Interviewed by Mark Dean (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
In the 1980s, hard rock and heavy metal were all about the way you looked. If you didn’t have long hair and dress in studs, spikes, leather, or spandex, you stuck out like a sore thumb. Singer Graham Bonnet — who sported a look that was equal parts James Dean and Miami Vice-era Don Johnson — was a prime example of this, despite fronting (albeit briefly) such renowned acts as Rainbow, the Michael Schenker Group, and Alcatrazz. Born December 23, 1947, in Skegness, Lincolnshire, England, Bonnet had his first taste of success in the music biz in the late ’60s, when he scored a hit with his band, the Marbles — “Only One Woman.” Bonnet supposedly spent most of the ’70s doing commercial jingles, before issuing a self-titled solo debut in 1977, which became a hit in Australia due to a cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” and scoring another cover hit a year later with the Bee Gees’ “Warm Ride.” Just before the close of the decade, Bonnet was chosen to replace Ronnie James Dio in Rainbow, which saw the group transform into a more melodic and radio-friendly act with 1980’s Down to Earth.
But Bonnet’s tenure with Rainbow was short-lived, as he then returned to a solo career, scoring a U.K. hit single with “Night Games” off of 1981’s Line Up. Up next was another brief association, with the Michael Schenker Group, which also lasted for a single album — 1982’s Assault Attack. A year later, Bonnet co-formed an all new band, Alcatrazz, which featured two of the biggest rock guitar heroes of the ’80s — Yngwie Malmsteen (on 1984’s No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll and Live Sentence) and Steve Vai (on 1985’s Disturbing the Peace). However, after a third studio album, 1986’s Dangerous Games, Alcatrazz were kaput. Subsequently, Bonnet has appeared on albums by others — including Pretty Maids, Impellitteri, and Eddie Hardin — and has also sporadically issued further solo sets (1991’s Here Comes the Night, 1997’s Underground, and 1999’s The Day I Went Mad).
Good afternoon Graham,thanks for agreeing to chat to Myglobalmind this afternoon. Just wanted to start by asking about the idea behind the “Catch the Rainbow “Tour?
Graham”Its basically to revisit the album, obviously the album”Down to Earth”, the one and only album that I made with Rainbow. That’s basically what we do right now. We have had 3/4 nights of doing the same and its going very well and I am very surprised that there is still an audience for it, that are interested in that album. Possibly later on in the year we will be the same thing, at the O2 shows, that hasn’t been confirmed yet. The band is really good and I am enjoying doing it very much. Sorry I am a bit croaky at the moment, I have laryngitis but I’m getting through it.”
What prompted the original idea for the shows? Was it simply because it is the 35th anniversary or was it something that you have been considering doing for quite some time?
Graham”a bit of both , it was planned last year. This band really wanted to work with me, and I really wanted to work with them because they are very good. They are a band called”Catch the Rainbow”, and they are a tribute band here in England. It was something that I thought would be good to do, for as you say the anniversary for a few concerts. I’m sure that a lot of people that would be there were at Castle Donington back in 1980 when we did the album. That was the first concert for Monsters of Rock so it was kind of cool.”
Obviously you have highlighted that particular point of your music career with the recent live shows. How do you view your time in Rainbow? Was it the peak of your musical career, or just another part of it?
Graham”Well it is part of it, it was a good launching pad to get into so-called hard rock business. It was never something that I had been required to do, it was something that came along. For some odd reason, being a regular pop singer or whatever I was ,r+b and all that kind of thing suddenly I was a heavy rock singer. I was never,never expecting to sort of come along and that would be my kind of label. Definitely Rainbow gave a really big boost to my career and the bands that came to follow. People are still out there and want to hear that music which is really great. I thank Ritchie Blackmore and all those guys that gave me the job when I had the wrong-shaped hairstyle.”(laughs)
Are you currently working on any new music ?
Graham”Yes, I am working on a new thing now we are actually now a trio. I am going to be playing guitar, and we have a soloist playing bass and also Conrado Pesinato. We have worked on some stuff together and will be playing a bit of everything. We are going to be playing Rainbow stuff just without drums and Marshall Stacks. There is also going to be some new material, which I think is about time that something new came out of the Graham Bonnet head. These guys are helping me along, it’s going to be something that is semi-acoustic but we are thinking of adding to the band later on. If you like an acoustic show and maybe the rest of the show electric playing the more rock stuff that I am doing right now with these guys. It’s going to be an unusual line up that you never probably never would imagine that I would be in. A 24 Year old bass player, a young guitar player and its kind of cool. I will be playing guitar again and it is a bit of a challenge but its worth doing I think because some of the new songs give a little light to the stuff that I did in the past.”
