INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Graham Bonnet is an English rock vocalist and songwriter who started a music career in the late ’60s with the band Marbles. Bonnet is best known for his brief career in Rainbow, with whom he recorded the classic album DOWN TO EARTH in 1979. In 1982 Bonnet recorded the album ASSAULT ATTACK with Michael Schenker Group. Later on, he has recorded and performed as a solo artist; he led the band Alcatrazz and worked on numerous projects, including Moonstone Project, Anthem, and Lyraka. Bonnet has been a regular visitor in Finland for the past ten years and this year made no exception here. I was able to catch the man in late March in Helsinki, and here are the results of our exciting discussion. Read on!
THE LATEST IN BRIEF
Okay, Graham. It’s been like five years since we did talk last time, so, in brief, what have you been up to since then?
Well, since then, I’ve been on the road with Alcatrazz, with my band. We’ve been to Russia, we’ve been to Prague. We’ve been around. We played Los Angeles. We did the House of Blues, Ventura Theater, a few things like that. So we’ve played quite a lot with my band at home. So now, it’s time to back and try to start recording again when I go home and get some new stuff done. But I have an album to do with a project that’s called Lyraka that’s like a rock-opera kind of a thing, with all different singers. There’s a girl on it called Veronica Freeman who’s from a band called Benedictum. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them. Have you heard of that band?
We’re going to do, like, a duet together, me and her, and — who else is on this? Ah, Mark Boals, he’s doing something. And I’m not quite sure who else. There are a few singers, but they want me to write some of the tunes as well a little bit with this album, but we’ll see what happens with it. It’s kind of a project at the moment. They want to make it into a movie, but I don’t know if it will get that far. I don’t know. I can only make sure — you know what I mean? So we’ll see. But I have a lot of work to do. I want to do some solo stuff, which I’ve written already, and also want to do some new stuff with Alcatrazz. But it’s a matter of getting the time to do that because we’re always out playing. We can’t get into the studio at the same time. So, like, the old days where everybody went to rehearse — now it’s pro tools and “here’s my part” you e-mail, and so forth.
You have been a regular visitor here for the last ten years, and you’ve toured in Finland like four or five times already?
You always use mainly the same backing band when you’re touring here. How did your cooperation start with Daffy and the guys in the first place?
Well, we were going to do that a long time ago when I first came over here. I got a phone call from Daffy. He said, “Would you be interested in coming over here to play? You’ve never been to Finland before.” I said, “No.” He said, “Would you like to come over and play your tunes and do something like that?” We were going to do, sort of take some recordings from live and maybe do some new stuff, but we never got around to it. Again, those guys, they all play in different bands too. Nothing is set in stone anymore. It’s so hard for musicians just to get together and do something seriously. It’s all in bits. “Oh yeah, we’ve going to do this, we’ve going to do that.” But then it goes, “Huh?” It never happens, you know, because it’s not like it was 20 years ago. When it was a band, it was a band. Everybody I know plays in about five different bands in Los Angeles. Nobody is in one band anymore.
Yeah, you have to make money for a living.
That’s it, and the way it is now unless you’re Metallica or something — whatever — Aerosmith or something like that, then you’re okay, you’re set. But when you’re a band that isn’t as well-known, it’s very, very hard. Many of my friends are suffering terribly because they play twice a year or something or play for nothing. Just to play, and times have changed. So that’s why that became disallowed. Nothing happened. You know, we were going to do — we had some songs. Daffy sent me some songs and but we never got around it.
In 2008 you did a tour in Finland with Joe Lynn Turner. Is it entirely out of the question that you would do something together with him in the future?
Oh, we did a few gigs together, but that’s all. I have no idea what he’s doing now. I haven’t spoken to him for about three years.
I was waiting for some release from you, like a live album or something, but it isn’t going to happen, right?
I don’t know. No. Not as far as I know, because he is doing his own thing.
You mentioned that you’re working on a new solo, and it’s really about time because it’s already been 11 years since the previous one, THE DAY I WENT MAD, was released.
