Photos: Averelle Dylan
Having plenty of “that just happened” moments in his singing career, most notably the tap on the shoulder by John Paul Jones and nod from Jason Bonham to join his Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience (JBLZE), James Dylan’s singing voice is Robert Plant incarnate.
From YouTube romancer to front man for the son of one of the most iconic drummers in the world, in one of the most iconic rock bands in the world, James Dylan has found himself touring the world playing to thousands of admiring music fans. The gravity, and the irony, are certainly not lost on him, however, he takes it all in stride, like a true artist, realizing each day is a blessing affording the opportunity to live out his rock n’ roll dream.
John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin is reported as finding you on YouTube. One particular video has you playing Zeppelin’s “That’s The Way” and in the comments section, a viewer mentions wanting to see a picture of your face when you found out you could sing like Robert Plant? What would that picture look?
After Led Zeppelin reunited for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert in 2007 at the 02 Arena in London there'd been talk of a full tour. When Robert Plant declined to participate, Jimmy, Jason and John Paul briefly entertained the idea of touring without him. I was among a few singers being considered when they came across some videos of Led Zeppelin covers I'd recorded for my girlfriend (now my wife).
I remember getting a message online from someone claiming to be affiliated with the band and it took a deal of convincing before I shared my phone number with him. He did, in fact, put me in touch with Jason and I'm certain my face reflected my utter disbelief that my voice had reached the member of Led Zeppelin.
I get this type of comment or question a lot, and you know, for me, I don’t really think of it as singing or sounding like Robert Plant. I believe it’s about a connection to the music itself and of course the lyrics. Understanding the raw emotion that the music of Led Zeppelin touches gives me the ability to convey a lot of emotion in my own performance.
I think what most people attribute to an identical sound more so boils down to an understanding of where the music comes from and the blessing of being able to convey it in a really authentic way. I never set out to sound like Robert, I simply felt a connection to the music and wanted to stay true to that.
There was a funny moment that sort of relates to the comparison you mention. Once my parents spent the better part of a drive in the country debating over whether it was Led Zeppelin or my band playing on the radio. Had a good laugh over that one for sure, it was of course Led Zeppelin, and by the way, Mom won.
You’ve been touring with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience since 2010. Do you still pinch yourself when you’re singing “Black Dog” or “When The Levee Breaks” and realize who is behind you on the kit?
Of course! You won't believe this, but I swear it's the truth! When I was a teenager, I was like all kids who take up an instrument. I wanted to be in Led Zeppelin! But I realized they were quite a bit older than I was, so naturally, I thought that perhaps if one of them had a son that it would be better to form a band with him, hahaha.
The first time I saw The Song Remains the Same film, I realized that John Bonham had a son. A few years later I went to see Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers in The Firm. I thought the opening act, Airrace, was amazing. After some investigating I learned that Jason Bonham was their drummer and learned that we are actually roughly the same age.
Years later, but before Jason contacted me, I was purchasing a new television at Christmas and it came with a free Blu Ray player. The display unit was playing a disc of Foreigner and I noticed that the drummer on the demo had one of the four Led Zeppelin runes on his bass drum. It was in fact Jason Bonham. Since Led Zeppelin and Foreigner are two of Averelle's and my favorite bands, I bought the Blu Ray disc too. Only months later I would be speaking with Jason.
Jason and I got together and had a good jam, and over the weeks and months that followed, he'd call to share ideas of what he wanted our show to be. In one particular call, he'd come up with the idea of sharing old family movies and telling stories during the show! That seemed like exactly the thing that Led Zeppelin fans would want to be a part of and that was the beginning of what would become Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience.
Was there any collaboration with Jason on the setlist for JBLZE with consideration to your vocal range, etc? Or, was it, “Here’s what we’re gonna play. Hope you nail it!”?
The songs Led Zeppelin recorded are comfortably within my vocal range, so we have flexibility. Before tour, Jason usually has some songs in mind. All of us in the band like the entire Zeppelin catalog, and Jason makes room for the ones the rest of us suggest. I’ve been digging this music for most of my life and it’s always a welcome adventure when we add something new to the setlist. Ideally, we get time to rehearse the new additions before tour, but we’ve done our share of last minute adds as well. It keeps everyone on their toes.
How do you deal with the high expectations of bringing such classic songs to life?
To me, performing music is about freeing yourself of everything. It's a release. Letting it out is sort of my therapy. I'm on the couch and don't get heady about where it comes from or what it is to anyone else. A lot of it is subconscious. The music is impacting us on emotional levels in the same way it impacts those who are listening.
Ever wonder what Robert Plant thinks of JBLZE?
Maybe, but more in the context of how he feels about having such a large number of people (including us) who his music has affected.
How did 'Virtual Zeppelin' come about?
I had been posting videos of myself and sharing them with Averelle, who I was dating at the time. I connected with some other musicians online and that gave me the opportunity to record some of the more complex instrumentation of Led Zeppelin's music for Averelle. We recorded everything remotely. None of the musicians in Virtual Zeppelin had ever met one another until I traveled to some of their home towns with JBLZE.
What do you do when not on the road with JBLZE?
Time off the road involves the everyday aspects of life that many are familiar with: kids, church, pets and time with friends. We do a bit of traveling and spend a lot of time on our island in Ontario, Canada.
I'm a visual artist, so when I’m not on tour, I get into my drawing and painting. I'm also a professional Graphic Designer. The "Eclipse" banner we play in front of on this run with Cheap Trick and Foreigner is my work. I also designed the JBLZE logo and much of the promotional materials as well. I'm currently working on the 4th drawing of The Led Zeppelin series which you can check out on my website at jamesdylanofficial.com.
Tell us about your artistic endeavors (graphite drawings). Any other mediums?
Most of my works are acrylic paintings and many of those depict our life in Ontario. If you're interested, I've posted some of those paintings in an album of my artwork on my Facebook page. The Led Zeppelin series drawings have been a great deal of fun to work on too. I'm looking forward to finishing my Jimmy Page drawing when I get some time off this Fall.
My wife, Averelle, is a photographer and has more recently began painting. We are considering a new project that would be a joint effort, but it’s too soon to say much more than that. Stay tuned!
You are a Rock n’ Roll professor at the prestigious School of Rock and you have sent your young, aspiring student musicians home with 3 albums to study over the weekend. What albums would you choose and why?
I'd have them listen to Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album because the atmospheres they created are vast and contrasting. Traveling is one of the greatest gifts music gives us and this album is filled with magic for the aspiring shaman.
Rubber Soul and Revolver by the Beatles. Two albums that seem to draw from the same pool. These albums contain some of the greatest songs ever written.
Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd for the depth of its poetically emotional soundscapes.
At That Just Happened, we love to hear from the artists; about THEIR own “that just happened” moment. What “that just happened” moment stands out to you?
I've certainly had far more than my fair share of "that just happened" moments, especially over the past 7 years, so I’d be hard pressed to pick just one.
Certainly getting the call from Jason was one. Touring with Heart, touring with Foreigner and Cheap Trick! Singing lead vocals on Surrender with Cheap Trick - are you kidding me?! These are my absolute all-time favorite bands and now I call them friends. It’s an unbelievable experience and I don’t think I will ever stop pinching myself.
Every single one of us has ups and downs in life. This is definitely an up time for me right now, but I recognize that even the most painful times I've known we're also blessings. God's gifts depend upon us to recognize how truly blessed we are.
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Jason Bonham's Led Zepplin Experience: