. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, but you know this in 1977 well now what did you really think when you did this and, you know, did you know at that point you were really special? And if so, how special did you really think you were and - and did you kind of . . .?’ and they were like, ‘Okay! One question a day from now on!’ But it was a great moment, let me say that”, Jason says with a laugh.
Relative to the “O2” Zeppelin gig and the lead up to it, shares some insight into the decisions that had to be made and how it has impacted his Experience tour.
“When they were thinking of doing the reunion in 2007 it was a key element of where they were thinking of putting it because you can imagine there was talk of the Wembley and the stadiums because, you know, they could have easily done that.
“But to make it as true as they could be in an intimate way they chose the 02 Arena which can be as, you know, for them, an intimate moment and there were moments when you could hear a pin drop when we were talking and Robert was talking to the audience and moments when we bring it down. You can almost hear the squeaking element when you drop the pedal.
“One thing I wanted to come across with in the (Experience) show is the intimate stories and the moments when you’re talking to an audience - when I’m kind of loss for words. In the audience, somebody may shout something and it’ll just stay with me for a moment and I’ll get slightly distracted and lose my track of thought and get a bit emotional. Each night is a different experience for me as much as it is for them, for the band, for everything.
“I mean even then to some nights we would kind of have a song when we were supposed to be doing something else. Much dismay turned out to be the lighting guy who was like, “I have no idea what they’re playing there. What do I do?” We kind of improvised and one thing we changed on the set was we had to be able to switch it up any time we wanted - we had to be able to alter to the mood because that was one of the key things that LZ could do. They could change things up. They weren’t afraid to change and change things around midstride. And if I’ve learned anything from trying to perform something true to the meaning of the song is, be aware of the audience and the environment you’re in. You change the music to suit the environment, the compassion, the personal moments, the energy, the light and shade, the intimacy. You have to take everything in consideration when you’re performing these songs to make them feel believable because if you’re getting out there and just go through the motions, you know, you might as well put the wig on and the dragon suit and go out and do it.
“To play the songs with somewhat of a knowledge of Led Zeppelin, you have to kind of take everything you can from every version you’ve ever heard of them playing live from the bootleg to the song that you sing to the DVDs - everything - mix it all together and you come out the other side. Hopefully, everyone so far, seems to keep understanding what I’m trying to do. So, the setting, when we came to choose the tour dates, where we were playing, it had to be an intimate thing.”
Concluding his thoughts on those gigs, he adds, “I treasure it very much and I’ve had the greatest privilege to play with them more than once. When I look back at my wedding video, you know, it’s hard to believe but, yes, they were there and they got up and jammed on the local band’s equipment and we did some Zeppelin songs so that was very bizarre.”
What do the remaining Zeppelin band members think of Jason doing the Experience? Does he have their blessing?
“Oh, yes, I didn’t want to piss anybody off. So there was one incident and I remember somebody forwarded me something another person I know had said, it was a potshot and it was quite hurtful. I was upset it came from kind of a family friend of the whole band.
“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t like this.’ I just want to be liked; I don’t want to be disliked. I hate the haters, but honestly, you’re going to get them no matter what you decide to do. I actually called Robert and spoke to him about it. Robert told me not to be concerned and then we went on an interview together and then a DJ tried to throw me under the bus saying, ‘Hey, what did you think about Jason doing a Led Zeppelin tour without any of you guys?’
“Robert turned around and went on the defensive for me and said, ‘Well, Jason can do whatever he wants, when he wants.’ He said, ‘Jason plays these songs like nobody else.’ He said, ‘There’s a few people that think they can play them like him but nobody can and they know who they are.’ He really went on the defensive and he said, ‘And as long as Jason does this with a smile, he has my blessing.’ So it was kind of like, ‘Leave him alone!’
“That was a big step for me when Robert came in there and said, ‘You know what? This is Jason representing his family and his father. Just let him be.’
“There was a big interview with me on a TV show in England and it was about drummers all over the world and I was quite open about what it was like growing up with dad as a drummer. Robert suddenly went, you know, ‘I just forgot what it would be like for you. I really did, you know, having missed having a hero around to grow up to and him being gone for so long.’
“I think about this more now, when I make certain decisions in my life now that I have my own family, and my son is the same age that I was when I lost my dad. So it’s a tough one to be in that situation when you haven’t got the advice of a father to give you. So I sometimes miss him there. I miss him when I go, ‘Dad, what should I do?’ And what I said to Robert was, ‘Sometimes when I don’t know what to do I call you because you are the closest thing to dad for me.
“Yeah, I would say I speak to Robert more on a regular basis than I do to Jimmy and John but I find that there’s still kind of that closeness when we all see each other. It’s like we haven’t been apart for years and we carry on the conversation like we just left off, that’s how it has always been.”
Over the years, much has been rumored about an alleged pact that Jimmy Page supposedly made with the devil. Of course, the rumor wasn’t helped by the fact that, at one time, he owned an occult paraphernalia store in London. He was also widely known to have been an admirer of British occultist, Aleister Crowley – so much so that he, at one time, bought one of Crowley’s former estates. Did Bonham, Sr., ever talk about any of that with Jason?
“We never talked about it, to be honest with you. That whole side of him - it was never brought up or even talked about in the British press. So, it was of a bit of a far-fetched thing which they probably wouldn’t deal with. I mean, I’ve talked to Jimmy many times about that home and I said, “Have you ever been there?’ And he goes, ‘I went once, kind of freaked me out.’ So he didn’t own it any longer but I never really imagined him being that guy anyway. I mean when you see him with children, he’s just way too sweet. He’s not that guy.”
