INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
Graham Bonnet an English rock vocalist and songwriter. Bonnet’s musician career started already in the late ’60s with a band called The Marbles. Later on, he has recorded and performed as a solo artist and as a member of several bands, including Alcatrazz, Impellitteri, Blackthorne, Michael Schenker Group, and Rainbow. Currently, Bonnet sings in his new band called The Graham Bonnet Band. The band arrived in Finland in April, and then I sat down with Graham in Helsinki. We discussed various topics, including the new band, upcoming album releases, and re-connecting with Michael Schenker. Also, a few obligatory Rainbow questions were asked, including Bonnet’s opinion about the new Rainbow line-up. Read on!
First of all, I have to thank you for the great performances with your new band in Finland.
Graham Bonnet: Thank you, that’s very nice of you to say so. It’s was nice. It’s good to have a band that is like a family now, we’re friends, and we’re hanging out together and live together even. So it’s very cool to have a nice, relaxed feeling. I’ve been a lot of years sort of working with different bands, and we never really fit in. But this is something that really fits well, and I’m enjoying it very much.
THE GRAHAM BONNET BAND
You’ve been doing a lot of touring and released “Mirror Lies” single/video. What other plans you have with the band in the near future?
Graham Bonnet: We would want to go on tour, as we are obviously, we have, I think, about 10 or 11 new tracks, new songs. We have to arrange and put it together when we get back home, which will take a little while. But because everyone has to learn what I’ve got in my head, my parts, what I want to put in there arrangement wise. So that’s going to be interesting because it will turn around from being sort of an acoustic thing. We always write songs on an acoustic guitar, a turn-around from being that to electric. So it’s going to take a while to convert from one to the other. Obviously, we want to tour with the new songs, and that’s the plan.
Can you tell me something about the members of your band?
Graham Bonnet: Conrado Pesinato is our guitar player. He’s a Brazilian guy who I happened to jam with one night at The Whisky, with Beth-Ami, our bass player. We did some tunes at The Whisky, and I was invited to the launch to go and sing with their singer a couple of songs. I said this is good. This is good fun. At the time I was working with Howie Simon, we were sort of Alcatrazz but not anymore. We were playing all Alcatrazz stuff. I thought it would be a nice chance to play with different people and probably try different music styles. So we started off thinking, we’re going to do something acoustically. Eventually, we realized we probably couldn’t because people don’t even want to hear that. They were; what’s wrong with him? Why is he doing that? So we made it into a rock thing, we got a drummer in. We became a band, so to speak. So that’s where we’re at right now. So it’s kind of cool. We have Mark Zonder playing drums, which is really cool. Beth-Ami Heavenstone is on bass, Conrado Pesinato on guitar, and me sometimes on guitar if I feel like it.
Mark Zonder is really experienced drummer, and he’s been around a long time as well. But he’s always been a kind of heavy metal drummer. How does he like to play this kind of material that is quite different from his past work?
Graham Bonnet: As far as I know. He likes kind of everything, and he’s very encouraging. If I think some of this is a bit…, he says; no, we can do this. We can work it. So it sounds good. He’s a good band member, and he comes out with some great ideas as the other guys too. So he’s got good input.
It’s been quite a while since you have been working with a permanent band this way. How is it different to work this way instead of being a special guest or a session musician?
Graham Bonnet: It is refreshing, and it’s also a comfortable place for me to be; I love that. I just call somebody and say, what do you think about this? Play something on the phone or whatever. Can you come over? It’s very cool. I don’t have to go to another country to play with a guitar player or whatever. You can knock on the door and say; hey, hello. Come on in and then we can jam to it, just relax and just play it. It’s much better than doing things by mail.
NEW UPCOMING RELEASES
In a way, you now have a new spring in your career. The new album is on its way, and there are lots of other releases coming, including re-masters and some unreleased albums from your past. How this all came together?
Graham Bonnet: Our manager Giles helped me out a lot. He was a guy that researched everything I’ve ever recorded in my life and found albums from years ago that I thought were missing, and I’d never see them another day again. He sorted that out for me, and also, the guys in the band are behind everything I do, new songs, whatever it may be. So it encouraged me to kind of live on, as opposed to giving up like a lot of my friends have done already. So it is a sort of regeneration.
Can you say something about those soon-to-be-released “lost tapes” which will soon see the light of day?
