Her brother was named the “Greatest Drummer of All Time” by Rolling Stone in 2016, but how many people outside the UK are aware of the musical legacy that Deborah Bonham has been building for herself since 1985?
The answer is not enough, as Bonham has consistently proven to be a singer capable of summoning the soul of Bessie Smith, Etta James, and Gregg Allman with a bluesy howl that stands in stark contrast to what so many of the mainstream American pop singers are doing today. There’s no electronic enhancement to be found and she’s well past the point of relying on her surname to gain an audience.
While it remains to be seen whether or not her upcoming tour will hit the States, I was able to speak with Bonham recently about the new album, “Bonham-Bullick,” and how growing up in Led Zeppelin’s sphere of influence inspired her to forge her own path.
MNOD: What I like about your upcoming album is that it features covers of songs that are outside the norm. How did the selections come together?
Bonham: Well, Peter Bullick played guitar in Paul Rodgers’s band and is such a great player. We were doing a show one night and the label happened to come out to see us. They were interested in a new project, which we ended up calling Bonham-Bullick. It features obscure interpretations of songs that we had never done before, so a lot of it was challenging at times. The important thing is that we couldn’t try to do these songs in the same way as the original, because that really isn’t much fun. We had to get out of our comfort zone. If I’m covering a song by Albert King, I have an idea of where it’s going to go, but we brought our own style to the material.
MNOD: What was the process of putting together an album during a pandemic like?
Bonham: We were able to rehearse together in the same room, actually. We have this beautiful live room where we started running the tunes and things got more in-depth as we went along. Some special guests came in, as well. As we were putting together the backing tracks, the idea for adding a pedal steel guitar would come up, so many of the arrangements grew organically in that way. We didn’t know at the time just how long the pandemic would last, because we knew that everyone was in the same situation. It was a difficult time for the planet and for us, because we’ve been together for so long. It wasn’t easy not seeing each other all the time, but we had Facetime and just had to hold on tight. England is finally starting to come out of the other side and we’re hitting the UK and Europe starting April 6 before the album is released on April 29. We have played a few shows already this year and they’ve been fantastic events. It was great to get on stage and we’ll probably add in four or five songs from the new album as we go along.
MNOD: What was something that you found yourself able to do doing the height of the pandemic that you wouldn’t get to do under a normal touring schedule?
Bonham: Growing vegetables has become my hobby and I also rescue animals. I have horses, a donkey, and dogs. I enjoy gardening, though, because I live on a farm and am lucky to have a large outdoor space.
MNOD: Your voice is certainly reminiscent of the classic blues/soul singers of the ’60s and ’70s. Who were some of your earliest influences?
Bonham: Led Zeppelin was my earliest influence at six years old. My brother John also played such eclectic music around the house, which was great. I loved Etta James, Tina Turner, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and Al Green while later getting into Janis Joplin and Stevie Nicks. Paul Rodgers was also an influence and he happened to also be signed to the Swan Song label with Bad Company.
MNOD: Describe your outlook when you first decided that music was something you wanted to pursue as a career.
Bonham: The thing about my brother was that he wasn’t just an average player. He was arguably the best in the world and all four guys in Led Zeppelin were at the top of their game. Starting out in music wasn’t a walk in the park for me given the expectations, but I went along as best as I could. Getting the endorsement of my peers meant a lot to me, because I felt that I was good enough to carry the name. I felt accepted. It was discussed at the beginning about changing my name, but I knew I couldn’t do that. It would have come out eventually. Being asked to sing with Paul Rodgers has always been a special moment. Peter and I pinched ourselves. We knew we must have been doing something right, because trying to fill Paul Kossoff’s shoes isn’t easy.
MNOD: What was going through your head when you watched Jason play with Led Zeppelin at the O2 Arena back in 2007?
Bonham: His dad would have been proud. It was an incredible moment and we were just taking it all in. The level of pressure on him was off the scale, because he was sitting behind the drum kit. It was a different thing than what I experienced as a singer. Not only is he John Bonham’s son, but he’s also a drummer playing with the same band that his dad made all that legendary music with. 20 Million people wanted to see that show and I thought it was superb. The world was asking, ‘Can they still do this?’ and they all did a phenomenal job. It brought tears to my eyes.
MNOD: Is there a particular memory or story about your brother when you were younger that springs to mind?
Bonham: He was a great family man and he was always funny at home. I remember one night in particular where he had been down at a local pub, so my mom and I were watching after Jason and Zoe for the night. John had an incredible music collection that I always looked through and I happened to be listening to Hendrix that night when he came home as I was playing it. I told him that I liked it, so he went to the closet and brought out a Betamax player with a tape of Jimi Hendrix playing at the Isle of Wight from 1970. We just sat there watching it together in awe of what we were seeing. The two of us with our jaws dropped.
Bonham-Bullick will be released on April 29 on Quarto Valley Records.