Fireworks Magazine Online 55 - Interview with Jason Bonham


Interview by Sue Ashcroft. Photo by Christie Goodwin

There are few drummers who have influenced the art more than John Bonham. His style, expertise and feel have been an inspiration to millions – not least his son Jason. From Airrace, Virginia Wolf and so many others, now to Black Country Communion and filling his father’s enormous shoes in Led Zeppelin, Jason Bonham has proven himself to be right up there with the greats. I chatted to Jason recently about the release of the movie Celebration Day and how his father’s influence lives on.

You’ve been doing the Led Zeppelin Experience for a few years now and you’re just on a break in the schedule, but how did that come about in the first place? What made you think it was a good idea?

Well, in England, I’d always had a bar band, just a bunch of mates and we’d play rock and roll stuff in the local pub. I played the O2 in 2007 and then in 2008 I flew back a few times to play with Jimmy (Page) and John Paul Jones and to talk about doing a project – we didn’t know what it was going to be at the time, but to write some new stuff. But when that stopped, I was pretty devastated to be honest after such an amazing night. What happened then was, I ended up just mulling about the house feeling sorry for myself. Then somebody said “Why don’t you do a tribute show?” and I said “Are you kidding me? Is that what I’ve become?”So, gradually, gradually, these people were very persistent and said “Don’t say no yet, come and see our show” and they did a show called ‘Rain’, which is the Beatles story. So I went to see it and, as I was watching it, I forgot what I was supposed to be thinking about and thought “I could show a video! I could get some old footage and stuff of Dad and show an insight into how, on one hand he was this wild and crazy Bonzo, but I just want to show how he was a soft, quietly spoken, warm guy that was my Dad. So, I asked my Mum if she had any footage and she didn’t really have that much, but then my grandmother sent me a bunch of stuff of him as a kid. So, we put together a few songs with video and images and we worked out how I would do it with the introduction and the opening section where it’s just a video screen showing the smoky chimneys of industrial Wolverhampton and Redditch in the Midlands. That was the time, the mid ‘60s, and then I come in with “And it was in 1966 that along came...” You tell people about it and it sounds horrendous, but when it’s put together with this beautiful music that starts the show and then you see the first picture of my dad as a twelve year old boy and he’s changing and then as soon as they see him with the moustache, the place goes nuts! It really works. You start off with all these ideas and you think it could go horribly wrong, but the way I wanted to do it was a bit different, to have a bit more of a personal experience with it. It came about purely from my love of the music and I realised I could do it in a different way.

With all the things you’ve done over the years in your own career, doing something like that now is putting to rights the people who think you’re riding on your Dad’s coat tails, as it were. Nobody can ever say that - perhaps if you’d come out as a drummer at the beginning of your career and done this, maybe that’s how it would’ve seemed, but you’ve made a success of your own career. This was probably just the right time to do it for you and that’s why people have been enjoying it for what it is.

Years ago, when I first met up with the lads in the ‘90s and we talked about doing it, going out to pubs and clubs, playing Led Zeppelin music, just to get out there and play, it got TOTALLY slagged off by the press and it was like “Oh my God, is this all this guy’s good for?” The thing is, I know a ton of HUGE bands that play Led Zeppelin songs and a ton of small bands that go out and play Led Zeppelin songs, but because I’m related, I’m not allowed. When this came about, it wasn’t meant to be the main thing in my life. At the time it started, I had just recorded the first Black Country Communion album, so it came hand in hand with that. As soon as I had done the BCC album and it had been released, the day before the first show, I got the news that we were number 5 in the English album chart and I was going “Wow, the rock chart?” and the guy said “No – the actual album chart!” so I was blown away. I was in a good headspace then. I had my creative side with BCC and then this with the fun and the celebration of my father’s music with Robert, Jimmy and John Paul.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

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The film ‘Celebration Day’ has just been released. How has that been received?

Well, that was an emotional thing! I didn’t even think it would ever come out. Just when you think it’s not happening, and you’ve decided you did it, it was great, but that’s it, I got a phone call telling me it was coming out in two months. Next thing I know, we’re arranging press, I’m writing notes for the inner sleeve and it was very, very heavy to see the cover and the artwork with my name under Led Zeppelin. I cried like a baby. It’s very bitter sweet – Dad’s name’s not there, but mine is. In my own head, I just went “Dad – we did it!”

I have to get on to the Black Country Communion stuff so don’t fall out with me if I ask you any sticky questions. So, what’s going on? Is everyone OK and are you all speaking or not?

Well yeah, I’m speaking to everybody so I don’t know what all the big fuss is about. I just keep reading all this backwards and forwards stuff, and then I text Joe and go “Hi Joe, what’s going on man, what are you up to?” and he says “Hey Jason, I’m in so and so”, so between me and Joe everything is fine and there’s no bad blood. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of my interviews but what I’ve said all along is that I would really like to tour. When I got in the situation of this I just thought that we would, I thought surely we’re not going to just do an album and not even tour? That’s all I wanted to get across to the people; I wanted to tour, Glenn wanted to tour, and I didn’t want to bully Joe into doing anything. But that’s the thing, it’s not very nice to plan it all and then not do it. I fully understand Joe’s situation, he’s a very successful solo artist. I’ve seen Joe’s tour dates and he’s booked up to June next year already, so I get it. But also I think it’s a shame to release this album now and not do anything to promote it. I felt really good about the album, I’d done a lot more writing than I’d ever done and the band was starting to go in a certain direction. Maybe if the fans want us to tour and Joe can’t do it, maybe Joe can recommend a player that he really likes who could stand in for us to tour. The funny thing is that Joe didn’t like the fact that people were starting to write horrible things about the band not touring because of him. 

To read the full double page interview with Jason, where he speaks about putting together the Led Zeppelin Experience, playing with the original members of Led Zeppelin, jamming with them drunk on his wedding day, performing with Paul Rodgers, his old band Airrace and more, you need Fireworks Issue 55!

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