Graham Bonnet: There was a solo album I made in 1975 with DJM Records in London. The company fired me, and they let me go because my album wasn’t going to do anything they thought. They had Elton John at the time, and they were working with him, so they pushed his stuff, and mine was kind of on the back shelf. So I recorded this album, and years later, I thought, I wonder what came of the reel-to-reel. So I got in touch with my own record producer, and he said; the office is closed down. The DJM Records doesn’t exist anymore. He said there is a small office. There is like a two-room office or something for DJM and apparently just disappeared. Dick James himself had died, and his son Steven apparently was out of the business too. So he said, we can’t find the reel-to-reel. But he found a cassette of the mixes. So we had it juiced up to get it to some guy who could fix every sound. It doesn’t sound too bad, considering it was just a little cassette tape. So they kind of brought up all the mids and whatever else, made it sound good.
There’s going to be a new release from Blackthorne as well. For those who don’t know, Blackthorne was a great “all-star band” Graham had with Bob Kulick, Frankie Banali, Jimmy Waldo, and Chuck Wright in the early ’90s. Would you tell me something more about that?
Graham Bonnet: Yeah. That’s apparently; there is going to be a re-issue of that stuff too. That will be coming out soon, I believe. I’m not quite sure when. But I know that is happening, yes. When?
Graham Bonnet: September, there you go. Those songs, I don’t even remember recording. Because we’ve recorded so many, some are demos; we did at Jimmy Waldo’s house, the keyboard player. He had a little studio, and we used to do demos just about every other day. There was always somebody writing a song. We came up with ideas ourselves. So I’d be surprised to hear what it is, apart from anything else.
I also heard that the album you recorded with Dario Mollo is finally released as well?
Graham Bonnet: Yeah, that’s another thing. We started that a long time ago, probably eight or 10 years maybe, maybe a bit less or more. I’m not sure, but it’s a while back, and now we are finishing it off finally!
As a fan, it’s going to be great to hear that stuff after all these years.
Graham Bonnet: Yeah. I don’t remember half of them; I really don’t. Because we’ve recorded so many, so many. Endless “Laughs”
It’s great that you are now more active, and you’re releasing a lot of new things, but how do you see the business part of it. Is there any real business left in the rock music world anymore?
Graham Bonnet: It’s very scary because nobody likes CDs anymore. Everything is downloaded, and everybody is listening to dance music, whatever the hell. It’s kind of; it’s bringing the dinosaur back to life again, I think sometimes. That’s why a lot of people have given up because no one is listening anymore. I’ve been fortunate enough to have different music styles throughout my career, and it hasn’t just been one heavy-hard rock kind of thing. A lot of the stuff that I did in the past was R&B and Pop. So I would like to return to do some more of that again, more R&B stuff or not, just straight screaming and yelling. But also have that there, but have a little bit of everything, as opposed to just one little section of what I like doing, what I like playing. So I’m hoping before I’m 2,000 years old to do that as much as possible. This is what I do, and it’s sometimes very taxing. But I get through it.
This might be a little odd question, but have you ever been thinking about giving up and retire? And I’m not saying that you should do it “Laughs.”
Graham Bonnet: I never thought about retirement because this is what I do. I don’t have a real job. I’ve got this pretend job called singing, which is all fake and silly. It’s a silly world; it’s not a real job. But it is a real job, but it isn’t if you know what I mean.
One great thing that has happened recently is that you shared a stage again with Michael Schenker. Tell me something more about that “reunion”?
Graham Bonnet: Yeah. We played together in Japan, my band and his band were playing in Japan. What we did was we did a couple of songs. I went on as a guest during their set. I did two songs with him, and it was kind of cool because suppose I were to stand on stage with him, really. In the past, I was fired the night I opened up with him in England because of an incident that went on. So it’s blood under the bridge now, so everything is okay. It was nice to smile across the stage too and go; it’s alright. He was happy to see me and likewise, being with him it’s really good. To do it again would be fantastic.
In fact, it’s going to happen quite soon because you’re going to be one of Michael’s guest vocalists at the Sweden Rock Festival in June. It’s going to be a one-off Michael Schenker Fest show featuring you, Gary Barden, and Robin McAuley singing. I’m really looking forward to that show. Do you know if that show is going to be filmed for future DVD etc., release?
Graham Bonnet: I hope so, yeah! Possibly. Who knows?
Manager: They’re filming it.
Graham Bonnet: There you go, they’re filming it. So there you go.
Your former Alcatrazz colleague Steve Vai is performing at the festival as well. Have you been in touch with him, and is there any chance that you might collaborate on something together in the future?
Graham Bonnet: I don’t know. I’ve been in touch with him, a couple of years ago I spoke to him. I emailed him, I should say. It took me a while to find him again, and I was just wondering if he had any new stuff. He sent me some songs; this must have been probably five years ago. Something I never worked on, I don’t even know where those songs are even anymore. Because he started to do it, he was touring all the time, and I couldn’t really get together with him. I haven’t seen him since he left the band, that’s been a long, long time. But possibly, there might be something happening along the line. I don’t know. I don’t know.
