Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Bigfoot Diaries Interview With Graham Bonnet

Graham Bonnet never intended to be a hard rock vocalist. Growing up in the United Kingdom, he fancied himself more of an R&B singer than anything, and he enjoyed some success with The Marbles, a band he had formed with his cousin, Trevor Gordon. "Only One Woman" hit number 5 on the UK Singles Charts in 1968, and "The Walls Fell Down" became a moderate hit for the duo in 1969 when it reached number 28. Both songs were written and produced by Robin, Barry and Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees.


The Marbles: Graham Bonnet and Trevor Gordon
Over the next decade Bonnet drifted into obscurity until 1977 when he released the self-titled Graham Bonnet, which went certified gold in Australia. His cover of Dylan's "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" reached the top five there, and later "Warm Ride," also written by the Bee Gees (it was a leftover from the Saturday Night Fever sessions), reached number one.

Then in 1979, through an unlikely series of events, he was asked to audition for Rainbow. Initially he was hesitant to do so. The idea of being a hard rock singer didn't appeal to him in the least, and he he only relented after being talked into it by his personal manager. Ritchie Blackmore liked what he heard in the audition, and hired Bonnet on the spot. It was with Rainbow that he gained the most success, with he release of Down To Earth in 1979. Joining him in the band as new additions were Roger Glover on bass, and Don Airey on keyboards. The album was a bit more commercial than Rainbow's previous releases, but  also had a bluesy hard rock feel to it, fueled by Bonnet's razor sharp vocals and Blackmore's ground shaking guitar work. The single "Since You Been Gone" became Rainbow's first hit single, and "All Night Long" followed right behind it. Both remain FM radio staples to this day.

Bonnet was surprised to learn that he enjoyed being a hard rock singer. In 1983 he formed Alcatrazz and has subsequently worked alongside some of rock and roll's greatest musicians. Micheal Schenker, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen and (briefly) Clive Burr have all shared the stage alongside Bonnet. To this day he performs and tours with Alcatrazz, who's lineup has varied over the years.

Currently, Bonnet resides in Los Angeles. When I reached him by telephone recently, he was enjoying the merits of having his grandchildren in the house, and was preoccupied with a telephone pole which had come down in his yard. "We had the police here and everything." he said. "It was all good fun."




What are you doing these days?

Ah, well basically going out and playing with the new version of Alcatrazz, doing our old stuff. You know that stuff from ten thousand years ago. Uh, so we're going out on a short tour... Doing about three gigs in Europe. One is with Whitesnake... I think that one's in Poland. We're then going to Italy and then to the Czech Republic. But that's only for a short time and then we come back again and hopefully do some recording. I've got a lot of session stuff to do apart from the Alcatrazz stuff so I've got a lot of sessions with other people at the moment. But we are playing as much as possible. We played here a couple of months ago at the House of Blues but most of that stuff is done over seas unfortunately because there seems to be a bigger following for the music that I've done in Europe and in England, in Japan or wherever than over here. It's hard to get work here and there's no money here for one thing. That's another problem, is getting the whole band out there. I get  a lot of gigs to do by myself, playing with whomever it may be in whatever country I'm in. The economy is so bad. You know we usually play Russia every year and this time and this year so far it's been like, 'We can't ask you over because there's no money.' So most of the Alcatrazz stuff, the new version of Alcatrazz anyway, is being done over seas. And not so much here. We've done some stuff over here and some stuff on the east coast in a couple of clubs, but it's really hard to get anything happening here because we don't have anything new out at the moment and you know... We are relying on people's memories to cling on to, you know nineteen-eighty-whatever it was when Alcatrazz was first formed to sing along with the Golden Oldies or whatever. So that's kind of what's happening and the fact that I do a lot of sessions with other people and albums with some of the other guys in the band. To be honest, nobody is in one band anymore, like it used to be. Everybody is in like ten thousand different other bands to stay alive. Slash for instance... He had a few bands and it's the same with us. We have to play whenever we can because things have changed since way back when.


Bonnet formed Alcatrazz in 1983 and tabbed
Yngwie Malmsteen as his guitarist. 

Who is the current lineup of Alcatrazz?

