Many kids dream of following in their fathers's footsteps, but for 41-year-old Jason Bonham, the imagery is more literal than figurative. His late dad, John "Bonzo" Bonham, is generally regarded as the ultimate drummer for the world's ultimate rock band, Led Zeppelin. And last year, Jason had a unique opportunity to step in for Bonzo when Zeppelin performed their rapturous reunion at London's O2 Arena.
"It was like the penalty shoot-out at the World Cup, but you're taking everyone one,"Bonham tells the Musician's Union Musician magazine. "I had to shoot 16 times and get the goal every time."
Despite weeks of meticulous rehearsals (and a lifetime of envisioning such a show) Jason admits that his nerves were shot just before hitting the stage. "We all arrived separately and didn't communicate with each other until ten minutes before we went on. At that point I don't know what I was feeling. I was breathing deeply trying to keep calm. I knew I could do the gig, but could I do it when it counted?"
Fans and critics alike praised Jason's enthusiastically reverent interpretations of his old man's moves. For the younger Bonham, the notices have been welcome, although they are "too much to comprehend, really. A friend said, 'Keep your feet on the ground. You don't believe them when you're crap, so why believe them when they say you're great?' What pleased me was that, in certain reviews, everything I attempted they picked up on. Like the tempos. I was anal about keeping them back to more like the albums. One review said, 'Jason had this funk element,' and I was like, 'yes, they get it. Dad was a funk drummer.'"
Jason calls the O2 performance "the test," but unlike most exams, he says that preparations, while earnest, were anything but laborious. "The first week, Robert wasn't there and we had a fantastic time, feeling quite cocky for when he was gonna walk in - 'Have a bit of this…bash!' Then Jimmy broke his finger and that sent me panicking - 'You know what? Maybe this isn't gonna happen after all.' Once it was rescheduled, we got the set list and ran the first three songs every day."
In a set that was one sustained high, picking a favorite is a difficult task. Jason, however, has no such trouble, citing Kashmir, the closing song before the encores, as his personal best. "By then I had no nerves, just pure, brutal, 'I'm gonna really go for it.' I'm glad I wasn't afraid because sometimes all those things you wanted to do, you bottle it. So I just went for it with all these big crossing-over time-fills."
From the moment Zeppelin left the O2 stage, one question has dogged the band: When are you doing it again? Jason has confirmed his desire to take part in a tour or other one-off shows, and he sees the absence of an O2 DVD as a good omen. "I said to myself, 'If they release it straight away then that's the end because it takes away the mystique.' It's hard to be in this situation where it was so good and now I'm left in limbo about what's going to happen next. I managed to pull Excalibur out of the stone and, for a short period, I carried the sword but then I was told. 'No, no, put it back in the stone now.'"
Still, if nothing more happens, Jason feels at peace, both with the past and present. "I'm happy with what happened and, if I ask for more, it's me being greedy. There's a sense of accomplishment that Dad has remained my hero, my mentor throughout the last 27 years, and I still used him as my main focus to be able to do the gig. So it's hats off to him - look what you did now, Dad."