Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening
John Bonham, or Bonzo, as he was affectionately known, was considered THE BEST drummer of all time before his tragic death in 1980. Carrying the weight of his late father’s legacy, son Jason Bonham – a drummer in his own right since the age of five, has carved his own name out amongst his musical peers and fans as the real deal and worthy successor to his dad’s crown. Having played in countless bands over the years including AIR-RACE, Bonham and Motherland which have earnt him Grammy nominations and credibility, Jason was then asked to step into his late father’s shoes by invitation of Jimmy Page and played with the surviving members of Led Zeppelin in New York City in 1988.
Since then Jason has played with a number of other bands, including other Led Zeppelin reunions and has now formed his own project – The Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Evening which is a tribute to his father’s music. In fact it was playing in the Led Zeppelin reunion in 2007 that sparked interest in wanting to start the Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience. With such a vast and iconic catalogue to choose from, the hardest part for Bonham is deciding the set-list.
After a sell-out Australian tour in 2018, The Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Evening returns for 2023. It’s a band of accomplished and virtuoso musicians hand-picked by Bonham to justifiably bring the Led Zep canon to blistering life. Jason talks to Hi Fi Way about the tour.
It is awesome that you are bringing this show to Australia, are you excited?
Yeah, the first time we ever came to Australia was a big was a big thing for me. Zeppelin only made it once, so many, many years ago. To represent the family, my dad and the music, and be able to bring what started purely as a little bit of fun. Now it is thirteen years of doing this. Obviously we would’ve been back sooner, but the Covid thing changed our plans, so we are very excited to come back again.
You mentioned that this started as a bit of fun but did you in your wildest imagination think this would be going even stronger than ever?
One of the things I think really helped was we got to a certain point where I must say I wasn’t too sure how we could keep on going. How do we change it up? Do we do this? I remember fighting with the set list and trying to make it more obscure and in the end a lot of people saying, well, why aren’t you doing the obvious ones? Why do you have to do the weird ones? I’m like, well, I just didn’t want it to be as normal as what most people see. Once you get past the fighting of it the original guitar player decided he wanted to go off and do other things, which left me looking and then to come across the Japanese wonders of Mr. Jimmy. It was the first tour he ever did with us was in Australia. He was a wonderful, almost new lease of life to the project because his knowledge was even better than mine, believe it or not. He could probably tell you not only the set list of what night they played and what bit was changed, he could probably tell you what underwear Jimmy Page was wearing that night as well.
Does this concert experience focus on a particular time period or particular albums?
I would say I tend to go with the versions that I grew up with that were the most iconic. When I ever think about The Song Remains The Same or Since I’ve Been Loving You or The Rain Song, I’m remembering the only thing we had as a visual reference, which was The Song Remains The Same movie. Those performances for me from ‘73 were a huge influence on how those songs should be represented live. I absolutely adore those versions, even when I’m playing, I think a lot of the versions that I love from there, everything was just cool the way my dad was playing, the way the band was sounding the jam segues especially when you think about Dazed or No Quarter, that’s my reference point.
After thirteen years doing it, we’ve settled on, we know what we like, I know what the singer sings the best on. I am a critic when it comes to, I am hard on everybody. If it doesn’t fit, feel right immediately. I don’t try and push the envelope. I will say, nope, it’s not meant to be guys. It has to sound good the first time we play it and for it to feel that we can do it justice. I always feel if we have to work on it, I think that’s a definite sign for a no. We’ve been very fortunate, I laugh about it, somebody said you’ve been doing this now longer than Zeppelin actually did it for real. I’m like, really? They said, yeah, you’ve been doing this for thirteen years. That’s a little strange to think of to be honest.
With the shows keeping the tradition and the legacy going do you find it an emotional experience as well?
That is always dependent on the crowd and you, sometimes you don’t get very emotional, so you’ve got a couple of people going get on with it. That can bring a whole different meaning. If it’s a g really good gig and you’re really at a point where you say yourself, I can’t believe this, I can’t believe the reaction we’re getting and that happens a lot, which, and I’m not saying that to be kind of, hey, you know, just certain moments. A couple of years ago when we were doing the final Farewell Frampton tour, we were opening up for Peter Frampton, to play Madison Square Gardens, this music for me, where the last time I played this music with them was in the 1988 at Madison Square Gardens. To be there in 2019 playing the music was very special to get the reaction we got, to look out and I had to keep saying we’re an opening act.
