WITHIN THESE WALLS
GRAHAM BONNET contemplates a long stretch with ALCATRAZ
THE MORNING after the night before and the eyes behind the famous sunglasses tell the whole debauched story. Up till the early hours staring at naked bums and playing with rubber undies.
"One o'clock this morning, and then three till six o'clock - I had the two of them playing up." Graham Bonnet stifles a yawn. Two of them? "Twins. Up changing nappies at all hours!"
It can be a funny thing, life can. There you go spending years in a state of extended adolescence, drinking and partying all night like any redblooded rock and roller, then just as you've settled into a new marriage and an even newer band and trying to get your beauty 'eight hours' every night, it's back to daytime naps once again.
"You're not kidding. We didn't expect it to happen." There are signs, Graham. "No, I mean two kids. We only found out at the last minute it was twins." Bad timing? "It was. It was just at the end of recording with MSG. My wife phoned me up from LA and said: 'I'm pregnant'. And I went: 'Oh God, well that's good isn't it'. I wasn't quite sure if it was good or not! Because we never wanted kids really - it was just a thing that happened.
I hadn't seen her for a long time - about three months - and she came over to France where we were recording the MSG thing and we were sort of at it all day like you do." Graham tells the sorry tale. "It's like being at sea, being in a band really. You don't see your home for four months sometimes, and that's a long time; and it was just one of those things. That'll learn me, won't it!
"Anyway, that's basically why I got the band together here instead of getting guys from England."
Ah yes. The band. From what I can hear bursting through the doors of the Rocshire Studio down in Anaheim, home of Mickey Mouse and the Los Angeles Angels team, the sound's as tough as latex underwear, sharp as a safety pin and smooth as a baby's bottom. Alcatraz, they're called; named after the Northern California prison from which no man (except Clint Eastwood) has escaped. Bonnet's the only Brit in the line-up, which features one Swede - Yngwie Malmsteen, the 19-year-old expatriate guitar player most recently in LA's Steeler - and three Americans viz ex Alice Cooper drummer Jan Uvena, (chosen from an illustrious field of contenders including Aynsley Dunbar, Bill Lorden, Cozy Powell and Clive Burr) plus the former keyboard player and bassist with AOR hit band New England, Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea. Whilst Graham and I are talking, they're getting on with the business down in the studio, getting ready for the upcoming album that Dennis MacKay (Pat Travers, Judas Priest, Jeff Beck and more) is producing.
They actually started recording, funnily enough, almost exactly one year on from the date that Graham was given the bum's rush, so to speak, from MSG after that infamous wild night in Sheffield. Quickly replaced by Gary Barden, Bonnet fled the country and the critical storm that flooded down immediately afterwards.
"One year ago, yes," he muses. "That was a bad time. I explained to the people at Kerrang! exactly what did happen - it was a very drunken night, etc etc, and my pants split and I ran offstage. I didn't go back. I couldn't.
"I heard a lot of other stories after that about me flashing my cock and taking my bum out and all kinds of strange things. It's like when you tell a story in that party game and pass it along down the line. It changes and, by the time it gets to the end, it's a different story. I didn't read the press after that because I knew shit like that would come out. But people told me what they were saying - that I pissed on the audience, that I said Michael didn't play guitar on the album and that it was a guitar roadie who was playing. Stupid things! And they made me sound like some kind of weirdo.
"The reason I ran offstage that night is because my cock came out! See these jeans?" Graham reached for his flies. "I wear these jeans with buttons now because of what happened with those other jeans. The zip came off here. I always find a problem with zippers, they always bust on me, I don't know why, and I don't wear underpants, so I thought; 'right, from now on I'm going to be real safe'."
You can rest assured. There'll be no chance of seeing untoward parts of Bonnet's anatomy in this band.
"And I'm sure everyone will be real happy, because it's not a pleasant sight! It was just an embarrassing moment. No-one could go back onstage after that, I bet you. Nobody. I'm only human. I might have been out of my head and seemed like I didn't care, but suddenly I was very sober. Like that! I was going like this, trying to put it back in, and suddenly it became 'he was shaking it'." He can laugh about it now. But he wasn't laughing then. When he told Kerrang! he thought he'd never be able to work in rock and roll again, he wasn't joking.
