Jason Bonham never expected to get the call to play with Led Zeppelin. But there were always rumors about the legendary hard-rock act, some suggesting that the accomplished drummer might even sit in for his late father, John Bonham, whose 1980 death meant the end of Zeppelin. Then, in 2007, the son found himself at the O2 Arena in London, recruited to the band's drum seat for a one-time tribute concert to Ahmet Ertegun and overwhelming rave reviews, including some from the band itself.
“I look back on that night with a great amount of fondness,” guitarist Jimmy Page remarked later, “but Jason was the hero. For me that gig was about him.”
Jason Bonham, 44, was as disappointed as fans when the reunion didn't continue, though he worked for another year with Page and bassist John Paul Jones on a new project that never came to fruition. Now the drummer is celebrating the music of his father in a 30-date tour called Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience, performing remarkable renditions of the band's music that have already been praised by Rolling Stone.
The multi-media show arrives Tuesday at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. None of the players in his band look like the original members of Zeppelin, and that isn't the point. “There's no wigs, there's no outfits, there is no nothing,” says Bonham.
Bonham has said this is a one-time-only tour, timed to the 30th year since his father's death. By early next year, he will be back with his own band, Black Country Communion. “This is not my only career choice. This has become a lot more than I imagined. I just imagined doing 30 club dates and having some fun. Now I'm kind of scared–large theaters, small hockey arenas. They know it's not Led Zeppelin, don't they?”
Exclusive Q&A after the jump.
Your father died when you were 14. Has this live project been emotional for you?
When discussing it with my family, my sister and my mom, there already were emotions, and tears when I tell some of the stories. I don't want it to be too sad, but I want it to be as intimate as it can be to make it special. I want people to walk away carrying happiness, sadness and really a celebration. You take a whole bunch of emotions–like a great movie. It means a lot to me.
What will be in the show?
I'm putting together the pieces with a bit of narration, so its part storytelling, part concert. There's a little bit of history of where it all came from, and where it all started for me. My first memories of them and listening to 'Zeppelin I'–terrified of the intro to 'You're Time Is Gonna Come,' with the big church organ. I remember as a kid screaming, running out the bedroom and going 'What's that horrible noise!' I've been terrified of the church ever since.
Critics weren't fans of the band originally. They called John Bonham “ham-fisted.”
It's like the myth of him using huge drumsticks and hitting harder than anybody else. That's a lot of bollocks. His drums sticks are tiny compared to mine. There's a whole jazz element there that not many people are aware of.
How would you compare your drumming to your father's playing?
Dad's the master, I'm the student. When I started to talk to other drummers I was influenced by, they'd say, 'Well, your dad was one of our major influences,' so I was always going around in circles. Dad's influence naturally came into me, rather than trying to emulate every detail. His way of teaching me was to be sparse, and to be explosive when it needed to be. And there is no such word as overplaying. (Laughs)
You've been using your father's three-ring symbol for years. What does it mean to
Dad always told me what it was. He used to say it means father, mother and son. I always felt that I was part of it in some way. It's so simple and so effective. Like with Jimmy's symbol, everyone has a different meaning of what it actually is: 'Zoso.' I always describe it as the stick figure on the bicycle.
You're probably the only person who wasn't in the original band who knows this
material so well.
We used to laugh about it at (the O2) rehearsals when I talked with John Paul: 'Are you going to do the '73 version, because in '75 you changed it, and in '77 you used to do a little bit of the '73, but more of the '69…?' And he'd go 'You know too much!'
A lot of people still see Zeppelin as a dark, dangerous group.
They are the most normal bunch of guys you could be around. At one point we were in rehearsal, and this old lady turned up with sandwiches: “Robert, here you are, I put an extra pickle on for you … Jimmy, yours are here; John, here's your salad.' When we took a break, everyone would take a section of the newspaper and read. And I'm going, 'Where's the debauchery? Where's the upside down crosses and naked girls and sacrificial tables with virgins on them?' But, boy, when they played … The key to me pulling off the gig was that all I was only looking for was the reassurance from the three guys on stage. I didn't care that anyone else was in the audience.
Why didn't Robert Plant want to tour after the London reunion?
Robert always expressed to me: 'Jason, you know I love you, I loved your dad, and I know how great you are as a player. And on the night, you were great. But to me Led Zeppelin's John, not Jason.' Although it would benefit me to go do it, I also agree with what he says. I understand.
After that, you were working on new music with Page and Jones. What did it sound like?
Yes, but as a separate entity. I don't think it was ever going to be Led Zeppelin. Some cool riff-based stuff, some acoustic stuff. I think Jimmy is still working on that stuff now. I look forward to hearing that. Jimmy was playing amazingly.
Are you still in touch?
I speak to Robert quite a lot. I'm talking to them as an adult now, talking about grown up things and music. As much as I was disappointed that it didn't continue on, I feel blessed that I got to live in that short time and be the most famous drummer on the planet for a few weeks.
Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience at the Pantages, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Tue., Nov. 23. 8 pm. $40-$60. All ages. broadwayla.org.