Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience Comes to Montclair on Thursday
Jason Bonham celebrates the legacy of his late father, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, with an audio-visual concert
Jason Bonham will celebrate the life and legacy of his late father, legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, through music, video footage and storytelling at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair on Thursday.
For the younger Bonham, a superb drummer in his own right, the multi-media “Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience” provides an opportunity to show fans a softer side of his father, who was notorious for his out-of-control, at times violent antics while on tour. John Bonham died in 1980 at age 32.
“We’re using home movies to show what my dad was like at home,” Jason Bonham said by phone. “Many people only know John Bonham as Bonzo, the wild character who threw TV sets out the windows of hotel rooms.
“To me he was just dad, very calm and quiet and sweet at home,” Bonham said. “There’s two sides to him. He’s definitely a Gemini.”
As video screens project images of his father at home and performing with Led Zeppelin, Jason Bonham and his band tear through two hours of Zeppelin hits and deep cuts, from classics like “Whole Lotta Love,” “Heartbreaker,” and “Stairway to Heaven” to catalogue gems such as “Royal Orleans,” “Four Sticks” and “Fool in the Rain.”
For Bonham, highlights include playing along to a loop of his father on the percussion-driven “Led Zeppelin IV” cut, “When the Levee Breaks.”
“We use a loop of my dad’s part so I’m playing along with him,” he said. “The sound of that intro drum beat is so legendary. That song goes down absolutely huge every night.”
The most challenging feat is “Moby Dick,” John Bonham’s signature drum solo. Jason Bonham performs the piece in the exact manner of his father physically and visually, from the timing of every note to the way he holds the drum sticks to how he’s seated on his drum stool. A split-screen video shows father and son playing as mirror images, raising the stakes for Bonham not to miss a single note or beat.
“That is a special thing, and it’s the hardest thing I do all night,” Bonham said. “Not only do I have to listen to him, I have to watch him on a monitor by my drums so I can play along exactly. I have to really focus.
“His ability was phenomenal and ahead of its time,” Bonham said of his father. “I’m not trying to replace him. I’m just trying to do what he taught me.”
Bonham also steps out from behind the drums to tell stories about his father and growing up with Led Zeppelin.
“Every show sparks a different memory, whether it be at home with dad or being with Led Zeppelin,” he said. “I was one of the lucky few who got a chance to play with Led Zeppelin, from jamming in the studio when they were recording the “Presence” album in 1975 when I was 9 to jamming with them at the Knebworth concert (England) during soundcheck in 1979, my dad’s last-ever shows.”
The Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience Tour coincides with the release on Nov. 19 of “Celebration Day,” a CD/DVD set documenting Led Zeppelin’s one-night only concert in England in 2010. Bonham said the idea for his Led Zeppelin Experience was sparked by the 2010 concert with surviving Zeppelin members Robert Plant (vocals), Jimmy Page (guitars) and John Paul Jones (bass).
“After the show I was working on a project for a year with Jimmy and John Paul,” Bonham said, “and then everything stopped and it was kind of a tough thing to move on from, having just had the greatest drum seat in the world. At the end of 2009 I started to discuss the possibility of doing this show.”
Bonham said the tour is officially endorsed by Page, Plant and Jones, who gave their blessing for the use of the name Led Zeppelin on the marquee. “For Led Zeppelin to allow me to use the name, it’s not taken lightly,” Bonham said. “I was in tears when they gave me the go ahead.”
Bonham’s backing band includes Long Island resident Tony Catania on guitar and singer James Dylan, who Bonham discovered on YouTube singing in a project called Virtual Zeppelin.
“When he starts to sing people do a double-take,” Bonham said. “His take on Robert is uncanny but he’s also got his own style.” The Led Zeppelin Experience band is rounded out by bassist Dorian Heartsong and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Leblanc, who plays keyboards, acoustic guitar, mandolin and other instruments.
Bonham said the most surreal moment of the show is video footage of a young Jason playing on his miniature drum kit, cheered on by his father, then in his mid-twenties. Jason Bonham is now 46.
“Now I’m the old man and he’s the young kid.”
IF YOU GO: Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, Wellmont Theatre, 5 Seymour St., Montclair. Tickets are $35 advance, $40 at the door. For more information call the box office at 973-783-9500 or visit www.wellmonttheatre.com.