When Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham passed away on Sept. 25, 1980, he left behind a family — and his son Jason, now a veteran musician in his own right, shared his memories of that heartbreaking day during a recent visit to Train singer Pat Monahan’s podcast.
“I was 14, he was 32,” Bonham recalled in the episode, which you can listen to in full via the audio embed below. “It was like, wham! — I remember not knowing really what the hell was going on. When you don’t know anything about death, and no one close to you has died […] I can play that day back perfectly clear in my head.”
Bonham went on to walk listeners through his memories, saying, “I went to the back door — knock on the back door. There was Robert Plant and Maureen were there, which was strange, because they were supposed to be at rehearsals. I’m in my school uniform. He says, ‘Is your mom here?’ And I went, ‘Yeah, hold on.’ ‘Robert’s here? What’s he doing here? Where’s your dad?’ […] I remember seeing family arrive out of the corner of my eye and getting upset, and I didn’t know why I was upset, but I knew something was up. My mom came in and said ‘Your father’s passed away.’ I remember going, ‘Oh, okay. Am I still going to school tomorrow?’ You’re just — life goes on.”
Although his father’s musical legacy clearly had a positive impact on the younger Bonham’s career, starting with the release of his eponymous band’s 1989 album The Disregard of Timekeeping, it brought with it some heavy burdens, including the pressure Jason felt — partially self-imposed — to live up to the wild legends he’d left behind. As Bonham explained, he knew a guy very different from the fun-loving, hard-living “Bonzo,” but that didn’t stop him from following in his dangerous footsteps.
“I used it numerous times to be drunk, you know. To try and fit in, to somewhat emulate the wrong John by being like — ‘Oh, you’re just like your dad,’” said Bonham. “But as my manager said, ‘You’re earning hundreds, and he was earning thousands.’” At one point on his bumpy path to sobriety, Bonham recalled being grabbed and given a little rock ‘n’ roll tough love by none other than Motörhead‘s own Lemmy. Fortunately, he was able to confront his addictions head on.
“Thank God when I finally really got into it, I felt rejuvenated and allowed to enjoy music all over again,” he reflected, musing on drying out after describing a particularly expensive bout of irresponsible behavior. “It was like I was listening to music with blinkers on, and suddenly this world opened up to me.