Jason Bonham talks Led Zeppelin Experience, touring with HEART, Celebration Day and more

Jason Bonham talks Led Zeppelin Experience, touring with HEART, Celebration Day and more
July 12, 2013 | By More

Jason Bonham has a wealth of talent, equally matched by his wealth of stories, tales that just can’t be crammed into a twenty minute telephone conversation.  Mr. Bonham has been a high-profile drummer since the very beginning, of course and it’s not every player who literally grows up in the public eye.  Those who do, often crash and burn, unable to deal with the pressure of a million eyes watching them yet Jason has risen to the occasion; even tasks as daunting as performing with the modern day Led Zeppelin.  At this stage in his career, Jason Bonham has found a way to longevity in the music biz while celebrating the career of his father’s band and is performing with his bandmates in the Led Zeppelin Experience.  The guys are currently out on the road with the equally legendary HEART performing the music of Led Zep, both opening the show and closing with a encore set featuring  the Wilson Sisters and I recently caught up with Jason to talk about it, amongst other things, read on….

LRI:  Hi Jason…..Let me start by going back a lonnng way with you. I saw you with your band Bonham opening for the Cult at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee.  Do you remember those touring and recording days fondly?

Jason Bonham:  (laughs)  Oh yeah, very much so….What I remember of them!  Those were the drinking days and that’s going back a ways but that was a fun time.  I believe that run of dates was around the time I had my cast removed, I had played the entire Canadian tour in a cast.

LRI:  Did that whole process of recording and releasing albums, something you’d dreamed about since you were very young, live up to your expectations?

Jason:  Being a teenager or young adult is kind of a weird time for that, I think you appreciate it a bit more later on in your adulthood but it was definitely a good time.  You learn to adjust your dreams and goals, they’re so high when you’re younger.  I was just telling my son the other day because he wants to be a big thing in the rap music world, I wanted to tell him how I felt when I was growing up.  I mean, at the time I was like “Oh yeah, I’m gonna be this, I’m gonna be big”  all those things you feel when you’re so young, confident and cocky about your music when in reality it’s just playing.  I mean, I had been touring and playing from when I left school at 16, which is when you leave school in England, to the point where within a couple of weeks I was working on demos for Robert’s solo album to going to London and doing my first band.  Within a year I was opening up for Queen in Europe playing in front of thousands of people.  Then it was touring with AC/DC and it was just a continuation of things, opening up for The Firm, working with Jimmy and by the time I was 21 I was already doing private plane tours.  It was pretty elaborate and it all happened pretty fast which is probably a big part of the reason my partying and excess was such an issue back in those days.  Just because I was pretty much being handed the keys to the city, so to speak.

LRI:  I remember that tour with the Firm, just wanting to go to it as a kid.  Was that a feeling of business as usual or a little surreal?

Jason:  I was just taking it all at that time and like I said, at this point now, my appreciation for things that come through is much greater because I know how things can change, not just in careers but in life.  Reality is much clearer now and when things come through I really appreciate them more in recent years.  I’ve been very lucky to have played with the amount of people I’ve played with, to work with some of the people I’ve worked with and very lucky to have released the albums I’ve been a part of.  Just a couple of years ago I was lucky enough to work with Derek Sherinian, Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonnamassa in Black Country Communion and achieve success.  I’ve never had a top 10 album in England so to be in the top ten on the English charts was a huge, huge thing for me, to be top 20 in 25 countries this late on in life and career was great, it was something I could really appreciate in comparison to some of the early years.

LRI:  You were 14 years old when your father passed away.  With the passage of years, when you think about the time you spent with your dad, does it give you a little bit more clarity in terms of prioritizing the time you spend with your kids now?

Jason:  You think it does but you still have to remind yourself every now and again.  When my son wants to do things you have to stop and think about that unique relationship that you have as a parent with your kids (laughs).  It’s been said before, “They don’t need another friend, they need a parent” and it’s tough.  I mean, my father pretty much gave me every thing he could possibly give me in life but looking back, the things that I valued more, were his time.  Riding bikes, beating on the drum kit, that kind of thing.  When I look back now, I don’t think about “Oh that was such a great gift” or whatever.  The fondest memories I recall are just sitting in the car and listening to Fleetwood Mac “Rumours” over and over again while driving to Wales.   So now, every once in a while, my wife will just prod me or remind me that I’m being hard on my kid or remind me of how much those memories with my dad meant to me.

