Q&A: Jason Bonham
Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John "Bonzo" Bonham, said the positive response to his multimedia "Led Zeppelin Experience" tour has been beyond his "wildest dreams."
"I struggled with the idea of doing this because I didn't want to tarnish anything I'd accomplished or thought I'd accomplished when I played with Jimmy [Page], Robert [Plant] and John Paul [Jones] at the O2 [Arena in London] in 2007," Bonham said last week. "Any doubt that I ever had was soon washed away by the first response from the audience. The letters I've been given, the messages on Facebook from the different fans ... It's very warming and also overwhelming."
The show -- which features Bonham on drums with a band -- is split into two 70-minute sets, with a 15-minute intermission. It takes Led Zeppelin fans on a journey, showing them the story behind the lives of Jason Bonham and his family. Video footage and photos set the mood. During the JBLZE stop in Chandler, AZ, on Saturday (11/20), the band kicked off the set with "Rock 'n' Roll," just as Zeppelin did in its heyday.
Bonham spoke to SoundSpike about the tour, the video montages and his band, which features guitarist Tony Catania, vocalist James Dylan, bassist Michael Devin and keyboardist/pedal-steel guitarist Stephen LeBlanc.
SoundSpike: It must be flattering to receive the kind of response you've had.
I never meant it to be any healing kind of process. There are certain people that come to me that feel it helped them with their loss [of John Bonham] and how they felt. They see that I haven't turned my back on it. There's also the fear of doing it -- and you still did it. Everyone's take on it is their own personal journey. That's one of the great things about the music. I'm representing my family and playing drums at these events and playing these wonderful songs that were written by Jimmy, Robert and John Paul and my dad. It's done so with admiration. If I had more respect to give, I'd give it. Everyone has a different memory from each song so that's a wonderful bit. When I'm playing the song I have my memory. Even on stage, the music reminds us of something. That's what I've been getting from the audience. You've got the older ones that go back to when they were there with their girlfriends and getting high and remembering the songs. It's just truly wonderful. I'm very, very grateful.
Why was now the right time for the tour?
I said at the time of arranging to talk and do this tour, it was the 30th [year] since dad passed away. It was a number that we thought, "If I'm gonna do it I'll do it this year." That was way before I got into it. I was still kicking and screaming, I'm going, "I'm not sure really if I want to do it." It wasn't until we started to really put in the personal side of things [that we realized it would work]. Even though it's hard to describe. You have to be there to feel what you feel in the room when we're playing or when I'm talking. Part of me wants to show the other side of my dad. I kind of show this young kid on stage. It's all old home movies of this young kid with his dad, just being a regular kid. I narrate over it. This guy went on to be the man that you know as Bonzo, this thunder God. It's a great introduction. When we're watching the screens at the start of the show, we can always judge the audience. You see dad as a 16 year old. Unless you're really a die, die hard you wouldn't know it was him because he's got no facial hair. All of a sudden, he transforms into his beard or moustache and the place goes nuts. It's a chill down the spine and a tear and off you go. It's wonderful.
That's what I've heard. I heard the video montage is moving.
Yeah. I never wanted it to be too sad. I kept it to key moments, I think, and songs that really meant a lot where it would bring a big emotion out. Then we kind of lighten the mood. We have another one that lightens the mood, which is quite amusing. I found some old footage of myself as a child. Not only was I a keen drummer [laughs] but a keen dancer. I'll just leave it at that.
Do you have a straight rehearsed set or do you mix it up
We kind of mix it up a bit each night. We have a pretty good format. It feels pretty relaxed. There's still so many songs I want to do. One gentleman says to me, "You haven't been here yet. When are you coming to do that." Um, OK. We're talking about doing more. There's a certain element of the show that I think we could change. I'd love to do the acoustic set. I'd love to do a whole bunch more songs, but it's the time. You can't expect the audience to sit there for five hours. But some of them say, "We would." [I tell fans] I'd love to play all of them and they go, "Yes, please." It is such a warm, loving audience. No matter the size of the audience -- no matter what -- from the crazy Montreal two and a half thousand screaming people from start to finish to a listening more laid-back Florida crowd in Orlando. Between songs, it's still the applause and then the love and the comments. It becomes very personal. It's as if you're talking to people you know. Even the crew comes up to me, "This is a really strange feeling." It's a really relaxed, a very good vibe. I'm very, very pleased that I did this so pleased.
