With Led Zeppelin, “Bonzo” John Bonham provided the techtonic beats behind some of rock’s most epic recordings. Then his untimely death brought the band’s legendary run to a sudden, shocking halt on Sept. 25, 1980.
But 30 years later, his legacy lives on with his son. It has been three years since Jason Bonham sat in with Zeppelin’s surviving members during a one-off reunion gig at London’s O2 Arena (“Kashmir” video here.) And now Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience is ready to rattle Seattle’s WaMu Theater with “Kashmir,” “Stairway to Heaven” and other Zep classics on Saturday night.
The tour kicked off early last month in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. And checking in from a recent tour stop in Phoenix, Bonham talked about some of the emotions the trek and its planning had stirred up so far.
“This has been the hardest year, I think, in … missing him,” he said, “because (of) the speculation of them touring again with me and a little bit of disappointment that it didn’t go on.”
He also admitted to being a little uneasy about taking Zeppelin songs on the road, sans Zeppelin. “I didn’t want to tarnish the things I accomplished with them by performing at the O2,” he said. “But once it started (I realized) I was so wrong to think it might be strange for me to do because the turnout and the support has been overwhelming and breathtaking.”
The Zeppelin Experience band features Bonham on drums, Whitesnake’s Michael Devin on bass, Tony Catania on guitar, Stephen LeBlanc on keys and lap steel and vocalist James Dylan, of tribute band Virtual Zeppelin.
Recent set lists have included “Immigrant Song,” “Moby Dick,” “Kashmir” and most of the expected classics. Bonham also promised a few deep album cuts accompanied by eye-popping visuals and home movies and photos that tell the story of his father and family.
“The show actually starts off with images of the area where I grew up, which is the West Midlands, in Dudley(, England,)” Bonham said.
Fans first see the elder Bonham as an 8-year-old kid with his own dad. “Suddenly, people start to recognize that it’s John Bonham. And at that point the place usually goes crazy.”
“He was the same as anyone else’s dad. He would do things to embarrass you. He would cut you off if you’d talked back. He would ground you if you didn’t do your homework. He was just a regular guy. He just happened to play in Led Zeppelin.”
For some, the concert is an especially moving experience. Bonham recalled meeting a fan who described going to the Montreal Forum to buy Zeppelin tickets 30 years ago only to learn Zeppelin’s drummer had died.
“(He) comes to me in tears with his own son now, 30 years later, and saying, ‘This for me is as close to them as I’m ever going to get, and thank you for bringing the music,’” Bonham said. “It’s very emotional.”
Soon after he gets off the road with the Zeppelin Experience, Bonham will play a few gigs in England with his main project, Black Country Communion. He also expected the super-group – which also includes Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple), Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Planet X) and Joe Bonamassa – to head into the studio in January.
Bonham also didn’t rule out the possibility that he might eventually go on the road with members of Led Zeppelin. Not that fans should start marking their calendars or anything.
Following the O2 show, he continued to jam with guitarist Jimmy Page and bass player John Paul Jones. The trio had started to write songs, Bonham said. But negative press reaction to rumors that Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy had auditioned (related Guardian story here) led Page to issue a statement last year clarifying that Zeppelin wasn’t going on the road without Robert Plant.
Bonham clarified that the project was meant to be an entirely new band. But “it’s on hold for now,” he said. “But who knows? It was a fantastic time being in a writing situation with those guys. Just having ideas out and doing things – is very cool.”
Stay tuned for audio from our interview with Bonham.