Michael Lee tackled the unenviable task of replacing the legendary John Bonham when he supported the late drummer's Led Zeppelin bandmates Robert Plant and Jimmy Page during their mid-'90s reunion. Born Michael Gary Pearson in Newcastle upon Tyne on November 19, 1969, Lee grew up in Scarborough, quitting school at 16 to work in a music store. Over time he saved up enough money to buy his first drum kit, honing his powerful but precise style in a series of cover bands. Following an extended trip to California, Lee returned to the U.K. and successfully auditioned for the hard rock combo Little Angels. He drummed on the group's Polydor debut, 1989's Don't Prey for Me, but during sessions for the 1991 follow-up, Young Gods, he auditioned for rockers the Cult -- when Lee's Little Angels bandmates learned about the audition, they fired him on the spot, but he nevertheless landed the Cult gig and toured with the group in support of its album Ceremony. Lee signed on with Plant during recording of the singer's 1993 solo effort, Fate of Nations, and joined him on the world tour that followed. When Plant reunited with guitarist Page for an MTV Unplugged episode spotlighting Led Zeppelin's acoustic legacy, Lee was installed behind the drums, substituting for Bonham, whose September 1980 death heralded the end of the pioneering heavy metal band's existence.
Lee remained with Page & Plant during their subsequent world tour and 1994 studio album, Walking into Clarksdale. In addition, when Led Zeppelin entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1995, he remained behind the kit during the band's induction ceremony performance, playing for the first and only time with original bassist John Paul Jones. "Michael was the rhythm bridge between the 1970s and the 21st century," Plant later said. "On the work which was not original, he had a tough gig to visit Bonham-driven classics and present his own imprint. He mastered and transfigured, introducing an inherent swing mixed up with his drum-and-bass leanings; he always encouraged. His ideas were sharp and bright." After Page and Plant again went their separate ways, Lee signed on with another reconstituted group, post-punk icons Echo & the Bunnymen, replacing late drummer Pete de Freitas during sessions for their 1997 comeback effort, Evergreen. Lee also contributed to the Bunnymen's 1999 follow-up, What Are You Going to Do with Your Life? He later toured with the reunited Thin Lizzy, and backed onetime Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan on his 2004 solo release, Gillan's Inn. Lee died November 24, 2008, following an epileptic seizure, just five days after his 39th birthday.