Tim Luce is the bass player. He's played with lots of different people... He's played with Roger Daltrey. He's been around forever and he's played with lots of different guys and he has his own recording studio. He's also a great engineer and producer. That's Tim, and then there's Howie Simon who was with a guy called Jeff Scott Soto and what was the band he used to be in... Oh God... Howie's been around for awhile as well and has played in different bands. You have to Google their names and find out. There's stuff they've done that he hasn't even told me about! That's two of the guys at the moment. Glen Sobel was our drummer but Alice Cooper just snagged him and took him on tour. So at the moment we don't actually have a drummer but we are going to start rehearsing with a new drummer, Bobby Rock in awhile because we have to do this short stint in Europe. But Glen was snagged by Alice Cooper and was given this extensive tour. At the moment we aint as well known as Alice Cooper for instance, so he went where the money is, and that's something that we all have to do. It's a job now, you know?

Right.

It's not the way it used to be... It used to be fun and crazy out on the road... Everybody was having a great time and now everybody's working all the time... It's just changed so much.

Well let's talk about the old days. What are some of your memories from when you were in The Marbles?

Well that was the very first time I actually got into a recording studio, it was with the Gibb brothers because my cousin, Trevor Gordon was in the Bee Gees when he was a kid, when he was about eleven or twelve, whatever, and they used to play together in Australia and they used to do shows together, TV shows and things like that. I was introduced to the Gibb family back in 1968 and my cousin in fact, was going to record with them and they were going to work with him and then my cousin said, 'Well my cousin sings also..." because we were in a band in London at the time, me and my cousin and I and some other guys and so he invited me along to go with him to see Barry Gibb and Robert Stigwood who was their manager at their place in London. It kind of went on from there. Barry wrote a tune, I went into a studio with my cousin, we "La-La'd" through this tune that had no words, and then Barry came into some words a couple of days later and it was a song called "Only One Woman" and we recorded the thing, and it did pretty good in England in Europe and Australia. It was released every where but here, I think. Well it was released actually here but it was on some rinky-dinky label that nobody had ever heard of, it was on some subsidiary thing. So it was never on a major label here, and it didn't do anything. There was really no promotion done out in this country at all, but in the rest of the world it did really well. It got up to number 3 in England on the chart. So that was then.


Bonnet replaced Ronnie James Dio in Rainbow in 1979. 

Jumping ahead a few years... You replaced Ronnie James Dio in Rainbow. How did that go down?

Well from that song really... It's so strange. Rainbow didn't have a singer, and they were auditioning a singer in France, or on the border of Switzerland actually, and the band was playing this game where they would play a song and say to each other, 'Who is this singer?'... That sort of thing. And then they just happened to play "Only One Woman"... It was Cozy Powell playing the game with the rest of the band. There was no TV in this place, this chateau, like everybody had to record in their chateau. It was the law back then. You had to be in a place where you weren't distractive, but it was boring as hell, I can tell you. So they're playing this game and Cozy played this song that the Gibb brothers wrote for us, and he said, 'Who is this singer?' and Ritchie Blackmore said, "Oh that's Blah Blah..." Me, you know the Marbles, 1968, and he said, 'Where is this guy now?' and so my friend Micky Moody was working with Roger Glover who was in Rainbow at the time, putting down these tracks and Roger got in touch with Micky and he asked about me because he knew that I was being managed by the same people that Micky Moody was being managed by. Micky was in Whitesnake at the time I think... And so they got in touch with me and I went over to meet the guys in this haunted chateau place, and I auditioned with a song called, "Mistreated" which I had to learn because I knew nothing of Rainbow at all. So  had to go out and learn this one tune... and that was my audition song and they gave me the job. 