I know, and it’s about time to do something else. And that’s what I want to do. I’ve been talking to a lot of people, my friends, musician friends, who’ve got nothing to do with Alcatrazz and do something a little bit different. Play some R&B and maybe even more different things, you know? But I’ve made up all this new stuff out for Alcatrazz; we’ve been writing together. The other guys have got some tunes, and I have, and also I’ve written some songs for my own thing. But, again, it’s a matter of when we can do that because we need to go out and keep playing. It’s so different these days. As I said, everything is done by e-mail. A band doesn’t get to rent a band room anymore and rehearse. It’s all “here’s my bit, here’s your bit.”
Graham and band: Live at Virgin Oil, Helsinki 2012
Are you still working with Taz Taylor Band as well?
No. That was a project which turned into a tour, which was quite a long tour. We did some stuff in England and Europe, and that was it. I wrote the tunes thinking it was just going to be an album, and it turned into being almost like a band. He wanted me to do something else, but I really didn’t want to. I wanted to get back with my own band, which I had done for a while. I had never used the name Alcatrazz for a while, so I thought I would use the name Alcatrazz again, and it will get more interest rather than just calling it my own band, the Graham Bonnet Band, or whatever. So we found out that by using the name again, it got a little bit of interest. After all, I wrote all the tunes with Steve or with Yngwie, you know. So that was okay, but it caused a bit of an argument between the rest of the band, the old guys, the guys who used to be with me, and I thought I would be in deep trouble. But it doesn’t matter. You know there were about six Alcatraz’s — zz, zz — in the — that I knew of. There are two or three in the States. I know there’s one in England –all over the place.
There’s one that is spelled with “k.” It’s a disco band “laughs.”
Yeah, it’s a different kind of thing. But some of them are actually making the Alcatrazz music, like a cover thing, you know. So we’ve gotten over that hurdle. So now I just use the name Alcatrazz just because it causes a little bit of interest — “Oh, I wonder what they’re doing now.” So we just have to get something new out before we just die because we have to have something new.
Did I read that you now have Bobby Rock (ex-Vinnie Vincent Invasion, Nelson) playing drums for Alcatrazz, right?
Yeah, he’s with us now.
Who else is in the band now?
We had Glen Sobel, but Glen went off with —
— Alice Cooper’s job, and it was a good tour. With Alcatrazz, we were playing very sporadically. It was like, you know, two gigs this month, no gigs next month, and Alice offered him a good tour and, you know, good for him. I’m happy for him, and he’s a great drummer. I love playing with him, he’s really good, and we got on well, but he is off in a very nice job. So I can’t blame him. If Alice Cooper asked me to sing backup vocals, I would do it.
But who else is in the band now?
It’s just me, Howie Simon and Tim Luca playing bass and of course Bobby Rock playing drums.
Like you said before, some of the original Alcatrazz members didn’t like your idea to start a new incarnation of Alcatrazz without them. If I remember correctly, Gary Shea, Jan Uvena, and Jimmy Waldo announced that they’re going to form another version of the band on their own. Is that thing still going on at any level?
No, I don’t think so. As far as I know, Jimmy is just working in the studio doing programming or engineering or something. I’m not sure what he’s doing because I don’t keep in touch with those guys. Gary doesn’t even live in California anymore. Jan Uvena, our old drummer, moved back to the East Coast, so he’s back in New York kind of thing. So it’s all — as far as I know, they’re doing nothing. I don’t know. I don’t keep in touch with them.
Did Yngwie ever say any comment about this new Alcatrazz version when it first came out?
No. He doesn’t care. And Steve Vai doesn’t care. I’ve spoken to Steve. Steve’s written a new song that I still haven’t recorded. He wrote a thing, and he wanted to do a one-off thing, one song, with me. That was about two years ago, and I still haven’t done that either. So that’s another thing I’m way behind with. A lot of what I do at home is a lot of sessions. People ask me to do a guest thing, and it pays very well. I don’t have to go anywhere. I don’t ever get jet lag like this. It’s kind of cool to get paid and sit in my house and sing in my studio and [sings note], which is very nice.
LYRAKA AND OTHER PROJECTS
You already mentioned the Lyraka project, but would you tell me something more about it?
Yeah, it’s very strange and very different, but I’ll leave it at that. You know, they want to make a movie, but I don’t see that happening. You never know. I don’t know. As I say, I do these sessions, and I couldn’t sing you the songs now if you asked me to. I can’t remember because it’s a session.
Have you read the reviews from that album because it has received mixed feedback from the press?
