By Pat Prince
Later this year, Jason Bonham will embark on a concert tour called “Jason Bonham: The Led-Zeppelin Experience” to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the passing of his father, the legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Henry Bonham.
“The Led-Zeppelin Experience” will be a complete dedication to the life that Jason had shared with his father, and the band his father championed. Limited-engagement concert dates in North America — a full 30 dates — are planned for this fall.
After attending “Rain, A Tribute to the Beatles” — a celebratory musical production now on Broadway — Jason was inspired to create something extraordinary to celebrate the full Bonham legacy.
Unlike “Rain,” the “Experience” band won’t be dressed in historical garb. The musicians Jason is putting together to represent Zeppelin’s music won’t encompass your ordinary tribute band. They will form into more of a support band to back Jason’s performance into Zeppelin’s well-known catalog.
Behind the drum kit, home movies, photos and other rare footage will be part of the multimedia event. With what promises to be a state-of-the-art sound system and top-notch lighting, the show will be mapped out as a journey into Jason’s personal relationship with his father and Led Zeppelin.
Jason had become upset at some of the initial reaction to the event. Some critics scoffed at the idea, stating that, perhaps, this is an exploitation of a famous musician’s death. But that would be misrepresenting Jason Bonham. His intentions are true. His love for his father is rock solid. He is a pure fan of Led Zeppelin’s music, and he is almost as connected to it as any surviving members of the group.
Recently, we had a chance to chat with Jason Bonham while he was on a press junket in New York City.
You want to make it clear to the fans that the Led Zeppelin Experience will be more than just another tribute band.
Jason Bonham: Very much so.
How would you then describe the Led Zeppelin Experience, in your own words?
JB: It wasn’t really what I set out to do with my life. I love the music so much, and every now and again, I will play it with a great group of people, but after you play it with them, whenever you decide to do it, it becomes a little bit bigger than it was the time before. And especially after the great success of the O2 show. So now, with the spotlight on, I said, ‘Listen, if I’m really going to do this, it’s gotta be bigger than I want it to be. Let’s do everything we possibly can to make it the best experience they (the fans) can have. And that’s when we said ‘Experience, that’s it.’ And that’s what it’s going to be called “Jason Bonham: The Led-Zeppelin Experience.”
And I started to think, what can I put in a show that no other show can have? And … well, a couple of things: your father was in the band, you played with the band, and I really think the music is so special. I really am a fan. I’m not doing it for the hell of it. I really love playing these songs. And it was very sad when it all came to a close, after doing it once (at O2), and got so close to doing it as a tour. It was great. It was a really wonderful time.
So I was repeatedly asked by Annerin (Annerin Productions), who put on the show “Rain, A Tribute to the Beatles.” I went to see “Rain” and saw a whole other bunch of ways to do it, to make it a personal journey — part storyteller, a little bit more theatre.
I figured you’d sit down at the start of the show and by the end, you’ll be up, rocking out. I want it to be a real cool journey. It’s more my life through the music Led Zeppelin, than any kind of timeline. My first memories. What was the first thing that stood out when I first heard Led Zeppelin. My first jam experience playing with them at Knebworth when I was 13. So it’s personal anecdotes and one hell of a show, too. I want it to be as special as it can be.
The fans are so thirsty right now for anything Zeppelin.
JB: Thirty years on since Dad passed away. Zeppelin has grown and grown — I really do think, the biggest they’ve ever been or the biggest they ever were when they stopped.
Isn’t it amazing? You see teenagers nowadays wearing Zeppelin T-shirts. You don’t get this with any other type of classic rock band, really. This is special.
JB: No. No, you don’t. And to most teenagers, someone of my age of 40 is an old man — and for them to still look highly at Zeppelin. And every time a teenager finds Zeppelin, it’s like they found a new act. They are like ‘Check this out!’ And then someone goes, ‘Dude, have you seen these guys? They’re like 67 years old now.’ And they’re like ‘What?!’ (laughs).
My son is 14, and he’s just getting into that, you know, ‘Yeah, yeah, my grandfather was in Led Zeppelin’ kind of vibe (laughs). And I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, work it, son, work it.’
It’s not like there’s anything really promoting Zeppelin out there, like The Stones or The Who. Those bands are still touring, promoting their brand. Zeppelin has been inactive for so long. And that speaks volumes, that the music is still so popular.
JB: Oh, totally. I think so, and to me, I have been more meticulous, probably, on this show, and more anal than I’ve ever been in my life. The only time I was this intense was when I was doing the O2, about what my performance was going to be like. And that was just my part then. With this, I’ll rehearse and play back the rehearsal and listen to the guitar player, or listen to the bass player, and I’ll say, “You know, I don’t like that. I want you to go more like it was in the ’77 jam version of “Sick Again,” when it goes into the solo. I want you to follow that bass line more than the one in ’75.’ So, I’m picking my favorite bits of all the different tours and kind of tell them all what to do. Like I would ever try to do that to John Paul (laughs).
I’ve just been very lucky. And at the same time, I’ve gotten spoiled. You know, when you’ve played with them (Zeppelin) … ah … Ask any drummer — whether or not it’s the drummer related to the original drummer — you say, ‘You wanna go play with Led Zeppelin for six weeks and get to know them?’ I don’t think there’s one drummer out there that would say, ‘No. I’m just gonna continue on with what I’m doing’ (laughs).
Did your father get you into drums? Did he push it, or was it the other way around?
JB: It was just one of those things. It was there, the drum kit was there, from an early age, of about 4, so … When Dad used to have friends over, he’d come get me out of bed and go, ‘Come play the drums .’ And I’d be like ‘Yeah, yeah!’ So, I’d come down and play to whoever was there, which sometimes was Jeff Beck or Paul Rodgers, There was this one time, it’s funny, I did “Rock and Roll Fantasy” in pajamas, playing the drums, and Paul Rodgers looks at Simon Kirke and says ‘You’re fired’ (laughs). And I reminded Paul of that when I went to play with him on the Muddy Waters album (“Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute To Muddy Waters”). I asked him, ‘Was that my audition, back then?’ He goes, ‘Probably, yeah.’
You’ve been thinking of doing a show to honor your father for quite awhile now, right?
JB: Yeah. And there’s been mixed feelings … it’s just the negative people. But there are a lot of positive people. And as I said, I take things personally. I’m not as hard-edged of a person as I might look. I read things, and it’s been hurtful sometimes.
I never got to the situation with my father where I became an angry teenager and we suddenly kicked heads. And that kind of goes to life. I’ve got a 17-year-old girl now and my 14-year-old boy. And my 14-year-old boy and I, we get along great. And my daughter, we get along great now and again. And she’s this teenager where it’s ‘Why do I gotta do that?’ With my father, I never got to the bit where we would disagree. So I hold him on such a high pedestal, if you know what I mean. And miss him so much, that this, to me, means a helluva lot. I said to my mom, I want to make it so special that she can actually come to it, without breaking into tears — which she is going to do anyway — and really just say, ‘You know what? Your Dad would be proud.’
’Cause, to me, at that O2 gig, I think the closest thing to Dad saying ‘You did OK,’ was getting a look from them (Zeppelin) or a ‘That was great, Jas.’ That was enough. That was as close as it got to Dad telling me.
For you to play with Led Zeppelin was probably the ultimate honor to him.
JB: Yeah. And, if they were OK with it … and more than OK, as Jonesy said in one of the interviews I’ve read — which is wonderful — he said, ‘When we got to ‘Kashmir,’ Jason went out of the box, and went into his own element. He took risks.’ And that’s a tall order to do when you’re playing with Led Zeppelin and taking it on yourself and taking risks. That’s what Dad taught me. That’s the style of playing he taught me — be a risk taker. Dad was pretty solid. He had great grooves and there was occasional moments of sheer brilliance with fills and things, but in general, the sheer brilliance is the simplicity, how much groove, how much feel he had, all the subtleties that we miss. But live, the guy was an explosion. It was like the bubbling of the volcano that would occasionally erupt in the wrong place. It was just so cool.
Don’t you think that your father would love to see Zeppelin back together, with you playing drums, on tour.
JB: Yeah, I know.
I don’t know if you’re sick of hearing about it …
JB: No, not at all.
… but hopefully a reunion will happen.
JB: If you had said to me five years ago, ‘Oh yeah, you’re going to do a Led Zeppelin reunion in a couple years, aren’t you?’ I would have thought you’d been mad. At least I’ve got it in the back of my head now: Never count anything out in your life. Ever. You never know with these guys. You never know anything. I mean, do I see it? No. But I will say after that day (O2), I didn’t see it years ago. Obviously, Ahmet’s death (Ahmet Ertegun, founder and president of Atlantic Records) had a huge impact for it to be done. He was very, very special to them.