But we are not going to see you together on stage in Sweden Rock?
Graham Bonnet: I doubt it because otherwise, I would have the whole stage full of guest guitar players and whatever else. Because suddenly all Alcatrazz guitar players are moving around. I don’t know “Laughs.”
Now when you mentioned Alcatrazz, I heard a rumor that you might do a couple of shows with the band, and the line-up could include most of the band’s original members. Is there any truth behind the rumor?
Graham Bonnet: There might be a sort of a semi- Alcatrazz, but it’s not going to be a permanent thing. If we do something like that, it will be just like a one-off show or two or whatever. Where we all, our old friends. I haven’t seen them for years. It would be kind of cool to have as well on stage again one more time. So to speak. If anybody was interested in it, I hope so.
A few years ago, you had a big war of words with the other guys, but is it all sorted now?
Graham Bonnet: That’s all good now. We decided that they went out as Alcatrazz, I did. But I wrote the songs, and I think I have more claim on the name itself.
So you never went to the court?
Graham Bonnet: No. It didn’t get that serious. We didn’t want to do that.
Manager: But the Alcatrazz thing is something that is kind of planning, and we’ve been talking about it, and that will be sorted out within the next few months. It might not even happen at all. Who knows. It’s one of those things that it sounds like could be a good idea, but it’s just a matter of getting everybody together. It will work, I think.
We can’t finish this interview without a mention of Yngwie Malmsteen. Is there any news from that camp?
Graham Bonnet: No, I haven’t spoken to him since 1842. “Laughs” I mean nobody, he doesn’t… If Alcatrazz had to go back together, it wouldn’t be him playing guitar. That’s the truth, for one guest night. He would need a lot of money. We were going to do a show years ago, he and I about 15 years ago, 10-15 years ago. We were offered a lot of money for him and me to go and play an acoustic thing. Sort of acoustic thing in Japan. His wife popped her head up and said; no, you’re not doing that. It’s not a good move for Yngwie to do it. He doesn’t need you anymore, Graham, and gave me the finger. We were offered a lot of money, a ridiculous amount of money for the two of us to do a short tour in Japan, like three or four days. Because he was more excited about it than I was; yeah, it would be a great man. It didn’t happen. Whether he’d do anything with me now, I doubt it. Unless he’s searching for money, maybe. But the guy is a good player; he’s a great player. Underneath all that nastiness, there is a good person in there. But he sometimes got a little edgy with me and with the rest of the band. So now I think as he’s matured, I think probably his attitude has too. I think he’s grown up a lot.
Well, it seems that he’s not changed that much. If you have followed the news about how he has treated his band members and staff during recent years, you can think that he’s still having his old habits “Laughs.”
Graham Bonnet: Yes. It’s unnecessary, and it’s ridiculous. Because in the end, someone said; fuck you. We don’t want to have you hanging around. But that is something I wouldn’t want to happen to him because he’s a great talent. Underneath all that, you can’t deny it. He’s a great player.
Because we have now discussed your past bands, I have to ask something about Rainbow as well. Actually, today was the official release day of the LIVE AT DONINGTON 1980 DVD.
Graham Bonnet: Yeah, I know, yeah.
Have you seen the official release yet?
Graham Bonnet: I’ve seen the actual packaging. Have I seen the actual video itself? I’ve seen parts of the show, I’ve seen half an hour of the on show. It’s already out, yeah. Because I tried to get the whole show about 10 years ago. I called up the cameraman, and I got in touch with him. To try to find the actual two hours, where the hell it was, and his message was, that it’s gone. So there is only half an hour of that show left. So it is interesting to see what’s going to happen. I hope I’ll make some money from it. Because they’re going to a little bit of a problem now with Universal, they’re not paying up. I’ve been in touch with the office in New York, and there is just something going on business-wise, which is a bit iffy. I don’t understand it. But eventually, it’s all going to come good, I think. So none of the guys is getting paid at the moment, as far as I know.
I think that you’re not surprised about that…
Graham Bonnet: I know, I’m a bit surprised. It’s a wonderful business, isn’t it?
That’s the way it is nowadays. But going back to your time with Rainbow, what kind of memories it gives to you now?
Graham Bonnet: Great, very great. Because it was a turning point in my career, a completely different way to go musically, it’s surprising to me that the album did something that I sang on because I thought people wouldn’t like it. Because I wasn’t Ronnie Dio, I didn’t sing like him. Whatever it may be. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought the album would be done, and that will be it. I didn’t think it’s going to come up. But a huge tour came up around the world. It was like, I’ve never done this in my life. It was just an incredible time. I’ll never forget it, and I thank Ritchie for inviting me into the band; I can tell you that. Working with Roger Glover was amazing, great producer.
