John Bonham is often called the greatest rock drummer who ever lived. And whether you agree with that assessment or not—I’m a Keith Moon man, myself—you’ve gotta admit that “Bonzo” was a master of the groove. Thirty years after his alcohol-related death at the age of 32, Bonham’s son Jason—an acclaimed skinbasher himself—is taking his father’s musical legacy on the road. Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience is a multimedia show that sees him performing Zep tunes with a live band, screening archival footage of his dad, and reminiscing about what it was like to be raised by a rocker of such magnitude.
“He was a regular guy and he just happened to be in Led Zeppelin,” explains the 44-year-old Bonham from a tour stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Everyone knows who Bonzo is—you can just go pick up those books and read these fisherman’s-tale stories. But at home he was a regular dad who would ground me and embarrass me in front of my friends. He was in Led Zeppelin and he would still embarrass me!
“So I talk about my life,” he adds, “but I also understand that the fans lost their favourite drummer and their favourite band. And it’s true, you know. The fan support throughout the years, and the new generation, has made Zeppelin larger than life.”
Like most Bonzo devotees, Bonham points to his dad’s incredible feel and ability to get “in the pocket” as crucial to his success as Led Zeppelin’s fabled timekeeper. He regards the straightforward drum work on tunes like “When the Levee Breaks” and “Kashmir” as particularly impressive.
“He just had this great groove,” explains Bonham, who performed with the other three Led Zeppelin members at a reunion concert back in 2007. “He knew when to do things and when not to do things, and knowing the difference is a tough one.”
Bonham, whose fave Zeppelin album is 1975’s Physical Graffiti, was only 14 when his father passed away, and he doesn’t remember taking instruction on drums from him. But he does recall one incident, shortly before his dad’s death, when the elder Bonham wanted him to play along to the Genesis song “Turn It on Again”.
“I think Phil Collins had just beaten him in the Melody Maker drummer’s poll,” says Bonham, “and he came in and said, ”˜Play this.’ I went over it a few times, and then he said, ”˜Yep, okay, that’s cool.’ I think it was probably his way of going, ”˜Hey, what’s the big deal about that guy? My son can play that!’ ”