The Lyraka thing? Well, some people like it and, you know, so that’s fine with me. It’s not my baby; it’s their baby. If it works for them, that’s good. But as I’ve said, once I have done the session, I usually put it out of my mind, even my own sessions, as I’ve said. But some people have given it a good review, so hey, it’s okay. You never know: with some things you think something’s really good sometimes, “That’s it, that’s it” and it just goes [splatter sound], and something you think is okay, on an OK level, and they do, eh, not very good, then you do something that’s probably really bad, and it really takes off. I’m not saying this is bad, but you never know.
Do you have any plans to make live shows with Lyraka?
I don’t know what’s going to happen. They don’t know either because, at the moment, it’s in the baby stages. So as I said, they want to make it into a movie where they want to do speaking parts as well. Things like that, this is their plan, but I don’t know whether it will come to that. It takes a lot of money and a lot of work, and a lot of time. That would take forever.
And someone has to buy the idea.
Yeah, somebody has to say, “That’s good, we’ll go with that.” But who knows. It would be nice for them if it did happen, but we’ll see.
The most amazing thing about Lyraka is the cover art, which legendary artist Ken Kelly creates.
Yeah, the cover’s really good. That was that. I covered the rest “laughs.”
Right then, there’s another interesting and a bit strange project, in my opinion, is called J21 and the album BLUE MIND album. Would you tell me something more about it?
Is it the one with a black and white cover?
Yeah, oh my God… I can’t even remember doing it. It’s so long ago. I don’t know, yeah, somebody else said the same thing, “That was a strange thing for you to do.” That was a session. It was a one-off, you know. I’ve done so many sessions I can’t remember.
It’s a really strange album with ten tracks, and you’re signing, like, on three tracks. It’s like three instrumentals, then you’re signing one, three instrumentals, one signing track, and it’s an out-of-space album.
Sort of like industrial rock, whatever. Weird sounds on it?
I would say it sounds like a “space rock”? “laughs.”
Yeah, I remember, but I’ve forgotten it “laughs.”
Maybe that’s a good thing, “laughs.”
No, it might have been okay. Well, I don’t know. I can’t even remember the songs or anything. As I said, I’ve done so many sessions, I do them, and then I forget them. It’s like when I don’t record my own stuff, I forget them. That’s why I’m looking for words today to this song that I’ve sung for a while. “What are the words? What are they?” You do it so much, you record. That’s the last time I want to hear that song, you know.
“I got paid, thank you.”
“Thank you. Good night.”
A little bit more about the other projects you have: there’s the Moonstone Project thing?
That was a long time ago. How many years ago was that? Five years ago? Yeah, it was something like that, but yeah, that was cool. That was quite enjoyable, I seem to remember, but ask me to sing it now and I can’t.
“Ask me the name of the song. I can’t remember?”
Yeah, as I said, I do so many sessions, I forget titles. Do you know what I mean? It is like, “Where are we? Which album?”
OVER THE RAINBOW AND OTHER THINGS IN LIFE
There’s not too much going on with Rainbow nowadays. Still, there was a DOWN TO EARTH album deluxe version released last year, and it did include some exciting bonus material like outtakes and unreleased versions of the songs. Were you involved with that project at all?
No. I haven’t even heard it, but I made sure that I got some money for it. I heard that they’re all outtakes and god-knows-what. I don’t know? Different versions and instrumental things and whatever. Somebody told me about it, and I’ve forgotten who now, but a friend told me, “Did you know this album is out this deluxe thing?” I said, “What?” So I got in touch immediately with the record company and said, “Where is my bit? Where is my money then?” So I got a bit of money for that because I knew nothing about it. Nobody ever told it. I spoke to Don, Don Airey, about it. He said, “Yeah, get onto them. Find out what’s going on.”
I think it was a decent release and the bonus material was quite interesting.
Yeah, and it makes it more human; you see all the mistakes and the wrong, you know what I mean? I like things like that.
As everyone knows, Ronnie James Dio, who you did replace in Rainbow in 1979, sadly passed away in 2010. I do know that you didn’t work too much with him, but when was the last time you did something together with Ronnie or meet him?
