JASON BONHAM on Playing with ZEPPELIN: “We rehearsed Kashmir and Jimmy Page turned around to Robert Plant and said: Well, that’s as good as it’s ever sounded”

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With his pedigree coming not only from his family name but his extensive recording and gigging history, Jason Bonham can hold his own when playing Zeppelin material and beyond. He is currently on tour with his Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening, with headlining shows and also opening for Whitesnake and Foreigner. In addition, Jason plays with two supergroups: Sammy Hagar’s The Circle who will be releasing a CD of original music later this year, and Black Country Communion who have already released four studio CDs.

Enjoy this interview with Jason, as Scott Medina talks to him about his various projects and playing with Zeppelin themselves. You can stream the audio below, or subscribe to our Podcast in several platforms to download and listen. You can also read a transcribed version of the interview at the end.

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Hey everyone, this is Scott Medina for Sonic Perspectives. We’ve got the great fortune to talk with Jason Bonham today. Jason, are you there?

I’m here, yes, how are you?

Hey, good morning, doing great. So, we’re going to catch up a little bit with what you’re doing now and what you’ve done in the past. As I understand it, you’re touring now as Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening, mostly playing with Foreigner and Whitesnake.

Yeah. I did a tour last year with my old band Foreigner and Cheap Trick, as an opening summer act. I never imagined taking my little fun project – I call it my “what I do when I’m not working” project – out on the road in this kind of way as an opening band. Normally when I play the Zeppelin show with 20 to 30 headlining shows a year, it’s done in a theater environment with the video screens and a lot of storytelling and home movies, so it’s kind of a feel good experience, kind of a just-what-it-was-like show, as well as the music of Led Zeppelin. So when I was asked to do this opening slot, I was tentative. But last year went so well! They proved me wrong. I said no one’s going to be there at 7:00pm to go and see the opening act. But it was full every night! Obviously the love for Zeppelin music is still as much as, if not more, than it’s ever been. I’m very fortunate about the guys I play with, we give it 250 percent. And I’m very critical of how it’s done. And probably more so than any other band I’ve ever been in, because I’m representing the family.

So we did it that way then, and I was surprised to get asked again to come out and do the summer run again and this time with Whitesnake. When they joked about it last year and said, do you want to do it again next year, I never thought it would happen. So, it’s a great way to get out there and say to the audience: if you like what we do, come back and see us later on in the year when we do our full show because you can only do so much in 50 minutes for this opening set.

It’s for people who don’t know and haven’t seen me play and haven’t seen the band. Um, it definitely seems to work! People are shocked and they’re like, “Oh my, I didn’t know.” On paper it’s one thing, but when you see the show it’s another. Now with this new Japanese guitar player, Jimmy Sakurai, he has devoted his entire life to Jimmy page. So it’s weird even just watching him walk normally and just his actions. He can play anything from different nights (of Zeppelin’s shows), he remembers every show.

Ah, just like you do!

Yeah, well put it this way: Me and him have had a few debates recently. And I think it’s about four to two in his favor! Uh, he’s been proving me wrong!

That’s impressive!

But I pull out the ace. I go, “But you haven’t played with them, have you? I have.” Yeah. So I say, “Yeah, well I play with them (Zep). So this is the way we did it. And I want the version that I played on!” It is great to have somebody else with the knowledge. So everyone in the band has to…the rule is you’ve got to know every song, ’cause at any point I could go, “Let’s do so-and-so” and we just do, we will go into it.

Well, I’m sure the crowd must be loving it and you know, as great as the other bands are that you’re on the bill with, it’s almost counter-intuitive to have Led Zepplin material on first.

Well for me it reminds me of the old days of uh, what it must’ve been like when they went on the road and they were the opening act. I think there were a few places in Dallas that was a, um, actually, I mean, I think it was Denver. Everyone believes it was the Whiskey that was the first-ever American show. But I think it was actually Denver.

That’s what I’ve heard, that it was Denver. Yes.

Denver was the first-ever show in the U.S. for Led Zeppelin. I’m looking forward that we’re gonna be in the Pepsi Arena in Denver. Which is going to be in darkness. So there we have it, especially in that town we will be pulling out like the No Quarters and that time of the day when the “oregano” is in the air and we’re hitting those big, you know, the big jam songs. I just think that’s some of the greatest stuff, when they did that, it was just wonderful. They sent you on a journey, you know, it was a musical journey. They didn’t stick to a script. You know, it was cool. You didn’t have to sing along to it. There was music and melody. But as I always used to say there wasn’t really any real Led Zepplin choruses. It was very different to other bands.

You’re also currently in two supergroups: Black Country Communion with Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa and Derek Sherinian; and then there’s The Circle with Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Vic Johnson. And both those groups are continuing that tradition of hard hitting classic rock. What kind of audience are you finding out there these days for that kind of music?