LRI:  You have mentioned in other interviews that your dad wasn’t a rock star around the house.  He was on you about picking up your room, homework and all the other normal stuff dads tend to care about.

Jason:  Totally!  Totally, yeah, when he was at home he was dad.  I really didn’t know the other side of him until I grew older and was working and spending time with people who knew him.  As I grew older, Jimmy and Robert could tell me the stories (laughs).  I soon found out that he was a character and a half (laughs) but it’s so funny if you think about it.  The guys were so young back then, everything they were achieving was before they were even in their thirties, before he was even 25 he had already recorded Led Zeppelin IV,  which is one of the biggest selling record albums of all time.  He’d done so much by that time but he was still a kid really.

LRI:  At the same time, as you are well aware, as big as Led Zeppelin were back then, the legend has only grown and grown over the years.

Jason:  Totally.  I don’t think he could’ve ever dreamed or imagined what he actually meant to music or to drummers in this world, including every drummer I’ve ever met.  Every drummer I’ve ever spoken to, or even read about, no matter what drummers change in their top five, my dad’s always in their top three.  So it’s pretty clear that he was hugely influential to a whole lot of players and that in of itself would be surprising to a guy who was basically from a very humble background; a guy who just really liked to play drums.  I don’t think he would ever be able to imagine that the music would be so big today or that he would be such an icon in the drumming world.

John Bonham looking on as Jason begins his love affair with the drumkit

John Bonham looking on as Jason begins his love affair with the drumkit

LRI:  I’m sure you saw him get excited over certain gigs or events over the years but we would all have loved to have gotten a feel for his reaction to your performance with Led Zeppelin  for the “Celebration Day” concert/album.

Jason:  I can imagine!  The excitement that I felt just when we first agreed to go to England and play again was huge, just for me to try out for Jimmy, John Paul and Robert.  That was before they even made the decision and it was just huge, I was ecstatic just to do that.  I was so excited that I really had to calm myself down realistically.  It is so hard to explain to you what it’s like to spend time with them because the whole time you are talking or working with them…..there’s a certain element of feeling like Dad is going to walk through the door at any moment, just because of their closeness and the amount of time he spent with all of them.  I mean, they were all there!  I would go around asking them all questions (laughs) and they started to limit me to asking one question a day (laughs).  I can say that the more information I got, the more it helped to fill in that gap between those two people, John Bonham the drummer and John Bonham, my dad.

LRI:  You’ve said before that your current touring band, Led Zeppelin Experience, was in part inspired by the Led Zeppelin show at 02 Arena, how so?

Jason:  It was, but there was also a considerable amount of time between when the actual concert took place in 07 and when the “Celebration Day” CD/DVD was released late last year where I gave it lot of thought.  I really started considering it but I was of two minds.  At first I thought I would really just leave playing those songs with those guys at that and I was really worried about what people would think, not critics but fans in general.  I gave it a tremendous amount of thought and it was a couple of years before I actually took it out on the road and it was well-received.  Then when the actual 02 concert was finally released, I would have never imagined that I would still be playing the material and doing the shows but it’s still doing well.  I think the DVD of Celebration Day helped though, people seeing me performing with John Paul, Jimmy and Robert,  it’s definitely helped with people coming out to the shows.  I think if you were a non-believer before, I feel confident that my performance on that show was me giving my best at that time.  I think that my performances with Led Zeppelin got better with each performance and I think that our performances as Led Zeppelin Experience have also gotten better with each show.  The more relaxed we play, the better it sounds.

Jason and dad in a shared moment onstage at Led Zeppelin Experience

Jason and dad in a shared moment onstage at Led Zeppelin Experience

LRI:  There is a lot going on visually during these shows, I don’t wanna give it all away but how much fun is it for you to work with the show elements of the Led Zeppelin Experience tour?

