Graham Bonnet – solo artist, Alcatrazz, ex-Rainbow, MSG and more…

Graham Bonnet
Graham Bonnet



Transcription by Andy Osborn

Graham Bonnet was originally born in 1947 in England and he got his first touch of success in the music business in the late 60’s with his band Marbles. Graham released his first, self titled, solo album in 1977 which did quite well especially in Australia. After several solo albums, which included mostly cover songs, Graham was surprisingly chosen to replace Ronnie James Dio in Rainbow in 1980. The album DOWN TO EARTH was released later on the same year and it included massive hits “Since You’ve Been Gone” and “All Night Long”. Unfortunately Graham’s career in Rainbow didn’t last too long and he was soon replaced by Joe Lynn Turner. Graham released another solo album LINE UP in 1981 and it included another hit ‘Night Games’ which went into number 6# in UK charts. Graham replaced Gary Barden in MSG in 1982 and the band released the album ASSAULT ATTACK later in the same year. The album did pretty well but once again Graham’s career didn’t last too in this band either. He was fired after his disastrous performance in Sheffield in November 1982. Next Graham decided to form his own band which was called Alcatrazz. The original version of Alcatrazz included Graham, Jimmy Waldo, Gary Shea, Jan Avena and a young rising guitar hero named Yngwie Malmsteen. After two albums Yngwie was fired and he was then replaced by another future star Steve Vai who soon after decided to join David Lee Roth’s solo band. Alcatrazz was slowly disbanded in 1986 after four albums. Since then Graham has worked with such bands and names as; Blackthorne, Impellitteri, Forcefield, Anthem, Taz Taylor and Electric Zoo among others but he has also released a couple of solo albums, the latest being THE DAY I WENT MAD came out in 2001. Over the past few years Graham has done a lot of session work, worked with some of the bands mentioned above and been on tour both as a solo artist and as a band member. Graham did a brief co -headline tour in Finland with his old Rainbow colleague Joe Lynn Turner last August. It was then that I had a chance to sit down with Graham and get the latest news as well as some facts from the past from the man himself. Enjoy!


You are now here in Finland doing a double-headline tour with Joe Lynn Turner. Whose idea this tour originally was?

Well, it was kind of my idea. We played in Japan together and it was so much fun that I thought it might be a good idea if we did another show together. Daphne called me and asked me if he thought Joe would do the same kind of thing we did in Japan and I said I’m sure he would because it was fun, we’re both in the same band and it�s interesting for people to come see that. So I called him up and he said, “How’s the band live?” They’re fucking great” And he said okay, how much do we get a night? I told him and he agreed, money always comes first you see. We’re thinking of probably doing something in the future again maybe in a couple months time. I’m not quite sure but we talked about it already about doing the same kind of thing with a double-headline tour.

Would you do that in the States or over here in Europe?

Maybe in the States but it might be Japan again? We’re still kind of figuring that out. We haven’t figured it out properly yet so we don’t know?

Is there any chance that you would record any new music together?

Like an actual, new thing? I don’t know, we haven’t even discussed it.

What about a live album?

Yeah, that would be cool! If we took some stuff from last night, re-mixed it and whatever I think that would be a cool idea. When we do another show together we could sell the CD at the other gigs! That’s a good idea, I never even thought of that. It might be an idea? Maybe making an EP like four brand new songs where we write the songs together. That would be kind of a special thing for gigs. Why not?

You both share a history of working with such names as Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen but have you ever met Joe Lynn Turner before this tour?

No, I had only met Joe on the phone and I had never met him. It was so funny, he emailed and he said “Fuck! I’m going to be singing with you in Japan after all these years” It was so weird because we were the same damn band and so we spoke on the phone and as soon as I met him we got along immediately like I had known him for years. We’re kind of the same kind of persons, we have the same sense of humor; we laugh at things, like the horrible things what happened in Rainbow. We talk about things we both experienced where similar incidences happened with band members and stuff like that.  That was actually quite funny, so yeah we along really well and I enjoy singing with him. He has a great voice and he’s just a good singer.

Joe and Graham on stage in Finland 2007 !!!