"I really did think that. Because I thought people would believe what they read in the papers - that I was some kind of alcoholic who was over-the-top, taking drugs and a phantom flasher or whatever. 'He's gone over, he's f--ked, he's had it'."
So when Bonnet flew out to California, it wasn't with any great plans of putting another band together, but more to brood and wonder what the hell he was going to do.
"To tell you the truth, I was in a way hoping that I could get in touch with Michael and speak to him myself and try to sort out what had gone on. Because I know that I wasn't fired by the band at all. I was fired by the guy who was the manager but who has since been fired himself. I know the band didn't feel that way about me." True enough, Schenker seems to only have good things to say about Bonnet since. "They knew that that had never happened to me before at any time in my career - I've never f--ked up like that onstage, ever - and I thought that maybe there was a possibility of getting back together."
He felt that way for virtually three months. "And then I thought about getting something together on my own, doing a solo album or something. But I didn't know how I was going to get hold of the musicians or whatever. And I was thinking: 'turn again Whittington', re-think what you're going to do."
His next step was contacting a former tour manager for everyone from Jethro Tull to the Bay City Rollers, LA-based Brit Andy Truman, who either knew or was pointed towards the current members of Alcatraz.
First to join were two ex-New England guys, who advertised for a job in a local music paper, and who had met Andy way back when, nicking the prawns out of his cocktails backstage on some tour or other.
"The two of them used to come round to my house, and we just started doing things in the garage, playing any kind of old shit and hoping something's going to come out of it."
Meanwhile, Andy was recruiting an ex-Nazareth guitarist and an ex-Tull drummer to complete the band. However, they pulled out at the last moment, leaving Graham high and dry.
"Suddenly we had to find a band. We thought: 'what the f--k do we do now?"' What the f--k indeed? Especially as they'd nixed the idea of crawling round the LA clubs looking for unknown talent. "I said: 'I don't know if it's really worth it. You could go on looking for hundreds of years, and we don't have that kind of time'."
Yngwie, the guitar player, they happened upon when Andy was chatting with an HM fan up at Ozz Records, the killer guitarist was recommended as: 'just what you're looking for'. He was. When Bonnet invited him down to rehearse, he'd already attracted the attention of Ronnie James Dio and Phil Mogg, looking to fill their new bands.
"It was perfect," grins Graham. "Just what we're looking for. A heavy sort of Ritchie Blackmore-type guitarist". Ritchie?! "Oh, he'll get out of that! He's only young, 19, so he has to have an idol and his idol is Ritchie. I hope he doesn't hear this, but I know what he's all about. He dresses like Ritchie, the whole bit! But I think he's probably better than Ritchie. Don't let him hear that either! I understand about needing someone to model yourself on. I had - of all people, it was a girl. Remember Helen Shapiro? I used to think she was great!" Graham shows his age. "When she was 15, I was 11 and I used to sing in the same way. She had a very deep voice for a girl and, as I had a normal voice for a little boy, she used to sing very much like me. So I sang all her stuff until my voice broke - actually got higher! I can sing higher now that I could when I as a kid. I used to have two octaves, but now I have three and-a-half."
But back to the band. Cozy Powell looked like getting the drum job, until a better-paying gig with Whitesnake turned up. "Cozy's a good friend of mine," says Graham. "He phoned and said: 'if you have any problems, I'll come and play on the album'." Then there were reports that Aynsley Dunbar had got the position. Then Clive Burr was in the drummer's seat; for one week anyway.
"It just didn't quite work out the way it should have done. I don't think Clive was really interested in moving over here. We'd like to be based in LA, seeing as everyone lives here, and he wanted to stay in England. He had a project going with a friend of his or something, so it didn't work out."
From about 50 drummers, they finally settled on Jan Uvena.