Jason:  It’s been fun and it’s important to me to have something in addition to the music, that was the whole point of it.  When I first started doing this I was working with some of the people behind some of the biggest tribute tours like Pink Floyd Experience, The Beatles and now I’m doing it.  It’s imperative that I continue putting together the best shows and take it to the next level.  I’m talking to people about holograms and my dream is to do the hologram drum solo with dad next to me.

LRI:  Holy Shit.

Jason: (laughs).  Yeah, so….that is my goal, my dream and we’re just trying to figure out everything that we can do with this show.  There’s so much more that I would love to do but obviously I am limited somewhat as far as the footage that I have and the quality of the footage.  These guys were operating in the 1970s and it’s not at all like it is today where everybody can record everything with a phone or digital camera.  Back in those days if you had a camera that could record video you were well off and to be able to be proficient enough to edit or work with it or process it and release it was a whole other matter.  It wasn’t as instant of a thing as it is now (laughs).  I am trying to work with the limited footage I have, to put it together in a way that works and is purposeful.  I did not want to go onstage and play Led Zeppelin songs, there has to be more than that. I wanted to create a complete experience of what Led Zeppelin means to me, growing up around them and being part of it all my life.  Believe me, it can also be a hindrance but it has mostly been a pleasure and if anything playing their music and performing this show has simply been a pleasure.  It’s definitely less stressful for me because I am way less critical of this music obviously than I am when writing or recording new material for myself of my band.  I am notoriously hard on myself in terms of working on new material and while I am critical of my performance on the Led Zeppelin material, I am way more critical of my own stuff.    I’m pretty hard on myself.

Young Jason and his Bonham bandmate Jonny Smithson at the Bonham record release party in NYC 1989 having some fun

Young Jason and his Bonham bandmate Jonny Smithson at the Bonham record release party in NYC 1989 having some fun

LRI:  I think you got some of the best advice in general from Robert Plant when he told you if you’re going to do it you need to do it with a big smile on your face.

Jason:  Yeah, and just his advice to enjoy playing in general.  Even moments before we went onstage at 02 he was telling me “Remember to enjoy it Jason, because it will be over before you know it and no one can ever take that away from you”.  Sometimes when you play these gigs, shows you’ve been looking forward to all of your life, you can get caught up in the moment or caught up in the playing and forget to enjoy it (laughs).  It was around my third song in (at the 02 Zeppelin show) where I really started to relax and take it all in and it was amazing.  It still is.  Who wouldn’t enjoy playing this music?  I’m very lucky, I’m working with some truly great musicians who are passionate about Led Zeppelin, as I am and it’s fun.

LRI:  You’re playing in front of generations of fans, some hearing the music for the first time and some who have been following you and your father for decades.  Have you seen some fans who’ve felt closure in seeing you on this tour or in seeing you on the Led Zeppelin DVD?

Jason:  It didn’t occur to me when I was first playing these Led Zeppelin experience shows but there was one particular guy in Montreal who brought that to mind.  He showed me a picture of him in line September 25th 1980 at the arena outside waiting to buy tickets for Led Zeppelin.  He came to see me 32 years later and was with his son and he said “Moments after that picture was taken a gentleman came down to say that the concert was cancelled because John Bonham passed away”.  He broke into tears telling me this story and told me that he had been waiting over thirty years to tell me this story.  It was amazing and I’ve heard more and more of those.  I’ve seen grandfathers bringing their grandsons to shows and mothers bringing their daughters and granddaughters who have a passion for this music and have handed it down.  It’s not just about me or the guys playing the music anymore it’s something bigger and a lot of people come because this miss experiencing this music in a live way.  I’m very flattered when they enjoy it and when they say this is the closest feeling they’re going to get to seeing the band when they saw them back in the day,  it’s humbling.  That’s a huge statement but we’re trying our best and giving  110% of our abilities.

LRI:  Is it a challenge to balance out the more deeper cuts that some of us want to hear like “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” or “Black Country Woman” or “In The Evening” with the obvious radio hit classics?

