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  • Posted March, 2010

     

    Bob Gruen @ MoMA Collage Exhibit © Mandi Newall

    Elvis. Aerosmith. Elton John. The Stones. Alice Cooper. Zeppelin. Lennon/Yoko. Dylan. Frampton.

    These artists and icons dominated my mind (besides girls) in my youth. Photo’s torn from my favorite rock magazines and posters purchased in the store (for the astronomical price of $1!) hung on my bedroom walls.

    The images are burned into the firmware of my mind. Their poses, grimaces and smiles frozen forever in their youth. The close that they were in the shots influenced how I dressed and looked. Jeans and jackets were purchased because of something similar Bob Dylan wore in a photo. Platform shoes? Thank you, Elton John. Hair? Thanks to a still shot of Mick Jagger in concert at Madison Square Garden, I started parting my longish hair in the middle, trying to feather it back just like Mick.

    What single thread runs through these memories? Many of the photos that hung on my walls, influenced my “look” and burned into my memory banks were taken by famous rock photographer, Bob Gruen.

    Gruen was destined for rock and roll. An avid fan of The Who in the sixties, they were the band that compelled him to join a crowd a half a million strong at a place called Yasgur’s Farm. There, he witnessed not only the band that he braved the crowds and eliments to see, but many other historic performances that made the Woodstock festival the stuff of legends.

    After Woodstock, Gruen eventually worked his way to the position of chief photographer for Rock Scene Magazine. This afforded him the coveted vantage point of creating candid photos of bands and artist on and off the stage. 

    Bob Gruen didn’t allow himself to be stuck in the seventies. His interest in the music scene allowed him to effortlessly go with the flow of changes in the sights and sounds of musical tastes. Gruen has covered almost every major act and artist the 70’s to today.

    I recently caught up with Bob Gruen, by phone, at his gallery in New York City. For some reason, I decided to start off the interview by asking Bob what career path he would’ve chosen had he not gone down the rock photographer path. As with his answer during the rest of our conversation, his answers are open, honest and transparent.

    “I have no idea. Well, the 60’s were a different time from now. Now, people really plan their future and their career. In the 60’s it was turn on, tune in and drop out. And that’s basically what I did. I wasn’t really thinking about a career. I didn’t really do very well in school and I didn’t have a major in college.

    “I had an older brother who was an overachiever who always got straight A’s and it kind of left me with not much will to succeed on that level – to compete on that level. So, I was living with a rock and roll band and having a good time. “

    So, the obvious question in your mind would be, why photography, so I asked.

    “Photography was always my hobby and I got pretty good at it. When the band got signed, they used my pictures for the publicity. I started meeting publicists for record companies and they started hiring me to take more and more pictures. It just worked out that way. 

    “I didn’t really have a plan to be a photographer in any specific sense – to be anything. A policeman, fireman, anything like that. I really didn’t have a plan. I was aimless.”

    Boy, weren’t we all!

    Having read his thoughts about attending Woodstock, I asked if he took any pictures while he was there.

    “I did, actually. I went as a fan of The Who and I like camping out. Me and a couple of friends went up there to have a good time. It’s funny, the pictures I took. I did take pictures of my friends inside our tent so I have some ‘head shots’ with a green tent behind them but they don’t show much of the festival. 

    “I did find a couple of dozen pictures of the festival that I took - a couple around my tent and a couple of the stage area. I didn’t take any of the acts. I wasn’t there to work in that sense. I hadn’t yet started getting into the music business yet.

    Last summer, a French magazine asked me to put down my memories from Woodstock. He (the editor) liked the idea that I was there as a fan and not working so I put together a story and put it up on my website (here.).

    I asked Bob if he attended the 40th anniversary festivities back in August of last year.

    “Not the 40th. No, we didn’t go – or the 30th. We went to, I think, the 25th. Not the one that turned into an overblown riot but the first reunion which turned into a drunken mess.  We left half way through it.

    “Actually, I went up the hill into Woodstock to see a real show. We saw The Fugs, with Alan Ginsberg, who were playing on the Saturday night of the festival. 

    All of us have stories of regrets and missed opportunities. I asked Gruen if there were any shots or gigs that got away from him that he regretted missing.

    “Oh, well, there are a lot of things I missed. I wish that I could have photographed Otis Redding but I started a little too late to connect with him. I met Jimi Hendrix once. He said, ‘We’ll meet again’ but he was wrong” he adds with a sad chuckle before concluding by saying, “But, other than that, I’ve pretty much met or photographed everybody that I wanted to.

    Lots of changes have happened both in the music business and in the world of photography in general. I asked Bob what he viewed as the most positive changes in his line of work.

    “Oh, well, the ease of delivery. We don’t have to rush to dupe slides and hire messengers and ship things to England overnight. The idea of making multiple prints and rush and having to get them out to all the different magazines . . . now we just e-mail scans. It’s a lot easier.”

    And the biggest negative change in his line of work?

    “Photography has gotten so easy that there’s tens of millions of people doing it!

    “It used to be that a photographer had to be somewhat nerdy – to be a bit of a tech guy. You had to focus and know what F stops and speeds meant. You had to be able to develop and print film. All of those things have been automated. Now, you just pick up your phone and push one more button and whatever you’re looking at can be seen around the world. That’s quite an advance.”

    Gruen had voiced his displeasure with websites like Flikr. I wanted to know, though, if he saw the internet as more of a positive or a negative in his industry.