Those are always my reference point. Then I’ve got reference points, where I’ll fast forward immediately to ‘ 77 from the end of The Song Remains The Same into Sick Again, where they used to go into The Rover into Sick Again. So just little segues that have vividly stuck with me from as a kid and seeing how they went from one song to the next. I also have the wonders of technology to be able to do certain songs that they tried and it didn’t sound right live or didn’t quite have the same vibe, which to me, like Levy Breaks without that iconic sound, that song, you can play it all you want on your own, but it’s not going to work. But if you’ve got John Bonham playing with you, it seems to make that song, it’s the cement that brings that song and the whole thing that holds it together. When we do that, I get to play with the old man live, which kills two birds with one stone, where I never got to play with him while he was alive. So to do that on a nightly basis and perform a song that was never really performed by Zeppelin live, which was still an iconic song, I joke about it that it’s not a big album, just the one that they didn’t have a name for that everyone called four symbols wasn’t like it was an iconic album, just happened to be the biggest seller of all time for them. To them if we took away my name or whatever, we’re really a cover band and that’s it. Everyone says it’s way more than that. Why do you knock it? I went I just like to be humble about it. It’s nice to play and yes, it is emotional. If it wasn’t, I don’t think I’d be doing it. If it didn’t make me feel something, I don’t know that’s the reason why I could still do it. As much as I go, I don’t want to keep doing this, then I play a gig and go, oh, it’s just those moments that you live for, those special moments.
Do you find comparisons to your father hard, or do you find them like a form of flattery or are you not really phased at all?
I try not to read them. I tried to stay away as much as I can. I got sucked into reading a comment, the one a couple of times in the past. All it did was cause me to play differently. Then I wasn’t really playing anything, like anything at that time. The weirdest thing is I think Robert once said to me, if you just forget about, just be Jason, he goes, and John will come naturally. That was the best advice I ever got. Play like I play because the old man taught me and then my dad’s influence comes out. When you’re playing those songs you can’t help it. I like to think that I do a couple of different things every now and again. Then I’ll listen to a bootleg and I’ll hear he did it already in 1977 or 1976 or 1975. I think it’s just that thing where you just take on board all the information you have and then when you play, I play the way I play, people like it then great. If they don’t, I’m sorry, I’m just trying to do the best what I know of the song. It seems to be okay. There’s always going to be haters.
As I said, I’ll tell you a funny story. Well, it wasn’t funny for me at the time. Sometimes I don’t mind what anyone says about me, but when they say about my dad or about my son, my son’s into music and he put out a song a few months ago now, then of course the press picks up on it cause it’s John’s grandson and that’s what they say. I feel for him because I know what it’s like. He doesn’t even go under the last name Bonham. He goes under his middle name Jagger Henry, and it’s a different genre of music. He’s more pop punk, more of that kind of vibe and energy. I still love what he does and somebody wrote, I wish he was dead and not John Bonham because of the music he plays. I was so pissed that I actually logged in and made an account to talk to this guy who wrote it. My son went, Dad, you can’t do that. This is this you letting the haters win. I said, but listen, that’s just below the belt. I just can’t deal with somebody saying that about you or my dad. I try not to read anything anymore.
Is that a similar thing with Led Zeppelin tribute bands or bands that sound like Greta Van Fleet? Or is it simply a case of they do their thing and I’ll do mine?
Without shadow of a doubt. There’s enough pubs, bars, stadiums, concert halls and theatres for us to all to play. The only thing I ever get annoyed about is, is if an artist that is apparently, definitely, most definitely you can tell they have got some influence from Zeppelin is when they try to deny it. I think that’s a terrible sign of disrespect. I think you have to embrace it these days. I’m aware of Greta Van Fleet. It doesn’t make me run to listen to music immediately when I hear them. It doesn’t really do much for me.
Are there any moment that even today you still reflect on with your father?
I think one of the key things I love about Dad was that at home he was such a humble guy, just this very humble, quiet kind of guy. You would never would know if he was in a room that that’s the drama with Led Zeppelin and that’s the crazy guy. Once I got older and travelled and met a few people, they go, oh, you obviously knew John or your dad, you didn’t know Bonzo. I guess there was another side to him, which as a true Gemini, he was. No matter what, everyone, every artist that ever met my dad and Pete Townshend said this really well. I said to Pete Townshend once, I heard my dad’s a bit boisterous. I’m sorry if he was ever bad to you and he said don’t you ever have to apologise for your father!
Your father was an absolute gem of a guy and a wonderful person and he was only ever mean to the people that deserved it. So I was like, oh, fair enough. So I would never apologise for him again. It was a valid point. There are stories of him being quite a character, but the main character I love about him was he was such a down to earth, regular guy. If you could ever say there was different nationalities in the band, I’d say my dad was truly more Australian than English. He was just a regular guy that played drums and then wanted you to go back in the pub and have a pint afterwards.
Interview By Rob Lyon
Catch Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening on the following dates, tickets from Metropolis Touring…