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Passing the Sticks

Jason Bonham
All in the Family: Jason Bonham took his musical cues from his famous father.

Photo by Brian Mauer

Led Zeppelin's style lives on in the hands of drummer Jason Bonham, son of John

By Nicky Baxter

JASON BONHAM learned to drum from a master; his father was John "Bonzo" Bonham, a key member of Led Zeppelin. Since John's passing in 1980, Jason has assumed the daunting task of carrying on the Bonzo legacy. "The whole thing came about rather naturally due to a situation arising within my band," says Bonham the younger. "We had to shift some members around just as we were headed out on the road, so we couldn't play some of our new songs." But surely the notion of recreating John's brilliant playing on "Moby Dick" had crossed his mind before? "Well, sure; he was my father," Bonham allows. Jason Bonham is a skilled if unspectacular drummer; no one has been able to replicate the magnificent racket pounded out by Bonham senior. Nevertheless, it was Jason wielding the sticks for the Led Zeppelin reunion commemorating Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary, and he has subsequently gone on to record and tour with Zeppelin's Jimmy Page.

Jason's 1990 debut, The Disregard of Timekeeping, topped the charts and earned him his first gold record. Still, the Bonzo/Zep connection continues to loom large. Rather than dance around it, the musician has opted to embrace the family legacy, releasing In the Name of My Father: The ZepSet, recorded on Michael Jackson's boutique label, MJJ, earlier this year. Tony Catania (guitars), John Smithson (bass and keyboards), Robert Plant sound-alike Charles West and Bonham do a credible job summoning some measure of the substance and spirit of Led Zeppelin's crotch-rock. The ZepSet samples a representative portion of Led Zeppelin's catalog, from the brute mania of "Communication Breakdown" to the mush-mouth blues of "Since I've Been Loving You" to the complexities of "Ten Years Gone" and "The Rain Song."

With a release date of Sept. 25 (the day John Bonham died), the Jason Bonham Band's newest release, When You See the Sun, also engages in unabashed hero worship, quoting the Zeppelin canon directly. The introductory drum lick from "Out on the Prey" is lifted from Led Zeppelin's faux reggae number "D'yer Maker"; "Drown in Me" quotes "In My Time of Dying." Like Page, Catania uses his instrument in a painterly fashion; his playing evokes colors rather than mere guitar notes. On "Kiss the World Goodbye," he begins with a grungy sawing riff that quickly morphs into a plangent trill. Catania's abbreviated solo is a model of invention, whirring with kaleidoscopic intensity. Everyone from Living Colour to Soundgarten has exploited Led Zeppelin's legacy. So why not Jason Bonham? He may not possess the hammer of the gods, but he's the next best thing.

The Jason Bonham Band plays Sunday (Sept.28) at 9pm at the Edge, 260 California Ave., Palo Alto. Tickets are $9 adv. (415/324-8445)

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From the Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 1997 issue of Metro.

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