Oh man, it’s great. When I do my Zeppelin shows, I can see the Black Country Communion t-shirts, the Circle t-shirts out there. Um, I’ve been getting a lot of the “red heads” now, which we call the Sammy Hagar fans, coming to see me play since I started playing with Sammy. Which is just great. We’ve actually just finished an original new album for The Circle. All new music that I helped to collaborate on with Sammy for a couple of things. So I’m really looking forward to that, it’s a very concept-kind of album and it’s meant to be listened to in a specific order which kind of tells the story. He’s been really inspired as of late and I think it’s going to be some of his best stuff. It’s definitely diverse, when you listen to it in the order. What he wanted to do was do something very different than he’s ever done before, which is setting you on a journey like the old days when you put on an album and listened to it from start to finish where the placement for each song is vital to make sense. So we’ve got that finished now. And actually on Father’s Day I was on tour and I went into the studio because he sent me a new song that he wanted to add to the album. So I went in on Father’s Day and recorded drums in upstate New York. But it was great because I found a great new studio which I’d love to go back to. It was fun to go do, so literally I got the mix back from him yesterday. So yeah, to be part of that band and to play live with Sammy and Michael and Vic, the most positive people and so much fun. It’s a whole different vibe. It’s a party. Sammy is so up and so positive and Mike is such a wonderful guy and smiling and it’s all fun, you know, it’s that…’life’s too short to be miserable”. I mean I’m English so I can be very half-empty. Sammy is always half full. He’s like, “Don’t be English around me. This is fun. You have got nothing to be worried about.”

So when you’re sitting down and playing with The Circle or Black Country Communion, in that drummer’s seat you’re playing as Jason Bonham. But when you go out as the Led Zeppelin Evening, are you still playing as Jason Bonham or are you more focused on matching your father’s playing as closely as possible?

Well, yeah there’s the certain fills that have to be there, especially when I’ll do a live broadcast sometimes. So there’s certain fills that you do. But what I try to do is listen to so many of the live bootlegs. So I sometimes think it’s me being me, but then someone will say, “Oh I see you did the fill from ’74 or ’75”, and then I’m like, “Did I?”. So it’s in the memory banks. People will say to me, “Oh, when you did Celebration Day, I love what you did at the ending of Kashmir. That was really when you became yourself.” I went, “Actually no, if you listened to the Knebworth version in ’79, that’s kind of where I got that from, that’s what I was going for.”

So I try to put the fills in…like…that probably he did on the Presence album in Led Zeppelin Two. So it’s things that he hadn’t done yet. And that’s the great thing about playing the music now, honestly, I can get to be John Bonham from this period, but put it back into an earlier song which he didn’t do yet. So, uh, that’s the fun part. You know, I would say there’s a box of tricks. There isn’t that many tricks in there, but the ones I pull out and put it in different songs work. You know, the odd triplets, you never get tired of them. What Dad’s great thing was was the feel and the groove, and that’s the pocket. For years I thought a deep, deep pocket was somebody that had lots of money until drummers were talking about it. And I was like, oh, that’s what they mean by pockets.

So in that 2007 concert at the 02, Celebration Day, when the band told you that they were going to put on the set list the song “For Your Life”, a song that had never been played live before, what was going through your head at that time?

Oh, well for me that was actually one of my ideas as well! There was this debate, Jimmy says he came up with the idea of the opening, they said, “What should we open with?” and I went, ” You’ve got to open with the first track of Led Zeppelin I: Good Times Bad Times. But then I think it was something that Robert said about “For Your Life”, but at that point I was like, “Great, because there’s no (previous) live reference.” So, it was purely played in a way…like the album, but then I added my own little things in there with some stops and pauses and I really enjoyed playing that song live.

Yeah. By that point in the show, you were just firing on all cylinders and it was so delightful to get that surprise, you know…

Well, a little secret in what we did…what we did is every day we did the first three songs, so no matter what else we worked on, every day we would do the first three songs. So every day we’d play Good Times Bad Times, then Ramble On and Black Dog. And then we would choose like one or two songs to work on and then call it a day because it was never long days. So every day we would do that because we thought: If we can get through the first three songs just relaxed, then the rest of it will be an enjoyable rest of the evening. It’s like getting past the first turn without a scrape. You know, if you could make the first turn in a race and you’re free and clear of the carnage behind you, you can enjoy it. Otherwise if there’s carnage, It takes awhile to get back into it. I know that I’m one of those. If I screw up on the first song, it takes me a while to get over myself. So we were very fortunate. We had a great first three songs and then every one of us were all really relaxed. I mean, it could have been…you know…the world was watching and waiting for it to go, Boom! But I like to think of it as if it never happens again, it was nice to end on such a high.

Absolutely. And one of the remarkable things about that show is that the band really seemed to want to be celebrating YOU most of all. Jimmy even went as far as saying, “Jason was the hero for me. That gig was about him.” And Robert from the stage said that the show was about the opportunity to bring you there. So are there any words you can put on that honor and respect that they bestowed on you?

