Robert Plant has taken some lumps for being the impediment to a Led Zeppelin reunion since the group’s 2007 performance at the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert in London.
There’s been plenty of speculation about the reasons for Plant’s reticence, but Jason Bonham — the son of the late Zep drummer John Bonham, who filled in for his father at Zep’s 1988 and 2007 regroupings — says that “Robert’s true reason is a lot deeper,” but also more clear-cut, than many realize.
Bonham tells Billboard that he, like others, was buoyed by reports that the 2007 show, preserved on the subsequent Celebration Day album and video, would be a springboard to put Zep into full flight again. “We did six weeks’ rehearsal for one show, so I was thinking we must be doing more,” Bonham notes. But after joining Plant for a soccer game in England, the drummer found out that would not be the case.
“On the way back I said [to Plant], ‘I’ve got to ask you… are we gonna get the band back together?'” Bonham recalls. “And he said, ‘I loved your dad way too much. It’s not disrespect to you; You know the stuff better than all of us, and no one else who is alive can play it like you. But it’s not the same. I can’t go out there and fake it. I can’t be a jukebox. I can’t go out there and try to do it that way.” Bonham adds that Plant also felt strongly about Zep’s declaration shortly after his father’s 1980 death that the band was indeed over.
“He told me, ‘When your father left us, left the world, that was it for Led Zeppelin. We couldn’t do what The Who did. It was too vital.’
“And I got it,” Bonham continues. “I was absolutely fine with that. My dad and Robert, they’d known each other since they were, like, 15. It was a lot deeper for [Plant]. So I was OK with it. It was a great time, and to end it the way it did, with that great concert, was for the best. [Plant] said, ‘We needed to do one more great concert, and then maybe put it to rest.'”
Led Zeppelin’s legacy, of course, has continued with various reissues, including a 2017 catalog overhaul curated by guitarist Jimmy Page. Page, Plant and bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones also began the celebration of the group’s 50th anniversary this year with the publication of the book Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin.
Jason Bonham, meanwhile, has been carrying the torch for Zep and his father with a tribute live show that he started during 2009 as Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. He changed the name to Led Zeppelin Evening this year after, the other band members said they wanted to use the Experience name for an upcoming project involving the archive of Zep live recordings.
“I got a letter from their attorney, who happens to be my attorney as well,” Bonham says. “As I read the first few lines I felt very upset. It was my wife who saved me from getting into a rage; I was about to group-dial Jimmy, John Paul and Robert and go ‘What the hell…!’ but she said ‘Read the rest.’ And I saw it wasn’t personal. They wanted to free up the terminology. It was my wife who said, ‘Why don’t you call it ‘Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening’ — that way I could keep the logo the same. I said, ‘You’re a genius! That’s why I’ve been with you 30 years!'”
Bonham — whs also plays in the all-star Black Country Communion and in Sammy Hagar’s band The Circle — took his Led Zeppelin Evening on the road with Foreigner and Whitesnake during the summer, and played his own shows in the fall. And he’s hatching plans for his own Zep golden anniversary celebration during 2019.
“Next year I feel is an even bigger year because  was the first two albums, the first concerts, all of that,” Bonham explains. “So I’ve got a few more plans with how I’d like to do things. I’d love to play the Royal Albert Hall and do the set they played back in ’69. That would be something I’d love to achieve.
“And all of this, I think, will continue as the years go on, because each year coming up will be 50 years since Led Zeppelin III, whatever. I can imagine the celebrating of Led Zeppelin IV will be a big one. I just can’t believe it was that long ago, and it still sounds so good and so timeless. People still love to hear this [music], and I’m happy to be able to go out and play it for them with some authenticity and a real connection to it all.”