You’ve done recently some shows under the name Alcatrazz with completely new line up and if I’ve understood right everybody haven’t been too pleased about it? What’s the situation with this case now?

What happened was our old bass player and keyboard player were very angry because I didn’t ask them if we should do it again. For all I knew they weren’t even in the music business anymore. I hadn’t heard from them for 10-15 years and I had never seen anything on any website about them and as soon as I put up this thing about reforming Alcatrazz I made sure everyone knew it wasn’t the same members. Everybody knew about it, I wasn’t going to say it was with Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai and whoever else. So I made sure that everybody knew it was a completely different band but we played the old Alcatrazz music. All of a sudden I get an emails from the other guys from the band that were semi-threatening saying “We were going to do this way before you planned it” I told them I had seen nothing about it and nobody else knew about them starting a new Alcatrazz thing. So I said “Where? I’ve seen nothing about this?” They told me they had this plan and it was just complete lie. But because I did this they said they are going to get a lawyer and get every penny I had, which isn’t a lot so they’re welcome to it, they can take my $10. [laughs] Now they’re coming out of the woodwork because they’re angry with me. The band I have now with the guys from Los Angeles are a much better band, they are a better Alcatrazz if there is such a thing. We made a point of calling it Alcatrazz featuring Graham Bonnet, so it made it not just Alcatrazz. So I get a phone call from Gary Shea, the original bass player, saying  “Graham, just drop the name” “Why” “Because we were Alcatrazzï” So they put up a video on You Tube saying they are the real Alcatrazz and we’re just a mock Alcatrazz and said all these terrible things about us, just complete untruths. We did very well in Japan, we played 24 gigs and I knew it was good and the people who saw us told us it was fucking good. The Japanese fans who were expecting the old Alctatrazz knew it was a different lineup and they really respected how we played and they thought it was great.

  So what is the state of that band now, can you continue playing those songs?

What we want to do actually is to do some new stuff which I will do when I head home. Record some new tunes. I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff and so does the guitar player and Tim the bass player. I’m finishing with Electric Zoo album with Dario Mollo which I still haven’t finished after three years. We have three songs left that I haven’t gotten around to finishing. We wanted to do something new but the old stuff, say if we go out again, the problem is depending on which country we can use the name Alcatrazz in. There might be a problem, I know we can do it in Japan but I don’t know if we can play in the States as Alcatrazz?

Couldn’t you just call yourselves Alcatrazz 2007 or something like that?

Yeah, it can be done. As far as I’m concerned, Jimmy and Gary can go out and call themselves Alcatrazz, I don’t care. No problem, we were together in that band, I mean there’s like 3 different Beach Boys and all these bands sing the same music even though all these people wanted the originals in the band. They can go out and do that, I don’t care, we’l see who wins the competition.

It’s pretty funny that in the States especially there are different versions of these 80’s bands like L.A Guns?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean bands that were much more famous than Alcatrazz ever was went through that and I’m sure their lawsuits were much bigger and had more problems. We were like an underground band. People knew about us but only like hardcore fans knew about Alcatrazz, everybody else was into Van Halen or whatever. We were somewhere but we were down here somewhere. We had fans but we weren’t that big, so who the hell cares who is in Alcatrazz now? It’s not like Steve Vai has called me up telling me I can’t do that or Yngwie or Danny Johnson. They don’t care so why do these other people care? We were together 20 years ago and Alcatrazz means nothing now. Obviously the reason we did it was to create some interest and to get people to see what it was.

During all these years have you been in contact with Yngwie?

Yeah about four years ago, he called me and we were going to do a show in Japan, just one show to do some songs from the album we were both on. And this was going to be for a hell of a lot of money, I mean It was like a million US dollars for one show! I said, what?? Are you sure?? His wife who is his kind of manager, said oh no, he doesn’t need this and he doesn’t need to be with your band anymore. She said it’s not enough money because he can make a million dollars for just walking down the street! [laughs] She said that, Yngwie never said that. He told me it would be fun and he wanted to do it. So that was nixed by his wife because she’ on this high horse and hey, money doesn’t last forever, his bills are bigger than mine. He needs, everybody needs to keep working or else you could lose everything.

