By Laurie Lonsdale
Live Photos by Mike Bax (from Sound Academy May 2011)
With Jason Bonham returning to Casino Rama on May 21st with his Led Zeppelin Experience, Lithium is reviving our interview with Jason, originally conducted in November of 2010.
Jason Bonham, son of legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, joined the band after his father’s untimely death in 1980, in order to drum on Zeppelin’s ninth studio album, Coda. Since then, he’s gone on to drum for Roger Waters and Foreigner; has appeared in the 2001 movie, Rock Star; has been part of Supergroup with Ted Nugent, Evan Seinfeld (Biohazard), Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), and Scott Ian (Anthrax) on VH1’s 2006 reality TV show; has formed a band called Black Country Communion, and has created the Led Zeppelin Experience, effectively showcasing all of his father’s music with arguably rock’s most recognizable and successful band.
Currently doing double duty as drummer for Black Country Communion and The Led Zeppelin Experience, Jason allowed me the unique and memorable pleasure of speaking with him about his career past and present. We touched on the irony of 1989’s Moscow Peace Festival, which culminated in Jason recording his father’s famous drumming extravaganza of “Moby Dick”, and spoke a bit about the in-studio writing and recording process of the Black Country Communion album. In between, we showed a ‘Whole Lotta Love’ to Led Zeppelin.
Laurie: Back in ’89 you were involved in the Moscow Peace Festival with artists like Bon Jovi, The Scorpions, Motley Crue, Cinderella, and Skid Row, all of whom did covers of artists that have passed on due to substance abuse. The “Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell” album was the product of that. Can you talk a little bit about what that experience was like?
Jason: Where do I start? I got a phone call from Bruce Fairbank and I got flown up to be a part of the recording of “Moby Dick” for that project. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of back then. Back then my life was a little different, I was enjoying the early days of everything. I was enjoying a good time; a few drinks were had by all. There we were, flying to Moscow, all of us, on one plane. It wasn’t a luxury plane, but here’s the thing that none of us knew, it was a dry plane. No alcohol except for a bottle of vodka that my drum tech bought at the duty free when we picked him up in England. He then became the most popular guy on the plane.
Laurie: Actually, that was one of the questions or observations I had, which was that the festival was intended to help fight the drug war in Russia, and the subsequent album brought awareness to the fallen rock stars who had passed away as a result of drug and alcohol use. Yet, the irony is that none of the bands were straight and manager Doc McGhee, who helped to organize the event and was managing Bon Jovi and Motley Crue at the time, he himself was involved in a drug scandal for smuggling. And from what I understand, couldn’t accompany everyone to Russia due to bail conditions, I believe. So wasn’t the message of festival and the album hypocritical?
Jason: (Laughing) I guess, yes, how apt that we were doing this concert. I remember flying out, and it was a normal everyday plane and everybody was on it, every band. Ozzy was on it, Motley was on it, Bon Jovi was on it, Skid Row. There was arm-wrestling contests… it was pretty out there, and it was pretty crazy. I remember Geezer Butler (of Black Sabbath) climbing across the drinks trolley to get to my drum tech’s bottle of vodka at one point. But, as usual, I got the blame for all of this. I mean, years later, when I was doing Supergroup, Doc McGhee says to me, ‘You know, we couldn’t believe that back then you were doing heroin.’ I was like, ‘I wasn’t doing heroin’. And he said, ‘Well, the guys from Motley said that was your syringe that got found in the bathroom.’
Laurie: At that time, it was probably Nikki Sixx’s, as we learned from their tell-all The Dirt, and from Sixx’s Heroin Diaries.
Jason: I was like, ‘I HATE needles. I would never do heroin in my life’. I said, ‘Is that what they told you? Oh my God! Those bastards!’ So for many years I was the scapegoat for all the guys. But you know what? Such is life, and it all comes back in the end. But here I am, as of October 1st, celebrating my ten year sobriety.
Laurie: Congratulations! That’s wonderful.
Jason: Thank you.
Laurie: Did the festival run as poorly as the press made it out to be, with band in-fighting and arguing over who used pyro and who headlined and such, or did it run pretty smoothly once you got there?
Jason: It ran pretty smoothly once we got over there. It wasn’t the hard work that everyone had made it out to be.
Laurie: How did you find your current band for the Led Zeppelin Experience?
Jason: I’ve known the guitarist for some twenty years now, he was always a guy that I would consider if I ever did the Zeppelin experience, he was going to get the job. Once we agreed to do it, it was a little harder to find a singer. Somebody turned me onto a Zeppelin website called Virtual Zeppelin where I found James Dylan, which was fantastic. Suddenly I had a whole new belief in the project. I was never going to do it if it was going half-assed, if it was going to be not correct, I’d have to feel comfortable doing it. I found Michael Devons, he turned me onto Steven LeBlanc. In some ways it’s been nice, I didn’t lose a friend and I gained another one.
Laurie: That’s excellent. I understand that Robert Plant was very supportive of your decision to do this, and yet he still didn’t want to be part of it. Initially, what was your reaction to that? Did you understand his position, or were you disappointed?
Jason: No, I understood his position. This was back when he didn’t want to be a part of the Led Zeppelin reunion which was in 2008. We were going to continue on, which Jimmy (Page) and I did with John Paul Jones. We decided to write together and possibly do another project. It was eighteen months after I stopped working with Jimmy and John Paul when I decided to put this project together. Right at the last minute there were a couple of comments made on the Led Zeppelin sites that were made by people we all knew in the camp. So I rang up Robert. He said, ‘Pay no attention to it, you are who you are, you play the way you do, nobody can play the way you do, though many of them think they can. As long as you do it with a smile on your face, I’ll give you my blessing.’ Then he stressed that again when we went on a radio show together, which was something he didn’t have to do and he did. That made me feel a lot different about the project. Some of the skeptics in the beginning didn’t understand what I was doing. It’s a very heartfelt and a very meaningful show with personal moments. I never imagined being on the third leg of a tour doing it, I thought it would’ve fizzled out after one time, but the requests keep coming in.
Laurie: Certainly it must be emotional to relive such precious memories night after night, but has it become easier or perhaps taken on new meaning for you now that you’ve been doing it for over a year
Jason: It’s still emotional every night. But I take a break from it, go away and do my thing with Black Country Communion and then I come back to it. Every time we come back to it, it’s a breath of fresh air and we’re not burning out doing it, which is one of the things I wanted to make sure we didn’t do on this. So we do about 20 to 25 shows at a time and then leave it for 3 months or for 6 months and come back to it at another time.
Laurie: With so many bands touring full albums lately, it seems the thing to do. Would you and the band be open to doing a run of dates around a full album? If so, how would you choose which one to do?
Jason: That’s a difficult choice because this year people were saying that as of this October, it’s been forty years since Led Zeppelin IV. So somebody said, ‘Would you be willing to do one show from start to finish of just ‘Led Zeppelin IV?’ I said, ‘Well…. you’d be missing so many other great songs!’ I’d do eleven nights of one album right after the other. But for me, I’d love to do Physical Graffiti from start to finish.
Laurie: I’m sure that would make a lot of people happy. But you’re right; it would be missing so many great songs. So, along that line, what’s become your favorite song to perform or perhaps your favorite part of the show?
Jason: I don’t know really. Every part of it is fun. But if I quickly think of the show, I think “When the Levee Breaks” is one of the highlights for me when we play.
Laurie: Somehow I would have envisioned it being “Moby Dick” since you get to play alongside your dad, albeit on a screen.
Jason: Well, yes I like “Moby Dick” too, but it’s a lot of work for me and unless I’m focused and on my game, or sometimes you can’t hear it right, and that’s happened, then it looks just like a mess of drummers falling down the stairs.
Laurie: Just to touch on the one-off Led Zeppelin reunion show in the UK in 2007, surely you know people all over the world are dying to see something like that. With so many Zeppelin fans wanting a show like that to take place, what do you think it would take, if anything, for something like that to happen?
Jason: A miracle! Definitely a miracle. The one thing that some people say is, ‘Do you know how much money there would be in that?’, but Led Zeppelin was never about the money then and it isn’t now. It’s purely done through the passion, the love of music, the thought and the feeling. If the feeling isn’t right, they wouldn’t do it. If someone said to me in January 2007 that I was going to play with Led Zeppelin near the end of the year I would’ve said they were crazy, so I always say, ‘Never say never’. But I just hope that one day the DVD they filmed of the show in 2007 comes from that.
Laurie: How are things going so far for Black Country Communion and do find it difficult to go from one project to the other?
Jason: Everything’s going great with Black Country Communion! We just finished a three month tour, which was phenomenal to do. Later on this month we’ve got a DVD/Blu-Ray coming out which is a collaboration of three different shows that we did in Germany. It’s been great. We’re planning the next year, going back in the studio to do another album. Everyone’s got their own thing going, but we always seem to make time for Black Country Communion.
Laurie: So are you now writing towards that new album?
Jason: Kevin (producer Kevin Shirley) doesn’t like us to be too prepared when we go into the studio. He likes the fact that when we go in, it’s raw and we come up with it on the point. We go round a few ideas as a starting point, so he would rather hear raw ideas than finished songs.
Laurie: Your life will always be about music, whether it’s with Black Country Communion the Zeppelin Experience, or perhaps collaborations with other artists. Do you have anything like that going on at present?
Jason: There are a few things going on with me. Recently I got a phone call that I was very honoured to get, from Mr. Joe Walsh, who requested if we could possibly ever get together and have a jam, which would be nice. I’ve also got a project I’d like to do with the guys from Zeppelin Experience, which would be to write and record an original album, while we’re on the road, like Zeppelin music. So it would be strongly influenced by Zeppelin.
Laurie: With Zeppelin’s music, what’s it like to reinvigorate fans from the past and hear the kind of response you get to your show?
Jason: It’s the strangest feeling in the world because we keep reminding the fans that we’re just guys, we’re fans as well, and we’re playing the music of Zeppelin. It’s a very emotional feeling to get that kind of response from the fans, and the audiences can range from mothers and daughter, to grandfathers or fathers with their sons. There are so many people that never got the chance to see Zeppelin that thank us for bringing this to a live situation. My father weaned me on Zeppelin music all my life so it’s nice for me to do the same for other families and my mom says, ‘As long as they want you to do it, do it! You’re representing your father so do the best you can.”
Laurie: Well, you a fantastic job of it! It’s an amazing show. I thank you so very much for speaking with me today, I truly appreciate it. It was a pleasure.
Jason: Thank you so much!
Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience will be performing at Casino Rama on May 21st. If you haven’t experienced this show yet, DON’T MISS IT! Get your tickets HERE.