The voice returns to action with the rise of Alcatrazz and the Taz Taylor Band
by Todd K Smith
“I don’t have the best voice, but it’s good enough to have hits on the radio.” ~ Graham Bonnet
For 60-year old English singer Graham Bonnet, the rise to rock and roll stardom has been anything but easy. He wears the wounds of working with three of rock’s most notorious and temperamental guitarist (Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker and Yngwie Malmsteen) on his sleeve and knows all too well the dangers of the bottle. Much to our surprise we caught up with Graham showcasing a revised version of Alcatrazz this year during the NAMM ’08 show. We found him more than amicable, chatty and in great voice as he and his band tore through such notable classics as “All Night Long,” “Since You’ve Been Gone” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour.” He radiated from the stage, engaging the audience and was vocally powerful with shades of his dark English humor seeping in. The current Alcatrazz features guitarist Howie Simon (Jeff Scott Soto, Ken Tamplin), bassist Tim Luce and drummer Glen Sobel (Jeff Kollman, Cosmosquad) and rightly prove they can deliver… quite possibly outmatching the original lineup.
Bonnet started his career with his cousin as a member of the Marbles duo back in 1968. Chummy with the Bee Gees, their hit “Only One Woman” reached Number 5 in the UK Singles Chart and a second “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” (written by Neil Sedaka) struck a year later. Bonnet then quit to do advertising jingles and some comedy acting. Strangely enough, a step back to recording eight years later in 1977 yielded him a self-titled debut and another hit in a cover of Bob Dylan’s “It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.” The following year the single "Warm Ride", written by the Bee Gees, and a leftover from the Saturday Night Fever sessions, reached number one in Australia. Bonnet, who’s James Dean looks and pop singer flare was then nabbed by Ritchie Blackmore to replace Ronnie James Dio in Rainbow. The guitarist’s vain attempt at radio acceptance worked like a charm and Rainbow’s Down To Earth (1979) went huge with “Since You Been Gone” and “All Night Long.” That year the group headlined the inaugural UK Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington.
“Drinking always got me in trouble,” admits Bonnet in our chat on the tour bus. “I drank too damn much, every morning and every night. It was insane. It went on like that till four years ago when my kids came around and had to drag me out of the mud in the backyard. It was then I had to finally take stock and say, ‘hold on, what am I doing here?’ Glenn Hughes went through the same thing. We were both going down the shitter fast.” The drinking cut Bonnet’s time with Rainbow short but he found a friend in drummer Cozy Powell. Returning to his solo career, the singer and drummer recruited keyboardist Jon Lord (Deep Purple, Whitesnake), Status Quo guitarist Francis Rossi, Micky Moody and bassist Gary Twigg. Cozy, in turn, included Bonnet on his next gig with the Michael Schenker Group.
“It was a mess when I got there,” remembers Bonnet. “Cozy had been telling Michael to get me in the band for some time. Gary Barden left or was fired, I was in pronto then we’re off to a store autograph signing at HMV in London. All these kids were asking me to sign Barden’s MSG records and I was like, ‘fuck this I didn’t sing on these records.’ As the afternoon went on I got worse and more belligerent ‘till Cozy pulled the plug and we all went home. He started yelling at me the minute we got in the door saying, ‘I got you this gig bastard, don’t fuck it up.’ Well in the end I did.” After only one record Assault Attack (1982) and less than a year, Bonnet left to co-founded Alcatrazz, with Gary Shea (bass), and Jimmy Waldo (keyboards) of the band New England, former Alice Cooper drummer Jan Uvena and Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen.
“It was a project built around my voice,” says Bonnet of Alcatrazz. “We wanted to capitalize on the success I had in Rainbow so we were looking for a Ritchie Blackmore type guitarist. Yngwie came in for the audition and we thought he was better than Blackmore.” Alcatrazz released two records with Malmsteen, No Parole from Rock N' Roll (1983) and Live Sentence (1984). Several songs became popular even with minimal airplay including “Island In The Sun,” “Jet To Jet” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour.” There was a bit of a hiccup when a UK band spelled Alkatrazz came after Bonnet and crew for the name. But that settled down as Yngwie became a star. “Again we got drunk and had a falling out,” says Bonnet of Malmsteen’s departure. “I was leaving the stage one night and tripped over Yngwie’s guitar chords. I guess it unplugged him right in the middle of a solo and he went ape-shit. He chased me out to the bus, jumped me from behind and started choking me with his thumbs on my throat crushing my vocal chords.”
