Growing up in the 1980s and 90s, with a guitar in my hands, I listened to a lot of hard rock and metal music. I've always tended to listen to music "before my time" though, and am attracted to music from the 70s and early 80s. I have been familiar with Graham Bonnet's voice since I was probably 10 years old.
Being a huge Scorpions fan, it was inevitable that I would have Michael Schenker records in my collection, including the classic, "Assault Attack". From Graham's work with MSG, then Alcatrazz with both Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai, (did I mention I was a guitar nut in the 80s?) I then went back and bought all the Rainbow albums I could get my hands on. Graham stood out at that time in music. For one thing, he didn't look like all the other long haired, leather wearing "metal musicians". He had a more James Dean thing going on, with short blond hair, often seen wearing white sport coats. And secondly, his voice was just .... different. He is a powerful, loud singer, with tone like no other.
Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Graham for the first time, having booked a gig billing my solo band, Alcatrazz Featuring Graham Bonnet, and Uli Jon Roth. Graham was very approachable, friendly, and funny! Catching a bit of his sound check and set that night, I have to say Graham is at the top of his game. His vocals are stronger than ever - I was impressed!
We'll be at it again on Friday, February 10th at Marquee 15 in Corona, CA.
I recently caught up with Graham and conducted a short interview, please enjoy!
Adrian Galysh: Do you remember how old you were when you first started singing? Do you remember what prompted you to pursue singing more seriously?
Graham Bonnet: I started singing when i was four and listened to operatic music back in the fifties with all that, there was no rock music... until Buddy Holly and Little Richard came along.
AG: Do you remember your first performance?
GB: Cub scouts in the early 50's... I was seven years old, and the kids were always asking me to sing "Diana", the Paul Anka song, as I used to sing it on the school bus. I ended up singing it on the Cub Scout annual show, and getting my picture in the local paper, for my performance. I sang another song that mom's and dad's liked called "Good Companions". I don't know where the song came from... I think it was a show tune - I hated it!!
AG: Did you take singing lessons and were your parents supportive?
GB: No lessons. I am not that disciplined, but my parents always supported me.
AG: When did you know that you wanted to pursue music professionally?
GB: When I moved to London, when I was 18, I was lucky enough to play at a club with my five piece band, including my cousin playing guitar. In the audience, of this very nice club in the center of London, "The Revolution Club", was the Bee Gees old manager and came up to my cousin Trevor and said,"I am sure the Gibbs would love to see you Trevor."As they had moved to England, and my cousin, their ex guitarist /singer ...was in a band with me. The Bee Gees had two or three hit records at that time, so Trevor went to see the Gibb boys and told them I sang also, but we had a band together and lived in Wembley in London. Well, I was invited to meet the Bee Gees with their manager, Robert Stigwood, and we all were singing together with the Bee Gees, me and my cousin... at Stigwood's house [singing] Beach boys tunes and Stevie Wonder songs, and of course Beatles [songs].
Next thing i know, we were told we were going in the studio, and Barry was asked to write a song. But they didn't want our band. So we were in the studio and months later in the top three of the charts with a song called "Only One Woman", just under Joe Cocker's, "A Little Help from My Friends" - he made number one! When people like Barry Gibb said he couldn't believe my unusual voice, and how good i was - that was the turning point to persue a music career....In a nut shell!!
AG: The Marbles only seemed to be together for a couple years, from 1968-69, with just one album, why was it so short lived in your opinion?
GB: Because the company didn't want to work with my cousin, and they wanted to have me be like a Tom Jones type singer. So I left Robert Stigwood's company.
AG: You have worked with some of the most respected rock guitarists in the business, including Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, and Chris Impellitteri. Is there an affinity you have for the instrument, or was it just timing and luck that brought you together with these guitarists?
GB: I was looking for guitar players like Ritchie after i left Rainbow, but was asked by Ritchie to join his band. At first I didn't want to, because it really wasn't my thing, but came to enjoy it later when I got into recording.
AG: The albums you recorded with the above mentioned guitarists are considered classics. Writing and recording with these guitarists, do you recall knowing at the time that these albums were special?
GB: Not really, the business was like it is now: all over the place. I looked at everything I did as an audition!!!
AG: Do you still stay in contact with Ritchie, Michael, Steve, or Yngwie?
GB: Steve... sometimes, Ritchie ...Never ...Yngwie never....They have all their own thing going on.
AG: Would you have any interest in working with any of them again?
GB: I would love to do something with all of them again, but times have changed and musicians are fighting for positions in the wonderful world of rock music. They make more money being the star so to speak, by doing their own thing, with lesser known players. You know, it makes sense!
AG: Were any of the albums particularly easy to write and record, considering who you were collaborating with?
GB: They were all hard work. I liked to write good melodies and good words so they all took work!
AG: Please list your top 5 musical influences.
GB: Buddy Holly, Little Richard, the Beatles, Paul Anka, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ronnie Spector.
AG: Do you get a chance to listen to any new music? Who do you find yourself usually listening to?
GB: I never listen to music. It's my job. If i listen to anything, it's Beach Boys and the Beatles. Nothing of the new, so called, has anything that is different to things I have heard before. So my work is music, and I don't take my work home with me.
AG: If you couldn't sing for a living, what do you think you would be doing? Are there any hobbies or non-musical interests we may be surprised to know about?
GB: Art, or a newspaper reporter.
AG: Most people have a “Spinal Tap” moment or two in their careers, any strange or funny road stories you can share?
GB: Nothing funny happened to me, really ...except firing Yngwie.......
AG: I imagine you have had many great experiences over the years, but is there a particular career highlight that stands out that you can share?
GB: The first Castle Donington "Monsters of Rock", in England with Rainbow headlining (over 35,000 in attendance headlining over Judas Priest, Scorpions, Saxon, and Riot).
AG: Being in so many musical situations, from your solo records that reflect your early rock and r&b influences, to harder rock outings with Rainbow, MSG and Impellitteri, where do your ideas for lyrics come from?
GB: Every day observations, and my imagination. So I don't make up words like KISS would, or others. I like the english language, and telling a story.
AG: You've been working with Alcatrazz's current guitar monster, Howie Simon, for over 8 years now, how did you find him?
GB: Howie was introduced to me by our bassist, Tim Luce. We are still working on songs, but we have all been out there making money playing live, as there is no money being made when you are recording. As you know, bills have to be paid. There are no record company advances being handed out like in the past.
AG: What kind of advice would you give younger musicians who may be starting their careers?
GB: Get a real job. Music is becoming a hobby that doesn't always pay well. But always give it a shot. There are too many musicians, well people who play things, not all the time very musical. Real musicians are born, they don't have to be told how the machine works! ...If you know what i mean!
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