Interview by Robert Cavuoto
The powerhouse guitar-driven band, Alcatrazz, will release their long-awaited new studio CD, Born Innocent, via Silver Lining Music on July 31st.
The heavy-hitting, melodic metal band lead by legendary singer Graham Bonnet throws down the gauntlet with a no holds barred powerful CD. It is the follow up to their 1986 Dangerous Games album. Born Innocent features fellow founding Alcatrazz members Jimmy Waldo [keyboards] and Gary Shea [bass] with Boston-based Berklee College of Music Assistant Professor of Guitar Joe Stump. He joins the ranks bringing his six-string talents to the band. In grand style, he delivers a furious performance on the CD while preserves the integrity of his predecessors Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai. The CD also features guest appearances by Chris Impellitteri on “Born Innocent,” Bob Kulick, who recently passed away on “I Am The King,” and Steve Vai on “Dirty Like The City.”
I had the pleasure of speaking with Graham about their new CD, the legacy of Alcatrazz, working with Bob Kulick, and maintaining the integrity of the band by adding guitar extraordinaire Joe Stump.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m enjoying the long-waited Alcatrazz CD.
Graham Bonnet: Thank you, it took a while [laughing]. It’s as good as the last one. I listen to other people’s opinions as to how we are doing, and they all seem to like it. I try not to listen to myself too much. You’re never perfect, and if you strive for perfection, you’ll never reach it.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m sorry to hear about the passing of Bob Kulick, who played on “I Am The King.” Were you close with him since Blackthorne?
Graham Bonnet: Not really, I hadn’t seen him for 30 plus years, and then we played Vamp’d in Las Vegas in 2018. That was the last time I saw him. We recently spoke on the phone, and I could hear that something was not quite right with him. He took the conversation to a weird place, and I’m not sure why he did it. It was complete gibberish in a way. It didn’t make any sense, and he was angry; yet lonely. During the call, I was thinking this is not the guy that I remember! He was a great musician. Even though we didn’t get on sometimes, I appreciated and saw his talents. I got the sense he was depressed. If his death was accidental, I wouldn’t be surprised and hope it’s not what I think it to be that he took his own life. When we played in Vegas, he was great, absolutely amazing. My family moved to Australia because we had a bit of a problem over here. We weren’t running from the law or anything; it was hard to find work here. There I could make more money. I was in a Top 40 band called, The Party Boys; it was a silly name. My friend, Alan Lancaster, from the English band Status Quo, asked me to join, so it was an instant in. I was there for four to five months when I got the call from Bob Kulick and Jimmy Waldo asking if I want to put together a band. I went back to LA and borrowed some money to start the band with those guys, which we called Blackthorne. Bob was hard working when we were making that album. He wanted me to sing like the guy from AC/DC on some of the tracks. I told him that I’m not the guy from AC/DC, I’m Graham from Rainbow, Alcatrazz, etc. I don’t sing like that, and it’s not me; if you want the guy from AC/DC, you should call him up [laughing]. I did my best to do what he wanted with my voice. Bob was a perfectionist and, at the same time, a lunatic. That’s why I couldn’t work with him.
Robert Cavuoto: Alcatrazz is notorious for having top-notch guitar players from Yngwie Malmsteen to Steve Vai and now Joe Stump. How do you go about finding such talented guitarists?
Graham Bonnet: For some reason, guitar players like writing songs with me; I’m very pleased with that because I like writing songs with them depending on who they are and what their personality is. So far with Joe, it has been very good. We have a unique chemistry where we complement each other nicely. He understands where I’m coming from with my melodies and what I want to make the song about. He has many different styles of playing, which he brings to the table. He can play like Steve Via, Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Jeff Beck. He is extremely versatile, which makes it more fun.
Robert Cavuoto: I feel Alcatrazz helped ignite both Yngwie’s and Steve’s careers.
Graham Bonnet: I think that is true; I really do as ego-tripping as it sounds. Yngwie was unknown when we picked him up. He was 18 or 19 years old. Someone in the band called him to come down for an audition. He thought it was a joke but still came down to the rehearsal wearing all his stage gear and arrived with his band in a convertible car. When he saw me, he said, “Oh my God, it’s true” and started laughing. He came in, did the audition, and passed the test immediately. He was perfect; he didn’t play any Rainbow songs; it was one of my songs that I did on my own so we could see how he could play other types of music. He was incredible.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there any consideration to ask Yngwie back to the band for this CD?
Graham Bonnet: Our manager wanted to get in touch with him. I told him not to bother; he doesn’t need this band. It’s a step backward for him, and I completely understand that. About 12 years ago, Yngwie and I were offered two or three acoustic shows in Japan. Yngwie called to tell me how excited he was about it, but then I got a call from his wife telling me he wasn’t going to be doing it! They offered us a lot of money, a ridiculous amount. I would never make that type of money in two or three, maybe four years. It was just him and me. It was supposed to be Q&A then play some Alcatrazz songs. I was very disappointed, to say the least. He may have had a bit of money at that time, but the money goes, and you are always going to need more. I heard he was upset about it, but he never called me. His wife got in touch with our manager at the time, and even he was like, “What the Fuck?” How can anyone turn down that amount of money for a two-man show?
Robert Cavuoto: Strangely enough, he recently did a tour as a one-man show using backing tracks as a band.
Graham Bonnet: I know, exactly! [laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: Do you put any guardrails in place when writing Alcatrazz CDs using different guitarists, or do they have free reign to play how they like?