"He just turned out to be the best guy. He plays the kind of drums we want to hear. He's loud and heavy and he's got good ideas. He helps with the arrangements of the tunes and stuff, so he got the job. He was with Alice Cooper before - which again, like Gary and Jimmy, isn't the kind of music we're doing now. The kind of music it is, is very much in the Rainbow-Michael Schenker vein".
Those two names seem to be haunting his career like overactive poltergeists.
"It is a bit strange, isn't it! Oh well... " he shrugs. "It'll probably be more tuneful than both those bands, and probably more dynamic. That's how I feel about it. I just think it has more going for it. The band is playing very much that type Heavy Metal - I hate the term Heavy Metal! It's got that HM back sound but at the front it's more melodic from me on the vocals. Is it Heavy Metal? I guess it is. But it's not," he shrieks,
"craaaaa-craaaagh-wooaaaarghh!!! It's not that horrible Heavy Metal. Some HM sounds like punk music, know what I mean; really shitty and awful.
"This is kind of the 'thinking man's Heavy Metal'. It's got more melodies and I've got some good tunes together that help me, sort of, sing out more than I have done in previous years. Sort of operatic in a way - longer notes, proving what I can do, instead of just rasping rock and roll licks. It's nice to sing out a bit and use your guts. Although I did do a couple of tracks with Rainbow that were very much like that and with Schenker. But, anyway, the overall sound of this is more powerful."
The trouble with being in other people's bands, he adds, was having to sing the way other people wanted you to.
"The Rainbow album I was on, 'Down to Earth', those tunes were written in the studio with Roger Glover. One tune would be written probably four different ways with four different sets of lyrics, then we would pick the best parts and put it all together. That's why the album took so bloody long to do! So I was basically told exactly what to do, where the verse came in - tum tee tum tee tumm - then the chorus and where the harmonies would be - although I did write with Roger, I was never credited for that on the album, which is another story. They all know about that anyway.
"And with the Michael Schenker thing, I could sing what I liked over what had gone down already, because when I joined MSG there were probably seven tunes already done, and they'd been rehearsing for two or three months. So all I had to do was just go in there and go `wooooo' and just sing. They'd then pick out the best bits I sang - which was a little bit better.
"This time it's down to me. I can say: 'okay, the verse comes in here'. The other guys can say: 'I don't think it should', but it's easier for me, if you know what I mean."
It could have been easier still if he'd just called it the Graham Bonnet Band and taken them on as paid sidemen instead of equal members of the outfit...
"I didn't want to. I want this to be a band, not my band as such. I love just being sort of anonymous in a way - a band member. I like having input from other people. Everybody in this band has their own ideas and they're coming out with lots of good things that I would never have thought of. Basically, it's down to me to write the tune and the lyrics, so if they've got a good riff or a good arrangement, fine. And that's what's been happening. I've been out of the studio a week, leaving them to it. I've been home nursing babies and writing a couple of lyrics and they've been doing stuff here without me."
Do the new lyrics reflect the new paternal Bonnet lifestyle? From showing bums to wiping the things?
"Oh, no! I don't write about wiping bums. I still write about anything that comes to mind. Whatever affects me that day, really. Sometimes I can get out of bed and think of a lot of stupid things, sometimes I've got no ideas at all. I don't write about love necessarily."
One of the new songs is called 'Hiroshima Mon Amour', after the film of the same title.
"It's something that moved me when I was a kid. I couldn't believe that happened. I was born just after the war - I was a 1947 baby - and something like that," tears come to the man's eyes. "I'm sorry. I'll just take a minute - I've gone a bit funny now. I can't believe people can do such things. It's a thing that's passionate, like love. Love and war; such strong feelings. So I decided it was a good thing to make up a tune about."
More ideas will spring up from being on the road, he reckons. They'll start with some warm-up dates in the States, then it's on to Japan where he's something of a hero (his manager showed me a mountain of fan-mail from the Orient, including some 100-odd suggestions for new names for his band. Like the Move - how soon they forget! - and Graham Crackers - my favourite!), getting over to England and Europe by December.
"The more gigs the better," grins Bonnet. "As long as I get a couple of days off to get my voice back, because I usually get a little bit hoarse after a while."
Laura Canyon, Kerrang, September 1983