A Conversation with Iconic Vocalist Graham Bonnet

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There are few voices in rock that are more memorable than Graham Bonnet. From his early days working with members of the Bee Gees to his enormous success with Rainbow, Michael Schenker, Alcatrazz, and his own Graham Bonnet Band, Graham has stood out as one of the most unique voices in rock history. He recently took some time to talk not only about his future plans for the Graham Bonnet Band and Alcatrazz but to take a look back through his remarkable career. Unfortunately, Graham didn’t have the best internet connection so there are a few places where his feed gets a little messed up. I left some of those in to keep the context of the question, some of the bigger drops have been edited out.

Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws.com Conversation with Graham Bonnet –

On the status of Graham Bonnet’s Alcatrazz and the addition of Jeff Loomis –I’ve got, let’s say, three songs I’m working on from Jeff, I got two that are completed, I think. I’m working on another one today. He’s been sending me stuff all the time. He’s very, very into this, I must say. He’s got a great work ethic. So every day he says, “Do you need me to send you something. Do you understand what’s happening in this part of the song, blah, blah, blah, whatever”, on the phone. For a guitar player he’s very normal. He’s a very normal person, family man. It’s kind of cool with a younger person, to me, actually like doesn’t get all carried away with who he is and what he is, which is a great guitar player and let that be his whole life and his ego and all that. He’s a good guy. With that possibly, there’ll be other players in Alcatrazz, the new version that may be a surprise to some people, but so far I just say Jeff Loomis is one. 1:26

On the status of the Graham Bonnet Band – Mark Zonder (drums) is no longer with us. He’s not on this album, but we have another drummer now on the album. We have a couple of guys that we’re thinking of and they may be doing some stuff for us right now. Mark Zonder is gone, Don Airey (Deep Purple) is on the album, Jeff Loomis has played a track on the album. Mike and John Tempesta there on a track. I’m sorry, I can’t think of others. It’s too early in the morning for this. That’s all almost completed. We’re recording right now, I’m saying we’re on the fifth song now and it sounds really good, I think if you like The Book album I think you’re going to like this as the same kind of feel to it. I can never tell if something’s better or worse than the album before. You never know. I always think, “Well, the other album sounds better now. Wait does it? I don’t know”. I never know. But I think it’s where we have are good songs. 3:03

“The Mirror Lies”

On upcoming touring – I was going to do a Russian show in a little while, and that’s been canceled, which was like a longish tour. Well, 10 gigs anyway. Ten shows. It’s been canceled. All the time these things are happening and then you find out it’s canceled for whatever reason. So I don’t know when we’re going to be out on the road, but I think as soon as we got this album done, that’s when we’ll think about actually playing live, because that’s when you get the most joy is playing live and not really standing in a room, singing the microphone. It’s better getting out there, actually get some feedback from people. 5:02

“Only One Woman”

On his association with the Bee Gees early in his career –Well, my cousin used to live in Australia and he did some records with the Bee Gees. His name is Trevor Gordon and he actually joined the band when we moved to London later. Anyway, that’s another story before we became The Marbles… So one day we were playing in a club in London called the Revolution Club. I think it’s still there, I’m sure. But we’re playing away and this guy comes up to my cousin Trevor and said, “Hey, Trevor, you know that Barry and Robert and Maurice would love to talk to you”, because they hadn’t seen each other for years. Trevor just moved from Australia to England where the Bee Gees had moved over a few months before or a couple of years before. So Trevor got the number from this guy who used to manage the Bee Gees, got in touch with Barry and went over to Robert Stigwood’s house, where they talk about Trevor recording with the Bee Gees again. My cousin Trevor said, “Well, my cousin Graham sings a bit too”, so they invited me over to to Stigwood’s house in London. All the guys were there, the Gibb brothers. We sat around playing guitars and singing whatever, Stevie Wonder songs and Beach Boys and Beatles, the obvious thing. It was it was great. So we stopped playing and Stigwood comes into the room, Robert Stigwood, and said to Barry, “Barry, do you have a song to these boys. I’d love to get them in the studio as soon as possible”. It was out of the blue, it was like a stupid B movie about overnight success. Really silly. Barry said, “Absolutely”. So a few days later, Barry came along with the song with no words, and I went in and did a demo. It became a song called “Only One Woman”, which is our first hit record. If it wasn’t for the Bee Gees, I would be here now because they started my recording career and the rest of it. So I’m always grateful to Barry, Robin and Maurice. 6:07

“Since You Been Gone”

