Now For The Solo Graham
Inevitably we began discussing Rainbow. