Rocker Jason Bonham holds an impressive legacy in his drumsticks. As the son of the late, legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, his passion for drums began at age four. While he’s performed with his dad’s Led Zeppelin band mates in addition to creating his own music, Dec. 26, 2012 was a night that would change his life forever and lead him to his present tour.
Bonham shared the stage with Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart to perform “Stairway To Heaven” during the Led Zeppelin tribute at the Kennedy Center Honors.
As Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones looked on, the incredible melodic chemistry behind Bonham and the Wilson sisters prompted a phone call from executives at Live Nation.
“When I was asked to do ‘Stairway,’ I was like really? ‘Stairway?’ There are some songs you just don’t touch,” Bonham said. “But the arrangement with the choir, orchestra and way the whole band played was very special. Both Robert and John Paul were both blown away by the arrangements. It was cool and different. The respect to the original was incredible and Ann and Nancy were fantastic. There were 50 people bobbing up and down wearing top hats. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you see something like this.”
Bonham was blown away by the more than five million hits that one song garnered on YouTube. “The demand became so great it got released on iTunes,” Bonham said during a recent phone interview with Forum Publishing Group. “I later got a call from Live Nation asking how we could put something like this together for a show.”
They serendipitously joined forces for The Heartbreaker Tour: Heart with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. “I started talking to the girls from Heart and we came up with an idea of taking my band and doing a shorter version of what I normally do and then they would do a shortened version of their show,” Bonham explained. “Then, we could be together and end with my guitar player and do a 45 minute extravaganza of performing some of the greatest music from Led Zeppelin that there is. It’s going to be a fantastic summer.”
Bonham never actually played drums together with his father because they only had one drum kit at home, but every time he performs his father’s songs, it is sacred to him.
“It’s special to me to be able to do things we never got a chance to do together while he was alive,” the 46-year-old musician said. “As a teenager growing up, you kind of take it for granted. He was just dad to me. I was way more interested in The Police and Sting. This is my way of telling him how great I think he is.”
And a great drummer he was. In 2011, Rolling Stone’s readers declared John Bonham the “Best Drummer of All Time.”
“Every drummer I’ve ever spoken to or read an interview with – my dad is always in their top three,” Bonham said, proudly. “I’m honored to share his name and represent him all these years after he’s gone. It’s been fantastic. I’m a bit nervous about opening a tour where I live. We start in West Palm.”
Bonham moved to Boca Raton eight years ago and now calls Delray Beach home. He insists his humble dad would be taken aback by how famous he remained. “I don’t think he even realized that 33 years after he died, he’d be an icon in the drumming world and the band became what they did—bigger than ever,” Bonham said. “He’s such an icon and yet he was such a simple, regular guy when he was at home.”
Each time he picks up his drumsticks, Bonham welcomes the privilege of performing Zeppelin’s music including “Rock and Roll,” which he said is the most difficult Zeppelin song to drum correctly. “A lot of bands play this song but they’re not playing it right,” Bonham said. “It’s the way you’re playing sixteens on the high hat as well as the snare drum. You never really hear it so much on the album, but you can see it in a video they released of my father a few years ago. It has very intricate parts. A lot of the old shuffle drummers could do it really well, but it’s one of those things until you really look at it, you don’t realize how hard it is. There are some hidden notes that totally make that track lift.”
The show, Bonham said, also aims to make you feel Zeppelin’s music, not just hear it. There’s a point in the concert when Bonham plays his dad’s iconic “Moby Dick” drum solo while a split screen of his father performing the song plays in the background.
“We do is a shortened version of the song in the show and every time I play this, it takes my breath away,” Bonham said. “I’ve never been a huge fan of drum solos. The crowd seems to really enjoy this, which is really important to me. To be able to play something he became so famous for means a lot to me.”
He continues to write music and has plans to release his own line of wood-and-carbon-fiber Bonham drums.
By the middle of next year, Bonham also hopes to finish an album featuring everyone he’s worked with and those who he’d like to work with in addition to doing some acting. He appeared in Mark Walhberg’s 2001 film Rock Star as the Steel Dragon drummer.
“My behavior right at that point was truly like a rock star. I remember asking the director to give me my character,” Bonham said. “He asked me to be an alcoholic rock star so I said there’d be no acting involved then. Little did I know a year later, I checked myself into a clinic. I’ve been clean and sober ever since, but playing a rock star made me realize I had a problem.
“Working with Mark [Walhberg] was fantastic. He was very enthusiastic and really a nice guy. It was a huge thing to be a part of this movie and if I ever got asked to do something like that again, I would.”
Outside of his career, Bonham’s a proud papa, which is exactly what his own father was, he said. “My daughter is going to college and I’m very proud of her and my son is pursuing his own career in rap,” Bonham said. “I’m very proud of him and I encourage him to be creative and as real as possible. South Florida was definitely not a bad place for my kids to grow up. The wonderful thing about opening your eyes in the morning and looking out at the blue sky is you’re encouraged to go out and do things.”
The Heartbreaker Tour: Heart with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience is 7:30 p.m. June 17 at Cruzan Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansburys Way, West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $25-$70. Visit Jasonbonham.net for details.
Contact Joanie Cox-Henry at email@example.com or follow her tweets at Twitter.com/joaniecox.
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