The son of legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, tells Andy Coleman about his latest band and a tribute to his father.
Drummer Jason Bonham was disappointed that the historic Led Zeppelin reunion was confined to just one show.
Jason, son of the legendary Led Zep sticksman John Bonham, took his father’s place on the drum stool for the two hour 2007 gig at London’s O2 Arena which saw Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones recreate some of the magic of their heyday.
It was much more successful than the under-rehearsed, and much shorter, previous reunion at Madison Square Garden in 1988 when Jason also played drums.
‘‘I’d have liked it to carry on,’’ muses 44-year-old Jason, adding that it was hard for him to accept that the four musicians would play no more than one full show together.
‘‘I had a great sense of accomplishment just to get to that seat... but things are bouncing back now, things are going great,’’ he says.
The cause of Dudley-born Jason’s optimism is two-fold.
He has formed a new band with fellow Midlander, singer Glenn Hughes, and his Led Zeppelin-themed tribute show to his father John has proved to be a big hit in north America.
He tells me first about Black Country Communion, the act whose line-up is completed by Cannock-born Glenn and Americans, guitarist Joe Bonamassa and keyboardist Derek Sherinian. They play Wolverhampton Civic Hall on December 29.
‘‘I had a phone call from producer Kevin Shirley who suggested we go into the studio and make a good classic rock album. ‘We don’t overthink it, we just go in there and bash it out,’ he said.
‘‘From the moment it started I could tell it wasn’t just a jam session in the studio. Before we knew it the reviews were coming out and it was a real rollercoaster ride.
"I’m so proud – I don’t think I’ve ever had an album of my own that actually went into the English chart. It debuted at 13 so I was very, very pleased and overwhelmed.’’
One of the songs on the album, and a highlight of the live set, is Black Country Communion’s version of Medusa, originally recorded by Glenn’s band Trapeze. It was a favourite of John Bonham’s and he would often jam on the track at Trapeze gigs.
‘‘I’ll let you in on a secret,’’ Jason confides. ‘‘In the studio I bluffed my way through Medusa. I knew Glenn was so into it and I was like ‘yeah yeah, let’s do it’. I’d heard the song but I hadn’t really done my homework so I was looking over Glenn’s shoulder into the control room and getting guidance from the producer as we recorded it.
‘‘Recording the album was like a whirlwind but the more we play the better it gets.’’
Following the 2007 Led Zeppelin reunion, vocalist Robert Plant decided he’d rather do other things, like playing with bluegrass star Alison Krauss and forming his own Americana-flavoured act, Band Of Joy.
Jason was not invited to join Band Of Joy, named after one of Plant’s first bands which featured John Bonham in its 1968 line-up, but that did not stop him playing the rootsy material with Robert at a birthday celebration.
‘‘It was a party in a barn at my mum’s place in Cutnall Green, near Droitwich, for a guy who had worked with dad for years and continued to work for mum after dad died,’’ reveals Jason.
‘‘Robert agreed to be part of it and we played some of the Alison Krauss Raising Sand album stuff, with my sister singing Alison’s parts. We also did the Band Of Joy arrangements of Zeppelin songs.’’
Which brings our conversation neatly back to Led Zeppelin and Jason’s Led Zeppelin Experience project.
Featuring film and video of Redditch-born John, who died in 1980, and his family, and Jason drumming for a band performing Led Zeppelin numbers on stage, the show proved to be a smash hit when it toured in America and Canada.
‘‘We had a wonderful time sharing some of the home movies, talking through some things about dad, they don’t know what a normal guy he was. It really was emotional.
‘‘Even my mum, who was a bit dubious about it at first, said it’s a phenomenal way of paying homage to your dad. There are some sad bits and some funny bits, I wanted to get a balance.
"I didn’t want anyone leaving the show feeling sad or going, ‘I miss John’. I wanted people to go away saying, ‘What a fantastic life he had, what a wonderful tribute from a son to a dad’.’’
There is a possibility that the show will be coming to the UK.
‘‘We’ve just finished the first leg of the tour – and it was going to be the only leg but the demand and the reviews were beyond anything I could have hoped for. I was speechless about the whole thing,’’ says Jason who lives in Florida with his wife and two children.
‘‘Any doubts I had about doing these shows and thinking it was wrong were washed away by the reaction from the first show. And then throughout the tour the amount of letters and emails and Facebook messages I got, people just thanking me for bringing the music around and representing my family, it really was very special.
‘‘Reviews in Rolling Stone and the New York papers said if you close your eyes it’s like Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant are in the room with you. That’s heavy stuff!’’
The Experience line-up features Jason’s pal Tony Catania on guitar, Michael Devin on bass and Stephen LeBlanc on keyboards.
But where did Jason find shaven headed vocalist James Dylan?
‘‘On the Internet,’’ Jason reveals. ‘‘Somebody told me about a site, Virtual Zeppelin, and I found James singing loads of Zeppelin songs. It was like, wow this guy’s a bit unreal, so he came down to Florida because I wanted to find if he really could sing. I asked him, ‘Are you actually singing?’ and, yup, he could sing!’’
* Black Country Communion: December 29: Civic Hall, Wolverhampton Tickets: 0870 320 7000.