In a world of fake news, thankfully there are many truths which remain irrefutable. Led Zeppelin were one of the greatest and most influential bands in rock music history. Fact! It is estimated that they have sold somewhere between 200 and 300 million units worldwide. That makes them one of the richest. Fact! All four members of the band are legends in their own right. Fact! In their heyday, Robert Plant was the stereotypical rock god. Jimmy Page was one of the greatest rock guitarists on the planet and John Paul Jones was an incredibly innovative and masterful bass player. The band’s dearly departed drummer John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham is still considered to be the greatest rock drummer there ever was. In 2007, when Led Zeppelin reformed to play London’s O2 Arena, it was the fastest selling concert of all time. Fact! In order to play as well and as authentically as they possibly could that day, they turned to Bonzo’s son Jason Bonham to fill the drum stool and he did so triumphantly.
Now aged 51, Jason has been playing drums since he was four years old and can be seen in the classic Zeppelin movie The Song Remains The Same behind a drum kit. In January 1995 Jason Bonham represented his father when Led Zeppelin was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Aerosmith. He’s an accomplished and respected drummer who has played with many other rock legends such as Foreigner and UFO and his two current projects include playing with Sammy Hagar in The Circle, as well as drumming for Black Country Communion which features Joe Bonamassa, Glenn Hughes and Derek Sherinian.
The great news is that Jason Bonham will be coming to Australia in MAY 2018 with his amazing Led Zeppelin Evening, playing authentic versions of Zeppelin hits and relating personal memories of his time with his father John Bonham.
Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips was thrilled to catch up with Jason on the phone while he was in Mexico playing some dates with his other band The Circle.
Hi Jason, where are you today?
I’m in Mexico. One of my other jobs is playing with Sammy Hagar in a band called The Circle with Michael Anthony and we’re down here celebrating Sammy’s 70th birthday. He’s been playing here for 27 years. We’ve just done the first two nights with two more to do. I’ve done about 20 or 30 shows with him this year in between doing the Led Zeppelin Experience and recording with the Black Country Communion, so I am keeping busy… my busiest year yet.
It’s great to hear that you’re bringing the JBLZE show to Australia. Have you been here before?
I’ve been there a couple of times but only played once. I was there in 2006 with Foreigner, we did two shows … Melbourne and Sydney. I was back there again for the Australian Open to watch the tennis and visited some friends on the Gold Coast and Sydney. It was the first time my wife had been there. Now we have the chance to come down and play Zeppelin. Everyone kept asking, when are you going to come down and play? I kept saying, when somebody asks me! It was through social media, somebody asked me on Facebook and said they had an offer for me. I looked into it and he didn’t seem to be a lunatic, it all seemed legit so I’m pleased to be finally coming.
There are many Zeppelin tribute bands touring the world, we even have a famous one here in Adelaide which just toured UK. Apart from the bloodlines, what are the other elements that make this show special?
For me, having played with them a few times and being Jimmy’s drummer on his only ever solo tour and I played on the only real solo album in his career. There are a lot of really personal things in this show. There are many amazing other acts out there but I think what will make us stand out is … well before I started this I thought ok, I know what we can do. We can show some old movies and show a little but more of the personal side, so it definitely is a lot more of a personal, open and realistic show, where it is very much an interaction between the audience and myself and the band. Soon you realise that it is about the passion that we have for Zeppelin as a whole. It’s not us and you, it is all of us. Hopefully we’ll play all of your favourites. Sometimes we play for over three hours. People can inspire you by shouting things out … we listen. We take things very seriously. We don’t try to pretend anything, we don’t dress up. We find that it is very organic musically and we play to the best of our ability and hope that people will like it.
How did you go about putting this band together because the parts the guys are playing are so scrutinised by Zeppelin fans. I guess there was a degree of pressure on them initially or even still?
