With a name like Bonham you know that musical heritage runs through the blood. Her brother may well be Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham and her nephew, Jason Bonham but Deborah Bonham has made it on her own and has over the past three decades or so grown to become one of the UK’s most respected Blues singers. She is due to the hit the road with Paul Rodgers in the UK as part of his Free Spirit tour and Mick Burgess caught up with her ahead of the tour to talk about being on the road with Paul Rodgers, working with Rainbow’s Tony Carey and growing up in a Rock ‘n’ Roll household.

In a couple of weeks you’ll be out on tour with Paul Rodgers. Are you looking forward to it?

Goodness gracious yes. I’m very excited about this. We’ve done this before as we are both patrons of a charity up in Scotland called Willows Animal Sanctuary and Animal Assisted Therapy Unit and we’ve done a few fund raisers for those and that’s where the initial idea to do the tour came from.

It’s going to be in the classic theatre venues such as Newcastle City Hall. Do you think the intimacy and atmosphere will make for a more intense show?

Those types of theatres are just fantastic and it’s a beautiful venue and the great thing about this tour is I get to come back to Newcastle. I love Newcastle. I last played there with Nazareth and we went down a storm but it’s been difficult getting back here on my own so I’m so happy to get back there on this tour with Paul. The crowds there are so brilliant. Fans from that Nazareth show follow us all around the country so when we played at Worcester earlier this year there was a whole Newcastle section in the corner. They got their money’s worth that time as they got to see Robert Plant get up with us. I’m hoping that this show will enable me to come back and play more often in Newcastle.

Your band is actually going to be Paul’s backing band for the tour. How do they feel about that?

My band is backing Paul doing a complete Free set. I’ve actually been rehearsing with them ahead of Paul coming over and I’ve really enjoyed it. They’ve started calling me Paula Rodgers. I just couldn’t deny my band the chance of working with Paul Rodgers. My guitarist Peter Bullick’s all-time favourite band is Free and he grew up listening to Paul Kossoff. If I’d said no, they’d have left me anyway. I’m very excited and so proud of the lads.

Will you get to join him on stage to sing together?

Well you never know. I’ve done it before so we’ll have to wait and see. I wait until I’m asked and never like to push so hopefully it will happen. I know his songs inside out after rehearsing them with my band. I can tell you that Paul has picked an amazing setlist and he’s put stuff in there I haven’t heard in a long time. His fans are going to love it.

What sort of show do you have lined up for this tour?

I’ll be opening the show with a guy called Doug Boyle who is Nigel Kennedy’s guitarist. He also worked with Robert Plant for years and co-wrote one of his biggest hits, 29 Palms. We’d worked with Doug before on my album The Old Hyde and earlier this year at the 100 Club he came along and got up on stage with us. At the next show Doug came with us and Robert Plant turned up and came up onstage to sing When The Levee Breaks with us all. I asked Doug if he’d come on tour with me and it just so happened he had a break and he said he’d love to. So we’re doing a stripped back, different take on some of my songs. He’s an incredible guitarist and a lovely guy.

Both you and Paul have close links with the Willows Animal Sanctuary. What does that charity provide for animals?

We are both patrons of this charity which is based up in Scotland and they provide assisted therapy for kids with mental health problems. Here the kids interact with animals and the results of the therapy have been incredible. For me animals have always kept me grounded and they are a big part of my life. Me and Paul did a fundraiser for them and my band backed him doing all the Free material. He was over the moon and the crowd just loved it. He kept getting asked when he was going to do another and he said that he’d like to tour with it one day. That was a while ago and then he called up and said that we should do it. We are all really, really thrilled to be doing this tour.

You’ve just re-released your latest album Spirits as the Complete Sessions. Why have you decided to do that?

It’s got songs on it that weren’t on the original version. Unfortunately the record label had left certain songs off the original album that I felt should have been included. It didn’t really work out for me with that label. Cadiz Music then came along and they’ve been around a long time and have such a good reputation. They asked if they could put my stuff out. I said to them that the problem was that we’d originally recorded 16 or 17 songs but the original label chopped that down and Laurie from Cadiz suggested that we put the whole definitive collection out and include those songs that I thought should have been on the original release. So we put all the tracks together and remastered it all and re-released the album. I’m much happier with it now. I love it.

The album also features Robert Plant on harmonica on What It Feels. That’s not a bad guest to have on your album?

I know. I was absolutely thrilled when he said he’d play on my album. I didn’t want to ask him to put his name to something that he wouldn’t think was worthy but I listened to it over and over again and I did think it was worthy for me to at least ask him. The song just cried out for a harmonica solo. Robert plays with such a unique style and you can hear that on his Led Zeppelin stuff. He really gives it that honk of old Blues onto a Rock song. It’s really amazing. I was worried about asking him and people would say I only did it to get his name on there which wasn’t the case, it was his playing I wanted. He said he’d love to do it and he sounds magnificent. He even gave me a photo to put on the album as well. I was really, really pleased with how it turned out.

You’ve also recently put out an album of archive tracks dating from 1985-1991 called Looking Back At The Moon. Who’s idea was it to do that?

There’s stuff that never made my first album that I felt was more than worthy. My first record was taken out of my control and the label chose what songs to put on the album. I wasn’t an ’80s Rock singer but that’s where they wanted me to go. It did really well at the time but was short lived. When I came across some recordings that were ditched I came across a song called Heaven and I thought it was crazy that this song never made it onto a record. I decided not to put For You and The Moon in its entirety and some people thought that was a mistake and thought I should reissue the whole album and have a second disc of the songs that didn’t make it originally and maybe in hindsight they were right. To be honest I wasn’t that keen on all of the songs now so I decided to pick the ones I really liked from the album and add in some additional songs recorded around that time and some later ones too. I’ve done a bit of a selection and called it Looking Back At The Moon and I might just listen back to that one when I get old.