    “Well, it negatively affects the work because people tend to think that everything they see on the internet is ‘free’. Content is what I’ve sold all my life. Everybody think it’s free. It’s similar to the downloading of music files, people just take pictures and move them from one site to another and use them any way they want without even thinking that they have to pay for it. So, this tremendously cuts into the income when people aren’t paying for your work.

    I thought for sure that the proliferation of music videos and concert DVD’s over the years would have hurt the photography trade. Bob’s insights into this area set me straight on that perception.

    “People tend to watch videos on YouTube or whatever. You can’t put YouTube on your wall unless you have a big screen on your wall. It recently came up in an article. There was an exhibit recently at the Brooklyn Museum of Art called ‘Who Shot Rock’. It’s about Rock Photography. The reviewer wrote that he felt that video was the better way to review it. We all could’ve been up in arms about that. 

    “Video hardly captured the excitement of rock and roll at all. To capture one peak moment in a still photograph that says so much about the energy and excitement, the mood of an artist - you can only do that in a photograph – a photograph that you can put on a wall and it’s just there. You feel the inspiration. Not like having to turn on a TV or to operate the machinery or video. I don’t think that video cuts into the still. The appreciation is still photo. “

    As stated earlier, Bob Gruen isn’t stuck in the past. I was curious, however, what his thoughts of the past are. His answer is both philosophical and reflective.

    “I respect the past and I think people should learn from the past but I don’t dwell in the past. I don’t wish that I could go back to Max’s. It’s like we shouldn’t even go back to high school. Some people do but I certainly don’t. I look forward , looking for new experiences.

    Fast-forwarding to the present, I asked Bob what bands and artists command his attention today. His response is instant.

    “Greenday. There are a few others that I enjoy. I’ve seen Courtney Love. She’s a riveting performer. You can’t take your eyes off of her. But Greenday is certainly the top band of the land. They’re the most powerful and meaningful band around. And the most fun, especially if you’ve ever seen them live. They’re the most fun band around today.

    “There’s a group here in New York that I like called The Sex Slaves. They’re very blunt and also a lot of fun. But there’s not a lot. I was never somebody who ever sought to follow every single group that ever existed and have an encyclopedic knowledge of it. I just follow what I like. I’m a fan. I mostly follow my friends or people friends recommend. I’m not out every night on the prowl looking for a new band.

    “I’m a bit older now. Thirty years ago it was fun for me to sit on a bus with 22 year olds who are getting drunk but it’s not really the same any more for me.” With a laugh, he adds, “I’m a grandfather nowadays, I prefer to spend time with my family.

    With the mention of his family, I commented on the fact that his son, Khris, is pursuing a little bit different route in the music business than his.

    “Yeah, he’s just finishing up his third CD, which should be out soon. He’s got his fans and he’s getting more and more popular.  He started kind of late – somewhat intimidated by my reputation. Also, my ex-wife married Joe Beck, the jazz guitar player, who is a world famous musician. And I think that, rather than encouraging Khris, it kind of held him back a bit because he felt he couldn’t on that kind of level. And I’m very happy to see that he’s doing very well on his own and enjoying it a lot.

    In the course of the conversation, I mention the use of his photo of John Lennon that graces the cover of Philip Norman’s biography of the man. It brought to mind the many others Bob Gruen had known because of his line of work. I asked him who are some of the people that he misses either due to their death or retirement from active life and what is it that you miss about them?

    “I miss Joe Strummer – being able to hang out with him and spend time with him. His shows were great. He was great. It was great fun. Whenever my wife and I would go out to dinner with Joe Strummer, we would have to remind each other to bring our sunglasses because we knew we weren’t coming back until after the sun was up. When you walk out of a bar at eight in the morning you NEED your sunglasses” he finishes with a laugh.

    “Of course, I miss John Lennon – hanging out with him. He was great. Every time I saw him, I felt that I learned something.   I miss a lot of people. I miss Johnny Thunders. Joey Ramone. But I make new friends. The Sex Slaves, Green Day. You move on. That’s the down side to living longer than your friends, missing them” he says with a chuckle.

    With so many accomplishments that he can point to, I asked Bob what he would like to achieve that he hasn’t already. His deadpan answer floored me.

    “Make a lot of money.”

    Say WHAT?! I thought rock photographers made a lot of money?

    “No, this is a VERY low budget operation! I don’t know if there was more than two or three times in my life when I started the month with enough money to finish it. I mean, I never had a cushion where I knew my bills were paid. I’ve always had to work every week to insure that I would have an income.

    “I think that people tend to think that if you hang out with Led Zeppelin or John Lennon that you have that kind of money – that you live on that kind of level rather than just visit. I visit. But then I come home to a small apartment in the Village. I don’t have a yacht. For many years I never even had a new car. Only recently, because my wife has an income and she shares with me am I able to lease a new car.

    “I’m doing much better than I used to. I’m at least leasing a new car rather than driving my old beaters. It’s a misconception that you live the high life and travel around and make a lot of money. Some photographers do. A few. Not many. 

    “Certain photographers working with a ‘boy band’ who sells dozens and dozens of pictures to every magazine around the world - if you have good access to them then you can make some good money. But, for most people shooting most bands, especially nowadays there are so many magazines and so many online so-called magazines that pay practically nothing because there are tens of thousands of people interested in photography since it got so easy. And many of them will just give away a picture for the credit.

    “So, though prices have increased ten-fold, payment for photographs haven’t increased much at all since the 70’s. If anything, it’s going down because of so many more people willing to just put it out there for credit.

