We had tried really hard to grant this interview with Graham Bonnet and we finally did it! I am sure that everybody has a disc or two (or even more!) that features Graham’s excellent vocal talent. Ladies and gentlemen…Mr. Bonnet!
Interview: Sakis Nikas and Yannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: Graham, you’re back with Alcatrazz and you are working on a new album. Why do you think that now is the time for such a move?
Graham Bonnet: Well, in the beginning I was thinking of using my name and just call the band “The Graham Bonnet Band”, but my guitar player (Howie Simon) suggested that we should bring back the Alcatrazz name. So, I started thinking about it and when I sent e-mails and let everyone know about the resurrection of Alcatrazz they all said that I will have to make sure to put my name somewhere in the logo of the band. Most people know who I am and it would definitely benefit Alcatrazz. It was clearly a business move. So, I think that it was a good timing overall to start working again with Alcatrazz.
Rockpages.gr: I know that you are writing new songs…when should we expect the new album?
Graham Bonnet: I’ve been in touch the last couple of months with Russ Ballard who wrote “Since You’ve Been Gone” among others and we are talking about finishing a song that will definitely end up on the record. Everybody will love this new song…it’s a typical Russ Ballard song with big chorus but a bit lengthy, too…more than 6 minutes of great melodies, guitars and powerful vocals. I will try to capture the classic vibe of the old Alcatrazz records and of course update them with the help of the new guys. As we speak, we have ready…almost finished…7 tracks and we carry on.
Rockpages.gr: Let’s go back in time a little bit…Many people don’t know that during the late 60s your name was linked with Bee Gees! Would you like to enligten our readers regarding that collaboration?
Graham Bonnet: Yeah…my cousin and I had a group called The Marbles. He used to be the lead guitar player of Bee Gees when they were recording in Australia. When he came to England and started working with me, we used to play at a club called “The Revolution Club”. At a certain night –among the people who were present- Robert Stigwood (Bee Gee’s manager) recognized my cousin Trevor (Gordon) from his tenure with The Bee Gee’s. Barry Gibb who was also in England found out about Trevor being there and called him up. Trevor asked me if I would like to meet Barry and the rest of the guys and of course I said “yes”. We ended up in Robert Stigwood’s house and started fooling around with acoustic guitars playing Stevie Wonder and Beach Boys songs (laughs)! It was great…then Robert said that Barry had written a song for us and we should definitely book some studio time to record it. It was that fast! By the way, it was Barry who came up with the name “The Marbles”.
Rockpages.gr: After a couple of solo albums you flew to France to audition for Rainbow. You got the job by singing the Deep Purple classic “Mistreated”. Describe to us the whole experience…
Graham Bonnet: I didn’t know about Rainbow at all…I didn’t have a clue about them! I knew Deep Purple but I certainly didn’t know about Rainbow at that time. Roger Glover got in touch with me and asked if I wanted to come to France to audition for the band. He added that they had already auditioned 79 singers (laughs)! I had nothing to lose…so I bought a couple of Rainbow albums and flew to France. I wasn’t into rock at that time…I preferred more R&B stuff…like Stevie Wonder and of course The Beatles…my favorite band ever. I wasn’t so much into Purple or Zeppelin because I preferred the singing side of a record and not so much the technical aspect of a song. Anyway, when I started singing “Mistreated” I was so loud they started laughing immediately because the microphone wasn’t even on (laughs)! When I sang a little bit with the microphone on, they said after a couple of minutes that the job was mine! It was that simple…
Rockpages.gr: How difficult it was to work with Ritchie Blackmore? I mean Ritchie is famous for his dark mood and in addition you had to record –at least initially- your vocals in a castle!
Graham Bonnet: Let me tell you about Ritchie…He is a very shy person who chooses his friends very carefully. He doesn’t want many people to know his sensitive side. He is very private and quiet and most importantly he is not the guy you see on stage! So, we started laying down the vocals in this castle but I really couldn’t nail them down…this place was like haunted! So, I said to Roger that I couldn’t do it and we decided to record them at a studio (ed.note: Kingdom Sound) in Long Island.
Rockpages.gr: Why you weren’t credited as songwriter on “Down To Earth”?
