Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jimmy Page promotes upcoming John Bonham radio special

Dave Grohl is presenting a radio special on his favorite drummer of all time, Led Zeppelin's John Bonham. Helping to promote it with an appearance on BBC Radio 6 Music this morning was, of all people, Jimmy Page.

The Led Zeppelin guitarist chatted with late-morning show host Lauren Laverne about the special, which is set to air on BBC Radio 6 Music next Monday.

"John Bonham was an extraordinary, extraordinary musician who had this incredible technique that was head and shoulders over anyone around him when he was still in his teens -- absolutely phenomenal," said Page. "He kept finessing his technique and his vision of the drums. He had a definite vision of the drums, and how they should be played, and how they would fit in with a band, and also how they would be soloed -- in his solos. It's without doubt that his technique was, as I say, beyond everybody else's, and that's why he's so looked to -- and looked back to -- with such reverence and love, really, because he was so extraordinary."

Page remembered meeting Bonham for the first time at a small London club when he was drumming for Tim Rose of "Hey Joe" fame. It was in the Midlands that Bonham had a reputation as an incredible talent, but Page recognized immediately from "the attitude to his playing" that he would be the right drummer for his new band he was putting together. He said Bonham's sense of dynamics was "the key to what I was gonna try and get together in this Zeppelin band."

As for the rest of the group, Page said, "Of course you had four people in Led Zeppelin which were sort of musical equals, if you like. I would say so. But John [was] the backbone of the band."

Page's appearance was framed in the comedic context of early-morning host Shaun Keaveny making excuses to stick around in the studio after his shift, just to be close to the guitarist. In truth, Keaveny is no stranger to Page, having interviewed him for a two-part special that aired last December, focusing on Led Zeppelin's BBC sessions in 1969 and 1971.

During the interview, Laverne contrasted Led Zeppelin's longevity with disposable pop music. Page soon launched into a rarely told story about Ronnie Verell, who was a seasoned session drummer before he played for Tom Jones. Page said he once ran into Verell at the Continental Hyatt House in Los Angeles, and Verell asked to meet Bonham so he could learn how to play the beginning of "Good Times Bad Times." Bonham was floored, said Page, because he knew who Verell was.

For the Bonham documentary, the broadcast date of May 31 was picked firstly as it is Bonham's birthday; he would have turned 62 this year. Secondly, next Monday is England's Spring Bank Holiday, meaning more people will be away from work at 3 p.m. BST, likely making it more possible than usual for larger numbers to tune in and to pay attention during the afternoon.

The special, hosted by a current bandmate of John Paul Jones in Them Crooked Vultures, comes during a year that also marks the 30th anniversary of Bonham's death. His son, drummer Jason Bonham, has announced plans to play a series of 30 concerts in honor of the departed Led Zeppelin member.

According to a BBC Web page highlighting the upcoming special:
"This programme takes the listener through Bonham's extraordinary life, to his legendary playing with Led Zeppelin to his tragic and untimely death. Not only does Grohl offer rock star profile, [but] he also brings a real and deep understanding of the subject, both as a fellow drummer and a Zeppelin fan, and enormous musical credibility amongst his peers and his audience.

"Beginning in Redditch, we hear of Bonham's boyhood obsession with rhythm, beating his mother's pots and pans into submission before moving into his early drumming education with bands across the West Midlands. From 1968 onwards, we piece together the moment Bonham's time as a [drummer for hire] ended with an invitation to join 'The New Yardbirds', led by Jimmy Page.

"Told with wit, pace and a genuine love for the subject, this is the electrifying story of a rock'n'roll legend which will paint a picture of the greatest of rock drummers. With touching tales of his focus on family and friends alongside the infamous rock and roll excess. Set to a rich soundtrack of music the programme also shows how Led Zeppelin changed the course of rock history.

"As the programme closes the listener will be left with an enduring image of a man whose destiny would be forged by his ferocious drumming style and his insatiable appetite for living life to the full."

Dave Grohl, Ardent Led Zeppelin Fan

Dave Grohl was born in Ohio two days after the U.S. release of Led Zeppelin's debut album. He remembers first hearing the band seven or eight years later, when "Stairway to Heaven" was on the radio.