    “And then other things like Corbis and Getty – the major photo agencies that are buying up the other smaller photo agencies in the world – they’re trying to own the content and so they’re purposely setting out to put photo agencies and photographers out of business by licensing photos at tremendously discounted rates. I mean, photos that we license for four or five hundred dollars, they license for five or ten dollars, literally that kind of difference. And to have to try and compete with those kinds of prices, we can’t. That’s the point: those kinds of companies want to put all of the other people out of business. They want to own all of the content for the future because content is king on the internet.”

    Wow! Who woulda thunk it?

    How about touring exhibits? I wanted to find out where I could see exhibitions featuring his art and if books were available featuring him.

    “I don’t really have a world-wide agent organizing that. I’m still pretty independent here. So, I only do a few exhibitions a year. I do have a some planned in June for London and, possibly, in the fall in Paris. My John Lennon book is going to come out in French next October in France. 

    “I just had a big collage piece of my work that was in the Museum of Modern Art over the last summer, but that’s over now. ‘Who Shot Rock’ is going to travel to five other museums. It may actually be down south there.

    “We’re also excited about getting the show together for the opening here in NY – I don’t even have the list of where it’s going. It closed here January 31st. But then I know that it’s going to travel to a few other places.

    “My website, BobGruen.com, directs people to most of the available things. My photos are available from several different galleries here in the states. There’s one in particular that does a lot of business online. My books, Clash is still in print but hard to get. John Lennon is still available. The New York Dolls book is available on Amazon or BarnesandNoble.com or whatever website people want to go to. 

    “The best collection of my work, called Rockers. Currently it’s only published in Brazil but it’s available on my website but it’s a little pricey because it’s heavy and we have to ship it. I think its $60 or $70 with the shipping. But that’s the biggest collection of my work.

    “I’m currently just beginning to work on a book that will be out in the fall 2011 that will be an American published collection of my work.”

    My time with Bob Gruen was quickly coming to a close and I had a couple of more questions that I just had to ask. One had to do with his thoughts about the artists’ he knew (other than Lennon) who are no longer with us.

    “Joe Strummer comes to mind first. I spent a lot of time with him. Joey Ramone. He was a wonderfully sweet guy. Johnny Thunders was a good friend.”

    What about the other artist who he wasn’t quite as close to?

    “Quite a lot of my photos were just done as jobs. They were friendly but not necessarily friends. You’re pleased to see each other but you don’t go out to dinner with each other. Some of them you develop friendships with. As in any business where you work with a lot of people there’s certain people that you hit it off with and wind up being friends with.

    “I was lucky in that way to have a number of good friends.”

    I thought I was wrapping up the interview by commenting as to how I thought it said a lot about him with the fact that he was able to develop the relationship and friendship with John Lennon and Yoko and that he still has the relationship with Yoko. Only expecting a “thank you” for the compliment, Gruen, instead, takes the opportunity to defend his good friend, Yoko Ono.

    “You know, Yoko’s been very maligned in the newspapers and in the press. With her new album in the past year, she’s got quite a bit of positive press. But, when people ask me what kind of women Yoko is, I always say that she’s the kind of women that John Lennon could marry.”

    Since he opened the door to discussing Yoko Ono, I asked Bob what he thought the biggest misconception about her was.

    “The biggest misconception? That she doesn’t have a sense of humor. John said that she’s the most famous unknown artist in the world. Everybody knows who she is but nobody knows what she does. And I think with her new album out, she’s getting a lot of press, she’s getting a lot of attention. More people are getting to see her perform and starting to get an idea of what a wonderfully open and how much humor her work has.

    “She’s quite prolific. On her website,Imagine Peace, she answers 10 to 15 questions every week from people all over the world. They just write in questions and she comes up with almost zen-like answers. She’s got a Twitter feed that she updates every few hours with, again, zen-like conceptual art ideas. She’s just fascinating.”

    Soon after, we wrapped up our chat. While going through the rest of my hectic schedule on that January day, I reflected on the gems that Bob Gruen gave me in the way of stories and quotes. I also realized that Bob still influences us today. Long gone is our ability to squeeze into hip-hugging bell-bottom jeans and whose feet can handle wearing platform shoes? And I don’t even want to go down the path of discussing my hair. 

    No, those are pains we can do without. However, while Bob’s work from the past brings us smiles and memories, his work today is creating new impressions that will stay with us for the rest of our days.

    Thank you, Bob Gruen, for all that you’ve done and are doing.

  • bumpingintogeniusescoverBumping Into Geniuses: My Life Inside the Rock and Roll Business
    Author: Danny Goldberg
    Publisher: Gotham
    Published: July, 2009
    Reviewed: August, 2009

    Ahmet Ertegun is quoted as saying that the way to get rich is to keep walking around until you bumped into a genius and when you did, hold on and don’t let go. When one reads Danny Goldberg’s “Bumping Into Geniuses”, you quickly find that he learned that lesson long before he ever heard the quote.

    Never heard of Danny Goldberg? Seriously? Well, okay then. Let’s see if you recognize the names of some of the geniuses who he’s bumped in to and never let go (so to speak). Let’s see, there’s the lads from Led Zeppelin and KISS. There’s the enduring Stevie Nicks and Ian Hunter. Oh! And there’s Kurt Cobain and the boys of Nirvana. See what I mean? And that just names a few of the geniuses that have been, or are, in Goldberg’s orbit.

    To read Goldberg’s tome is to read fascinating stories about the artists and talent that he either worked for, managed, or otherwise crossed paths with. The stories are riveting and they show a side that we’ve never seen of the names we grew up listening to and still enjoy.

    In sharing his from his incredibly rich treasure chest of memories, Danny Goldberg treats the celebrities, as well as music industry movers and shakers, with reverence and respect without pulling any punches as to any flaws that may have been in the character or decision making.

    How did Goldberg bump into these geniuses? Well, that’s why you need to buy the book and read it but I’ll give you just a little bit of insight as to the answer to that question. His various and legendary roles included writing for publications such as Billboard, Jazz and Pop, and Rolling Stone magazines.

    His journalism gigs led him to serve in PR roles for Led Zeppelin and KISS. Ultimately, he rolled into executive management positions with record companies such as Atlantic Records, Mercury Records and Warner Brothers Records. He also was, and is, a highly respected and successful manager of talent, currently serving as the head of Gold Village Entertainment, an artist management company that serves artists such as Rickie Lee Jones, Steve Earle and Ian Hunter to Old 97’s, Street Sweeper Social Club and Care Bears on Fire, to name just a few. Check out www.goldve.com to see the impressive roster of talent GVE manages.

    Back to the book.

    With a multi-faceted career that spans four decades, the reader gets a quality education in the nuances of the rough and tumble world of the music business. For business geeks like me, I found Goldberg’s insights and explanations of royalties and other artist income streams to be spell-binding (I told you I was a geek).

    As for Mr. Goldberg’s insider stories about the artists, he is always asked about Led Zeppelin. He’s even asked by other legendary artists about Led Zeppelin. What does he have to say about the guys? Sorry. You’ve got to buy the book to find that out. But that’s not only who you’ll hear about. You’ll learn about how he helped launch the meteoric solo career of Stevie Nicks. You’ll get touching glimpses of Warren Zevon’s last days. You see another side of Kurt Cobain and some of the inner workings of Nirvana as well as a touching view of Cobain’s funeral service.

    Do you get the impression that I loved “Bumping Into Geniuses”? Well, you’re right, I do! I so enjoyed the book that I believe that everyone should buy a copy and read it from cover to cover. And, no, you can’t borrow mine. You’ll want your own copy. It’s serve as a great manual in how to bump in to your own gaggle of geniuses.

  • celebrationdaycoverCelebration Day (CD and DVD)
    Artist: Led Zeppelin
    Label/Studio: Atlantic
    Released: November 20, 2012
    Reviewed: November 25, 2012

    In November of 1976, I started a short Thanksgiving tradition of going to the theater to see Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same. Since the viewing was on Thanksgiving day, I (and whoever cared to join me) usually had the theater pretty much to ourselves.

    Fast-forward thirty-six years.

    Last Tuesday, I picked up my own copy of the brand new Led Zeppelin concert CD/DVD package, Celebration Day. The tribute concert for the late Atlantic Records founder (and close friend of the band), Ahment Ertegun, was recorded on December 10, 2007, at London’s O2 Arena. Former Zeppelin PR man, Danny Goldberg, attended the show and, when I interviewed him a couple of years ago, he predicted that the band one once again tour and that it would be “a billion dollar tour”.

    Well, the boys haven’t yet decided to hit the road to grant us all the privilege of seeing them perform once again. However, when they do tour – and with several package variations of Celebration Day to prime the pump, I would dare say that the billion dollar figure might be a tad conservative.

    From the opening sounds of Good Times Bad Times to the final strains of Rock and Roll, the iconic band delivers sixteen memorable tunes from their vast repertoire of songs. In the CD/DVD package I picked up, the track listing on the CDs mirror the track listing on the DVD. And while there are certainly songs that are missing from the set list (such as Celebration Day or, say, even, All of My Love), what the band delivers pleased the crowd – and pleases the listener – to ecstasy.

    Plant’s vocals, while matured since the band’s original run, still delivers as needed; Page’s guitar mastery is still top-shelf and envied; Jones’s bass and keyboard work provides the subtle musical backdrop as intended and Jason Bonham is definitely make his daddy proud as he looks down on his son from Rock and Roll Heaven.

    You don’t need me to tell you to pick up one Celebration Day because, chances are, you already have. For those of you who haven’t, what are you waiting for?

    By the way, I do believe that I have a new Thanksgiving Day tradition.

  • Posted May, 2011

    JasonBonhamI 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 {mprestriction ids="*"}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. {/mprestriction}

  • Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience

    Bijou Theater

    Knoxville, Tennessee

    May 5, 2015

     

         

    It’s been over seven years since the remaining members of Led Zeppelin assembled together for their historic performance at London’s O2 arena. At this time, it appears that a tour from the mates isn’t going to happen. 

    However, what we do get to enjoy is Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience which hit Knoxville on May 5th and what an experience it was!

    The band was greeted by a sell out, enthusiastic crowd at Knoxville’s Bijou Theater as they hit the stage playing “We’re Gonna Groove” and went on to blast through Zep favorites such as “Black Dog,” “I Can’t Quit You, Baby,” “Dazed and Confused,” and a bunch of others.

    The band did especially great covers of “Since I Been Loving You,” “Kashmir,” “When The Levee Breaks” and “Stairway To Heaven.” The crowd often sang along and didn’t seem to notice some of the technical difficulties that Bonham would comment about. 

    Guitarist, Tony Catania, was amazing in his treatment of the Zeppelin classics and James Dylan killed it on the vocals.

    A first for Boomerocity: Seeing a drummer actually break a brass cymbal. Yup, Jason did exactly that to which his drum tech quickly replaced while the band left to cheers for an encore. Yes, the band did encore with “Whole Lotta Love” and 

    Jason tours with LZE through the end of May. If you get a chance to get “Experienced,” do. You won’t regret it. 

  • Posted July 27, 2014


    As I interview many great and notable people for Boomerocity, I am always amazed and the stories that they have to share – almost nonchalantly. The greatness that they’ve attained, been involved with or brushed up against boggles my mind.

    As I interview these people, I typically craft and groom the piece in a give and take narrative. Once in a great while, an interview happens where I pretty much turn on my recorder and listen to what an artist has to say with very little input from me.  My recent interview with former Spirit bassist and current bottom man for Blowin’ Smoke Rhythm and Blues Band as well as for the new group, Sky Kings, is one such interview.

    Fuzzy is a wealth of rock and roll history and knowledge with each and every one of his stories absolutely fascinating.

    For this interview, I’d like to take the uncharacteristic approach of putting into writing the feel of being on the phone with Fuzzy as I was. With only a very few exceptions, this interview is almost all Fuzzy.

    As our conversation began, I asked how things were and what all is going on his Fuzzy’s life.

    “Everything is good. It’s all good. I’ve been busy on a bunch of music projects. I have a concert this Saturday with the eleven piece ‘Blowin’ Smoke Rhythm and Blues Band’ that I’ve had for eighteen years – going into our nineteenth year real soon. I also just released another project that I produced, played bass on and wrote half the songs. The band is called ‘Sky King’ and that’s doing very well with regards to our initial exposure and reviews we’ve been getting. They’ve been very, very positive and I’m appreciative of that.”

    As if that’s not enough to keep a guy busy, he continued by saying, “I’m getting ready to edit and put out a live ‘Blowin’ Smoke’ album that was recorded very, very late last year out at Harvelle’s. And, then, I have plans of going in also this year and start a studio album with Blowin’ Smoke and we’re going to start laying tracks – again, this year – for new Sky Kings songs.

    “So, the plate is full! Ha! Ha! I’ve got my ears open for other creative opportunities. I like to work and I love being in the studio . . . and I like to produce, as well. All of those things are on the table and, for Sky King, I’ve been talking to a friend of mine. He’s a film director and he’s working for a company in the film industry right now. We have never put a video out, yet, on any of the songs for Sky King. My overall project for Sky King was to create a video for every song because the CD itself happens to have a theme even though that’s not real popular in today’s CD music. Kids seem to like to download a song. But when we created the CD, it was a concept CD.”

    “I have a long music history. It’s really been my entire life. I have seriously been into music since third grade in school. They gave us some music aptitude tests. I remember my teacher contacted my parents and said, ‘Your son should be in a music program in school.’

    “So, they gave me a cardboard keyboard to take home. I would bring it back and forth to classes. You can’t hear anything on a cardboard keyboard. So the teacher asked my parents, ‘Would you buy this kid an instrument so that we can teach him some music?’

    “In those years, we lived in a small apartment so a piano wouldn’t have even fit in the place that we lived in. So my mom and dad took me down to the local music store. I wound up playing violin. I played violin, believe it or not, all through what was left of grade school, junior high, high school and even into college.

    “By learning orchestral music and reading music, and transposing and being a listener and developing my ear, it’s how I got into being a professional musician. I would say that I owe my start to the school system in St. Louis, where I’m from.”

    On the heels of those comments, Fuzzy shared what and who his earliest musical influences were.

    “When I was fourteen and fifteen years old, I listened at night time to a black radio station in St. Louis called KATZ/Sweet Sixteen. Every night that you would

    listen, they would broadcast live from some black night club in St. Louis. Nobody listened to this station except black people. I was probably the only white kid in St. Louis at that time that listened to it.

    “Listen to this – these are the people they were broadcasting live every night: Albert King, Ike Turner, Chuck Berry, Little Milton and a couple of other guitar players that were popular in the St. Louis area that never became famous like these guys. By the time I was sixteen, I had already talked my mom into taking me to another music store – because I didn’t have enough money saved up – and she bought me a 1963 Fender Stratocaster guitar and a 1963 Fender Jazz bass, which is the same bass that I play to this very day. It’s been around the world umpteen times with me.

    “So, being the kid that I was, I started sneaking into the black clubs with my friends so that I could see these people play. By the time I was seventeen years old, I was already playing with all of them. I would get gigs playing either guitar or bass. They were blown away. I was, like, the only white person in the night club except any friends that I brought with me and we always played in black clubs.

    “In those years – I was born in 1944 – I’ll be seventy October 21st. The Blowin’ Smoke Band is nothing more than the music that inspired me when I was a teenager in St. Louis. By playing with all the black groups, I used to be invited and taken to Masonic halls and places where people like Ray Charles and Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding and James Brown – I could go on and on – they used to come into the city to play, they would play in black venues only. The bands that they brought with them always had horn sections and there were back-up singers and dancers, an emcee and a lot of people would also perform before the star hit the stage.

    “The Blowin’ Smoke Rhythm and Blues Review is a similar style show. I have four horn players in that band. I have three black female lead singers. I sing lead. My guitar player sings lead, also. There’s a four piece rhythm section to the band. We are an eleven piece band. I gotta tell you, Randy, it’s not easy – especially in today’s music market – for an eleven piece band to survive. But the fact of the matter is, we’ve been together almost nineteen years now and we play all the time. I’m very proud of the format because I know that there are a lot of young kids that really have never seen anything like what we do. I get a chance to talk to them when we perform – after we’re done – and they always come up to me and they’re, like, flabbergasted. They go, ‘Damn! I’ve never seen anything like this before!’

    “As the icons pass away – we lose James Brown and we lose Ray Charles and that style – there are a few people that are kinda getting into it. I like Sharon Jones and the Gap Band. They’re actually doing old R&B and blues and doing it well and selling records. That’s the way of the music world. Everything comes around sooner or later.