Yes very much so and I am the biggest critic of it … huge. People will say to me, why have you never done this song? I’ll go, because we suck at doing it! I am very realistic. We’ll try all the songs but I find the ones that sound best and come together quicker and more natural … it has a vibe and you can feel it straight away. We’re always working on songs but I’ll say, no we’re not ready for that one yet. There might be something not quite right or an element we are not capturing … sometimes it’s me. I mean, dad’s feel is to me the most important thing. You can go up there and play all the parts in the right order and the right place but it has to have something else. Dad had that feel, that natural swagger and it’s an important thing to do. I later found out in life some things that dad wanted to do when I was a kid. There’s an article from 1971 where he said that he really wants to play drums side by side with my son at the Royal Albert Hall. Well, we get to do that every night, with technology. We have the Royal Albert Hall drum solo and I play with him doing Moby Dick. I found that out 3 years in. People send you things and you find these things out. So it is a very special show. And getting to do Levee Breaks with dad… without him on that, we wouldn’t be doing it in the set. I would say that’s the reason they didn’t do it live, there was something about that perfect range and the sound of the room that really makes that track. As soon as it starts you go… Levee Breaks! It’s an iconic but simple beat but it has such a thing to it. We love to do it and it is a crowd favourite.
Do you have any of your dad’s drum gear?
No. The weirdest thing was that dad only ever had his four drum kits in his entire career, which was the maple, the green sparkle, the orange vistalite and the stainless steel. He gave away the orange vistalite for a charity event. We’ve still got the green sparkle at home at mum and dad’s place. The maple kit .. I know where it is but I don’t know how it got there. The Roxy Music drummer (Paul Thompson) has got it. He said if you ever want it back… I said you can give it back. He said I can’t give it back but if you ever want it! The stainless steel kit is at home too. Mum doesn’t like them to leave the house. She’s worried I’d take them away and sell them. She has that fear I guess. Myself, I have plenty of drums. I stopped counting after 30 drum sets. I am very fortunate. The weirdest thing is, the older I get I buy more drums now than I ever have. I collect them. I find vintage drum stores and buy snare drums. My collection of snare drums is growing hugely, so I am always on the hunt. If anyone wants to sell a 70s or late 60s Supraphonic, I will buy as many as you can get!
What are you using on the upcoming JBLZE Australian tour?
I’ll be using a custom made DW vistalite set, which I’ll be bringing out. I have been using a stainless steel set for the last couple of years, so I would like to go back to the vistalite set up, which is perceived as something I did as a tongue in cheek, tip of the hat to my father at the O2 Celebration Day. I had a yellow vistalite not an orange one but the vistalites sound so good, so I will be bringing that down in my excess luggage and carried by hand to Australia. I am back with Paiste cymbals too which is nice. I have been back with them since 2013. It’s a simple set up, two crash cymbals, a ride and hi hat. That’s it … one rack tom, two floors, very simple but very comfortable to play.
Advances in technology and PA systems mean that your concert sound is much better than back in the Zeppelin days. Even back at the O2 Arena gig, the sound was much better than in Zeppelin’s heyday…
For me, I never went out front. Even in the days of Zeppelin, I was always sitting at the side of the stage so to be honest I didn’t get a real idea of it then. But when I went to see bands in the 80s it was Turbosound, which began to have a huge amount of low end. I remember AC/DC making me literally have to go to the bathroom to take a crap because it was so loud in the low end. When the kick drum kicked it, it gave you a bowel movement, so I have only really been around that kind of PA. But I am fully aware of how my dad used to have the kick drum and that was that the bass drum was in a lower frequency to where the kick drum would be. It was more of a cannon-like kick drum, very metallic sounding through the PA, which you can kind of hear on some of the bootlegs. It was a lot more of a marching drum kind of kick drum back then, it wasn’t the low end thud that we are all aware of now.
Thanks for your time Jason, we look forward to seeing you down here with JBLZE.
Thank you, I’m really looking forward to it.
TOUR DATES (rescheduled)
Sydney – May 23 – State Theatre
Melbourne – May 24 – Palais Theatre
Perth – May 26 – Perth Concert Hall
Brisbane – May 29 – Tivoli
For more information contact: www.jblzedownunder.com