The Led Zeppelin Experience's Jason Bonham Talks About His Father's Legacy

click to enlarge SCOTT SANDBERG
Scott Sandberg
When the surviving members of Led Zeppelin — singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist John Paul Jones — needed someone to fill in for the late drummer John Bonham so they could play a reunion show in 2007, they enlisted Bonham's son Jason.

A notable drummer of his own right, Bonham has drummed for Paul Rodgers on his Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters project and made appearances with Led Zeppelin tribute bands Fred Zeppelin and Led Zepagain. Playing with the original members in 2007 was so thrilling, Bonham decided to form the Led Zeppelin experience so he could continue to honor the band's legacy. He brings the group back to Hard Rock Live on Dec. 4 and spoke via phone from his house in Florida where he was in his “drum room” preparing to do his daily drills.

On Representing Led Zeppelin's Music

In reality terms, the concept for the Led Zeppelin Experience was talked about in 2009. It was a way to cheer me up after the fact that the music stopped after the Celebration Day show in 2007. In 2008, we got together and were seeing what was going to happen in the future and even got into a writing session. When that stopped in 2009, my manager was throwing different ideas together. He wanted me to put together an act in between gigs. I didn’t see it as something that was long term. It was what it was. Once I started putting the show together by adding the home movies and getting a chance to [virtually] play with dad on the stage, which was something he had talked about but we hadn’t done when he was alive, it took on a whole other life. It’s a side project that in certain markets is way more than a side project. It’s amazing to me. I still get chills from the reaction we get when I walk on stage and the lights go down. I still find the response a little bit overwhelming, to be honest with you, and it’s very surreal. The experience part of it is for all of us. We all have our Zeppelin stories and we all remember what these songs meant to us. When I lost my father, you lost your drummer and your favorite band and it becomes a very personal thing. I take it very seriously because I want to make sure it’s right. I’m representing my father’s music and the music of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones and Robert Plant. We all look forward to it.

It's Not Just About Chops

When I was younger, I would say I love his chops and his technical ability on Presence. He started to add these double cymbal hits. His performance on “Achille’s Last Stand” is amazing. Some of the simplistic ones can be the hardest thing to play. You think it sounds easy. With “When the Levee Breaks,” there’s something about the way we played. I played in that room where he recorded the song. I wasn’t going to play “When the Levee Breaks” even though I knew that was the room. Eventually, I did play it. But it’s just him and his style. He was never as heavy as what people imagined. He was way more jazz than you can imagine and funkier than you can think of. At home, he was this quiet dad even though you all knew his as Bonzo.

Playing “Moby Dick”

I avoided it for a coupe of years. I realize now that I’m the old man, and he’s the kid. Somebody pointed that out and it blew my mind. I’m now more than double his age. I have a screen on stage because you need to not only listen but watch him. It took us a while to figure out how to do it. You have the delay for screen to audio. We did one with the footage of me side by side with him. I looked late but that’s because there was a delay. It’s a lot of pressure but on the last tour, I absolutely enjoyed [playing “Moby Dick”] so much and wondered why I stopped doing it.

The Studio vs. Live Versions

The way we’ve decided to play now bases the songs more on the album versions. Occasionally, a certain section will go back. I love the '77 version of “Song Remains the Same” and the Knebworth version of “Kashmir.” I didn’t want to go up there and be a jukebox but James, our singer, finds it hard to go off and do the scat. He says he’s not really a singer but somebody told him he sounded like Robert Plant so he learned to sing that way. We did “No Quarter” and he learned to sing it as if the effect was on his voice. I told him he didn’t have to do that. He just learned it as he was hearing it. It was truly amazing. For me, when he sings “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” I get choked up. I feel so blessed. I’ve played it with the real guys and I get to play with my guys. I’m so blessed. My guys give it all. I couldn’t have picked better people to do this project with. They have the same passion that I do.

Changes to the Show

From the last time we were in Cleveland, there are some changes. I’m not sure if we did “Moby Dick” last time and that’s back in the show. there are a couple of different songs we haven’t done, including “In My Time of Dying.” We do the favorites like “When the Levee Breaks” and “Whole Lotta Love,” and I like to take some of the thigns that aren’t so obvious. We do some acoustic songs too. It won’t be short. I always feel every album needs to be represented. We’ll have 15 minute intermission and then keep it going.

Reunion Possibilities

Not that I’m aware of. I’ve heard all the hype for the Desert Trip thing. They wouldn’t tell me until the last minute because I can’t hold anything in. I tell everybody that I work with that I will commit to play with them but if I get one phone call from any of the three original members of Led Zeppelin, I would have to leave. I would love to play with them again. I’m pleased that I get to do this and get asked by different musicians to play with them. Part of it is that I’ve been sober for the last 15 years. It’s been really great for me.

Zeppelin's Lasting Legacy

There is something magical about it. When I was a kid, it wasn’t until I could separate myself from it and became my own man that I realized what it meant. I still hear things I hadn’t noticed before. When you go back to that time period, there were great bands around, but it was original. There was something about them that was so unique. With every album, it could have been different bands. Physical Graffiti was one of my favorite albums, and they kind of change on that album. It was phenomenal. I wish I could have told [Bonham] how great I thought he was when he was alive. Instead, I was always asking him, “Dad, I want to see the Police. I really like Stewart Copeland.”

Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $35-$72.50,

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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