    “Anyway, that’s how I started. I started playing the blues and R&B in St. Louis. I had my own groups there. My very first group, believe it or not, was called, ‘The Galaxies’. Then I had another group called, ‘Larry Knight and the Upsetters’. When I had that band, I recorded a record – in those days there were no vinyl albums. There were only 45’s that were being put out. I was signed to Golden World Records up in Detroit which is now a subsidiary of Motown. A producer came down to St. Louis and into a studio and I recorded a record called ‘Hurt Me’ that I wrote. The flip side I also wrote called ‘Everything’s Gone Wrong’. It actually became a hit record in St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit. I had a regional breakout. It was late 1965. It was up on WLS in Chicago and KXLK Radio in St. Louis. It got into the top ten and things were going really fantastic. I thought, ‘Wow! This is it! I might make it!’

    “At that time, another record came out of St. Louis that was very popular, which was a band called Bob Kuban and the Inmen and the name of the song was called ‘The Cheater’ and it actually got up on the big charts. He came out to California and was on the Dick Clark Show and the shows that were like that at that time. I was right behind them and I got this fateful letter in the mail that ‘You are drafted and you will be going to Vietnam’.

    “I did and I served fourteen months in the Vietnam War, unfortunately. I lost two years of my life and two years of almost the most influential period in music. I was away from 1966 through 1968 and that’s when the Beatles were really ripping it up. Music was changing into rock and roll and English rock. And it’s funny. It was all rooted in the blues and the old blues guys!

    “So, when I got out of the service, I immediately went on the road with a band – within two weeks. I tried to get my head straight and tried to catch up on what was happening and what was going on in the business. I put another band together called ‘Pax’. That’s the Latin word for peace. I had a three piece blues/psychedelic/rock band with a gal by the name of Gracie Dumas – a singer who used to sing with Ike Turner – as my lead vocalist.

    “We were doing a lot of gigs around the Missouri and Illinois are at the time. Barry Goldberg from the Electric Flag came into St. Louis and one of the black DJ’s took him out to a gig to see us perform. Barry was blown away and took us into a studio in Chicago. To this very day, I’ve got those five recordings. We did five songs that he produced. He gave me his address and phone number in California. He lived in Topanga Canyon out here. He said, ‘You bring me your band to California. I’ll guarantee you a record deal, I’ll be the producer and we’ll see what happens.’

    “So, four months later I poured everybody into a van and we drove across the country and I got all the way out here and went to Barry’s address in Topanga Canyon to see him. Unfortunately, when I got to his house and knocked on his door, somebody else answered and said, ‘Barry’s not going to be back for at least six months’. I asked, ‘Well, is he on tour?’ and the guy said, ‘No. He’s in rehab for heroin addiction.’ He and Buddy Miles – there was a whole bunch of guys in Electric Flag that were pretty wasted back in those days.

    “There I was in California. I had no one. I had not one contact other than him and I didn’t know what to do, where to go, where to play, how to make a penny. Believe it or not, it launched me on the second part of my professional career which became phenomenal.

    “The band that I brought to California, of course, we were playing gigs and we had a booking agency and we were surviving. But this is very interesting: One day, as I was driving in the valley – San Fernando Valley here in L.A. – I saw a marquee and it said, ‘Delaney, Bonnie and Friends’.

    “I grew up in St. Louis with Bonnie Bramlett. What was even more interesting is that they had just come back from their UK tour. That was when Eric Clapton was playing with them, and George Harrison, Leon Russell – they had the greatest band in the world. Eric Clapton took the Delaney and Bonnie rhythm section – he took the band away from them, basically – and he started Derek and the Dominos.

    “So, when they came back to L.A., they had picked up some local musicians and were playing this club that was only a few blocks from their home where they lived. I thought, ‘I grew up with Bonnie! I gotta go see her!’

    “I went into the club before they started playing and I wrote a note on a napkin and I asked the waitress to take it backstage. She did and Bonnie came screaming out from the back room, jumped on my table, knocked the drinks over and we hugged. She said, ‘You better get up on the stage and sit in with this band!’ I did. I had my guitar with me that night and I played the blues.

    “When the night was over, Delaney asked me if I would like to go out on tour. He said that they were leaving in ten days and he gave me two reel-to-reel tapes and said, ‘This is our show. Learn it.’ I never even got to rehearse with the whole band. I just went over to his house a couple of times. I was with Delaney and Bonnie as their lead guitar player until the band broke up. They divorced and that was the end of Delaney and Bonnie.”

    Later in our conversation, Fuzzy had more to say about Bonnie Bramlett.

    “Bonnie and I are two months apart in age – actually, one month apart. Her birthday is less than thirty days after mine. She has always – from the very, very beginning back in our high school days – always has been a phenomenal singer. Before Tina Turner was popular, we played in an area in St. Louis called Gaslight Square where they had places like how the Peppermint lounge was big in New York City? They had the Butterscotch Lounge and all of these various night clubs on this one strip of about two blocks. It had all of the old gas lamps that were in St. Louis back in the old cobblestone/gas lamp time. I played in every club on that street and so did Bonnie. There were times when we played with each other and with different people. We were always friends and new each other well.”

    Picking back up on Fuzzy’s early days on the California music scene, he said, “During that period – even before that – I was very lucky out here in L.A. At that time, you could walk into a record label like Capitol Records or A&M and you could put your name up on a board there and say, ‘I do session work’. I was very lucky in that I met a drummer whose sister was the secretary of the president of Capitol Records. So we got hooked up with a lot of artists who were recording for Capitol and we became studio musicians. I did a lot of demos for them and albums for them. I played with guys like Jim Rose, Chi Coltrane – the list goes on and on.  I was buzzing about L.A., playing recording sessions and doing gigs with everybody. Then I was with Delaney and Bonnie.