Graham Bonnet: (laughs) Because I didn’t really know the business aspect of the whole thing! I was just happy to be there and record an album. I suggested a lot of ideas to Roger and Ritchie that ended up in certain songs but I didn’t ask for a songwriting credit…maybe, I should have done so. The whole “band thing” was kinda new to me…
Rockpages.gr: I know what you mean…it’s no secret that Cozy Powell used to say that “All Night Long” was mostly your idea…
Graham Bonnet: Yeah, it was! We were in the studio…just rehearsing…and I hummed the melody to Ritchie…you know, the guitar riff and even part of the vocal melody of the verse. I collaborated with Roger on that song…I even wrote many lyrics with him but I was never credited…
Rockpages.gr: Another fairly unknown thing is that you did an early version of “I Surrender” and you did some pre-recording work for a second Rainbow record…
Graham Bonnet: Yes…it was during the pre-production of that record when I left the band. “I Surrender” was actually the only song that was almost ready…even on a rough stage. We didn’t have any new songs and the rehearsals were terrible. I started working on the Russ Ballard song –who seems to be always there when you need him!- and when I finished an early demo of “I Surrender” I asked if we were getting anywhere because nothing was written at that point…not even a single tune! Time was passing by and nothing was happening…so, I got really bored and decided to return to L.A. So, for the record and that’s the only truth, I started the song (“I Surrender”) but it was Joe Lynn Turner who finished it.
Rockpages.gr: Just for the record –not that it’s really important now-, were you asked to leave or did you quit Rainbow?
Graham Bonnet: I left! It didn’t seem right anymore…Cozy Powell was also ready to leave at the time…he was also disappointed. I guess he went on to join…I guess, Whitesnake. Is that correct?
Rockpages.gr: After Rainbow, Cozy joined MSG and then Whitesnake…
Graham Bonnet: Right, right….look…they called me up and they said that they had another singer in mind and if I didn’t like the new songs then they could use him. My answer was: “Would Ritchie be comfortable with another guitar player”? You get the picture…But, I left and they insisted that they fired me…I don’t know…maybe, they wanted to show that they had the upper hand or something…who knows?
Rockpages.gr: Before you record the “Line-up” album, you had another business proposal…kind of a deja-vu…you were offered the Black Sabbath singer slot and replace Ronnie James Dio once again.
Graham Bonnet: (laughs) They called me up and I must tell you that I wasn’t a Black Sabbath fan.
Rockpages.gr: Yeah, but on the other hand you weren’t a Rainbow fan…
Graham Bonnet: (laughs) I guess, you have a point here! But, Black Sabbath was definitely not my type of music, at all! I always had in the back of my mind the idea of starting my own band. Those are two of the reasons why I didn’t join Black Sabbath.
Rockpages.gr: You achieved success with Alcatrazz. Who thought of the name and to this day which is your favorite Alcatrazz record and why?
Graham Bonnet: When we got together with the Alcatrazz guys and started thinking of a name, it was Gary Shea who suggested that we should call the band “Alcatrazz”. On regards of which album is my favorite one, I have to say that the second one (“Disturbing The Peace”) with Steve Vai on it is far better than anything else that we’ve done. The songs are really powerful and very well-written. On the first album, it was kind of “Rainbow Re-Visited” because Yngwie Malmsteen was and of course still is a huge Blackmore fan and the guitar sound was actually similar to the Rainbow overall atmosphere. We were like a Rainbow-sounding band…on the contrary, the second record was really innovative and the songs were great especially due to Steve Vai’s excellent guitar work…Steve is a very unusual guitarist! He experiments with various sounds and he is into things like Frank Zappa whom I really like, too. Overall, the songwriting on that album was better and easier.
Rockpages.gr: You had worked with the elite of the rock guitar world…With whom you had the most enjoyable time and saw that you had more or less the same vision?
Graham Bonnet: Again, Steve Vai! He was the most impressive guitarist that I had worked with. I mean, both Ritchie and Yngwie are superb guitarists…no doubt about it! Michael Schenker is phenomenal and we wrote an excellent record together (ed.note: “Assault Attack”). But, Steve and I had much more in common and we always looked at the song structure. He is a guitar player that of course pays attention to his solos but he prefers to work on the song itself. That’s one of the reasons why our collaboration was really smooth. He is also a great human being!
Rockpages.gr: Taz Taylor is working on a second album. Will you sing on it?
Graham Bonnet: No…definitely not! I did that first record completely as a session work. We also had some differences over loyalties and money issues…Taz Taylor Band is not really my cup of tea. From my perspective and experience, it is a semi-professional outfit…they all have day jobs –which is fair enough- but I don’t want to work with him again. That’s for sure…
Rockpages.gr: You recorded an excellent record with MSG back in 1982 and then you sang on his anniversary record. Did Michael ask you at any point to join his band once again?
Graham Bonnet: No. Michael is a great guy, and I had a blast working with him. When I finished the song for his anniversary record (ed.note: “Tales of Rock N Roll”), he called me up 3-4 times to thank me for doing such a good job! Michael Schenker is a fantastic human being…I really like him!