I went back to England - back to London - and said to my manager, 'This really isn't my kind of thing. These guys have all got the standard Rock "look," you know those spandex pants and that kind of thing, and whatever, and the long hair. I thought, 'I just don't fit and the music just don't interest me that much, you know,' and he said 'Well I think it would be a good move for you to get away from what you are doing, which was mainly R & B and low Pop stuff, you know what I mean? I enjoy all kinds of music, but this was just one style of music I wasn't used to you know, semi-classical, and very intricate instrumentally and I thought, 'How am I going to fit into this? It just isn't my kind of deal, you know? But he said, 'You'd better do it. It'll be very good for your career.' Of course he was thinking about himself, because he could make some money off this because Rainbow is a big band... Sort of Deep Purple revisited. So um... I took the job and did find out in the end that I did enjoy the music alot. It was kind of hard for me to adapt to it because I was used to writing stuff on my own, or playing with whomever with a guitar... Knowing when the voice happens, the chorus happens and where the middle bit happens, and that kind of thing. But this was so intricate. The arrangements to at least to me, were very lavish and experimental for that time. You know... 'Where does the singing come in?' I couldn't figure out how to fit the vocal into this semi-classical stuff, which Roger Glover had to help me out with, because I had no clue! So Roger wrote all the words, and I provided some of the melodies, but he gave me a rough idea. I sort of ad-libbed my own melodies to things, and he would say, 'Go a bit light here.' and something like this. And he would suggest stuff. So Roger wrote the words, and I wrote the melodies.

Well, I'd say you did pretty good...

Well yeah. It took a lot of time because it was something that I just wasn't used to. I was used to getting demos from songwriters who were all done, and the harmonies and the rest of it, and this is how it goes, and you know, copied... Like Russ Ballard say for instance, who wrote "Since You Been Gone," and so it was a difficult time for me. We got through it, but it was a slow process for me because Roger got stuck on lyrics and he didn't know what to write and he'd ask me and I said "Well I don't know what to write for this kind of music, I'm not used to it," You know. But yeah, after the many laborious hours or months as it was, it turned out pretty good.


Bonnet enjoyed working with Ritchie Blackmore. 

Was working with Ritchie Blackmore as exasperating as the media made it out to be? 

No.

No?

No. Ritchie, he's great! (laughing.) He and I became sort of close on the road when we first went out on tour. I don't know what it is. He... Rich is one of those guys... What can I say? Yeah sometimes he is a bit anti-social and he picks his friends way carefully and he only has a few friends that he can really get close to. That was a part of him being stand-offish or whatever, but I never found him like that at all. He was just the opposite. he's very shy, he has a very shy personality and people often mistake that for being obnoxious or whatever that may be. But no. he was friends with my dad and that whole kind of thing while we were on tour in England. He used to hang out with my dad, you know? So yeah... He has that reputation, the man in black and all that, but he... (laughs) I don't know if he minds me saying all this but he is a really sweet guy! He really is.

That's awesome.

At least to me anyway... He was to me. With other people they kind of hated him and I could never see why. I didn't get it. But you know, anyway.


Your typical recording studio is not a haunted chateau. 

That's good to know. I like that answer. Reportedly he wanted you to sing the tracks to Down to Earth from inside a castle, and you resisted, because in your own words you said it was haunted. What was going on in there? 

(Laughter) No. He said it was haunted, not me. He was freaking people out. You know, windows would open mysteriously, strange noises in the night and all that kind of stuff. As I said, the place, it was a castle... This place was just a chateaux... castle whatever you want to call it. To me it was horrible! Nothing around there, it was in the middle of the countryside in France and there was nothing to do. It was a little village with a pub and whatever... A little town wall kind of thing. It was just horrible and I couldn't get into it. We couldn't get the right sound in there anyway because all the rooms were very echo-y and the stone walls and it was cold... and it was just not the deal, you know? So then we eventually went to a place with a proper studio and that's where we recorded all the vocals because we just weren't getting anything there vocally. But  some of the tracks, especially the drum tracks were recorded in the chateaux because of the acoustics. So yeah. 

You recorded Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" in the '70s. What is it about Bob Dylan and that song in particular that inspired you to record it? 