The last thing I did with him was an interview with the BBC in England. We were in a hotel in Hollywood. That was — God — it must be ten years ago or something like that, and that was the last time I saw him. But his wife, Wendy, was our manager for a while, Alcatrazz, so Ronnie; I got along with him very well. He was a good guy, and when it happened, I couldn’t believe it; I just couldn’t believe it. I’ve been losing so many of my friends: Gary, Moore, and Doug Fieger from the Knack. All these guys that I knew well, and suddenly they’re all going. Tony Iommi’s real sick, and my friend Robin Gibb has liver cancer, you know? They’re all too young to — I don’t want to lose any more friends. I’ve lost so many over the past two years. It’s been like, “Geez, is it me next?” It makes you wonder about your mortality sometimes because these guys are way too young to go.
I knew Gary. He did quite a bit of “this,” and that’s what killed him. Finally, he was poisoned by that damn stuff. That’s why I stopped drinking. I stopped drinking eight years ago because it was doing that to me. Every day, I was drinking from morning till night, you know. When my kids are dragging me by my legs because I’ve fallen over on the floor, drag me to my bed. My ex-wife — I’m now divorced — my ex-wife says, “yeah, that’s your dad,” I turned around. I went to Alcoholics Anonymous, and I’ve been clean for eight years. It was hard.
I can only imagine that…
Because “Is this the best I’m going to feel all day,” you know. “I want to feel better than this.” But yeah, I hope that Robin is going to come through. I wrote to Barry Gibb about two weeks ago and said that Robin is still in kind of denial about his liver cancer, but the treatment apparently is working very well, and he’s feeling much better. So I’m hoping that — you know, I’ve known that guy since I was — you know, the BeeGees, I was a twenty-year-old.
Have you been in touch with Jon Lord? Is he also having a “situation” going on?
Jon, I did write to him and his manager, I think wrote me back because he’s — I don’t know. He just didn’t want to talk about it, so his manager wrote me back to say, “He’s doing alright. Don’t worry.” That was kind of it: a very short e-mail. So I don’t know what’s happening.
Only very few know what’s going on there.
I know. It’s horrible.
Horrible things like that, do those make you afraid or think more about how to live your life?
Well, yeah, it makes me afraid, but I’m not ready to go anywhere yet. I feel pretty healthy; I’m glad to say. I don’t — I’m a vegetarian. I cycle every day and all that kind of thing. I try to keep healthy. But you never know. There might be something in there creeping around my body that’s going to catch me one of these days. I don’t know.
You’re going to be 65 years old next December. Have you already been thinking about retiring?
Is it time to retire? No! “laughs.”
MICHAEL SCHENKER AND MORE ABOUT NEXT SOLO ALBUM
There’s been not much going on with you and Michael Schenker since the TALES OF ROCK’N ROLL album, which came out in 2007, right?
I do remember that you were supposed to do an acoustic tour with him in the States, but it never happened. Why?
Well, lots of things never happened with him. You can never rely on Michael. You never know what he’s going to do. Sometimes he just goes into another world. He has great ideas; he comes up with “he must do this, he must do that,” and then you call him up next week: “Are we going to do that, then?” “Uh, I don’t think so. I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t know what I want to do.” Sometimes Michael is playing — I think he was playing in L.A. a while back, and he just didn’t finish his show. He just went — put the guitar down, “Bye-bye. See you later.” He’s — I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him in probably four years, so he’s a strange character sometimes. I’m not quite sure why but he just sort of gets an idea and just lets it go; he doesn’t take it anywhere. I don’t know why. He’s just Michael. But I like him, and I love Michael’s play. I like the guy very much.
Did you know that he’s currently touring under the title Michael Schenker and the Temple of Rock? And he’s now on tour in the States with Robin McAuley, and in Europe, he has Doogie White on vocals.
Oh, Doogie. I knew Doogie was doing that, yeah.
It would be great if you could also do something with him again?
I would love to do something with him. But he asked me to write one song for that album, TALES OF ROCK’N ROLL. He said, Can you write the title song?” So I told him, “This is kind of a corny title. TALES OF ROCK’N ROLL, so I did write the tune. They edited the title down to just “Rock and Roll” because for the other singers, it didn’t seem quite right that I should have the lead track, so to speak, so my song being the name of the album… so… But I remember Michael calling me back after he heard it. He called me up every day to say how much he liked it. He said, “I didn’t like it at first, but now I listen to it again, again, again. I love it.” So I was very pleased about it. I thought it would go further, but it didn’t. I would love to do something with him again; it’d be great. Hopefully, when it comes around to — hopefully if I’m still walking — making my own album, I’d like to have some guest players.