Any plans relating to Alcatrazz? You reactivated the band name with a different lineup. Is that something that you have moved on from, or not?
Graham” I quit the band about five months ago, and I told them about this new band that I was putting together with my friends here. We had just got back from a successful tour in Brazil, and great reviews and all that kind of thing. They asked”Do you want to leave this band, and do something else-really?”I said”Yes, it’s been thirty years of singing the same old songs. I think it is time for something new”before I shrivel up and die….The new line up was together for about ten years, fucking great players. For me it was just time to move on and try something different. They understand that and so this is my chance to do something that I always wanted to do,an acoustic thing and different kind of music.”
I was just going to ask, both with your new trio, and also the heavy rock thing you touch on different musical styles. Indeed your solo albums have also embraced different musical things. Where does your heart truly lie,what is your true musical passion?
Graham”I like anything, I like all music. The unfortunate thing is that with heavy metal, or hard rock music you are put into one genre and you are stuck there. If your next record isn’t as heavy as your last then people go”kinda…oh “This is something that I never really dreamt that I would be doing, that heavy rock kind of thing. I just got that sort of by accident. I went to the audition with Rainbow and I won the competition. Suddenly was in a heavy rock band, and I went back to London and I said to my manager”This is not the kind of music that I like”I have always stuck to Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, the Beatles, r+b and all that kind of stuff which was more in my taste. That is what I am revisiting a little bit here with a little bit more progressive music, inventive and exciting rather than the headbanging stuff which I love doing. It’s time to try something different, I want to challenge myself, the guys I am working with are actually also looking forward to doing something different too. As I said the guitar player is very young he is only thirty years old, and Beth- Ami Heavenstone was in an all girl band and she wants to do something different too. I played with them at the Whiskey and that is where the idea for the band sort of started, putting something new together. That is what is happening right now, we are trying to find out exactly which direction to take which is kind of all directions…because it is all directions.”
Regarding your career, what would you say would be the secret of having longevity in the music business?
Graham”ahh, living and giving up drinking. I don’t know, I have been very lucky. There are some great musicians out there that have never done anything, they are obscure people. I have just been in the right place at the right time. I mean you know what it is like, the music business is very strange. It is what you dress, how you dress etc etc..Your age is now a big part of it. I was twenty years old when I first started back in 1968 with my cousin in the Marbles. Then we were young and good looking and all that kind of thing. In the end if it is good music it will live on for ever. I think that the albums that I have been on with Rainbow, Michael Schenker and my own band Alcatrazz that music is pretty timeless. It didn’t have that stamp of “silly heavy metal”it was the thinking mans heavy metal. I think that people do want to know what is coming next, particularly overseas in places like Japan who have always been there for whatever I have done every year.”
What have been the highest and lowest points of your musical career?
Graham”Yeah I would say Castle Donington was the highest because it was the first concert ever there and it was a very exciting day. I will never forget that ever, it was Cozy Powell’s last gig with the band, with Rainbow, and I will never forget that. The lowest point?(laughs)There have been a lot of those, to actually pick one there have been too many. Everything is coming together now and I am very excited about what I am doing now. There have been some very low points, I didn’t work for a couple of years. I was subject to doing a few jingles here and there whenever I could make it I would do them. Also doing a lot of sessions over the past I would say fifteen years or so. That’s where I really got stuck and got back with my new Alcatrazz lineup and that was what brought me back into the world again. I was losing interest in the music business all together.”
That leads me on nicely just to ask you, how do you still stay driven and motivated, when times are difficult?
Graham”Well I try to sleep a lot….no basically I can tell you that sometimes it is not easy to do that. This tour that I am doing now is particularly grueling its not always easy to get from A to B. You realize though that people have paid money to actually come and see you so you cant let them down-no matter how messed up you may feel or tired.I have laryngitis right now, but I will still do the gigs. It’s something I have to do-its all I do, it’s my job. This is the only job I know, so I have to stay focused or I am out of work.”
Do you have time for any hobbies or interests outside music?
Graham”Yeah I like cycling when I am at home I ride every day, in summer times. Winters can be a bit grueling, but I ride every day for about two hours. That is my sport. I have a nice lightweight road bike, so that’s what I do basically that’s it. Oh and swimming sometimes.”
