“Dum dum Bah bicka bicka boom smash!” Bonham sings over the phone, presumably air drumming at the same time. The excitement in his voice is palpable over the first offering from his new group, the curiously named Black Country Communion. About the moniker, he explains, “The Black Country is this sort of industrial part of England known for coal and iron. It’s where Glenn and I are from and it’s where the guys from Black Sabbath came from, my family, Robert and Jimmy, too, so it’s just this sort of thing that feels good to us. Shortly after we chose the name I got a phone call and it was just Robert’s voice on the other end: ’Love the name.’”
If you hadn’t already guessed, “Jimmy” and “Robert” would be venerable Zeppelin legends Page and Plant, and “Glenn” would be new bandmate Glenn Hughes – bass player, singer, and former member of both Deep Purple and Trapeze. Along with modern blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa and überkeyboardist Derek Sherinian, it’s no wonder BCC has been labeled a “super group” from its moment of inception. And Bonham’s excitement makes perfect sense. “At the time I was kind of feeling bad with the whole Led Zeppelin thing not exactly working out as I had hoped, so it was really what I needed,” he explains. “Sometimes you need something like that to come along and sort of make you feel like the drummer you want to be again, you know?”
As if the lineup isn’t enough, the conditions under which the eponymously titled record came together would make any drummer wildly jealous, starting with the fact that it was (literally) recorded at Shangri-La. “It was great waking up in the morning, biking from where I was staying in Hollywood up the Pacific Coast Highway into Malibu and then getting to the studio, which, you know, with all the amazing history, being in the Last Waltz and all,” he reminisces, adding, “the other guys were always taking bets, of course, on how late I would be.”
Unfortunately for Bonham, it only took him about two days to finish his parts out of the ten the group spent in the legendary late ’70s clubhouse of The Band. He took none of it for granted, though, even finding time one evening to tap into the local live scene for some drummerly inspiration, paying a visit to his favorite L.A. jazz haunt, The Baked Potato: “I’ve seen a whole bunch of phenomenal players at that place over the years – Porcaro, Simon Phillips – and it’s just an absolutely tremendous place. So while we were making the record I actually got over there and saw a friend of mine playing, Kenny Aronoff, and he was just phenomenal. It’s funny because he was reading the whole time as well, and I’m thinking, Yeah, you son of a bitch. He’d get to a certain part of a song and suddenly look over and turn the page and get this look on his face like, Uh … I don’t know which ending is coming here. [laughs] He was great, though.”
All the creative stimulation must’ve paid off, considering the album centerpiece, the 11-and-a-half minute final track, “Too Late For The Sun,” was born in the moment, on the studio floor in the form of a jam. “Normally I like to have a bit more time, be a bit more prepared, but I’m very happy with the way it turned out,” he says. “It started with something Joe was doing, sort of a Zeppelin-y thing. I was actually just playing a regular backbeat and I think Kevin [Shirley, producer] heard me change to the half-time thing and really liked it so we kept it that way.”
The track has the unmistakable vibe of four extremely seasoned musicians having way too much fun in a live room. Built around a hypnotic, two-note, octave guitar riff (think “Immigrant Song” but with a completely different feel), it features ghostly guitar swells, soaring vocals, swirling organ, and Bonham’s deeply pocketed, muscular half-time groove, accented by tasty and frequent hi-hat flourishes. After rolling steadily through the first five minutes of verse/chorus format, the real fun begins in the midst of Sherinian’s organ solo, commencing with a sudden and swiftly executed double-kick/crash combo at 5:23. This is followed promptly by two bars of some supremely funky – almost ridiculously so – embellishments to the groove, after which Bonham continues to stretch out both in groove and fill. Before long, drums and organ find themselves in an all-out battle for your attention before abruptly agreeing on a watery, ethereal breakdown at the 7:00 mark, which finds Bonham switching to rim-clicks to suit the mood. “I think this part shows a little bit of Stewart Copeland’s influence on me,” he says. “I’ve always been a huge fan of Stewart and The Police, even early on when Dad was around and I guess I kind of always wanted a chance to do some of that side-sticking stuff that he always does, so that was a lot of fun to play.”
What happens next is the kind of stuff words have no business attempting to relate. Nonetheless, Bonham emphatically offers a play-by-play of this defining moment in the song (his favorite) like he just recorded it five minutes ago: “So, we’ve done the break down; we’ve now gone into a side-stick kind of, almost, um, very spacey kind of thing. Joe’s doing these great little guitar swells and stuff and when we come back in, there’s just this whole new groove and whole new pocket that begins, and it’s really just starting to lift, and get better and better, and we were just totally digging it. So it builds and builds and then Joe starts soloing and I’m going with him and we’re just jammin’ off each other for a little while. It was really a phenomenal moment for all of us.”
The “whole new pocket” Bonham refers to, which he initiates with a simple fill, does feel like an awakening of sorts as Sherinian injects some funk into his right hand and Bonamassa begins to coax a variety of ungodly sounds from his guitar. These final two minutes of the song are a fitting epilogue for a record that is all about the chance gathering, or “communion,” so to speak, of four uniquely individual musicians at a point in time.