Graham Bonnet is going to be 70 this year, but you certainly wouldn’t know it by listening to The Book, his new double album with the Graham Bonnet Band. Best known to Hard Rock/Metal fans for his standout work with Rainbow, the Michael Schenker Group (MSG) and Alcatrazz, the British singer still boasts one of the most powerful voices in the business. Joined on The Book by bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone (Hardly Dangerous), guitarist Conrado Pesinato (Hardly Dangerous), former Alcatrazz keyboardist Jimmy Waldo and drummer Mark Zonder (Fates Warning/Warlord), Bonnet presents a full album of new material plus a second disc (featuring keyboardist Angelo Vafeiadis) of re-recorded classics from various eras of his career.
The Book serves as a fresh reminder of the talent of a man who’s been rocking stages around the world for five decades. Bonnet’s first experience with stardom came when he was one half of the Rock duo The Marbles, who scored UK hits with the Bee Gees-penned tracks “Only One Woman” (1968) and “The Walls Fell Down” (1969). In 1979, Bonnet’s career hit another major milestone when he replaced Ronnie James Dio in the legendary Rainbow. Although his trademark voice and ’50s-influenced, decidedly unHard Rock image were initially a shock to many fans, his version of the band scored hit singles with “Since You’ve Been Gone” (written by Russ Ballard) and “All Night Long.” After one stellar album with Rainbow (Down to Earth), Bonnet moved on to a brief stint with the Michael Schenker Group before forming Alcatrazz with Waldo, former New England bassist Gary Shea, former Alice Cooper drummer Jan Uvena and guitar god Yngwie Malmsteen (later replaced by Steve Vai and Danny Johnson, respectively). Alcatrazz lasted long enough to release three albums (including 1983’s essential No Parole from Rock 'n' Roll) and carve a niche for themselves in the early years of MTV with the videos for “Island in the Sun” and “God Blessed Video” before going their separate ways. (Bonnet has recently started playing some “reunion” gigs with Shea and Waldo under the Alcatrazz banner after doing occasional gigs over the last decade or so under the name with no other original members.) Since the dissolution of Alcatrazz as a full-time recording entity, Bonnet has toured and/or recorded with a vast array of artists including Impellitteri, Forcefield, Blackthorne and Japanese rockers Anthem.
When not spending time fronting legendary acts, Graham maintains an active solo career that began with an eponymous album in 1977. Other titles released under his own steam include 1981’s Line-Up, 1991’s Here Comes the Night and 1999’s The Day I Went Mad.
Talkative and often brutally frank, Bonnet recently gave me a few minutes of his time to discuss The Book and reflect on some key topics from his past.
It’s clear that this album is being promoted as a band release as opposed to a Graham Bonnet solo project. Why go in that direction with this particular combination of players and put it out under a band umbrella?
When this band first got together, I was playing with Alcatrazz and going out and doing all the Alcatrazz music, Rainbow music or whatever. One night, I went to jam with Conrado and Beth-Ami at the Whisky; they were playing with their band at the time. I went up just to do a couple of songs, and I really enjoyed it because we did something that was a little bit different. We played a Beatles song and a Badfinger song…We did like three tunes, and I just looked across the stage and thought, ‘I like this! This is much more fun that doing the same thing over and over again.’ I actually fired myself from Alcatrazz – the 12th version of Alcatrazz, that is. Basically, we went out and just played Alcatrazz music; it wasn’t [with] any of the [other] original members. I always feel comfortable within a band situation; it’s always nice to have other people’s opinions about music I may come up with – good, bad or indifferent. It’s nice to work with a band, and these guys have made life a lot easier for me because we’ve become very close and they help me a lot musically. They have some ideas I would never think about.
Mark Zonder’s a great player, and he’s all over the place on this record. How would you say his style compares to Cozy Powell (RIP) from Rainbow and some of the other big-league drummers you’ve had behind you over the years?
It’s totally different. Mark is one of those guys who can play something exactly the same every time. He’s done a lot of sessions in the past as well. He’s a very, very on it. He’s a great drummer – no doubt about it – and he’s a great asset to the band. When he came in, he helped with the arrangements and stuff like that – editing songs, putting different rhythms in here and there – whereas Cozy was a guy who had a very different kind of feel. He was very laid-back with a Bluesy feel to his style of drumming… Cozy played and interpreted songs totally different than the way Mark does, I think. Mark is very on the 1-2-3-4, dead on the click, whereas Cozy would try to pull it back. That’s the difference between the two of them. I think Cozy was a very sexy drummer. There’s a difference between being really good and very kind of sleazy and sexy. The music we do kind of involves sexiness or being dead on and really musically correct. It’s hard to sort of compare the two guys because they’re just totally different.
Your experiences with Jimmy Waldo date back decades now. What makes that musical relationship continue to work so well?
Jimmy’s been my friend for a long, long time. He came in much later when we almost finished all the tracks… God, I don’t know how many years it had been since I’d seen him. Thirty years, maybe? A long time, anyway... I’m very happy to have him back; he reminds me of the days when we used to put tracks down together, and we still have got that Alcatrazz-y, Rainbow-y sound we had back then, which is a very comfortable feeling. He’s done a good job.
You’ve certainly had a history with great guitar players. What does Conrado bring to the Graham Bonnet Band?