Yeah, you already mentioned that Steve Vai will be on it but do you have any idea about the other guests yet?
Well, Steve’s written a song already, and Jennifer — you know Jennifer Batten?
And with Jennifer and — God, who else?
Yngwie Malmsteen? “laughs”
Yngwie? Nah, Yngwie would never do that. He’s too much — he’s got his own career going. He doesn’t mingle with other musicians anymore very much. He’s got a good thing going for himself, so he’s fine.
How about another former Alcatrazz guitarist Danny Johnson with who you did work on your UNDERGROUND album?
Yeah, Danny, you know I haven’t spoken to him — I don’t even know where he is? Danny’s a gypsy. He goes all over the place; I never know where he is. I haven’t seen him since — Goddamn — fifteen years or more. I don’t even know where he lives anymore. I think he lives in Shreveport in the Louisiana area?
THE NEXT STEP AND THE STATE OF MUSIC BUSINESS
What you’re going to do next after this Finland tour is done?
I think I might have a nice funeral and if you want to come, you can come, you’re invited.
Thank you, “laughs.”
I want a nice coffin. It’s got to be oak. Well, after this, I’m going to do my sessions and then hopefully get together with the guys in Alcatrazz and try to do — at least start — to do the new — I’ve got six songs. We’ve got six songs, really to go. It’s just a matter of are we going to do that or are we going possibly to England or maybe to Russia or maybe over into Europe again playing, but I don’t know?
Are you’re doing any festival dates in Europe?
Well, that’s why we were trying to get on the Sweden Rock thing, you know. This is the sixth time we’ve tried to get on it, and they’ve turned us down every damn time.
I don’t know?
Is it about money?
It’s mainly about money, yeah. As far as I know, we’ve been turned down, because I got an e-mail last week from my guitar player. He said, “Look at this shit.” And I read it, and it said we can’t do it this year, maybe sometime in the future. That was from Sweden, and it was like, “Oh, okay.” I knew what it was. It’s the money. It sucks; it really sucks.
I heard that Carmine Appice and the guys, but their old band King Kobra back together, and they did ask to play in Sweden Rock last year, but the offer was just ridiculous, and the organizer didn’t even pay the flights and…
Yeah, but what did they say, “Fuck you?” so you see you go home with, like, 200 bucks. That’s what happened, the same thing, to us. It was the same thing, the same thing. You don’t do that. You might as well stay at home. I get paid more for just doing sessions.
You can do things like that when you are in your early twenties.
Yeah, I mean if you’re a new band. Some of those guys play for nothing, but if you want to play on a bill with, say, Metallica or whomever, this gives them — you can see them. “Oh, we’re playing for Metallica,” you know. But, yeah, that’s the problem. It’s the same in England. It’s just so bad. Metallica was doing the Castle, you know the thing, and I tried to get on that this year as well, but they said to me, “If you have the new product” and we have a new product, but everybody is going out there doing all their old stuff because the crowd wants to see it because they know all the words. Karaoke, you know? So, again, it’s all about money. The whole business over the last four years has gone very, very bad. Nobody, nobody in the world has any money anymore. You don’t get a record deal anymore. You don’t get a big budget upfront, 100,000 bucks to go make an album. You make it at home. Everybody makes it at home, and then you see if you can sell it to somebody if they’re going to — one of my friends was asked to do an album for 1,000 bucks. A whole album! So how do you feed musicians? What musician is going to play for 20 bucks? Nobody, you know. If you want to get good musicians, it doesn’t work that way. 1,000 dollars to make an album, no way!
With that amount of money, you have to do everything by yourself. You have to get it printed for free and create cover art by yourself. I know because I have been playing with bands without labels.
I’ve done that. I’ve done the same thing. I wrapped things a few years ago, put them in the middle of cases, with the artwork and the blah, blah, blah, and sold them from home.
Or sell those in the shows.
Or sell those in the shows, exactly. That’s how you do it, and that’s the way to do it.
Our time is up now. Thanks for your time Graham!
No problem, and thank you.
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