Graham Bonnet: I make up stuff on my acoustic and listen to what the guitar play has to offer or interpret. When a new guy joins the band he knows what I did before, what to expect, and what is needed to meet previous expectations.
Robert Cavuoto: I don’t think anyone ever wrote a heavy metal song about “Polar Bears.” How did the lyrics for that song come about?
Graham Bonnet: [Laughing] I did that on purpose as most people would think of a teddy bear. It’s about Eskimos tribes back in the day when they lived in igloos. When a family member got old, they would lose all their teeth. Being primarily meat and fish eaters, without teeth, they couldn’t eat. In the middle of the night, they would tell their family, “that they will go.” They leave their home to go out in the cold to freeze and die. They felt that they offered themselves up to the Polar Bear, who was thought of as a spiritual animal or God. It’s about what the Polar Bear has to do with Eskimo’s life and how it used to be. I don’t think that happens anymore.
Robert Cavuoto: You always expend extreme efforts to seek the ultimate expression from song lyrics. Do you know what drives that artistic work ethic?
Graham Bonnet: It’s my brain as its firing all the time. I’m a very jittery person. I’m all over the place. I’ll look out the window and see something, and want to write about it. I’ll hear a story on TV and want to write about it because nobody is saying anything about it. I’m like a reporter trying to make a story real. One of the songs off a recent Michael Schenker Fest CD is “The Beast in the Shadows,” which is about Alzheimer’s. That disease took my bother and my Dad. I’m familiar with that beast, and you don’t know it’s there as it creeps up on you slowly. In the song, I say, “Am I the next victim?” because it runs in my family. You can’t fake horror. It’s real-life; it’s not about slaying a fire breathing dragon in a cave. I’m not Ronnie James Dio. I write about real things [laughing].
Robert Cavuoto: Did Alcatrazz start off as a group effort, or was it your solo project?
Graham Bonnet: It was a band. I started with Jimmy and Gary in my garage in Calabasas, CA. We would get told off by the neighbors every day, asking us if we had a permit for making noise because we were so loud [laughing]. Once we had a few song ideas, we started to look for a guitarist and drummer. Jan Uvena came along on drums when he left Alice Cooper’s band. Someone we met in a store told us about Yngwie, who played like Ritchie Blackmore. We had Gary and Jimmy who were from a band called New England, I was from Rainbow, Jan was from Alice Cooper’s band, and Yngwie played guitar like Ritchie. We thought that was a pretty good start, but we did start as a garage band.
Robert Cavuoto: You never called it Graham Bonnet’s Alcatrazz like Ozzy Osbourne did with Blizzard Ozz.
Graham Bonnet: I never liked using my name until much later with The Graham Bonnet Band. I didn’t want it to be my solo band like Ronnie James Dio calling his band, Dio. Not to mention, I can’t call the band Bonnet; it sounds ridiculous [laughing]. You might as well call it Hat!
Robert Cavuoto: You have some European tour dates in late August, are those shows proceeding as scheduled?
Graham Bonnet: I don’t know? The way things are going, I doubt anything will happen this year at all! You see what is going on here with the crowds gathering in the streets regarding that poor man who was killed by the policeman. Those people are not thinking about the virus anymore. They are not wearing masks; what do you think is going to happen, things are not going to get better. I understand this is the main news topic, but let’s not forget about a deadly virus that spread all around the world, I can’t imagine that you don’t want to take any sort of precautions.
Robert Cavuoto: Have you seen where artists are putting on acoustic shows in their homes and charging admission?
Graham Bonnet: Is that Gene Simmons doing that [laughing]? That something he would do. I saw that Keith Urban was performing at a drive-in with the cars parked a certain distance apart. Why not? It’s a great idea, and hopefully, it’s not spreading the virus provided you stay in your car with a mask on. I did one of those YouTube videos with some of the people from the band, Cold, where we all did our parts from home. We played “Assault Attack” off the Michael Schenker’s album. I wanted to run through it once or twice to warm up my voice, but they were in a hurry for it, and we did it in one take. Afterward, I said let me do it again, but they wanted to get it out there to show that we were still alive. There are some scratchy bits on there, but fuck it. My voice was in 80% shape for it, it was done at home and quickly.
Robert Cavuoto: What was the most important thing you learned from Ritchie Blackmore?
Graham Bonnet: He taught me how to be part of a hard rock/heavy metal band, even though our first song “Since You’ve Been Gone” was a total pop single. He showed me the way. I never heard of Rainbow at the time. When I stood in front of those incredible musicians at the audition, I was like, oh my God, where do I fit in? I felt kind of stupid to be there. I wasn’t like them, I didn’t look like them, and I never played that type of music before with all those incredible keyboard parts. I didn’t understand where to sing on those types of songs. My audition song was “Mistreated” from Deep Purple. I played it four times that day, and the first time I did it without a microphone because I was so intimated that my voice might start to croak. I was very nervous. We were in a big hall in a chateau in Switzerland on the border France. After I sang the last note, the band was silent. They all looked at each other and started laughing. I was like, oh fuck! Then they said it was incredible” They could hear me over the amps and drums. Then they said, let’s try it again with a mic this time [laughing].
Alcatrazz release their new album Born Innocent via Silver Lining Music on 31.07.2020, the first studio album since Dangerous Games in 1986.
01. Born Innocent
02. Polar Bear
03. Finn McCool
04. We Still Remember
05. London 1666
06. Dirty Like The City
07. I Am The King
08. Something That I Am Missing
09. Paper Flags
10. The Wound Is Open
11. Body Beautiful
12. Warth Lane
13. For Tony