Drumming up a salute to the Led Zeppelin legend—and his family name

When Led Zeppelin reunited for one show in London three years ago, many hoped the event would be followed by a full-fledged tour—not least of all Jason Bonham. He had impressively taken over the drum seat once occupied by his late father, John Bonham. But Zeppelin singer Robert Plant balked, and a plan to continue in some fashion without him fizzled. So Bonham elected to carry on the band’s legacy himself with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, a multimedia tribute tour currently barnstorming across North America. We caught up with Bonham in Los Angeles to talk about carrying on the family business.

How did this tour come about?

We did the show at the O2, and after that I had been playing with [Zeppelin guitarist] Jimmy [Page] and [bass player] John Paul [Jones]. But that got put on hiatus for a while, and I had nothing to do. The people who put on the [Beatles tribute] show “Rain” called and asked if I wanted to do something like this. I said, “I don’t think I can do that right now.” They said, “Before you say no, would you come and see the show?” Later when I was watching the show, I suddenly realized that I could make it more than just going out and playing the songs. We started negotiating, talking about how I’d like to do it. I imagined the show as a personal salute to my dad, with stories behind the music, and explanations of why I was doing certain songs, making it more of an interactive journey with video and other elements.

Is that a technical challenge?

Yeah. You can have all the ideas in the world, but then you have to actually put them together. For one thing, you’ve got to know the songs backwards and forwards. But when I saw the possibilities of how it could be, that made me want to do it even more.

How did you pick the songs?

I definitely wanted to represent every album. Of course there were songs I knew I had to do, like “Kashmir.” It’s like, what do you not do?

Do you have a favorite album?

If it’s down to one album, Physical Graffiti is phenomenal. I’m also a very big fan of Presence, which is under-appreciated. A lot of people overlook it, but I adore that album.

How’d you approach the drum parts?

I’m trying to play the same beats that my dad did, but I’m also trying to recreate his swagger, that feel that you have to have. For years I ignored that element of it. I thought it was about the chops, but it’s also about finding the groove.

When did you start playing Ludwig, as your dad did?

I was with DW for 22 years. But I did this “The Drums Remain the Same” promotion for Ludwig in 2005, playing off [the Zeppelin song] “The Song Remains the Same.” People have said to me, “You knew then that you were going to do [the reunion show], didn’t you?” But I didn’t—and I wouldn’t know for another two years. (laughs) It’s sort of ironic. So I went back to Ludwig and did a signature kit in 2007, and it’s been pretty cool.

Do you ever tire of being asked questions about your father?

I lost my dad at such an early age—I was 14 years old, and I held him in such high regard. He was my hero. So I have no problem talking about him or following in his footsteps. I hold him so dear.

–Chris Neal

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