Jason:  I always say that most of the people who come see me are true diehard fans rather than casual fans who just know “Black Dog” or “Stairway”.  I think we try and put across songs that appeal to the diehards, some of which are songs that Zeppelin never did live like “Four Sticks” and “Fool In The Rain”.  “When the Levee Breaks” is one they never really got to play live and we do that, doing those types of songs is always great fun for us.  Also, there’s a lot of material that the band played early on but then just stopped playing.  A lot of the early sets where they pretty much played Zeppelin 1 and 2 and some blues numbers, I’ve always loved this Danish TV special version of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” where they perform it live with electric bass and kind of combine it with the studio version.  It wasn’t widely performed live but we do that.  Also, with everyone checking setlists and posting them online, as soon as they do that I change it (laughs).


LRI:  Does that make it difficult as far as all the visual elements that sync up with the show (laughs)?

Jason:  It can….we played one song in darkness (laughs) because our guy didn’t know what button to push.  So it can definitely keep everyone on their toes but it’s worth it.  I know when they post the setlists it can kind of ruin the surprise.  I know i remember Jimmy was saying to me when we were playing that he didn’t want anyone to ruin the surprise of what we were playing with Led Zeppelin by letting  the setlist get out.  Even now, performing, a lot of bands put it right there onstage where fans can read it but I don’t want them onstage anymore, I want it where you have to walk behind the guitar rig or whatever to see it (laughs).

LRI:  Before I let you go, I have to ask you about performing with Heart.  Are you looking forward to each night?

Jason:  I am.  I’m looking forward to extending what we had that night at the Kennedy Center when we performed “Stairway”.  It went so well and I was initially a bit surprised when they presented that song to me as the one they wanted to do because “Stairway To Heaven” is such a tough one, I was kind of like “Really??  You wanna attempt that??”.  Hats off to the guy who arranged it with the choir and everything definitely went well with Heart.  I’m very glad that we’re extending it and also that we’re again attempting songs that you might not expect.  It’s working out to be a nice 40 or 50 minutes at the end of the set but as you know if you choose the wrong Led Zeppelin songs, three songs can take up 30 minutes of that live chunk (laughs).  It was as important to Ann and Nancy that we chose songs that were challenging as well as memorable and that’s what makes it so much fun.

Visit Jason Bonham Online:
http://www.jasonbonham.net -Official Website
https://www.facebook.com/JasonBonhamOfficial – Official Facebook

Order the Led Zeppelin Celebration Day DVD on Amazon, HERE.

Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience TOUR DATES (with HEART)

Fri 07/19/13         Detroit, MI     DTE Energy Music Theatre
Sun 07/21/13        Burgettstown, PA     First Niagara Pavilion
Mon 07/22/13      Cuyahoga Falls, OH     Blossom Music Center
Tue 07/23/13        Toronto, ON     Molson Canadian Amphitheatre
Wed 07/24/13       Ottawa, ON     National Arts Centre Southam Hall
Fri 07/26/13         Lockport, NY     Ulrich City Courtyard (JBLZE Only)
Sat 07/27/13         Cincinnati, OH     Riverbend Music Center
Mon 07/29/13       Highland Park, IL     Ravinia Festival At Ravinia Park
Tue 07/30/13        Noblesville, IN     Klipsch Music Center
Thu 08/01/13        West Allis, WI     Wisconsin State Fair Park
Fri 08/02/13          Louisville, KY     The Kentucky Center For The Performing Arts (JBLZE Only)
Sat 08/03/13          Nashville, TN     War Memorial Auditorium (JBLZE Only)
Wed 08/14/13         The Woodlands, TX     The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
Thu 08/15/13          Dallas, TX     Gexa Energy Pavilion
Sat 08/17/13           Maryland Heights, MO     Verizon Wireless Amph. St. Louis
Sun 08/18/13          Kansas City, MO     Starlight Theatre
Tue 08/20/13         Englewood, CO     Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre
Thu 08/22/13         Los Angeles, CA     Greek Theatre
Fri 08/23/13          Los Angeles, CA     Greek Theatre
Sat 08/24/13          Indio, CA     Fantasy Springs Resort Casino & Special Events Ctr.
Mon 08/26/13       San Diego, CA     SDSU Open Air Theatre
Tue 08/27/13         Santa Barbara, CA     Santa Barbara Bowl
Wed 08/28/13        San Francisco, CA     America’s Cup Pavilion
Fri 08/30/13          Ridgefield, WA     Sleep Country Amphitheater
Sat 08/31/13          Seattle, WA     Seattle Center

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Category: Interviews

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