What's your favorite song to play right now
At the moment, one of my favorite songs to play on the tour is "How Many More Times." I kind of let loose. In the old school way of Zeppelin, they used to do that bombastic, like the Danish TV special. It's got the elements there. That was one of the nice things that the great writer David Fricke from Rolling Stone said. "I'm so glad you didn't stick to an exact replica of an album. It wasn't just a band trying to copy Led Zeppelin. It's changing things up like Led Zeppelin used to do in a live set. Each night becomes a different entity depending on the crowd." I said, "You got it." That's exactly how we approach it.
What's the set list looking like?
It looks like a big white piece of paper that you write the songs on. Just because you got a pretty voice that doesn't mean I'm going to tell you all the things. [See below for the set list from the Chandler, AZ, show on Saturday (11/12).]
Do you have any plans to release live recordings?
Have you been in cahoots with my manager? I don't know. To go and play it live and to have that feeling, it's great. I really enjoy that. But I think they were the masters. I don't see us prioritizing that. I think it'll have to be a one-time TV show thing. You gotta get the whole feeling. If anything, I think I'd be more happy to do a live DVD than an album. So you'd experience everything.
How did you choose the band?
Through the lottery system. No. "You sir. You sir. You look like you can sing. Put a mike in your hand and sound like that." I knew the guitarist [Tony Catania] for 20 years. He played with me before. I've known him for a long time. I did keep everyone's name quiet until the tour. I didn't want anyone to have a pre-judged idea of who they were or what they had done in the past, or what they hadn't done in the past. Everyone had an opinion of who should be in the band before I came out. It's one of those things, when it happened, when the first YouTube clips came out, "Oh, I knew it was going to be that guy … Who is that guy?" James Dylan, the singer, I found him on the Virtual Zeppelin site on the Internet and got ahold of him through a friend of mine. We started talking, time went by and I said this could happen. I was really pleased he could sing so well. The bass player I had originally didn't work out. I was left with a rut, but my sister came to my saving, who lives in Los Angeles. She had her finger on the pulse of music there. She said, "I've got a bunch of bass players I know who are good. I'll give you this guy, try this one first. He's really a nice guy. You'll like him. He's really into John Paul Jones. Michael Devin." I said to Michael, "You're in. You wouldn't happen to know a slide playin', guitar playin' keyboard player, would you?" "I do actually." Stephen LeBlanc was the last piece of the puzzle.
What do you have planned for next year?
Well, as soon as I finish this at the end of this month, I'm back with my regular band Black Country Communion. We head off to England. We've got a couple of sold-out shows, which is phenomenal. Sold out in an hour. I was very pleased. We have those two shows. Then I have a couple of weeks before I start on a new album with Black Country Communion in LA. I finish that and I think we're going to go out and do another 20 shows of [JBLZE]. I don't think it's been confirmed yet. This whole summer is virtually with Black Country Communion.
Set list from Chandler, AZ, show on Saturday (11/20):
"Rock 'n' Roll"
"Your Time Is Gonna Come"
"Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You"
"Dazed and Confused"
"What is and What Should Never Be"
"The Lemon Song"
"Good Times Bad Times"
"How Many More Times"
"Since I've Been Loving You"
"When the Levee Breaks"
"Over the Hills and Far Away"
"I'm Gonna Crawl"
"Stairway to Heaven"
"Whole Lotta Love"
23 - Los Angeles, CA - Pantages Theatre
24 - San Francisco, CA - Warfield Theatre
26 - Portland, OR - Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
27 - Seattle, WA - WaMu Theater
28 - Bellingham, WA - Mount Baker Theatre
29 - Vancouver, British Columbia - Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts