When legendary rock outfit Led Zeppelin reformed three years ago to play a tribute concert to Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, there was only one choice to replace their late drummer John Bonham — Jason Bonham, the man’s percussionist son.
How did it feel, backing the original lineup of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones?
Junior takes a deep breath before answering: “Take the greatest day of your life, then times it by a million,” he says. “My dream, my goal for all my life was to get their approval. And to finally get that was like getting it from my dad’s mouth.”
But the real thrill for Bonham — who brings his own elaborate tribute to his father, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, to The City this week — was the six weeks of rehearsals leading up to that historic gig.
“I had to get all this childlike behavior out of my system, because I felt like a kid and a journalist, all rolled into one,” he says. “Because every day, I’d just be asking them questions, as soon as there was a moment of silence. I’d go, ‘Hey, guys! Do you remember when you did such and such?’ Until they were like, ‘Oh, my God — what is with all these questions?’ But they were cool about it.”
It’s been 30 years since John Bonham’s passing, an occasion his son is marking with the current tour, which incorporates spoken word, archival family footage, anthems like “Kashmir” and “Dazed and Confused,” and a band featuring vocalist James Dylan, an eerie Plant soundalike he found online via Virtual Zeppelin.
“It wasn’t until I put this together in a very personal way that I even thought to address it,” Bonham says of his show.
Bonham and his father were quite close. He recalls John waking up early to pack lunches for all his teen dirt-bike races. “He loved it — Dad could just stand at that track with all the other fathers and be just another guy,” he says. And when he picked up drums, he received important paternal advice, like, “Never play at a disadvantage.”
Hanging with Zeppelin really opened his eyes, Bonham says. “Because I was old enough to listen to the real stories” — for example, the legend of his father destroying a Japanese hotel room with a samurai sword.
Bonham adds, “Jonesy said, ‘Actually, Jason, that was me! Your dad fell asleep with a sword in his hand, so I took it, chopped his room up, then put it back in his hand. So when he woke up, he thought he did it! That was classic!’”
IF YOU GO
Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience
Where: Warfield, 982 Market St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $29.50 to $47.50
Contact: (800) 745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com