The Fuze Interview
These are only some excerpts from an interview with Graham Bonnet by Todd Seele from the Fuze (an online rock journal). Click on the banner at the bottom of this page to read the full interview.
GRAHAM BONNET stepped into heavy metal history on a whim. Neither his R&B background nor his conservative image was a comfortable fit in the hard rock community. Yet Graham's incredible talent catapulted him into the limelight as the voice behind landmark albums with Rainbow, Michael Schenker and Alcatrazz.
In 1979 Graham Bonnet was making headway as a solo artist, having left behind a successful partnership with his cousin in The Marbles a few years prior. At his manager's insistence, Graham auditioned for Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. He was hired on the spot. The band recorded ‘Down To Earth', an album celebrated ever since as one of the greatest hard rock releases ever. Bonnet then moved on to Michael Schenker's group, where he scored another coup with ‘Assault Attack' – an LP which many fans rank as Schenker's best. This association was short-lived, however, and came to an ugly end as Schenker and Bonnet fought onstage at a warm-up show, just prior to a potentially career-making festival appearance. 1983 found Graham forming a new band, using Rainbow and MSG as a template, and enlisting young Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen. The group recorded one album, and managed one tour, before ego and creative differences broke the band apart. Alcatrazz continued, first with guitarist Steve Vai and later with ex-Derringer guitarist Danny Johnson. When the band fizzled, Bonnet began the first of numerous collaborations with groups like Impellitteri, Forcefield and Blackthorne. While the quality and popularity of the recordings varied, one thing was constant: Graham Bonnet possessed a voice like no other. As 2003 began, Graham assembled a hot band and made a long overdue solo appearance in Los Angeles. This interview was conducted just days prior to that incredible performance. He walked us through his past, present and immediate future – dropping a few surprises on us in the process. Allow us to re-introduce you to a very ‘down to earth' Graham Bonnet.
By the time you joined Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow in 1979, you had been a solo artist for a number of years. How prepared were you to work with Ritchie on his terms?
Well, not at all. One reason was I didn't understand what the music was all about. My manager said to me "Listen to this." I had to go out and buy old Rainbow albums. I was used to writing songs on an acoustic guitar, and just doing the words. Suddenly, you get into a thing like Rainbow and they have these whole arrangements which are very classical, and you have to fit a vocal into it. So to me, it was very alien. And [Rainbow bassist] Roger Glover gave me a lot of tutoring. He said "This is what you do. This is where the vocal goes." So to me, it was very weird. I thought "Well, I'm not gonna fit this band. I've got short hair, and they're all long hair and the rest of it." I said "I don't think I fit into this." My manager just said to me "Well Graham, I think you do. I think you've got the voice for the band." But it was a very strange experience because of the different way of songwriting, for one reason. And I felt very nervous about it.
I went over there to do an audition - they were recording in Switzerland . I went over there to the audition, and I didn't expect them to say yes, but they did. I did this one tune called "Mistreated" and that was it. They said "Do you want the job?" I said "Ok, then." I felt very uncomfortable, because I was used to doing kind of R&B stuff and pop stuff. Not so much this so-called, at the time, heavy metal.
Alcatrazz found you with a group similar in make-up to both Rainbow and MSG, and with a hot shot guitarist. Was Alcatrazz truly a group effort, or was it your baby?
It was mine. What else can I say? We started in the garage. That's what Alcatrazz was – a garage band. We just kind of copied what we did before. I said "I'd like to look for a guy that's similar to Ritchie, get the same kind of licks together...", and that's what we did. A copy band. (laughs)
Your talent speaks for itself, but has your conservative image ever caused you trouble in the hard rock community?
Of course. What can I say? Cozy used to say "Oh, here comes the banker!" I think he said banker... not wanker! He used to give me a hard time about what I was wearing, how my hair was, whatever the hell... Then of course, Ritchie joined in later. After a while, Cozy said "Who the fuck cares? It's not about what you look like. It's what you sound like."
Todd Seele, The Fuze 19 February 2003
Todd told us about the gig Graham Bonnet did at Paladino's in Los Angeles on Feb 21st: The show in L.A. was great. Graham opened with 'God Blessed Video' and he had the crowd from the start. He visited the first two Alcatrazz albums (Will You Be Home Tonight!), wowed us with a smokin' version of Impellitteri's 'Stand In Line', etc. He did a couple solo songs and half the 'Down To Earth' album - 'All Night Long', 'Since You've Been Gone', 'Lost In Hollywood' and 'Love's No Friend'. He even did an acoustic tribute to his friend Maurice Gibb.
If you like Yngwie Malmsteen, you'll like Howie Simon. Howie played for Graham that night, and is the subject of his own piece on The Fuze coming up in the next few days.
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