“You know who ‘Bonzo’ was, but you don’t know who John was. John was my father,” relates Jason Bonham, in talking about one of the things that he hopes to get across on his new tour, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience.
The show is an ambitious endeavor that includes stellar musicians playing the music of Led Zeppelin, mixed in with personal anecdotes, photos and film clips. “We have an introduction, two or three video screens, a 25 foot by 40 foot wide center screen and side screens, LED lights, moving lights, the whole nine yards,” says Jason. “The dry ice, and architecturally beautiful pieces to back up some of the songs. There are two-minute interludes with home movies. I talk through it. I talk to the audience. I look back at the screen and explain what’s going on. I talk about personal moments.”
Reviews from the tour so far are over-the-top, with Zeppelin fans and Jason Bonham fans ecstatic over the production, song choices and Jason’s candor about his life and his father. Many have pointed out the drum duet between Jason and his father, playing on the massive video screen behind him, as a highlight of the show. “We do ‘Moby Dick,’ where I play with my dad,” he says. “A bit of a sad thing, I got some tears in my eyes, but that’s it for the sad part of the show. I didn’t want it to be sad any more after that.”
They say goodbye to melancholy with the start of the second half of the show. “When you see the second half, you are going to see a five year [old] boy. Every night we just come out for the second half and just get a belly laugh. I’ll leave it at that. And then there’s a part where I start dancing, which gets a huge cheer.
Jason had mixed feelings about doing a tribute to his father and the music of Led Zeppelin, but a production company convinced him to see the Beatles show, Rain, and that put him over the top. “We obviously just played with Led Zeppelin a few years ago,” he explains. “I wasn’t interested in doing this kind of show. Then I saw Rain, with the screens, and I thought, ‘What can I do, I want to do something different,’ instead of just going out and playing the songs. It just started it in my mind. In the show we have a bit where I say, ‘I don’t want to play the next song, can you help me out?’ And on the screen ‘When The Levee Breaks’ comes on, and John is playing, and the band starts playing with him. Every night it just gets better and better and better—All these elements coming into place. At first I was like, ‘I’m not sure I should do this tune,’ but then we’d do it and it was, ‘Ahh, this is fantastic.’”
Jason has assembled an accomplished group of musicians to play with him on the trek. Tony Catania plays lead guitar, and has been playing with Jason for years. James Dylan, from Virtual Zeppelin, a YouTube sensation that has several hundred thousand views, handles the vocals. Michael Devin, formerly of Whitesnake, mans the bass and Stephen LeBlanc plays guitar, pedal steel and keyboards. Jason actually didn’t announce the lineup until the first show, because he didn’t want anyone to get preconceived ideas about what it would be like.
Robert Plant has voiced support for Jason and the idea of the tour. And his sister Zoe is looking forward to the show. “Zoe’s great,” says Jason. “She will be seeing it, so it will be very special. I haven’t heard from John [Paul Joes] or Jimmy [Page]. We don’t speak on a regular basis.”
There are so many classic songs to choose from, it must have been a chore to try and narrow the set list down to a manageable length. “We kind of pretty much learned everything,” laughs Jason. “So we have a choice every night of what we want to do. We have a main structure, but we have about eight songs that we change. Last night we threw in ‘Good Times Bad Times,’ and the other night we threw in ‘What Is And What Should Never Be.’ Because, like you said, where do you start? We all like different songs at different times, and the audience, they want this and they want that. So if you don’t’ hear it one night, come see us the next night. It keeps it fresh.”
One song they do every night is one that’s Jason’s personal favorite. “For me, my favorite part of the show, I have always loved playing ‘Kashmir,’” he says. “And the footage is so beautifully put onto the screen. With what’s going on, every time I see some of it, I take it as a personal inspiration. I avoid looking at the screen, because I get choked up. That’s a special part of the show for me.”
Though he’s currently doing this tour, Jason is keeping very busy with other projects as well. He’s a part of Black Country Communion, a sort of super-group, with guitarist Joe Bonamassa, vocalist/bassist Glenn Hughes, and keyboardist Derek Sherinian. There are touring plans in the works for that group as well. “Yes, but we are never going to be out before 2011. Now it looks like we are going to play Black Country in Wolverhampton, then we go in and do another album. It’s really a long term thing.”
Recently, Jason did a few shows with some of the members of Bonham, the late ‘80s band he led that achieved gold-album status. “We did a couple, but it’s hard with the situation. Daniel (MacMaster, the vocalist)—God bless him—he died two years ago now. Leave it as it was.”
For now, Jason is concentrating on The Led Zeppelin Experience, and thus far it’s living up to everything it was billed to be. “It just gets better and better,” he reiterates. “It is so emotional, that’s all I can say. The show, the personal side of it, it’s a trip down to different places, a trip playing the music. It just gets better and better every night.”
Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience will be performing in several area dates: Nov. 3 at Count Basie Theatre, Nov. 4 at Bergan PAC, Nov. 6 at Merriam Theater and Nov. 8 at Best Buy Theatre. More info at jblze.com.