I met him last year and I asked him about doing some shows with Alcatrazz again and he said that everything is possible?

Exactly! I would play again with him any day. We are not enemies. We came in and met like all families do, we fight and we get fed up with each other and you see each other every day and it’s like what can we do to make the day interesting, I know, let’s have a fight! That’ all gone now, it’s water under the bridge, way yesterday. He and I can speak just like this and it’s no big deal. He’s got a great career for himself and he’s done very well and I’m proud of it. And he deserves it because he’s one of the best guitar players in the fucking world! We were very lucky to have him in our band when we formed. He has never lost it as far as I know.

As for Joe, it’s a different story…

Oh, you asked him about Yngwie? They didn’t get on good? It wasn’t the same on me then. Do you know that they just did a show in Russia together? I actually got an email about it but I thought it was a joke. Some guy e-mailed me and said he had lots of money and it would be great if I and Yngwie could do a show together, and Joe ended up doing it. But he said we could come over and play at a party or something. I didn’t believe it, it was just some guy telling us he wanted us to play for like 50 people or something. I don’t know if it was a birthday party or what. I turned it down because I thought it was rubbish, I thought it would some stupid email. Then Joe comes back and tells me they bought him a white gold Rolex watch and they paid him an unbelievable amount. He stayed in a great hotel, and I said shit I turned that down?? I couldn’t believe it. I asked him if he does it again please tell him I would do it ” Laughs”

New Alcatrazz: Howie Simon, Graham, Tim Luce and Glen Sobel


Another thing you have been doing lately is the Taz Taylor Band.  You just finished a tour with in the UK, right?

Yeah we were over there for a month with him to promote his album which I helped write. It’s a much lighter album. It’s kind of semi-hemi rock, it’s slightly lighter. He plays very, very well. So yeah we were over there for about a month just playing all those horrible rock clubs in England, you know those ones you don’t even want to take a piss in, let alone play in. You know what I mean? But they were good nights even though the places were horrible and dirty.

Do you think you will continue working with Taz in the future?

Maybe, he said he wants to go Japan with me sometime. Some promoters from Russia have been in touch with him already and emailed him to see if he will play there as well? Just before I came here he was talking about it and he was thinking that maybe there will be some shows in Russia on this fall?

Do you have plans to do some touring with Electric Zoo?

Well, that hasn’t happened yet because I haven’t finished the album. We still have two tracks to finish.

So you haven’t played live with Dario?

I did years ago, but I won’t again until the album is finished.

How did you get in contact with him originally?

It came through Don Airey. I played with him doing a Don Airey/Graham Bonnet band. Dario was playing with us and after Don got the Deep Purple job, he got in touch with me and we went out with Electric Zoo and did some stuff together. That’s s how that worked out.

Graham alive in Tampere 2007


Another old band of yours is MSG. Michael has lately been on headlines a lot, have you seen the latest ones?

I know he cancelled just about every gig and tour because, talking about Taz, we were supposed to open up for Michael but that was cancelled. Then I was supposed to do a tour with him about a year ago but that was cancelled. I wrote a song called ‘TALES OF ROCK’N ROLL but he changed the name but anyway he asked me to write that track but then he changed the title so I wouldn’t look like the star on the album. So, I was supposed to go out to do that one song on tour with him wherever he was going and it was all cancelled too.

Wasn’t there also supposed to be some acoustic thing in the States?

Yeah, it was. I don’t know what’s wrong with him, I don’t know what happened?

Back in the 1980s when you played with him, was he same kind of person back then I mean was there lot’s of surprises then as well?

Well, yeah. But we all had surprises and we all screwed up in that band, we were all doing too much drinking and whatever. But yeah, he very much kept to himself and he would never come out of his room.

So is it just the same old story?

Yes, it is. I’ve heard that he has fell off stage and all sorts of things. I think it’s just from boozing heavily. He was off drinking for a couple of years but now he has a gut again. I went to a rehearsal a few years ago and he was looking a bit heavy. I don’t want to put him down and say bad things about him because I think his playing is immaculate and I think he’s as good as he ever was.

You joined MSG after you had released your first actual solo album LINE UP in 1981. That album was quite successful, how did you actually ended up in MSG after all?