Grohl joined Nirvana as the band's drummer in 1990 and first came to national and even worldwide prominence a year later when the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" helped alternative rock gain a wider audience. After that band's untimely breakup due to the death of singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain, Grohl formed a new band, the Foo Fighters, as its main songwriter, singer and instrumentalist. He later delegated all instrument duties but remained as a guitarist and singer.

Often over the years, Grohl has been outspoken about his passion for Led Zeppelin's music and John Bonham in particular. One of his first major forays into publicizing his love of the band came in March 2003, as he contributed the foreword to a special edition of Q magazine wholly dedicated to Led Zeppelin. In that foreword, which Grohl readily admitted comes across as "sappy," he says he "became totally obsessive" with the tracks "Tramped Underfoot" and "No Quarter." He said, "Everything about that band is mind-blowing."

On the subject of John Bonham, he wrote, "No one has come close to Bonham in the last 25 years. Absolutely no one."

Ever since the late 1980s, Grohl could be seen with the earliest of three tattoos on his upper torso that are variations of the symbol Bonham selected for Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album. "They mean so much and remind me of the spirit of their music," Grohl wrote in 2003.

Grohl endured one harsh bout of criticism in November 2000, when an impromptu run-through of "Stairway to Heaven" aired on late night television in the United States. On guitar and vocals, he muddled his way through some parts of the song in a soundcheck that had been recorded half a year earlier. Although he botched some of the guitar chords and couldn't conjure up most of the song's lyrics, Grohl impressively ended up scat-singing Page's guitar solo with improved accuracy.

By the time Grohl recorded a follow-up interview with host Craig Kilborn three months later, fans had accused him of disrespecting Led Zeppelin. He responded online by posting a detailed explanation in which he said his meager attempt at covering "Stairway" had been intended as a joke for a comedy show. "What could be funnier than a straight faced attempt at what some people consider the 'Rock and Roll national anthem'?" he theorized, emphasizing it is "undoubtedly one of the greatest songs of all time" and also "THE foremost taboo cover song in modern day music."

Grohl was thinking aloud in his Q magazine foreword in 2003 when he publicly discussed his desire to participate in a Zep reunion. "I'd had this crazy dream since I was a kid that I would play drums for Led Zeppelin," he wrote. "I really thought I could do it. I knew every song back to front, inside out. Then I put on Houses of the Holy and just sat there, thinking there was no way on earth that I could possibly do it. It would be ridiculous to even try."

Journalist Nick Kent addressed the possibility of such a reunion including Grohl on drums when he interviewed Jimmy Page for the same issue. Sadly for fans, not the least of whom was Grohl, the guitarist answered unfavorably.

"That's just disgraceful," said Page. "I started to hear about this tour when I was in the studio putting together the DVDs and CD box set [the double-disc Led Zeppelin DVD and 3-CD live album How the West Was Won were released two months after the Q magazine special edition appeared], and I immediately thought that the most ridiculous thing we could do is to put out a live album and then tour on the strength of something we did 30 years ago. Nobody in the band has even discussed it."

This setback did not keep Grohl from dreaming in print. Speaking to Stevie Chick for Mojo magazine in April 2005, Grohl somewhat prophetically predicted Them Crooked Vultures -- only the band wouldn't come to fruition for almost four years. He said, "The next project that I'm trying to initiate involves me on drums, Josh Homme on guitar, and John Paul Jones playing bass. That's the next album. That wouldn't suck."

If there was any tension between Grohl and Page, things were patched up by the time they shared the stage of Wembley Stadium on June 7, 2008. That night, both Jones and Page turned up as a surprise to the London audience of 85,000 and helped Grohl and fellow Foo Fighters member Taylor Hawkins rock out to two Led Zeppelin numbers. The two Foos took turns on the drum kit, allowing Grohl to evoke Bonham on "Rock and Roll" and Hawkins to try his hand on "Ramble On," simultaneously switching places as singers.

Jones had worked with the Foo Fighters on two prior occasions, sitting in on the 2005 studio sessions for the album In Your Honor and, in February 2008, conducting an orchestra to perform "The Pretender" during the Grammy awards ceremony. The 2008 encore set at Wembley Stadium probably solidified for Jones how serious Grohl was about being his drummer. Them Crooked Vultures formed early the following year, after Jones phoned Grohl to announce he was down for the gig.

Page's comments about Grohl this morning amounted to this: "He's got John Bonham's tattoo on his arm, so I suppose he's a surrogate member [of Led Zeppelin] really, isn't he?"

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