    “I met Randy California and Ed Cassidy from Spirit in those days. The music community in back in the late sixties/early seventies was a beautiful thing. People from all different kinds of bands could get together and play and jam; get kinda stoned, high, trip out and all that kind of stuff. But it was really a great time!  It was through us playing together with Randy California and Ed Cassidy, the same thing happened. After we played a couple of times, Randy said, ‘I want you to join my band. We’ve got some gigs that we’re gonna do as Spirit but I’m also working on my first solo album called ‘Kapt. Kopter’. I got to record tracks with him on that. We went to Europe as Spirit. I stayed with him from 1970 when we first met all the way through 1980-81 – about ten or eleven years. I guess I have about eight or nine different album releases under the name, ‘Spirit’, with Randy California and Ed Cassidy. We toured Europe and lived in London for about a year and a half. Went to every country, every city in every country in Europe.

    “Miles Copeland actually produced an album for us, ‘Live at the Rainbow Theater’, during that period. The Police were opening shows for us for six months. They hadn’t even recorded ‘Roxanne’ yet. They were doing punk rock and people were booing them off the stage. As soon as they got into that reggae feel and incorporated it into their songs, they took off. It wasn’t long before we had to open shows for them! That’s the way it works in the business. It was great and I even got a chance to work for Jefferson Airplane’s organization.

    “A friend of mine – a drummer – was already up there in San Francisco. The Airplane, at that time, was putting their own record label out called ‘Grunt Records’, to be distributed through RCA - their original label.  They had signed all these people and they had signed the Kaukonen’s solo albums – Jorma and Peter Kaukonen.

    “So, I had a call while I was down here in L.A. and they invited to come up to San Francisco. They just wanted to hear me play. They sent me a ticket and I flew up there. They offered me – I remember this because, to me, this was the most money in the world – they gave me a twenty-five thousand dollar advance to move up to San Francisco and record for Peter Kaukonen. I did his ‘Black Kangaroo’ album.

    “I did a whole bunch of artists that they had signed. I even did one with Marty Balin – one of his first solo albums. Jack Bonus and some other people. I was like a studio bass player and we were opening shows with Peter’s band for Hot Tuna which his brother, Jorma Kaukonen, was the guitar player in. It was pretty wild and things were going great. I loved it up there. I had a house in Mill Valley in the Redwood Forest. Everything was a dream, almost.

    “And then Randy (California) called me from L.A. and said, ‘You gotta come back. We’re gonna go to Europe again. There’s TV shows we’re gonna do and a whole bunch of stuff’ and I said, ‘I’ll be right back. I’ll see you as soon as I give them my notice and pack up my stuff’. I moved back to L.A. and rejoined Spirit again. That went on all the way through until 1980/1981. Then I got involved in many more projects from that point on.

    “Eventually, I got to the point where I was missing my roots. I wanted my roots back. I plaid rock and blues. I’d done a little bit of everything, so far. I felt that

    Sky King: Garth Farkas, Fuzzy Knight and Walter Morosko

    it was time to do this R&B review band. So, eighteen or nineteen years ago, I started Blowin’ Smoke. It did phenomenal. We played all the big blues festivals out here. We did the Monterey Blues Festival a couple of years in a row. The San Diego Blues Festival. The Doheny and the Long Beach – all the great blues shows and we’re still together. It’s almost a miracle to be able to hold an eleven piece group together. If you can make it two years your lucky, let alone nineteen. I feel sort of like John Mayall. He had some great guitar players and great singers over the course of the years but the legacy just goes on – to continue. I’m gonna keep it going for as long as I can.

    “Sky King is different – all original music, only. It has influences of R&B, blues, folk, jazz and rock and roll all mixed together. It’s none of any of those. It’s just a hybrid. I call it alternative rock/R&B/blues. Ha! Ha! Whatever that means!  All I know is that it confuses everybody. They don’t what category to put it into. But the music and the performances of all the players is phenomenal – a work of art!  I’m very proud of the CD and very proud to be the producer of the music. I worked on it a long time and I feel real good about it.”

    Everybody has seen the news about the lawsuit that Randy California’s estate has filed that alleges that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant used Spirit’s “Taurus” as the foundation in writing “Stairway to Heaven”.  I asked Fuzzy if he had any thoughts or insight into the matter.

    “This is also very interesting because in 1971 I was playing with Randy. That’s when we were recording the tracks for the Kapt. Kopter album – his first solo album. I remember when he first heard a Led Zeppelin album when it first came out – the Stairway to Heaven album – I think it was in ’71. I remember him saying to me – he said, ‘Did you hear this album by Led Zeppelin?’ I said, ‘Not yet’, and he said, ‘Oh, when you do, listen to this track. It sounds like a sound I’ve already written. Not the whole song but the introduction to it sounds exactly like the song, ‘Taurus’.’ 

    “He used to do that every once in a while on tour. He would bring out his acoustic guitar. Sometimes it would segue into ‘Nature’s Way’ or whatever. He never, at that time, accused them of stealing it. He just said that it sounded really similar to his song. But, if you think about the music business itself and how artists influence other artists – especially old blues people – a lot of rock and roll players have used blues formats or blues licks to write songs. If you do a descending scale – a lot of people have used descending scales. When I listen to the Black Keys’ new CD, the very first song reminded me of Pink Floyd. I was thinking more of the Pink Floyd than I was the Black Keys.

