Playing music is like a family business, but it’s really much more than that. When you grow up in a rock & roll band it’s not only in your blood, it’s who you are. It is all you know. Drummer Jason Bonham is a testament to that sentiment. His father, of course, was Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, widely regarded as one of the greatest rock drummers of all time.
The film “The Song Remains the Same” not only documented Zeppelin’s 1973 three-night run at Madison Square Garden but also offered each member their own vignette, a chance to show the unique personality of each musician. The scenes played over each member’s signature song (of course Bonham’s was his magnum opus “Moby Dick”). While the other three members of Zeppelin had fantasy sequences—Robert Plant was a knight on a quest, Jimmy Page was a wizard climbing a mountain, and John Paul Jones was some kind of masked highwayman—John Bonham’s scene was Bonzo being himself: dancing with his wife, working on his farm, driving his beloved cars, drinking in the pub and playing drums with his son. This was the first glimpse the world had of Jason Bonham.
At five-years-old when the scene was filmed Jason was already a skilled drummer, twirling his sticks and playing with the same measured ferocity as his father. John Bonham loved to play the drums, and he loved his family. The mythical John Bonham of rock excess and ceaseless partying was mostly just that, myth. He did struggle with alcohol but it has been said that the reason he drank so much while on the road was that he missed his family. Tragically, he succumbed to alcohol in 1980, leaving a big hole in Led Zeppelin that could not be filled, except by one person. Jason Bonham.
While he began playing in successful bands—some of which he lead—when he was just 17, Jason Bonham first sat on his father’s throne when the surviving members of Led Zeppelin reunited for a televised concert to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Atlantic Records in 1988. He then helped guitarist Jimmy Page record his solo album Outrider and hopped on the subsequent tour. But Jason was soon to start a family of his own, a family man like his father.
Jason married Jan Charteris in 1990—they would go on to have two children—and he had a pretty good wedding band. With all three of the surviving members in attendance, Jason, Jimmy, Robert and JPJ decided to jam. Jason Bonham is probably the only person that can say Led Zeppelin played at his wedding. Not long after, in 1995, Jason and his sister Zoe stood in for their father when Zeppelin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Although later there was never any question that Zeppelin would be inducted, it was still a momentous day for a band that Rolling Stone trashed in their early years. As a father himself now, Jason decided that it was time to use his fame, and that of his own father, to give back.
Jason would go on to organize a solo project and produced the record In the Name of My Father-The Zepset that featured a number of Led Zeppelin songs. All proceeds were donated to charitable causes. The project was so successful that Jason followed it up with another album, When You See the Sun. Jason’s gregarious and giving nature would also lead the drummer to sit in with Zeppelin tribute bands like Fred Zeppelin and Led Zeppagain. But soon he would take part in one of the most anticipated rock concerts of all time.
In September of 2007 it was announced that Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones would reunite for one concert as a tribute to legendary president of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, who passed away in 2006. The question of who would play drums probably never crossed the guys’ minds. But Jason Bonham would certainly have to deliver the performance of his lifetime. And of course he did. Rolling Stone’s David Fricke remarked, “Jason Bonham hammered with the ghostly precision and ferocity of his late father.” Somewhere in some cosmic pub John nudged Ahmet and said, “that’s my boy.”
John Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience will be performing at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, May 21. You can find tickets on AXS by clicking here.