Do you have any particular memories from that Donington show?
Graham Bonnet: It was magical. It was a horrible night because Cozy was leaving the band. It was the last time he played with them, and it was the last night I played with him too. He threatened to leave when we were in his hotel room. All that afternoon, we’re saying, please don’t go. Don’t do this, and we’re having too much fun. He said I’m going to make a lot more money than this. He had another offer up in the works, and so… The music goes out the window, and you see the money right in front of your face. But it was an amazing night, and I will never, ever forget. My whole family was there, and all my friends were there in the audience somewhere. It was a surprise for the people that put the show on, they were expecting probably about 8,000 people, and they turned into 80 to 100,000, which was amazing because it has never been done before. It was a brand new concept, we tried doing that thing, and we formed up a show. It was amazing.
Because you have now finally buried the hatchet with Michael Schenker, would you like to do the same with Ritchie Blackmore?
Graham Bonnet: I’d like to, but he’s not very outgoing. He’s a little…. He’s probably shy, and he’s like me. I’m terrible, too; I never keep up with my friends. I’m kind of anti-social in a way, and I think he is too. He’s one of those people that wouldn’t sign autographs when people are in the hotel lobby. People would think he was stuck up, but what it is; he just thought signing autographs was silly. Why do you want my signature? What for? What good is it to you? That’s how he felt; he’s a very shy person. He has very few friends, and I happen to be one of them, but he hasn’t spoken to me for 30 years. So there you go, and I haven’t spoken to him… I try to find him. I’d love to get his telephone number and just get through to him.
To do that, you need to find his wife’s number first. “he laughs.”
Graham Bonnet: I think so; it’s kind of confusing for me. I don’t know what’s going on, but I know him. I know what he’s like.
MORE ABOUT RAINBOW
One of this year’s most talked-about events of the rock world is the return of Rainbow. Or at least sort of return when the band will play a couple of shows in the upcoming summer. What do you think about the new Rainbow line-up?
Graham Bonnet: It is not Rainbow; it isn’t. It’s just Ritchie Blackmore and guys. But I think what he’s doing is he’s testing the water probably for later, to see if he can put the old band together with whoever? Whether it will be Joe Lynn Turner or Doogie White or whatever. But I don’t see that actually happening because I think Don Airey is playing with Deep Purple right now and 12 other bands he’s in. if it was a lot of money, a lot of money upfront. I think everyone would join in and be in the band again. But I don’t see it happening.
This is just speculation, but what do you think is the reason why Ritchie now decided to play rock music again?
Graham Bonnet: I think the other thing wasn’t very successful. What he was doing with the music, he loves, I guess old cello and that kind of music that he’s doing. He was into that stuff before he put this band together. It was all very Jethro Tull-ish. Ian Anderson is one of his heroes, and he always wanted to do something like that. When I was in the band, he said; could you play guitar while I play cello on some Rainbow song. Did I say, really? He said; yeah. I want to play the cello. It never came to be, we were going to put this song on the album, on the DOWN TO EARTH album, but we never wrote as such. I was like, what? It was confusing to me. I said; how? You’re going out there doing your heavy rock stuff. But anyway, that was his idea. Then eventually, he got to do what he wanted to do with his wife. But he realizes that people want to hear “Smoke on the Water” or something. They want to hear him play “Ritchie” guitar. So I think that’s what he should do. He’s trying to do that now. I will see what happens with it, I really don’t know. I can’t see it lasting, actually. I think it would be a very short-lived thing. But I could be wrong.
What did you think of Joe Lynn Turner’s reaction when he was not invited to join Rainbow this time?
Graham Bonnet: I thought that was funny; he never said a damn thing, really. I spoke to him about a Rainbow reunion when I was playing with him. I was singing with him a few years ago. He said, “I’ll be chosen” if ever we reform, I’ll be chosen as a singer. I said; no, you won’t. But this time, Ronnie was still alive, and I said; no, Ronnie would be the singer because he’s the original singer. It will be Ronnie Dio and whomever else. He was really sure that he was the guy, and he really put his strength into it. He sometimes speaks a little too much; he speaks too loudly. He should keep his mouth shut. That’s what Joe is like. He’s got a big ego. Okay. We should all have a big ego and be confident, but he’s a little overconfident.
Do you have any plans to work with Joe in the future?
Is there anything else you want to say to your fans?
Graham Bonnet: Yeah. Eventually, I would like to come back to Finland, Sweden, everywhere. It would be fine to come back with a new album and with my new band.
And the album is coming out when?
Graham Bonnet: It will probably be at the end of the year, I think, maybe.
Okay, that was it this time. See you in Sweden Rock soon!
Graham Bonnet: Yeah, I think so. Thank you very much.
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