Still on the subject, but much more philosophical, Jason, adds, “Yes, they had bad luck at certain times but they had success and the price of fame, you know? It’s a similar tragedy and success story that Def Leppard had, from the moment Pyromania became such a huge entity, the next thing you know, the drummer lost his arm. They finally get themselves through that period then they make another fantastic album called Hysteria. It sold millions and millions and millions again, even more than Pyromania and then their guitarist died. There’s another great band from England that with a double-barrel name that seems to have had the success and the tragedy.
“There was a lot of success and tragedy in Led Zeppelin when you think about it, in ’77 when Karac died and then my Dad, you know, three years later. But, you know, I wouldn’t say the deal with the devil thing was anything. And I’ve been around the boys enough to know.”
Talking about the British press brings up the question of difference of perceptions about Zeppelin. Does Jason think there’s a difference of perception about the band in the U.K. than there is in the U.S?
“Oh yes, very much so. What I love about the American press and people is regarding, Led Zeppelin, you can’t drive anywhere in America without hearing the unsung form on a station. Where here in England, you know, it would be very difficult to actually hear it at all. I love the fact that America holds on to what is great and classic, you know, it doesn’t move past it and go, ‘Okay move on.’ America pays homage to it. America took in Led Zeppelin at the start when England didn’t. Only then, once America found them successful, then England started in on the band. Different stories were more important, you know. Hardly any of the stories of the incident of my dead and Peter beating one of Bill Graham’s people really made it to any form of press here (the U.K). There was a big entity there (the U.S.).”
Surely, being the son of the drummer in the band, Jason had to have seen more Zeppelin concerts than he could count . . . didn’t he?
“I didn’t see them often and one of my mates was so shocked that he said, ‘How many Zeppelin concerts did you actually go to?’ I went to Tampa Bowl Stadium which was then (Rain Docks) so I only got to see the first three songs. I went and saw a show in ’77 which was at Madison Square Garden. I saw the show in Earl's Court in ’75; I saw the show in Knebworth in 1979.
“I don’t actually remember seeing the show in ’72 in Birmingham but this is the show they let me see which really stood out for me. I mean Knebworth, I still - when I look back at Knebworth it was such an amazing experience I really remembered, and still love it there when I watch the “Kashmir” version that Dad did in Knebworth then.”
In his autobiography, Steven Tyler recounts a little bit of coming over to audition with Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham. Jason comments about his memories of the event.
“My memories of Steven coming over? I had no idea he was coming because the guys knew that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut half the time because I felt like I’d got the golden ticket but I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody. I remember having an incident while kind of - which is one of the reasons I don’t take it anymore - I used to have trouble sleeping touring on the road and I’d been given an Ambien by my doctor. All I remember was I kind of got woken up after only going to sleep for two hours to do a radio interview. I did it and thought nothing of it and then suddenly to have my email alert, come up with all these different emails going, ‘Oh, my god! What did you say?
“I’m thinking, ‘What did I say? I didn’t say anything bad.’ I had no memory of telling the world that I was working with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones again. So they weren’t going to tell me that Steven was coming in. Believe it or not, I’d just tied a bunch of scarves to my cymbal stands on the weekend prior to being there on a Monday. So, he must have thought I knew but I had scarves tied around all my drum stands and obviously that was the thing that Steven did then. When he came in, he sounded great. I remember him being brilliant. I was a big Aerosmith fan. I remember him getting on my drum kit and playing and then he got on the keyboard and played a bit of “Dream On” and, you know, I enjoyed it immensely.
“He kind of went for it the first day, but then when he came back in a couple of days later it was good. I mean for me, my take on it is it sounded like Steven Tyler singing Led Zeppelin songs. You know, there was no mimic, there was no mime. He was Steven Tyler singing Led Zeppelin songs and there was something quite cool about that.
“See, to me I thought that’s the way it worked, you know? Because if you’re going to do it, you can’t replace Robert, you know. If you’re going to do these songs then you do them to the best of your ability. The best of Steven’s ability to me is for him to be himself and that’s why it sounded cool because he wasn’t trying to be somebody else. The music still stayed the same, as close as it could with me on drums. So I enjoyed it. I must say I had a good feeling about it.”
There have been a lot of bands where, when a band member has passed away, the band ends up replacing them with the usual comment being, “They would have wanted us to carry on and to continue on the way that we are.” Led Zeppelin called it quits when John Bonham passed away. With all that has happened with the band since his dad’s passing, Jason shares his thoughts about the band’s decisions and actions.
“Well, I definitely I love the fact that they stood by their word. It was a respect thing, very much so. It was wonderful when they finally came out and said, ‘We cannot continue on without our friend and colleague, John.’ It’s one of the hardest things to listen to, one of the last-ever things of Led Zeppelin broadcasted was that statement.
“And many years later, after the ‘02’, Robert’s said to me, ‘Jason, as much as you are your father’s son and you play like nobody else, for me, when I revisit these songs, it’s not just revisiting the song, it’s revisiting the whole bunch of memories.’ And he adds, ‘For me Led Zeppelin was with John on drums, not Jason.’ He says, ‘I hope you don’t hate me for that.’
“I said, ‘No, I get it, and there’s a whole bunch of fans out there which are actually okay with it now.”
And that they are.
You can see if Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience is coming to your town by visiting www.jblze.com. You can also keep up with him by visiting www.jasonbonham.net as well as his work with Black County Communion at www.bccommunion.com.