A little bit of individuality and youth, I think. Like I said, it’s nice to have people’s input musically, because sometimes I drift off into my own little world of whatever it may be. It’s nice to have an opinion and someone to sort of steer me the right way. I think Conrado has brought a more modern sound… He’s a guy who’s developing very well; just about every day, he comes up with new ideas. He was someone who was a little nervous [and] intimidated by the players I’ve played with before, like Yngwie and Steve Vai. He’s been a fan of both those guys; he wants to develop his own style, but at the same time when we play [an old] song, he has that same feel that Yngwie or Steve put into those songs that we still play live. He’s come a long way; he’s very inventive and a really good guy. He’s so easy to get along with; it’s a pleasure to have him around.
How would you say Beth-Ami completes the picture of the Graham Bonnet Band?
Well, it was her and I who started up this band together. We met up with each other every day because I had some ideas about doing an acoustic-type band, which of course didn’t happen in the end. But we got together just over two years ago. I had songs that I’d already sort of half-written; I played them to her, then she had her input and let me know exactly what direction the thing should go in. Then we brought in Conrado to do the acoustic thing, and we all eventually realized that this wasn’t going to be an acoustic bunch of songs at all. We needed to bring a band sound to the whole thing, even though [the acoustic project] was a good idea. Beth-Ami suggested that; she’s worked very hard on this altogether and has given me the confidence again to be in another band and actually think that something good can come of it… It’s nice to be there, and it’s nice to think that she took me in and encouraged me, really. She’s like that with all the guys in the band. She’s very strong-willed but has some great suggestions sometimes musically. I appreciate that from her very much.
I saw the 360-degree video you put out for “Into The Night.” What did you think when you saw that played back for the first time?
Well, I didn’t get it; I thought, ‘Whoa!’ The way it was filmed was very sort of,’ Okay, do whatever you want.’ The guy put the camera down on the floor – it was a little ball-shaped thing. – and he said, ‘Well, just jump over the camera and just move around wherever you want to go, and the viewer is going to do the 360 thing and watch each individual they want to look at a particular time in the video.’ It was very quickly done… It was very ad lib. I looked at it and I thought, ‘Well, this looks a bit strange.’ I wasn’t very convinced. But then other people saw it and were going, ‘Wow! This is incredible!’ It was a new, gimmicky thing when we did it. It was something completely different… It’s a cool thing. At first, I was a bit iffy about it, but now I can see that it actually works.
How did the idea of doing the re-recordings for the second disc come about?
That was the record company’s idea – much to my chagrin, actually. It’s hard to do those songs again and feel enthusiastic about that after 30, 35 years on some of them. To record them again means you have to put them under a microscope and make sure that everything is kind of living up to as good as the old version or better than the old version, or that it’s good in its own way. I think the band actually reinterpreted the songs pretty much in a really good way; I just was worried about the vocals being sort of like the old ones. It’s a long time ago; it was hard to get through those songs and re-record ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ and ‘All Night Long’ and whatever else because the originals, to me, are still the better versions… To be honest with you, I can’t listen to them again because I like the way it felt to do those songs years ago. To do them now was harder work than the original sessions.
In addition to your voice, you’re known for having one of the more unique images in the scene. How were you able to maintain your identity and image back in a time when the industry was perhaps calling for a much different look for a frontman in your genre?
I really didn’t think I belonged when I joined Rainbow, for instance. I went to sing the audition with a suit and tie on; I looked like a bank manager or whatever. There were a few jokes and snickers around the room when I approached ready to sing my audition piece. But after I had done the song, they all smiled and laughed and made me sing two or three more times over to make sure I wasn’t kidding when I sang it. I got the job not because of my suit or whatever, but because of my voice, I hope. The music comes before the way you look. But I’ve always been into 1950s music and the 1950s look, and I wasn’t going to change just because I was asked to join a so-called ‘hair’ band, a Heavy Rock band or ‘Heavy Metal’ band, if you will. It wasn’t my thing; I never knew who Rainbow was, so it was totally different for me. Eventually, I fit in; they got used to me looking the way I looked. As long as I sang okay, everything was good. With the album I sang on, I sang my heart out because it was something I had never done before; it was all new music to me. I learned along the way from [then-Rainbow bassist] Roger Glover and from [Rainbow founder] Ritchie Blackmore how these songs were written, because I was used to more sort of R&B-type songs… I thank Ritchie and I thank Roger for guiding me through it, but it felt absolutely wrong for me to be there. [After the audition], I went home to my manager in London and said, ‘I don’t think I belong in this band.’ He said, ‘What the hell are you talking about? I heard you sang your balls off on the audition piece.’ I said, ‘But I look wrong. The music they’re playing is sort of classically influenced; it’s not like the stuff I do.’ He said, ‘You’ve gotta do it.’ I went back again to finish off the album… It worked out well, but it was a long procedure because it was something totally new to me. I felt very, very green and pretty much like a baby being introduced to this genre of music.
As far as what you’re doing these days, where does the Graham Bonnet Band go from here? What are your biggest hopes for the group moving forward?
We want to do two more albums. We want to do a Hard Rock album, which we’ve kind of just done, but I’d like to do an album that is a bit of everything – not just one kind of music. My background comes from R&B to Pop and Jazz... That’s how I grew up; when I was 14 years old, I was in a band that played all Jazz. We’ll mix it up as opposed to being put in one little area… I’d like to do something a bit more inventive or off the wall. But first of all, I think we’re going to do another album like the one we’ve only just put out.
*Portions of the above interview were edited for clarity.
Official Graham Bonnet Band Website
Graham Bonnet Rare Merchandise
*Portions of the above interview were edited for clarity.
Official Graham Bonnet Band Website
Graham Bonnet Rare Merchandise
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