What happened after LINE UP I can’t remember. I think I was going to somewhere else but then this Cozy Powell wanted me to see them play at a country club at LA and he asked me about the band and I thought it was great so he asked me to be in the band. He said they were firing Gary Barden and I couldn’t understand why and he said they would rather have me! Like a week later I got a cassette tape in the mail saying these are for you, please listen and start thinking about melodies. And I was in. I felt sorry for Gary, I just didn’t see why they wanted to get rid of them and why they told him to go. Later on he came back because I screwed up.

Your last show with MSG was in Sheffield Polytechnic (26’t August) in 1982 and everything went completely wrong then. What kind of memories you have from that show?

(Laughing uneasily) Well, Cozy Powell got me the job with MSG and Cozy and I rehearsed with MSG in London for about a month or so and then there was this big fight between Michael and Cozy. Cozy left and Ted McKenna came in and we made the album in France and then we went out on our first gig, a place in Sheffield, a University I think. I had to learn all of these songs which, I didn’t know at all, from the other Michael Schenker albums so I had a whole bunch of paper on the stage, it was like wallpaper, one big long sheet of writing. The stage was really low, I will never forget it, and I am so embarrassed about the whole thing. I mean, the stage was about a foot off of the ground and the audience was leaning against the monitors and everything and of course by the monitors were these words and with all of the pushing against the monitors into the paper all the words crinkled up and I started to get really pissed off about it. Oh god (sighs), unfortunately my parents were there! Yeah, the zipper came undone and out “he” came. Of course I made it part of the act! (laughs) But, other things had evolved that night as well. I had been out, we all had been out, that day at the pub and having fun and it was, it was a drunken night basically. I am not ashamed to admit it because I think that everyone knows about it already. I kind of waved it around and tried to make it into some kind of a puppet show but it was awful, one of the worst days of my life I think. After that happened I was of course booed off the stage because I started swearing at the audience. I went down stairs to the dressing room and one of the roadie guys, he came and got hold of me and said, “You better get out of the building fast because they are going to fucking kill ya!” (laughs) He drove me back to the hotel and the next morning I got a phone call to say that I had better get out of town real quick and so I got on the train back to London and at Kings Cross Station my manager was there to meet me. He said, “Graham, they have fired you.” In a couple of days we had the Donington gig and I said, “I can do it.” And he said, “Yeah, but they don’t think that you can.” It was just one of those bad days and whatever you have read about it was pretty much the truth. I was very honest about it because I was so embarrassed and I thought that I had better tell the truth.

Graham, Chris Glenn, Michael Schenker and Ted McKenna in 1983


How about band Forcefield, tell some more about that project?

Forcefield was just a studio band. I just got some demos from England from a whole bunch of people and some of it was very poppy with a lot of keyboards. I knew Cozy was doing it and he just said “You’l get this much money so would you like to do it?” I said “Yeah”. It was a pleasant change to do some pop music.

Do you have any idea how those albums did sell then?

I don’t know, I never actually any saw any money from it. I got paid for my session time but I got no royalties. That was just a studio band and we never went out on the road because Cozy was always doing something at the time.

You and Cozy had a really long history together in many bands. When did you two met in a fist place?

Yeah, we were friends for a long time. We first met in Rainbow but we knew each other before that. He was kind of fan of mine and I was a fan of his. I first heard him playing with the Donovan and I said “Fuck, who’s that drummer?”  That was really impressive. I remember that it was like magic to meet him. He was a fantastic person.



Is it true that when Ronnie James Dio left from the band Ritchie Blackmore asked from Roger Glover about you?

That’s absolutely true. Ritchie had seen Marbles in the past and he asked Roger what that Marbles singer is doing these days and that’s how they find me out.

So they knew Marbles but did you know Rainbow?

To be honest I had no clue about Rainbow I had never heard of them. Of course I knew Deep Purple and Ritchie’s name but I was never in to that music at that time. I was listening Beatles and stuff like that back then.

What songs you did on the audition. I know that ‘Mistreaded’ was one of the songs but did you do any other songs?

I only did “Mistreaded” and that was it.

