LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - There’s no sugar-coating the death of John Bonham.
The wild Led Zeppelin drummer choked on his own vomit after downing 40 shots of vodka in 1980, a demise that brought one of rock’s biggest bands to a premature end.
His son, Jason, started following in his footsteps — both as a rock drummer and as a drunken rabble-rouser. When he turned 32 years-old a dozen years ago, he felt it was only natural that he should die at the same age as his father.
“I would be the party animal, wanna smash things up or throw a TV out the window because Dad had done it,” Bonham recounted in an interview with Reuters.
“Just past that 32 stage, I very much nearly drank myself to death ... I remember thinking it was kinda funny: This is my year.”
But with the support of his patient wife of 20 years, Jan, Bonham got back on the straight and narrow. He toured with veteran rock band Foreigner, formed his own band, and went on the road in North America this fall in an authorized multimedia tribute labeled “Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience.”
The tour grossed $2.1 million after playing 38 cities and cracked the top 50 of trade publication Pollstar’s annual top tours list. Bonham is expected to launch a second leg in the spring, although details have not been announced.
The “Experience” show saw Bonham lead a band whose faithful covers of such songs as “Whole Lotta Love” and “Dazed and Confused” were interspersed with his heartfelt recollections and old home movies. On tunes such as “Moby Dick,” Bonham played along with concert footage of his father, replicating his monster drumming style.
Never shy of his heritage, Bonham played with his dad’s old workmates both at the Atlantic Records 40th anniversary concert in 1988, and at the band’s one true reunion concert at London’s 02 Arena in 2007.
The latter show, a memorial to late Atlantic co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, was one of the most coveted tickets of the decade. For a few hours, Bonham basked in the reflected glory of singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page and keyboardist/bassist John Paul Jones.
As the plaudits rolled in, an adrenalized Bonham assumed the show would lead to a full-fledged reunion tour. But Plant later disabused his bandmates of that notion at their annual meeting. If they were disappointed, Bonham was despondent.
“It was hard to be in the biggest band in the world for that short time, and then not. I’d kinda given up other things, and now what am I gonna do?
“I was just miserable for a good year ... My kids — the English sense of humor is very cruel — they said, ‘Dad that was yesterday, now you’re back to being a nobody again.’ Out of the mouths of babes.”
He found his nine years’ sobriety sorely tested. Surely he deserved a quick drink to get over his misery? But he stayed strong, and eventually got a call inviting him to join a new project with Page and Jones. They worked on new material and rehearsed with various singers, until Page pulled the plug.
Bereft again, Bonham put together his Led Zeppelin tribute at the behest of promoters who urged him to see the Beatles’ tribute “Rain” in Las Vegas. The concept immediately clicked with Bonham, who was eager to tell his father-son story without dodging some inevitably heavy moments.
“People say, Aren’t you sick of talking about him, doing this?’ No ... I miss the guy on a daily basis,” Bonham said. “I’m 44 years-old now, but I still feel that he’s got older. I see Robert and I see Jimmy, and I’ll try to imagine how dad would look now.”
Looking at the son, it’s disturbing to imagine the late rocker with a bald head. But Bonham said his father was blessed with his family’s good hair gene.
“I’m hoping my son’s got that one, because I said, ‘Look after it. You won’t have it for long.’”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte