"People say to me: 'Oh, what was it like, all those Zeppelin concerts?' Well I only went to three out of all the concerts they ever did! Dad believed that schoolwork came first. It wasn't as rock'n'roll as everyone thought," stresses Jason Bonham during a break from rehearsals for the 02 gig with Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones. The son of Zep drummer John "Bonzo" Bonham, he will be behind the kit when Led Zeppelin reunite.
Jason Bonham first entered the public consciousness in 1976 with the cinema release of The Song Remains the Same, the Zeppelin concert movie about to be reissued in an expanded and remastered version on CD and DVD. He was the little kid shown playing drums in the "rock star at home and at play footage" interspersed with his father's lengthy solo during "Moby Dick".
"It's strange, they've just sent me the actual footage, which I'd never seen, with the sound of what was happening, rather than the footage with my dad's music on top. The footage I have now is me talking and then playing the drums, and it is really unusual for me to see and hear my voice. I mean it's so cool. It would be one of those incidents when Dad would bring a friend from the music industry. We generally kept ourselves to ourselves but if there was a band playing in town that Dad knew, friends or whatever, they would come over and he would wake me up in the middle of the night and say: 'Come and play the drums for these friends of mine.' So I'd come down in my pyjamas and just play drums.
"I didn't know any different, so it seemed a very normal childhood in some ways but you don't know anything different," he says in an accent marooned mid-Atlantic, between the Midlands of his childhood and America where he has spent a lot of his time since the mid-Eighties since 2004 he has drummed with Foreigner.
Born in 1966, Bonham began drumming at the age of four, usually playing along to records on his father's jukebox to amuse family and friends. Sure, he saw Led Zeppelin in their Seventies pomp and prime, but barely remembers just three of those occasions.
"I went to one as a very young child, on the first British tour, which was like 1972, but that wouldn't be very memorable," admits Bonham. "The first one I remember was 1977 at Tampa Stadium in Florida, which was rained off after three songs. The band couldn't go back on because of the rain and the crowd went crazy and rioted. It was very scary. And then Madison Square Garden on the same tour, and then Knebworth, which was wonderful."
Knebworth in August 1979 proved a properly memorable occasion, not only because Led Zeppelin performed to record-breaking crowds on two consecutive weekends in what would turn out to be their last concerts in the UK, but also because the young Bonham stepped out on stage with the group for the first time, albeit during the soundcheck.
"Dad and I drove up to soundcheck on the Wednesday. He said: 'Do you know 'Trampled Underfoot'?' I said: 'Yeah.' He said: 'We're going to play it.' So I just got on the drumkit and Jimmy went: 'Right, ready, ready?' And Jonesy [John Paul Jones] started off, and he knew it was me. Robert and Jimmy did not, though, they didn't look around for a while. Then Jimmy saw my dad out front and went: 'Who's playing?' It was great fun!" he remembers.
"When dad died, I picked up the drums again and decided to carry on the family name," he says. The first two groups he joined, Air Force and Virginia Wolf, were signed to Atlantic Records, but he hit the big time with the eponymous group Bonham, scoring a major US hit both with the Zeppelinesque "Wait For You" and the album The Disregard of Timekeeping in 1989.
He performed with the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin at a celebration concert for Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary held at Madison Square Garden in May 1988. He is disarmingly honest about that rather disastrous first attempt at a reunion, which saw the group struggle through "Kashmir", "Heartbreaker" and "Stairway to Heaven", their signature song included very much against Plant's wishes.In 1988, Bonham toured with Page to promote Outrider, the guitarist's only solo album to date. The drummer also jammed with Page, Plant and Jones at his wedding to Jan Charteris in 1990, and when Led Zeppelin were inducted into the Rock'*'Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
He seems undaunted by the pressure of Monday's gig. "This time, I've done the homework," he assures me.
"I've come back in, I've worked at it, I know exactly what I want to do. I think everyone is going to be surprised."Reuse content