But I saw Robert recently and we chatted. He said one of the nicest things to me, after reading some negativity about what I was doing … because I am putting a lot of effort into this and I really want it to be right. I mean, I really want people to walk away with the feeling of ‘I did not expect that. That was better than I ever expected!’ And Robert said, ‘Listen, Jason. You don’t need an excuse to do this, you know.’ And he said, ‘No one plays drums like you. There was one. He’s gone now. There’s a lot of drummers who say they can, and they can’t. So, you have my blessing as long as you do this with a smile on your bloody face.’ And that meant a lot to me. At that point then, I basically stopped looking at any negativity. I plan to make this the best I can without worrying about those people.
And Page and Jones … have you spoken to them about it?
JB: I haven’t had a chance to yet. I’d like to. Obviously. To tell them what I’m doing.
This is not my career. It’s just something I want to do during this period of my life — at the same time I’ve got a new band. An album comes out September, “Black Country Communion.” The great thing is, while I’ve got that, and I’ve got this tour to do, and if it works out, who’s to say. I’ll just do the 30 shows and see what people think after that. If people want it, you know, if it goes well, I can’t see a problem. But at the moment, I’m just going to do the 30 and then go out with Black Country Communion.
But when it comes down to it, who cares about the critics? The people who are really going to love this are the fans. Think of all the fans who never got a chance to see your father play. Many are disappointed that they never got that chance. So this will be the closest they will get.
JB: Put it this way, this is one of those things where I see the more pressure on me with this one. But I’m looking forward to it. Being able to listen to Led Zeppelin 24 hours a day (laughs). What’s not to like about that? And every time I listen to it — still now — I find something. ‘Oh. I didn’t notice that bit before.’
The fun bit is picking the songs. I want to jam in as many things as we can, do the key ones, but for some of the fans, do ones that they would never get to hear live anyway. There are certain great songs that I love from “In Through the Out Door” which I would love to see live. And “Presence” …
“Presence” is an underrated album.
JB: Totally. I mean, I love “Tea For One.” I’ve been working on a really, really cool version of “Presence” and with orchestrations, which is just phenomenal fun. And even if some of it doesn’t happen in the show, just the creative part of it is a blast to do.
Favorite Zeppelin album?
JB: “Physical Graffiti.”
That’s a popular one. Why so?
JB: I love “In My Time Of Dying.” I love “Sick Again.” Of course, “Kashmir.” “In the Light,” “Ten Years Gone” ...
What song are you most excited to play for the “Led-Zeppelin Experience?”
JB: Oh. I don’t know. All of them in a different way. I’m really digging one we’ve been working on, and giving it a fresh kind of excitement. I’ve decided to play “When the Levee Breaks,” but with Dad. So Dad is the main groove and I’m playing and doing the in-fills with him. That has been fun, because we have been playing together.
What about “Moby Dick”?
JB: Yeah. I’ve been working on that, too, where we go to a certain part of the show and we split the screens up. And I’ll be playing along with him, soloing. There’s even a bit where he goes off and I stop playing and I bow and go ‘fair enough’ (laughs). There’s been different parts and different solos throughout the years. And there’s so little professional footage really kept, either from the DVD or “Song Remains the Same.”
Will there be guest appearances in “The Led Zeppelin Experience”? You think other members of Zeppelin would perform?
JB: Of course I would love to have them there. And they would all be welcome. I think one of the reasons I want the show to be really, really good is to not have it at all cheesy. No one will be dressing like anybody. There will be no wigs ...
You mean, no dragon costumes?
JB: No dragon costumes (laughs). I said to the guitarist, maybe I can get him an egg suit, (laughs) in case you get a lot of eggs thrown at you. And we laughed about it and said, ‘Let’s just be ourselves.’ Let’s just be as cool a band going out there — as cool as we can be — and play and represent, to the best of our best abilities, some of the greatest music that has ever been written. To me, Led Zeppelin can be there with The Beatles, easily, in their own right, you know. Like Lennon and McCartney, Page and Plant wrote some classic songs that changed the face of rock music forever, so …
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