At 17, Jason Bonham had a decision to make. He loved motorcycles, and was good enough to become a professional racer, but he also had a legacy to deal with.
His father, John Bonham, the legendary drummer for Led Zeppelin, had just died a few years before and Jason had grown up with music. Before the age of 10, he had appeared in a film on his father's band, "The Song Remains the Same."
Bonham decided to follow in his father's footsteps.
"About two years after he died, I was still racing. But his death made it more of a reality for me. It was a conscious decision. It was a choice of a career," he said backstage after a recent show in Tokyo, where he was touring with the band Foreigner. "For years I tried to emulate him, for all the wrong reasons sometimes."
He formed his own band, Airrace, which signed with Atlantic Records in 1983. Then he went wild and became a heavy drinker.
Just like dear old dad. Almost.
"My manager told me after I trashed a hotel room that when my dad was doing it, he was making hundreds of thousands of dollars you're just making hundreds," Bonham said.
Bonham's career since hasn't been as stellar as his father's.
Playing in a succession of bands over the years, and maintaining a solo career, the younger Bonham has won over critics with his talents, but has not found much in the way of individual fame.
So be it, he says.
"I've appreciated music a lot more in the last five years," he said. "Things have changed, how I hear music, I notice things more. Sobriety has helped me. I gave up booze six years ago. That has helped me focus on what music is really all about."
John Bonham's death at age 32 in September 1980 after a day of heavy drinking effectively brought the curtain down on one of rock and roll's most famous bands. Led Zeppelin announced they were breaking up in December that year.
Zeppelin has continued to be a driving force in the younger Bonham's life, however.
Bonham, now 41, has sat in for his father a few times for one-off reunions of the band. He joined guitarist Jimmy Page for an album and a tour in 1987 and did a show with other Zeppelin members in New York in 1988. Page, vocalist Robert Plant and bass player John Paul Jones jammed at his wedding in 1990. And when his father was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, Bonham stood in for him.
But, as the lives of the other members of the band have grown apart, Bonham says there are no plans for more reunions.
"There has always been talk, but there are no plans that I know of," he said.
If the band ever does get together again, Bonham wants to be there.
"It would be an absolute honor, and it would be closure for me," he said, noting that next time he would be playing sober. "Even though I did OK last time, I would love the chance to give it 110 percent, even just one more time. Just for myself."
In the meantime, he is keeping busy with other projects.
Last year Bonham joined Ted Nugent, Biohazard's Evan Seinfeld, Sebastian Bach of Skid Row and Scott Ian of Anthrax on the VH1 reality show, "SuperGroup."
"It was a lot of fun, though it was nerve-racking at first," he said. "I was conscious that I didn't want them to make me look like a fool. But they were good to me. It was a good experience."
He is also devoting much of his time to keeping the beat for the retooled version of Foreigner, which hit its peak in the late 70s and early 80s with a string of hard rock hits such as "Double Vision" and "Dirty White Boy."
The band has been kept alive by Mick Jones, its founder and the only original Foreigner member left in its lineup.
Bonham says he is happy to be part of the Foreigner legacy.
"My mom was ecstatic when I joined," he said. "She was a big fan of Foreigner. `Waiting for a Girl Like You' was my wedding song."
Bonham also said he feels that there was something about the music of his childhood days that has been lost in more recent years.
"Fifteen years from now, who would you want to see that is current? Things have changed," he said. "But classic rock doesn't seem to go away."
To make his point, he called over a 40-something fan.
"See what she's wearing?" he said, noting that her T-shirt bore a motif from the liner notes to Led Zeppelin's third album, reports AP.
"That's dear old dad right there," he said, pointing to her navel.
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