What other memories you have from that audition. There were also many other good candidates there? 

I never saw anybody else because I was there alone with the band then. I knew that they tried many others before me but I didn’t saw anyone else. The audition was very brief. I only did that one song and right after they asked if I wanted the job “Laughs”and I said “I have to think about it”because I wasn’t completely sure if I really wanted to do it or not but I’m glad I did.

How Rainbow fans reacted when your name was announced on the first time. I mean your style overall is a complete opposite for Ronnie James Dio?

Of course it was confusing for the fans when all the other guys had long hair, black clothes and everything and I had a short hair and my own very different style to them. But actually fans accepted me very well when they heard me singing and I never had real problems with that.

How about singing the old stuff, how familiar you were with stuff like “Tarot Woman” or “Long Live Rock’n Roll”?

I’ve never had problems to learn songs by someone else “Laughs”

The album DOWN TO EARTH was musically a way more commercial than the older Rainbow stuff. Was that happening in purpose or was it more like a natural evolution with the band?

That was a decision what band had actually done before I joined. It’s true that the material on DOWN TO EARTH is more pop compared to older stuff but that was an obvious choice because we wanted to be on radio and sell records and I think we succeed very well with that?

How much you took part on the song writing process in Rainbow?

Actually I never wrote too much with Ritchie. It was Roger and him who mostly wrote all the music and then they gave it for me and I started to work lyrics and melodies. I always did something like four different versions of each song and then we, usually Ritchie, decided together which take was the best one.

You did a lot of touring with Rainbow. What are the best and worst memories from those tours?

The best must be the Donnington show which unfortunately was the last show also. The atmosphere was amazing, we were playing in the front of 100 000 people and it was really emotional moment because at the same time it was Cozy’s last show with Rainbow.

Is it true that prior his departure he signed his name like ex-Rainbow Cozy Powell ?

Well I’m not sure but that sounds pretty much like him “Laughs”

Would you say that serious problems within the band started when Cozy Powell announced that he was leaving the band?

That’s true. Don Airey was also leaving on the same time and I was like begging them to stay because we three were always hanging together and we were very close friends.

After you were done with Rainbow there were rumors that you were going to join Black Sabbath. Is there any truth behind that story?

Yeah, I actually got a call from their management and I kind of went …Huh? I was never a big Black Sabbath fan and I thought well… I don’t know it just didn’t seem right. Then Dio joined them and they had three pretty good albums, Ronnie made that band better I think. I was never a Black Sabbath fan, sorry. So I turned it down which was probably a mistake because I had nothing else lined up and it probably would have been a good idea for me to give it a chance. I just didn’t like their music very much but when Ronnie did it they changed and I liked their music more.

Ritchie Blackmore, Roger Glover, Don Airey, Cozy Powell and Graham in1980


Your latest solo album came out in the late nineties and it was called THE DAY I WENTR MAD. You have some really interesting names like Bruce Kulick, Slash and Vivian Campbell there. How did get all those guys to play on that album?

The guy (Kevin Valentine) who produced it was the drummer for Cinderella and Kiss. So he got Bruce to come along and the bass player from Vanilla Fudge and Vivian Campbell from that one band’s what was it? Def Leppard. Kevin also came along with Slash and I can’t remember if Don Airey did anything? No he didn’t. There was a guy called John Thomas who played some keyboards but yeah it was a nice mixture of very good musicians. Yeah, I kind of wrote all the songs and taught them to them and that’s how it went.

To be honest, I think that Kevin wanted them on for the money, to get more people interested in the album. So it was kind of like a business ploy. I’ve been out of the business for a while and I’ve kind of been forgotten and that’s what it’s like in rock n’ roll. That’s why I wanted to write a solo album instead of being some guy in someone else’s band. And that was the last solo thing I did, I haven’t done anything since. But after the Alcatrazz thing I maybe want to do the same thing again, another Graham album. Saying I’m still here, I’m still Graham Bonnet and this is what I do. I really should have kept on going making an album a year but I’m kind of lazy. I just sit around until I hear that someone wants me for a session. But it’s a lot of work doing a solo album, got to write all the lyrics all the music and arrange it. I always record vocals a home but I would like to do another solo album once the Alcatrazz thing is done. I’ve already spoken to the guys about an album and I could talk to the other guys too.