Well I always liked Bob Dylan you know? He sort of cropped up in England when I was 15-16 something like that. I was in a band at the time and we played a lot of Bob Dylan tunes, along with Beatles tunes and The Who and all the rest of it. We played int he pubs, and we played everything that was charting at the time, and back then folk music became a big thing with all the Mods and the Rockers in England, and at that time in the 1960s when everybody rode Lambrettas and Vespas and they wore these parkas with the with the furry collars like Eskimos and that kind of stuff... And with spiky hair. That was me! That's what I was doing. And all those guys were into Bob Dylan and people would play records, we'd have parties and play all this Bob Dylan stuff. I just really got into the lyrics he wrote, I thought they were fantastic, and the stories he wrote. That spawned interest from me, and it was a very fashionable thing to like Bob Dylan because he was underground and nobody really knew who he was until much later. So, I used to sing that tune, "Baby Blue" way back then before I did the Marbles thing. I listened to it and thought, this reminds me of something, and I was walking into the studio and I said, How would you feel about doing the song, "Baby Blue," the Dylan tune? And the guy said yeah, yeah... How we gonna do it though? I said, Have you ever listened to "Maggie May" from Rod Stewart... (sings) Wake up Maggie I think I've got something to say to you... You know. I said, isn't that very familiar to "Baby Blue?" Let's do it like that, let's do it like the Rod Stewart tune. He said Oh yeah! Ya think it was ripped off from "Baby Blue" and I said I think so, yeah. Cause "Maggie May" you know what song I'm talking about, right? 

Absolutely.

So yeah, we basically did the arrangement around that, I just got my guitar out and said let's do it like this, you know. And that's kind of how we did it and it seemed to work. 

That's excellent, What a great story. You have worked with some of the most revered guitarists in the history of rock and roll. Who was your favorite to work with? 

(Laughing) All of them! 

Yeah? 

Yeah because they were all different, it was all exciting, everyone was different, you know from Yngwie to Steve Vai to  Danny Johnson, to Micky Moody way back when, when we played in the studio cause Micky Moody played a lot on my stuff. Gary Moore back then as well. Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, that's the Alcatrazz guys. And of course Ritchie... They were all so different but all so great at what they do. They were all completely different in style and that's especially what I liked about Steve Vai... Kinda off the wall coming out of Frank Zappa's band. Very very different and very very inventive because he had to be.. That's what he had to do with Frank Zappa, you know. Frank Zappa would knock on the wall and say, "What is that note?" Steve would say, "I don't know, what is it?" And he Zappa would say, "Well it's a E." And Steve would say "How do you know?" (And Zappa would say) "Well everything you hit, has a note. Every tree, when a branch breaks, there's a note there somewhere. Which is absolutely right, every sound has a note but you have to listen really hard.. (laughs)... So Steve was different. The second album we made with Steve Vai is my favorite, actually. Of the Alcatrazz stuff anyway.




Who do you listen to today? Anyone that is new? 

I listen to some stuff. A lot of it... I've heard it before (laughs)...  It's like there are so many bands now I couldn't tell you one name. The Foo Fighters is the last band I kind of liked, which is a few years ago I know. When they first came out, I should say. I like the energy of that band and I thought what they did was really cool. But a lot of the stuff is rehashed 1980s with more distortion and not so good vocals... I don't know. I hear stuff all the time that my kids play and there's nothing that is picking at my ears and I'm going Hey... What's that?... Except for... There's a car commercial I heard that's on the TV now and I cant think of the guys name who sings it, which is terrible. My memory is not working very good today. It's called "Powerful Stuff" oh what's his name? I think it's a Suburu or something? It's a guy with an acoustic guitar, and he sounds kinda like Otis Redding from way back... Kinda like "Dock of the Bay" kinda thing. And there's this American guy and he's on this commercial and the song is "Powerful Stuff." (The artist that Mr. Bonnet is referring to is Sean Hayes, per Google.) He's got such an interesting voice... He's just a guy who has a lot of soul. And a lot of feel... It's just a guy and an acoustic guitar and I like things that are different. It's kind of like when Queen came along, it was like, Oh my God what's that? You know, because it was so new, and experimental when I first heard that "Bohemian Rhapsody" thing. I was like, What the hell is that?.. Because it just blew me away... And I'm waiting for that to happen again. Some day it's going to happen but a lot of the stuff now all sounds the damn same! It's all processed, and over-processed and auto-tuned and whatever else. It just sounds like it's coming out of a machine, basically which it is. There is nothing new to me... I've heard it all before. I'm waiting for something different. That's why I liked the 1960's... There was a lot of good stuff and it was all different. I was lucky enough to grow up in the '60s with The Who and the Animals and the Beatles of course, and the Stones, all those guys and the Kinks... And all those bands were all so different. The Kinks were like this Punky kind of thing, you know, a very urban kind of music. And these days, there is nothing I've heard that interests me that much yet. But I'm sure it will happen.


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