You worked with Toney Carey on that album. Is that Toney Carey that was in Rainbow in the mid ’70s?

Yes, he was a good friend of mine back then. I haven’t seen him in a long time but I did speak to him a couple of years back. He co-owned a studio that I recorded For You and the Moon at. He was such a versatile musician and I loved the Planet P albums that he did. I loved his solo albums too, he’s a really good song writer and arranger. I was struggling a bit but he kept out of the way of my production team. He caught me one day sitting at the bar looking despondent as I didn’t like how the album was sounding like. When my production team left for the night he suggested going in to see what they had been doing. He thought the bass sounded awful so he redid it. I thought my team would be furious but he said he’d speak to them and told them he’d redone the bass parts and put it on a separate track and they could use it if they wanted which they actually did in the end as Tony’s part was so much better than the original.

How do you look back at those times now after hearing those early recordings again?

It’s been a rocky road over the years to get to where I am especially being a woman making music in the ’80s. I think maybe if For You and The Moon had taken off back then, I’d be dead now as I would have without a doubt gone down the excess road. It was my love of animals that brought me back from that. I decided to work within the music business itself and learn how it works while also paying my dues on stage and if that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t be here now. I haven’t hit the heady heights of million sellers or mega stardom but what I have got is that I’ve worked some of the most incredible people on the planet who have called me and want to work with me and when Paul Rodgers calls me or Robert Plant gets up on stage with me, what more could I ask for? It’s not about money or stardom, it’s about being proud of the music I’ve created. It was always going to be a challenge being a Bonham because of Led Zeppelin but I’m really happy with how things have turned out.

You are the sister of John and Auntie to Jason so you come from a musical family. Both John and Jason went for the drums. Was that something you ever fancied when you were younger?

I was always a singer. I do love playing the drums though but there wasn’t enough room for more drums in the house. Jason started playing drums when he was 4 when John was still alive but I was always going to sing and write songs. I did my first demo when I was still pretty young and Robert Plant said it wasn’t going to be easy for me because of who I was and never has a truer word been spoken. I could have ditched the name but it’s my heritage and I felt it would almost be like a betrayal and not honouring John if I’d denied my connection with him. I couldn’t do that. He was my brother, I loved him and was really proud of him. I just had to make sure that if I carried that name I did him proud.

Was it funny when John the Rock star returned home from tour and became John the big brother?

He was very different at home. He was a real family man so it was always family parties as everyone in my family loved a good party. Yes, you read some stories about him. He was 18 when he joined Led Zeppelin and he drank and got given way too much way too soon but you tell me any young lad that wouldn’t have hit those heady heights and gone off the rails at that age. It was blown out of proportion and the press liked to sensationalise that part of Led Zeppelin. I did bump into a journalist in France who gave me a book he’d written about Zeppelin and he said that there was a whole chapter about John and I thought at first, oh dear, here we go again. When I read it however, it was absolutely beautiful. There was a story where John had gone over to Paris to visit Paul Rodgers who was recording there with Bad Company. They’d gone to a club with Jimmy Page and Jeff Lynne. They got up on stage and did a jam doing Roll Over Beethoven and the whole place went nuts. Anyway, this guy then said that John came round to see him the next day to hang out for a while and he said he found John to be the most beautiful, unassuming man, unlike some of the other stars of the day, John was one of the lovely ones. It really warmed my heart to read that story as that was the John that I knew. The press hammered Led Zeppelin and there’s times I could see it hurt but it’s part and parcel of it but half of what’s written just wasn’t true. Paul had lasting friendships. You ask Dave Pegg from Fairport Convention, tears come to his eyes when you mention John. Ask Paul Rodgers and he’ll tell you what a wonderful man he was. That is the John that I know and remember.

John’s son was only a few years younger than you. Do you feel more like a sister to Jason than an Auntie?

We grew up together and we are really close. As we were very similar in age we used to argue a lot like brother and sister do. We are still close now. We do things together and he’s played on my records and we’ve toured together. I’m terribly proud of him and I was so thrilled for him when he played at the O2 with Led Zeppelin a few years ago when they did that one off show. He plays like his Dad but he has quite a different take on him. I can hear some Phil Collins in there too. He has his own style but you can hear where he comes from but he hasn’t gone out to play like his Dad. All power to him for doing that. He’s a phenomenal drummer. He must be one of the best in the world. His Dad would be so proud of him.

It has been a few years since your last new studio album, Spirit in 2014. Are you working on the follow up at the moment?

Yes I am. I’ve got a lot going on at the moment. I’ll be doing a tribute album to Elmore James with Tom Jones, Keb’ Mo’ and many other fantastic people and that’s being put together by Marco Giovino who was the drummer in Band of Joy with Robert Plant and who also did my Spirit album. I’ll be doing a track called Anna Lee and I’m so excited to be doing it. That’ll probably happen in June. I’m also planning on recording a new album in August. I have been writing a lot and will start demoing soon for that. I’m also writing a book so I need to find time to do that too. I’m really, really busy at the moment which is great so I’ll go into 2018 with lots of new products out.

Deborah Bonham opens for Paul Rodgers on the Free Spirit Tour which starts in Glasgow on 5th May. See for more details.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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