A Few Minutes With Jason Bonham

Jason Bonham is about to embark on one of the most unusual tours of his, or anyone’s, life. Called “Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience,” the production is a journey through Zeppelin’s heritage as seen by the son of the band’s most excellent drummer, John “Bonzo” Bonham.

Produced by Annerin Productions, the folks behind high-concept tours such as Rain – A Tribute To The Beatles and Pink Floyd Experience, Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience isn’t a re-creation of the band nor is it a stage production depicting Zep’s rise in the world of 1970s rock.

Instead, it’s a somewhat intimate look at Led Zeppelin as Bonham and his musicians play the songs that formed the band’s legacy while visuals include home movies, concert clips and some never-before-seen moments of the band’s incredible run.

Bonham recently took time out from rehearsals to talk with Pollstar about the tour. At times the drummer was boisterous as he talked of the band’s “mystique” and “swagger” while other times his voice sunk to a whisper as he described especially poignant, father-and-son moments as if the events took place only yesterday.

But one thing remained clear throughout the conversation. This isn’t a tribute tour nor is it a band’s life story. Instead, it’s something… different.

Photo: Ross Halfin

Who came up with the tour’s concept?

Annerin proposed it to me. I played in Led Zeppelin in ’07, and in ’08 Jimmy, John Paul and myself carried on working together in another form. I really hadn’t thought about [the tour] and Annerin was very persistent.

“Before you say ‘no,’” they said, “will you please go and see ‘Rain.’”

It was what they did with “Rain.” I saw a few other ways of doing this show than just me going out there and playing Led Zeppelin music with a bunch of guys, almost like a tribute thing. There are a couple of big tribute acts that have asked me to play with them. I looked at how they dress up on stage as much as they did, and I just couldn’t do it.

But after seeing the Annerin show, “Rain,” the brain started to tick and I kind of put a package together in my head of what it would need to have and what it would need to be. I said, “If you can cover all these things, I’m requesting that we make this show a personal journey, part story, part music concert with all the bells and whistles with high-def screens and really make it a concert with story lines in between – reasons I’m doing certain songs. My memories of this song, whether I’m playing it with them or the first time I heard this song. Describing how much Led Zeppelin happened in my life. Playing drums at the reunion concert to just being with Plant on the road on occasions and experiencing Led Zeppelin his way.

What elements are different for this tour when compared to a typical rock tour? Do you have a stage manager, a set director or even a video director?

Well… no. Let’s put it this way: I’m pretty much the director, the choreographer, the whole thing. If somebody moves wrong on stage and I don’t like it, they will be told immediately. I am pretty hard on this and I said to the guys as well, “I will not ask you to do anything stupid or ridiculous.” It has to be a cool, suave and sophisticated kind of show.

Led Zeppelin was the pinnacle of cool. They were mysterious. They were rebels. They swaggered. There was a mystique. They were bombastic, they were loud, they were renegades. You can’t capture that. It’s one reason I said no one was going to dress up, wear wigs or suits. This is all about my experience with Led Zeppelin. Most of the stories are my moments with them. Or a moment with my dad at a certain concert.

It’s been pretty hard to go through some of the stories. I start talking about them and I go back to that place. I remember his voice. It’s just kind of sad. I have a few lighthearted tricks up my sleeve which people will adore, of one very young five-year-old very enthusiastic drummer who also liked to dance.

I have in mind that if it ever got too sad, if people think it’s kind of heavy, they can have a little giggle.

When playing these songs, do you concentrate more on matching your father’s performance, or capturing his passion?

I told this to the guys as well, that I don’t want them to play Led Zeppelin by numbers, because that isn’t my objective. I don’t think any one of the songs can be played exactly the same way. So I really want what the spirit of Led Zeppelin is, to the best of our ability.

The great thing about Led Zeppelin is that it was a big jam. On any night, wherever they went in any direction, the band could play so well. They could drift in different forms and everybody knew where they were going. It’s hard to teach that.

We tried one bass player, who will remain nameless. And he’d put the bass down when we went off on different things. I said, “What are you doing?” and he answered, “I don’t know that part.”

I said, “It’s a jam. Play it from the roots.”

He didn’t get the jamming element. He needed to know what he was supposed to do.

There are a lot of bass players out there. They would say, “John Paul Jones is one my favorites.” And I would say, “Play,” and they didn’t sound anything like John Paul Jones.

The greatest answer to me was, “I always wanted to play this style of music because John Paul Jones is my hero.” And he was so enthusiastic, although he came from bands that weren’t necessarily the same style as Zeppelin.

That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t want to disclose anybody in the band. I wanted them to be judged on their performance in this, not what they’ve done in the past. And it’s really starting to perk along.

With John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

How long is the show?

It’s two one-hour segments. Typically, the other stuff is going on, with the story line. The breaks aren’t that long. There are pieces of the show with photos, including some I never saw before. You’ll be looking at them saying, “Is that young Bonham? As a 10-year-old boy?”

The songs we’re putting the photos with – that’s what makes this so special. When I first saw this, my hair stood on end and everybody got teary. That’s such a heavy impact. There’s this emotional journey all the way through the show with the music and the contents. It’s very, very cool. I’m really pleased with the way it’s come together. From something I was very skeptical about, I’m actually really excited.

Any reactions from Jimmy Page, Robert Plant or John Paul Jones?

I haven’t heard from Jimmy. Robert and I did a radio interview and the DJ kind of tried to throw me under the truck, saying, “Hey, Robert. What’s up with Jason going out on tour on his own, without any of you guys?”

He [Robert] laughed and said, “Jason is allowed to do whatever he wants to do. Nobody else plays the drums like Jason. He has my blessing.”

Annerin has tours like “Rain – A Tribute To The Beatles” and “The Pink Floyd Experience” which have toured for several years. Do you see a similar situation for this tour?

I’ll never say never. I just want this to be right. If we can keep doing it, and everyone enjoys it, I don’t see why I should just stop. We shall see. It’s been a while since I’ve been out on the road for eight weeks.

As a listener, which Led Zeppelin song is your favorite?

“The Rain Song” is one of my all-time favorites.

As a drummer, which is your favorite Zeppelin song?

One of my favorite moments in my dad’s playing would have to be “Achilles Last Stand.” The groove he has on that and some of the fills are very cool.

Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience begins its journey in British Columbia, playing Dawson Creek’s EnCana Event Centre Oct. 8 followed by Prince George at CN Centre Oct. 12 and Alberta towns Edmonton (Oct. 12), Red Deer (Oct. 13) and Calgary (Oct. 14).

The first U.S. city on the schedule is Minneapolis at The State Theatre Oct. 19. Other U.S. stops include Milwaukee (Oct. 20), Boston (Nov. 2), Philadelphia (Nov. 6), New York (Nov. 8), Houston (Nov. 16), Los Angeles (Nov. 23) and Seattle (Nov. 27). For more information, click here for the itinerary and here for the tour’s official website.