Why have you succeeded in a field were so many others have failed-namely the music business?
Graham”I don’t know, I really don’t know.I just hope that people think that I am a pretty good singer.That’s something that I can mainly carry through my life. My voice hasn’t changed,well today it has. I have been lucky to have been able to keep my voice in shape, and still have a strong voice. I think people like the way that I sing. I think since 1968 when the Bee Gees gave us a break and my cousin and I made our very first record back then with something that was kind of unusual. With all the high notes and all the rest of it, it was a really great song. I think that was kind of it really.”
Do you feel that the two hit singles that you had with Rainbow has overshadowed the rest of your music career?Are there other parts that you feel have not maybe achieved the success that they deserved?
Graham”Not really no. I am very grateful for”Since you’ve been gone”and “All night long”I mean what can you say, that really made my career. It is my career, it is what brought me back into the limelight again after disappearing for so many years. The Marbles had ended with the Bee Gees and we stopped recording with them. It was a breath of fresh air even though it was something that I wasn’t used to, I thank Rainbow so much and Richie Blackmore for giving me the job. I never thought I would have it”
Have you had any contact with your former Rainbow band mates in recent years?
Graham”No, the only person that I keep in touch with is Don Airey. I see him every year, and I do a little show with him. He has a charity show in his village, we do a bunch of r+b songs, a bit of blues-a bit of everything. It’s really cool, he is the only one that I keep in touch with. The other guys, don’t even know where they live anymore. I know where Don is, and we email each other all the time.”
How do you view the changes in the music industry since you first started out?
Graham”Its kind of the same, with lots of distortion.I listen to bands now that sound like they are trying at Led Zeppelin,the heavier bands I should say. I find music now to be a little bit too clean and computer generated. There is none of that”oh there is a mistake there”and you leave it in. It’s all too smooth. Everything now sounds to me like elevator music, and it hasn’t got that rock or raw edge. It’s not very human sounding, that’s what I can say about it right now. Especially all the dance stuff its just like going back to disco in the seventies or something. To me it is soulless. I could be wrong, but that is just my opinion. My kids play music all the time, and I hear things and I go”that’s good” Once in a while I will hear something good, but not very often. It’s all like rehashed sort of rock from the past. You hear a lot of the younger bands and they are basically imitating bands they have heard from their mums and dads-so I am not hearing anything new.I am waiting for the Beatles to come along……(laughs)”
What about the business side of things..how has that changed? Is it harder to make a living?
Graham”Yes it is, as you can imagine. Everybody is out on the road now. Don Airey for instance, he is in Deep Purple. He plays keyboards in Deep Purple, and he is in three other bands. That shows you exactly what it is like. If you try to play solid in the States, for example in Los Angeles no one is really interested. It is pretty hard.”
Have you any particular fan comments or stories of how your music has affected or changed them?
Graham”Well I heard a bit of that last night.We played a gig and did all the old Rainbow songs,and its just amazing people coming back and saying”You know, you were part of my life, I grew up with you”Then you realize that these people are probably about sixteen years old when I did that show, and they did grow up with it. It’s very flattering to hear these people say this. It’s so wonderful, that they are still listening and still supporting me. I am not fucking Jesus, just a guy that sings a bit. It is so nice to hear. I know how they feel, because I grew up with people like Buddy Holly or Little Richard and they were my rock gods and inspiration.”
Those albums that you were on have stood the test of time well though, I was just listening to “Down to earth “today and thought that it still sounded great.
Graham”Yeah, we tried not to be trendy, I didn’t do the long hair thing with the spandex. The music too was like”Don’t follow a trend”That’s what I tried to do with Alcatrazz, and also with Michael. Don’t go for the sex and drugs and rock and roll lyrics, write songs that have a story, that mean something. Hopefully I think with really good melodies. I have lots of music in my head and that’s why I want to do something new. I have got so much more to give than I really realize actually. That’s about it “the thinking mans heavy metal”
You indicated earlier that you will be returning to the Uk to do some more shows at the end of the year?
Graham”Yes that is possibly going to happen. By the time that we get everything sorted out, and everything is spic and span..and we get paid good money. I know that the O2 shows will be good, nice theaters and nice venues anyway. We are looking forward to that and it will probably be in December”
Thanks for chatting to me Graham, as a fan its been a real pleasure. Hopefully I will be able to get to those December shows.
Graham.”Thank you, OK cheers and good bye”