Do you now have a record deal for Alcatrazz or solo album?

No, it’s hard because record companies aren’t interested in this type of music anymore. They want hip-hop and stuff like that. It’s terrible. You can’t even get your foot in the door. They say no way, we’ve heard that before. But there is an audience for it, from 18 to 70-year old. Those people who are over 40, where is their music now? They can’t go out and hear they’re music. I’m not saying it has to be old music, but the style of power/rock stuff isn’t there anymore. It’s sad, it shouldn’t happen. Everything has changed so much; it’s a strange world now. People are just making albums with ProTools and these bands are just popping up all over the place. It’s incredible and they’re making more money than people who have been around for years and are struggling. You get old, you aren’t dead but you’re playing the same music and you get forgotten. It’s very sad. Nobody forgot about Frank Sinatra, that guy had a career that just kept on going until he died. Nobody forgot him and said he’s too old. Go to Capitol Records and they’ll laugh at you.

That’s unfortunately true but although older bands don’t sell too many albums anymore they still do sell a lot of concert tickets. That’s still something, isn’t it?

Yeah, that’s they way it is. I would like to get a band established that was always together where no one left and it was a unit. Not like all these different Alcatrazz 1, 2, A, B, or whatever the band may be. If it was all the same people the fans can identify and know what it’s going to sound like. I know it’s late in my life but I’m still the same guy with the same music and I know there are people who like that music. I’ve signed autographs for little kids who are like 10 years old who say “We love you Mr. Bonnet” Why? How can you know me? “Mommy and Daddy play your albums all the time. You know there’s a different generation now. My son in 25 years old and I thought he was going to hate all my music. When his friends come to the house, he plays my music. I ask him why and he says my friends love it! I’m so surprised at that because I didn’t  like my mom and dad’s music when I was a kid. But it’s not mom and dad’s music if you now what I mean? It’s only rock n’ roll and it’s always going to be alive…

There was this rule in the 1970’s that if you like the same music as your parents, there’s something wrong. Some things have changed?

You always had to do the opposite to mom and dad. They thought the music I listened was nasty. They said Bob Dylan can’t sing, and I said “Just listen to what he’s saying”

Speaking more about your solo career;LINE UP was released in 1981 but before that you had released a bunch of solos albums, right?

Yeah that was a lot of different kind of music, I ended up doing some R & B and even some pop songs. But I love R & B, I love that music. I would love to do some more of that stuff one day. Blues and R & B is kind of my roots, when I was a kid I was singing the blues at pubs in England. That’s how I started, singing Bob Dylan tunes and all kinds of weird stuff.

There is one really interesting guy who does play on you 70�s albums and he is Mickey Moody who later on became known about his work on Whitesnake. How did you two started to work together in a first place?

Yeah, actually I played with him again on tour a couple years ago. I played this show in a small town where this guy puts up a tent and invites all his friends from the scene. You name them and they’re there. Yeah I played with Micky Moody. He played a lot on my 1970’s records. He was in a band called Snafu and his management was my management and I was introduced to him and he played on the album. Before Micky was in Whitesnake he was in this band Snafu and punk band called Penetration before I joined. There was a whole bunch of good musicians and Snafu is a joke on Status Quo. Snafu means the opposite of Status Quo so that was kind of funny, and that’s how I met him. He was working with a guy called Bob Young who did all the lyrics. Micky wrote the music and Bob did the words.

Ok, one final question. You have already mostly answered this but in brief, what will happen in the world of Graham Bonnet in the next couple of years?

Well, I’ll be a lot older! In three years I’ll be 63! I’m just waiting to get a cool wheelchair.

So does that mean that you have plans to retire?

No fucking way. I feel the same as I did when I was 18. I haven’t changed at all and I�m still the same person just with a different shell. On the inside I’m still the same Graham who is stupid, loves music, but hates the business. But I love the money, when it comes to me. I’m going to keep going until someone tells me I can’t sing anymore. Then I’ll start to write songs with whomever.

Ok Graham, see you later.






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