On how he joined Rainbow – The guys were looking, they were in Switzerland recording, Rainbow, without a singer and they were auditioning singers. They had 80 people apparently apply for this job. One night Cozy (Powell) brought out his tape machine, said, “Let’s have a game of Spot the Tune”… Roger Glover happened to be working with one of my friends in England, Micky Moody, guitar player. So he asked Mickey Moody for my number and I got a call from Roger Glover. He said, “Would you come over and audition for Rainbow?” I didn’t know what Rainbo was. I had no idea. So I had to go out and buy some albums and listen to the music with Ronnie (James Dio) singing and they got in touch with me to say, “Lock in one song that’s an audition piece”. That was a song called “Mistreated” and that was my audition. So I went over there, sang this song. I didn’t know if it was really my kind of deal or what. It is kind of like a bluesy song, “Mistreated. I got the job, I sang the song four times. It was kind of “Well, OK, thank you”. But I went back to England and I said to my manager, “I don’t think I’m right for this band, really. The music is not the music I do or I like”. Because I’d never done anything so-called heavy. This was sort of heavy-ish, I suppose because I was more used to R&B and Pop. But anyway, he said, “No, you got to do it, Graham. It’s a good career move”…It was a good move and introduced me to a new kind of music that I never thought I would be involved in because it’s the sort of semi-classical thing going on. Man, I’m so glad I did, because thanks to Ritchie (Blackmore) and Roger Glover and Don (Airey) and Cozy, I mean, I couldn’t ask for a better band. What, a lineup. Holy crap what a lineup. I was lucky enough to be there when Cozy was still around and Don was still in the band. 11:05

“Rock You To The Ground”

On playing with Michael Schenker –You can tell Michael’s playing. He doesn’t play like all the other (guitarists) where you go, “Can you shut up now can you play something else?” Michael always has great sections to his song, some nice verse or whatever, the nice middle part and an instrumental part. Then something else will happen. It’s kind of surprising, but sometimes, well, what it is with him when he records a demo, so to speak, it’s a very long recording, like ten minutes, a song. Then you kind of pick out the best, the best bits for a vocal line. I remember getting a tape from him. He sent me it after Gary Barden was gone. He sent me a tape when I lived in Calabasas in California, and it said on it “Urgent”, it was three songs. I had to write these three songs to get ready to actually join the band. So I got these songs together and went over there to London and we rehearsed for a little while, Cozy was still playing drums at that point. I stayed with Cozy for a while and so we got it together. It was a hell of an experience because as I said, Michael is such a great player. I love what he does now, he’s fantastic. After all these years of not playing together with my bad experience on stage one night with him, probably everybody knows about that. I actually got through a whole set when we played together with the Michael Schenker Fest. I remember sliding across the stage. I’m managed to pull it off. So it was nice to see him smiling again. It’s all water under the bridge from that horrible time back in Sheffield, which I think everybody knows about. I don’t really have to repeat it. Involved body part. Anyway, well, Michael is just such a great player and so unusual in his playing. It’s just fantastic to watch and perfect every frickin note he plays is perfect, he’s the best. 14:12

“Hiroshima Mon Amour”

On playing with Yngwie Malmsteen in Alcatrazz – Yngwie had to go. We just had a battle, we had a battle which was not very good. I remember one night what happened with Yngwie. I wish you to stay, but this is kid, he grew into a monster, but a great, fucking great guitar player, no doubt. But one night I walked offstage when it was time for his guitar solo and I walked off stage and I tripped over his cord, I pulled it out of the frickin amplifier and he thought I did it on purpose. I went to the bus and I was sitting there talking to the bus driver and Yngwie runs in, gets me by the neck. Does this (makes a choking motion) pushes his thumbs right into my throat, (and said), “You fucking asshole, in the middle of my solo you unplug me”. (I said), “What are you talking about?” I didn’t know, I really didn’t know what I’d done. What happened was one of our crew saw this happening, saw Yngwie, he was trying to kill my voice, basically. He dug his thumbs right in, right in here. So I was choking and this was this Hungarian guy who was big and one of my close friends back then, came up to him and said, “Yngwie”, and got Yngwie under his arm like this (makes a headlock). He said, “You fucking touch him again, I’m going to break your fucking neck”. That night I remember driving home the bus back to L.A., we were driving back and we fired Yngwie on the tour bus because he you can’t you can’t do that. You can’t strangle the singer. So that was the end of Yngwie. 17:12

“God Blessed Video”

On playing with Steve Vai in Alcatrazz –Steve Vai came along. Well, for me, it was better. I love the way Steve played and he was so unusual like Michael Schenker. But there’s something about those two guys that aren’t like anybody else. They do all that (shredding), all that stuff. But they have a certain style that’s incomparable. I don’t know. It’s like Gary Moore and Jeff Beck. You can tell it’s them. A lot of guitar players it’s just (shredding) for the sake of (shredding), which is is great. It’s fantastic. But it’s not a song. It was great because he would play the song, not just say, “Oh, here comes my guitar solo”. Steve was the same. I got Steve. I got on with him very, very well because he just kind of left Frank Zappa’s band. We have different ideas. It was just very, very unusual, very sort of offbeat and so avant-garde about all things. The band had to kind of refine the avant-garde stuff to a little bit more radio-friendly stuff. But I love what he did. We bought some songs that we had to sort of pop up if you will make it more popular, commercial sounding because he was on the same trail as I was. I liked things when they were unexpected and that’s what he was like. But I think that second album for me of Alcatrazz is my favorite. Yeah, it really is. Because of his playing the songs we made up I think were great. They still sound good. 19:14