    “To be honest, I don’t know if there’s any validity in a law suit like that. I think that if Randy really believed that he had been ripped off – the people that I know who knew his financial status have said that he never had enough money to sue them. I don’t know if that’s true or not but he never went after them. I think he would have been happy if they had actually it and had used it, if they had used it and said, ‘Well, we were influenced by Randy California of Spirit.

    “Now, according to Mark Andes – the original bass player – in 1968 while I was still in Vietnam, he said that Led Zeppelin came to the United States and had opened shows for Spirit and that they had heard their music and liked the music of Spirit and they probably heard Taurus. Maybe it was in the back of their mind from what they heard. Maybe they heard it on stage and liked what they were doing and just decided, ‘Oh, we can do something similar’, you know? I don’t know if they’re willing to say, ‘Yeah, Randy influenced us so we’ll give him a little credit.’ 

    “As far as the money and all of that is concerned, I don’t know. But, if it was me, I probably would not sue them. What I would do is I would have a legal person contact them and ask them was Randy California an influence for this song – just to see what they would say. To see if they were honest thirty or forty years later.

    “From what I was told, there’s a statute of limitations – they would only be qualified to receive three years’ worth of current royalty. The only reason that all of this shit came up to begin with is because Jimmy Page has been re-mastering or re-digitizing all of the original recordings and they’re all going to be coming out again in a new updated sound format. If he decided not to do that then none of this would have come up.

    “It’s been said over the years a bunch of times – I’ve heard this story many times – and the fact of the matter is if that’s what his family wants to do – that’s what his sister wants to do – more power to her. I don’t want to enjoin any suits. I wasn’t the writer of the song. There’s only one guy in the band that matters. It’s not Spirit, it’s Randy California. He was the writer. He actually wrote the song, Taurus, for his step-dad, Ed, whose birthday – he was a Taurus. That’s why the song came to be to begin with.”

    As we discussed the overlap of musical influences by way of style and structure, Fuzzy said, “Well listen to this: Okay, Randy – at the age of fifteen and a half – played with Jimmy James and the Blue Flames in Café Wha? in New York City. Now, over the years the style that Randy played live in concert, you would almost think that you were listening to Jimi Hendrix.

    “This is a very interesting story. I’m going to tell you something that I think may blow your mind. Ed Pearl in L.A. – way back in mid-sixties/late sixties – had a night club called The Ash Grove. It was very popular out here. It was like The Troubadour but even more popular at the time. He would bring in all these old delta blues men. I mean the original delta blues men. He would feature them at the Ash Grove. These people, when he brought them in, did not live in hotels when they were brought out here. They stayed at Ed Pearl’s home. Randy, at that time he was already playing guitar, would go and hang out at his uncle’s house while these blues men lived there while they were doing these shows in L.A.  Almost every single one of them would sit down with Randy and show him their acoustic blues style of playing. He incorporated all of that into his style.

    “When Jimi met Randy, it was by accident in what I think was Manny’s Music in New York, and Randy was sitting in the music store playing his acoustic guitar and Jimi heard him and was astounded by this young white kid playing this authentic style acoustic blues. That was how he got invited to join Jimi’s band in the village at that time.

    “Jimi Hendrix could probably – if he were alive today – say, ‘Well, Randy’s playing in his songs, they sound a whole lot like my stuff.’  That’s what artists do. You should be more flattered. There’s a rip-off somewhere. Like, when George Harrison did ‘My Sweet Lord’. Remember that law suit that developed? That was chord for chord of a whole song! It wasn’t just like a twelve bar intro or an eight bar intro. There was a big difference. You take the entire chord progression of the song and write different words over it, I would say, yeah, you’re sort of treading on dangerous ground when you do something like that.

    “By the way, you know, it was Jimi Hendrix who gave Randy his name, ‘California’. When he was in Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, there were two Randy’s in the band. One was from Texas and the other one was from California. You can guess which one was which. To distinguish between the two, he decided that Randy Wolfe would be Randy California so that the right guy would answer when he had something to say.

    “But as far as Randy is concerned – and Led Zeppelin – I think that it would just be a matter of if they want to be gracious and either say, ‘We didn’t do’ or ‘Yeah, we were influenced by what we heard’. Who knows?

    “Like I said, I know Randy for years and years and  years and he’d heard, ‘Why don’t you sue them?’ and he never did. I would think that if it was that important to him – and believe me, he could’ve used the money, I know that because he used to spend every dime he ever made to go back into the studio and record. That’s all he liked to do was write songs and record in the studio. But he never did (sue) so I guess, maybe, it didn’t matter that much to him. If it did, he would’ve done it. 

    My last question for Fuzzy is one that I usually ask veterans of the music industry: When you’ve stepped off the tour bus for the final time and you go to that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you wish your legacy to be?

    “The main thing is that it’s the music that counts, the messages in the songs that you write and that you record, those things do positive and happy and healing things to humanity. It’s not for one person; it’s for every single human being. It’s the same when you go and play a gig. I do not care if you play in front of a half a million people if you’re playing for twenty people in a night club. The whole idea of being there and doing what you’re doing is that when you’re done at the end of the night, you know that you’ve given a hundred and ten percent of what’s inside of your soul – your spirit – up there on that stage; that you’ve played the best that you can play and that you hope that, when the people that experienced that moment with you, that they go home feeling better than when they got there to begin with. That’s all there is to it.

    There’s nothing else that I can add. I want it to be positive. I want it to be happy and, hopefully, if they’re having a bad time, maybe even healing. I would say that’s what I want people to remember.”