Brian Tichy And His All-Star Tribute To Bonzo

By Jordan Liffengren Published January 4, 2010

After rocking out with the likes of Billy Idol, Foreigner, Ozzy Osbourne, and currently Whitesnake, drummer Brian Tichy came up with a brilliant idea last summer. He felt it was time to pay some true respect to the god of all rock drummers, John Henry Bonham, in a tribute concert to end all other tribute concerts. And so, with the help of vocal promoter, Joe Sutton, he pulled a few strings and birthed “Bonzo: The Groove Remains The Same.” Homage to the late, great king of all rock-and-roll drummers, Tichy thought the September 25 event was fitting, seeing as the date marked the 30th anniversary of the legend’s passing. The concert was held at the Key Club in Los Angeles and featured more than a dozen drumming talents who shared the same love for Zeppelin and the genius that is Bonham. Drummers who took part in the mass reverence included Steven Adler, Kenny Aronoff, Charlie Benante, Chris Slade, Chad Smith, and Simon Wright, to name a few. And what was supposed to be one concert morphed into multiple encore shows, gaining some awesome feedback and hence, inspiring a quick Q&A with Tichy.

DRUM How did you come up with the idea for “Bonzo: The Groove Remains The Same”?
Tichy: I put a John Bonham page up on Facebook and a track on Youtube and I just started thinking, “Wow it’s been a long time since he’s died. How long ago, 10 or 11 years?” I looked online and realized it was September 25, 1980, like 30 years ago. And man, it just rang a bell — 30 years. I was like, “Wouldn’t it be cool, with all these drummer friends, all into Bonham, to give everyone a chance to get on the Bonham kit and play whatever their favorite song is?” It seemed like a simple idea. I have a few friends I could ask to see what they think. I was thinking maybe rent a rehearsal room and videotaping it with a keg of beer or something, and I was like, “Hey, how about a Saturday night?” I sat on the idea for a little and thought about how to book a club on a Saturday night and arrange the whole thing. I told my buddy, Joe Sutton, who’s a vocal promoter here in Hollywood, and he was telling me about these shows that he does once a month. He said the next show they had coming up would be for me. I told Joe he would have a way better idea of how to go about it and he would be very helpful and he’s into Zeppelin. He said, strangely enough, he had that night free at the Key Club as one of the nights he’s had on hold. That’s kind of where it all started. We had names like Jason Bonham, Tommy Lee, Dave Grohl, Chad Smith, and just started putting some calls out and they bought it. That was really it. But it didn’t really get cooking until August because I was on the road. When I got back home it just went crazy. I had a lot of time at home, which I could put into this. I really needed it because it was 14-hour days, since there was no corporation or sponsors or anything behind this, just me and Joe Sutton. A relationship with the club made it easy to get stuff going on that side, but the actual gathering of all the drummers together and figuring out all the songs and organizing everybody at the same time, keeping everybody informed, that was all pretty much me.

DRUM: How did you guys go about scheduling rehearsals?
Tichy: Most people were here and available. It ended up being 18 drummers all in all, and the Bonham family ended up being there. Jason Bonham sang the last song, Zoe and Debbie sang a song and Pat, John’s wife, was there too — there was this whole table of Bonhams. Most people were in town so I sent out an email saying we have two days, here’s the hours, and told everyone to put their name where they wanted to play. It was one big two-day rehearsal. It was great, everybody made it easy and everybody was well informed on the schedule. The only thing that didn’t come together on rehearsals was James Kottak of Scorpions — he was in South America with the Scorpions and flew in that night. He literally got there at intermission, he said, “I will learn these songs so they sound exactly like the record.” He just hummed the piece a bit before he did it. Jason Bonham also flew in that night too.

DRUM: How did one concert turn into multiple shows?
Tichy: It was just going to be one show in the beginning. But when you start getting so involved with it and a lot of things are now here and done, people are like, “Man you could definitely do this through the year.” I was like “Yeah, why not?” We talked about tightening it up a bit and taking it on the road in some other cities. Joe Sutton and I were like, “Well, we could kind of go for something sooner than later, with an encore vibe. Hey, everybody had a good time, the reaction was great, and a lot of people wish they could have seen it.” I sent out emails to every single drummer, and thought around the NAMM show would make sense. There were a handful of drummers that could do it, so we ended up getting a date on NAMM show weekend, Thursday night. Out of 18 drummers, 16 could play again. I thought I’d only fill ten spaces, but most of them are playing both nights. A couple of guys that couldn’t play the first one fit into this one. We’re doing it exactly the same, so we don’t have to put extra work into it. We added a few new guys like Charlie Benante, Jason Sutter, Xavier from Buckcherry; guys I had asked the first time, but were on tour.

DRUM: I hear each drummer is playing on a replica of Bonham’s kit.
Tichy: It’s an amber Vistalite Ludwig. The bass drum is 26" x 14", Bonham’s size and color. I figured we have the drums, so we’ll do the shows and figure out what happens next year. It’s an awesome kit and every drummer has sat down and played it. We tuned it up and everyone said it sounds awesome.

DRUM: Which songs are you performing?
Tichy: I opened up the whole show with the “Immigrant Song,&rdquo which is always one of my favorites with an ass-kicking intro.

DRUM: How do you feel the logistics of the concert worked out?
Tichy: As a drummer, it feels like there’s a lack of communication in these situations. You want information but they don’t have it. If it’s my idea and my name is attached to it, I want to keep everyone informed, at least just the basics. Like a week before, we realized we needed an intermission. But it almost became too much of a party because everyone just started hanging out during the break, which was supposed to take about 15 or 20 minutes, but ended up taking 35 or so. The most important thing is realizing that some of these things can seem daunting when you look at them from the outside, which on the road it would be very difficult to do, but everybody was cool. Everybody was very helpful and pumped up about it.

DRUM: Was the first night a full house?
Tichy: It was packed — 600-700 people. We had a really big guest list. The day of the show we were turning people away.

DRUM: What was the vibe of the show like?
Tichy:You can’t really explain it. You put all these years and art and craft into it and it’s great to find success in what you love. When you get everybody in one room it’s about the music, not a manager or a contract. It’s so pure on every level. And I kind of thought it’d be like that because I’m like, “How can you screw this up?” I think its cool because I’ve never heard of something like this, I know there are [other] tributes and stuff like with Buddy Rich, and I know it’s a corporate thing, and by corporate I mean people sitting at desks in offices, taking notes and getting the goal accomplished on a such bigger level than I did. But I think the result was much more unique. I thought it was really cool to see everybody on the same kit, and hear how everybody plays that same kit and how it sounds different a bit, whether it’s how hard the drummer hits or where he hits or how he reacts. It was really cool and that made it interesting. People were doubting me, asking how I was going to get us all on the same kit. But we had two techs: a front tech and a back tech. The front tech adjusted the height of the cymbals in the front and the back tech adjusted the height of the floor tom, snare, and hi-hat. We had a couple extra hands helping out.

DRUM: How do you think the show turned out?
Tichy: We definitely thought about how to make it a show. We made it like a rock show, and started with the dimming of the lights and stuff. It wasn’t super smooth, but it was successful. It was great because each drummer has their own personality and brought their personality onto the same drum set. And the drums were not set up like a regular stage; they were set up where vocals should be and the singer, bass player, and keyboard player were set up to the right, but the focus was on the drummer. It’s about the drummer, as great as it would be to have Slash or somebody come up, he’s going to divert the attention away from the drummer. Sometimes simplicity is the key. I don’t think it could have been more successful.

DRUM: When are the dates for the encore shows?
Tichy: January 12 and 13, which was one more than I thought we would do.

You can purchase tickets here to see "Bonzo: The Groove Remains The Same."