Q&A: Jason Bonham Talks About His Led Zeppelin Experience, Playing "Stairway to Heaven" and Living Up to His Dad's Legacy
Jason Bonham loves talking about his old man, former Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. And why not? Before his untimely and early demise, John Bonham was considered one of rock's mightiest drummers.
Jason followed in his father's musical footsteps sa a drummer, and even ended up replacing his father when Led Zeppelin occasionally reconvened for reunion shows.
Between Zeppelin gigs, Jason has played with everyone from Ted Nugent to Eric Clapton.
Recently, Jason decided to salute the work of his father and formed Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience, an unlikely tribute band. And so far, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive.
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Jason personally selected a group of musicians who could faithfully recreate the sound of Led Zeppelin. After many months of practice, Jason put together a multi-media presentation that includes videos of the original Led Zeppelin. Tonight, that presentation comes to town for a show at the Fair Park Music Hall. In anticipation of this performance, we recently caught up with Jason Bonham while he was on a tour stop in Tulsa, where he graciously took some time to reflect on his father's legacy and talk about what makes Led Zeppelin still vital some four decades after the band's inception.
Read the Q&A in its entirety after the jump.
James Dylan [singer for Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience] doesn't look at all like Robert Plant, but he sounds a great deal like Plant. Were you ever worried about people reacting to Dylan in a negative way when they first see him?
I wanted to find someone who sounded like Robert, but didn't look like him. That was my goal. I didn't want to go out there with a bunch of look-a-likes and dress-a-likes. There are no wigs. We are not trying to replicate a certain look. I'm representing just my family and the way we can reproduce these songs in a respectable manner. When I discovered James, I was actually relieved that he didn't have long, blonde hair.
Why do you think that the songs of Led Zeppelin have remained popular over three decades?
I think that the classic thing about them is that they sounded fresh when they came out. No one sounded like them. Led Zeppelin sounded like nobody else. That spoke to the individuality of the band and the direction Jimmy Page wanted to pursue. Jimmy had a really strong vision of what he wanted to do. Collectively, all of them were so talented. They made timeless music. They got it.
What are your favorite Led Zeppelin songs to play?
Recently, we added "How Many More Times" to the set. That song really reminded me of when Led Zeppelin started out in 1969. I love to play that song.
What's the most difficult song to play?
"Rock and Roll" because it's a two-handed shuffle, meaning that the snare drum is hit the same as the high hat. It's not every two and four. I don't think there are any easy Led Zeppelin songs. Some might say that they can play a song, but they can't really get to the feeling behind the song. You can't put yourself into that vibe. A song like "When The Levee Breaks" has a very simple pattern, but it's hard to give it that feel that my dad gave it.
Is it a beating to play "Stairway to Heaven"?
No, I love playing that song because of the dynamics, especially towards the end. The whole build is a true classic. If anything, radio took the song and played the hell out of it. I think on iTunes, "Kashmir" has overtaken it. And that's OK, too because I love that song and Physical Graffiti is my favorite Zeppelin album anyway.
Led Zeppelin has a pretty sizable canon of material. How do you decide what makes it on your set lists?
We kind of experimented and mixed things up at first to see what works. We learned way more songs than we needed to. There are just certain songs that we have to do and there are songs that I feel strongly about. Then we add others. There was some concern because some of the songs I've added are fairly obscure and we wondered if the audiences would accept them. But I figured that if you were a real Zeppelin fan, you would love the fact that we would include obscure songs.
What's the most obscure song you're playing?
"I'm Gonna Crawl" from In Through the Out Door.
That's probably the least favorite album of most Zeppelin fans.
Yes, but I wanted to represent every album. That song has a real meaning for me. The way Robert sang it and the way Jimmy played the solo. It is an emotional blues song. I enjoy playing that one every night.
There was a recent story in Rolling Stone that really sang the praises of your show. Do you care if the critics like your treatment of your dad's legacy?
I would be lying if I said I didn't care. I've searched all of my life for approval from my dad who is not around. So if I can get approval by his fans or from peers and critics, it helps me. Maybe it's wrong to seek approval, but it feels good to know that people like what I am doing. We're not trying to replace anybody. For me, it's an honor to represent my family. It gets pretty heavy and emotional sometimes doing these shows. When I get to speak to fans after the show and find out how much my dad's band meant to them. These fans can tell me where they were the moment they heard that my dad had died.
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