“Stand In Line”

On the first Impellitteri record – I didn’t get the band together, Chris (Impellitteri) did, and I had a call from him one day and he said, “Hi”, he knew that Alcatrazz was gone, he said, “Hi, this is Chris Impellitteri”. I said, “Pardon? Is that a real name?” Anyway, he called me up and he said, “Would you would you mind if I come to see you, blah, blah?” He has some things to play me. I said, “Bloody hell, you play like a demon, you play very fast”. So that’s how it kind of started was a phone call. We started making up tunes together and that was it. We made the album, which I think is pretty good, too. It’s a little heavier probably the Rainbow or whatever. But again, it’s a great experience to play with somebody who was like such a fast freaking player was really into making songs heavy, so to speak, whatever the hell that is. He wants to show off how freaking good he was at playing fast. He plays even faster now. It was a great band. I saw him messing about two years ago over in Japan. We’re playing in Japan. I did a guest spot, we did a song called “Stand in Line”, and I went on stage with him, with his band. (I was thinking), “I’m not ready for this. I was like tired and had enough. But anyway, I got up on stage and we did this song and I gave a (the mic) to the audience, I can’t do this, I’m worn out. But the audience went berserk. It was incredible. They love Chris in Japan. They really do. The two of us back together again was a treat for me. 22:10

“Livin’ In Suspicion”

On starting the Graham Bonnet Band – I was kind of sitting around not doing very much. I thought, “What the hell am I gonna do here?” I’m in limbo. I started talking to Beth-Ami (Havenstone) on the phone, eight, nine years ago, something like that. We were talking about our kids. She has an autistic boy and so do I. My son is autistic also. She told me she was playing in the band in L.A. and would I like to come along and just do a guest spot…So I went and did a couple of songs with them live. After we finished, I said to Beth-Ami, “Have you ever thought about playing a different kind of music?” She said, “Well, yeah, it would be nice”. So me and Beth-Ami got together in the house here and started playing just me and her, the bass and the guitar. I said, “What should we do? Should do some, pop music, cover versions of something?” She said, “Well, I don’t know if that’s the right idea for you. I think you should go back to where you kind of started with Alcatrazz”. So we started, Conrad Pesinato came along who was a friend who played in Tomirae (Brown’s) band and we got together, the three of us, and we sort of took it from there. I started writing more kind of rock songs and it became what it became the GB band. That’s what we’re doing now since with the different players, Conrad is playing, obviously Beth-Ami and me, I had to be there because my name was on the album. It sounds great. I mean, what we got so far and fantastic, it really does. Conrad’s a great musician along with Beth-Ami. There are all these other guys that are going to be playing with us, as I said, including Don Airey. To me, it’s like having the family back together, where we started a few years ago. It’s nice to have that tension gone the. I just left Alcatrazz because it was dreadful, the hate within that band was enormous and nobody wants to do what I want to do. It was just a mess. So to get back together with Conrad and Beth-Ami was fantastic. We have a few other players that I can’t really (say). We got another two drummers we’re thinking about to replace some of the tracks that Mark (Zonder) did because he pulled out. There’s a couple of guys that we’re thinking about right now. It’s going to be great. We got John Tempesta on one playing drums, so. There are two other guys, I can’t really say who’s going to be doing it, but so far I’m still recording. Some of the tracks don’t have drums on them, but you don’t need them to sing with a fake drum or whatever or a click track. So I record a lot of things without drums and bass or whatever sometimes. There’s going to be 2 bands, it’s Alcatraz and the GB Band…Yes, these two bands. Well, right now we’re doing the Graham Bonnet Band and straight after this I’m going to start recording again with Jeff, who’s sending me tracks every other day. So we’ve got another five or six songs to do on our album, the Graham Bonnet album and then Jeff and I will be doing the next (Alcatrazz) album immediatly. . 24:37

“The Beast In The Shadows”

On songwriting –It’s hard work trying to find a subject to write about because I’ve written everything, I think, just about and it’s about real, real things, not Dungeons and Dragons and swords and all that kind of thing. I like to write about real life. That’s something that a lot of people have commended me about. They’ve just written to say, I love your words. I love the stories you tell. I’m like a country writer, that’s how they write their song. Your red truck matches your eyes or whatever. They write about real stuff. So that’s what I try to do most of the time unless I’m really stuck then I’ll about a monster or something, Bigfoot once in a while. But it’s so (common), everybody does that. Everybody writes about mythical beings. I think real life is much more scary than monsters. I wrote a song on Michael’s album. It’s called “The Beast in the Shadows” and it’s not what you think it is. It’s about Alzheimer’s. Because I lost my dad and my brother to Alzheimer’s and I wrote this song, “The Beast In the Shadows”, you never know it’s there and it creeps up on you very, very gradually. I saw my dad go into another world and my brother also not so long ago. It’s an evil thing and it’s a beast and you never know it’s there. In the song I say, “Am I the next victim? Is it going to be me next?” I don’t know. I hope not. But yeah, as I said, real life is much more scary. 30:19

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