It was just so very special for me. If anything, they relaunched my faith in the music industry. They opened people’s eyes to me and without them I wouldn’t have a career. They’ve always looked out for me from day one, from (Jimmy’s solo album) Outrider in ’88 and working with Jimmy. From Robert Plant picking me up from school and helping him work on his solo albums. They’ve encouraged me in music from the beginning of my life right through. So this whole Led Zeppelin Evening of mine is not only an honor and tribute to my father, it’s also a tribute to them. When I was younger and so close to it, I probably didn’t get it as much as I did as I got older, and it was too late.

I remember the first time I played with them, it was kind of the attitude of, “Well, I’m expected to do this.” It wasn’t until later on in life where I realized what they could have anybody they wanted on drums, they don’t need to have to have me on drums just because I’m a Bonham, you know. So you’ve gotta deliver the goods. So I remember we got together on June 10th, 2007 and had a jam and had a chat and it was after that they said, “Right, okay, let’s do it. He’s up to it.” I mean, we did Kashmir and Jimmy turned round to Robert Plant and said, “Well, that’s as good as it’s ever sounded.” And it was very special for me.

Were there any similarities being onstage with them in 2007 to when you played with them in 1988 for Atlantic’s 40th birthday? Or was it just a totally different thing?

Uh, it was a totally different thing. I think I was way more nervous for the one for the Atlantic. I was so young. Twenty one, or twenty two at the Atlantic 40th. Um, yeah, I was a child then. And now for this I was like almost 40, or 41, but yeah, so it was a whole different world to be in. I remember having a moment in one of the songs where I looked at John Paul Jones and I was envisioning the Song Remain the Same when my dad’s in the camera shot and they’re looking at each other and my dad’s going, “No, no not yet.” So I was having all these moments of like, “it’s like Song Remains the Same!” when I was playing. I’m looking at these guys and they looked back at me. It was centered around the drum kit. Because the way we rehearsed it was that they all just faced me, so in a lot of the show sometimes you see they all stood around me and they’re all looking at me. So it was fun and you can tell from the smiles on their faces that they had a great time and then that’s why everybody thought it was going to continue on.

Even before Outrider, I first saw you play live in ’86 with one of your early bands, Virginia Wolf. You guys opened up for The Firm and I saw you in Philly back then. And even at that time, the band was billed as Virginia Wolf featuring Jason Bonham and you’re playing to 15,000 people and they even gave you a drum solo section for the opening set, you’re probably like barely even 20 years old.

Yeah, I look back, and I have some great bootlegs. Because it all led to something, you know. From Airrace my first band, we went on tour with Queen. Roger Taylor then produced Virginia Wolf and that’s how I got in Virginia Wolf. Ah, then Virginia Wolf tours with The Firm and that’s how I ended up being with Jimmy on Outrider. Then being at the Atlantic 40th with Zeppelin, people watching there and then I got signed for my band Bonham. My entire first decade, that whole eighties period for me from ’82 all the way up to ’91 was just a rollercoaster, it went from one to the next. It was ups and downs and different bands and learning each time. And I just couldn’t believe my luck, you know, everything seem to be going great. And then we took way too long for our second album with Bonham, and before we knew it bands like Nirvana had come out and it was a whole change. Now it’s pretty healthy again for rock and roll. I’ve gotten to be friendly with Dave Grohl and went to see Foo Fighters recently. And it was very sweet of him. He mentioned to the crowd…he said, “There’s a guy here tonight that I went to see play 30 years ago. I was about 18 years old. And I waited three hours to meet this guy and I met him after the show and it was one of the greatest moments of my life.” And I was like, “I don’t remember.” Because at the time, obviously Nirvana hadn’t broke at that point, so he would just be a guy, because he was so into my dad that he wanted to come and see the son. So very sweet of him, that he brought it up and he had the whole audience of 18,000 people sing to me at times like these and uh, it was very cool.

So for everyone listening now, go catch the tour this summer with Jason Bonham’s Led Zepplin Evening with Whitesnake and Foreigner. And then it sounds like after that’s done, you alluded to that you’re going to do some solo shows with the Led Zeppelin material later this fall or winter?

Yeah. And also with Sammy, with plans to promote a new product. I don’t know if it’s going to be out this year or next year. So check www.JasonBonham.net and www.SammyHagar.com. Uh, yeah, Black Country Communion – who knows, I’ll be in one of those bands near you soon! And for this current tour, we go on a 7pm. I know it’s early, but don’t get there late. You won’t be disappointed if you get there early. And we’ll definitely have some fun.

Sweet. Jason, thanks so much for talking with us. And we want to leave everyone with a track from you. Do you want to leave something from Black Country Communion like “Collide” or, or something different?

Oh, of me? Yeah, “Collide”, I do love that track. And that was written and inspired in the world of “Black Dog”.

Yeah, we can definitely feel that. So have a great time out there. I think you guys are playing Jones Beach tonight, is that right?

That’s correct, yes.

Well, have a blast with them and thanks for keeping the tradition of this music going because you’re doing it with style.

Oh, thank you very much. I’m very honored and it’s the greatest music to play and represent the family. So thank you for the support and I will see you guys soon!

All right. Thanks, Jason. Cheers!

Thank you.

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