Jason Bonham has spent his day tidying up the garden and getting ahead of his chores, before heading out on his beloved Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Evening tour across Australia this month, carrying on the spirit of his father’s band the best way he knows how.
“I’m actually still covered in dirt as we speak,” he says with a gentle laugh. Bonham first got behind the skins at just four years old, eager follow in his dad, John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham’s footsteps. When asked if he was ever tempted by any other instruments, he says, “I mean, I didn’t know anything else.”
The older Bonham was considered one of the world’s best drummers; he was a driving force behind Led Zep with a playing style that was heavily informed by the likes of early American jazz drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. While artists like The Stones were sticking to classic rock’s four-four beat, Bonzo’s influences allowed him to bring complex rhythms to Led Zeppelin’s sound – he’d follow lead guitarist Jimmy Page while writing drum parts, for instance, rather than bassist John Paul Jones.
According to Jason, Bonzo even spurred the idea for the main riff for ‘Kashmir’ “Usually when a drummer makes the song, they go, ‘Oh yeah, okay, never mind, it didn’t make the album’,” he jokes.
Believe or not, the [song] that people usually think is the easiest, I find the hardest.
As he tackles his father’s contributions on his LZE tour, Jason does hit the occasional hurdle, even as a seriously accomplished drummer in his own right – but the challenges aren’t always technical. “Believe or not, the one that people usually think is the easiest, I find the hardest. And that is ‘Rock and Roll’,” he says of the classic anthem from Led Zeppelin IV, the misleadingly simple rhythm actually derived from ‘Keep A Knockin’’, a jazzy, upbeat number by New Orleans’s king of rock and roll Little Richard.
What makes the song so challenging is that it is played with sixteen notes on both the snare and high-hat, meaning that even professionals often mishear its structure. “It sounds simple, but to actually do it correctly, it’s very, very difficult.”
Though considered brit-rock by their geographical standards, Led Zeppelin were undeniably influenced by various corners of the globe: from the blues and jazz of 1950s America and the polyrhythms of Morocco and Northern Africa, to string players from India.
They didn’t all just play at the same time, each person was as important as the next
“Jimmy and Robert’s love for Morocco and Northern Africa and in bringing in the Indian musician string players, that was always so magical,” says Bonham. Some believe their music bridged the divide of musicality between the east and the west, and in the past Kashmiri youth have started their own bands in protest of the territorial conflict in the Northern India with inspiration from the band.
After their legendary O2 reunion concert, which saw Jason Bonham play with the surviving members of the band in one of their only reunions since John’s passing, Jimmy Page said that Jason’s “knowledge of what made Led Zeppelin tick musically was incredible.”
“Wow, if I knew that I would have parcelled it up,” Jason says, when asked what the secret is. “My love of the band is everyone had their role in that band, they didn’t all just play at the same time, each person was as important as the next… that’s why it would never work, even with me,” explains Bonham.
Robert Plant has famously quipped that when a band member would miss a cue – say, when Jimmy Page was lost in a shreddy groove – they would give the eachother a nod, and they soon became known as the band of nods. Led Zeppelin were as loose, light-hearted and jokey as they were technically prolific.
“Their musicality – their songs still sound so fresh, and each album is so different and unique, yet you knew it was Led Zeppelin. And there aren’t many bands that can do that these days.
As soon as you try and change what made you famous, usually people forget about you
“You know, as soon as you try and change what made you famous, usually people forget about you. But with Zeppelin, they seemed to evolve with every album they put out,” explains Bonham.
Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience was dubbed by Rolling Stone journalist and editor David Fricke as “a tour de force illusion,” but also “sincere theatre”, and Bonham’s show includes home videos and elaborate lighting displays to make it a holistic sensory experience. “I take this way more seriously than when I’m playing with my other people,” he breaks to laugh, “Because I’m representing my father here, which is very critical,” he says.
“We play to between five and ten thousand people and sometimes more, and I keep saying to myself, ‘This is a side project!’ This is my fun project and my fun band that became about the love that the fans have for Led Zeppelin.
“It’s not just about me or what I feel, but the personal stories, the mothers and the fathers, the mothers and the daughters, the mothers and the grandmothers and granddaughters coming to the shows and some of did see Zeppelin and some of them are in the age group that never saw them.”
I’m representing my father here, which is very critical
When asked what it was about Led Zeppelin that allowed them to continue influencing young artists, while many other rock and roll legends of the ’70s have faded, Bonham is adamant.
“I mean, I could be very confident there in saying, well… they were better.”
Jason Bonham continues to fly the flag for Led Zeppelin and his father with his Led Zeppelin Evening shows, touring Australia this month – check out the dates below.
Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Evening 2018 Australian tour dates
Wednesday, 23rd May
State Theatre, Sydney
Thursday, 24th May
Palais Theatre, Melbourne
Saturday, 26th May
Concert Hall, Perth
Tuesday, 29th May
The Tivoli, Brisbane