After Malmsteen was fired, the band rolled on with rising phenomenon Steve Vai and released Disturbing the Peace (1985). Says Bonnet, “Steve was a real sweet guy, completely different from Yngwie. He was shy and reserved and actually intimidated by Malmsteen’s playing. He really came out of his shell and into his own and eventually out grew us.” By year end Alcatrazz lost Vai to David Lee Roth and recorded one last record with guitarist Danny Johnson (Derringer, Alice Cooper, Steppenwolf) called Dangerous Games (1986). The album featured a remake of the Marbles' "Only One Woman” then lost momentum to hair band hell yet they always did well in Japan. “They love us even to this day,” says Bonnet, “They don’t give up on you just because you’ve gotten older.”
Bonnet's post-Alcatrazz projects included backing vocals for the Danish metal band Pretty Maid's Future World (1987), teaming up with yet another neo-classical guitarist Impellitteri for their album Stand In Line (1988), the 1994 Blackthorne project (working with ex-Balance guitarist Bob Kulick), and numerous session work. By the late ‘90s Bonnet put together another solo disc The Day I Went Mad featuring guitarist Slash, Def Leppard’s Vivian Campbell, Bruce Kulick and others. Though solid, it failed to ignite a spark in the ever-fluctuating hard rock community. In 2000 legendary Japanese metal band Anthem contacted Bonnet to re-record their classics in English. “That was a funny gig,” says Bonnet. “Some of the translations came out rather comedic. We had to change things around a bit so it didn’t come off like a farce. I liked it a lot but we only did three gigs and it was over.”
Bonnet rejoined Impellitteri in 2001 for their System X album, then hooked up with Italian guitarist Dario Mollo's project Elektric Zoo (2004) and Matteo Filippini's project, Moonstone, featuring the track “Not Dead Yet.” An unusual surprise came when he went in to do some studio work with the Taz Taylor Band last year. “Taz is a British guy who lives in San Diego,” says Bonnet, “the rest of his band are American. I got together with him as a songwriter/session kind of thing. To me the record was more guitar oriented, I personally wanted it to sound more rock. It’s too polite.” Taz counters with “I love the way Graham's voice sounds on this record. We thought he had done a great job. Graham brought a lot to the songs in terms of the vocal melody and lyrics.”
Taz goes on to say, “We worked pretty much in the same fashion as Graham had done previously in Rainbow and MSG. The songs were recorded in their entirety, arrangements in place, guitar solos everything....except vocals, before Graham even heard them. He then came up with all of his parts. He commented after doing the first few that he found it very easy to write to my music. I responded that maybe this was because I learned to play guitar by listening to records that he sang on!” To both their surprise the record has been well received by fans and critics alike. “So, we wrote these tunes, put the album, Welcome to America out and I thought that was it,” says Bonnet of his involvement. “Now, suddenly we’re doing two months worth of gigs starting next month.” Taz explains, “I think the album has captured people's attention because it hearkens back to a better time in music. It reminds them of bands such as MSG and Rainbow, it sounds like people making music that they love and not following trends.”
The Taz Taylor tour comes right as Bonnet is reforming Alcatrazz. “It actually gives me a chance to get in fighting shape,” says Bonnet. “I’ll be out with Taz ‘till May, then off to Finland for some dates with Joe Lynn Turner then back here. Howie (Simon) and I are writing and plan to record in July ’08. Our bass player Tim (Luce) and drummer Glen (Sobel) are keen to get this thing going. You couldn’t ask for better players. They know all my stuff from Alcatrazz, Rainbow and MSG. We get along great and being sober four years now helps me focus. SPV seems real interested in anything new and they’re planning to re-release my solo disc The Day I Went Mad. So, you see, we’re going to take it all the way.”
Website: Graham Bonnet, Taz Taylor Band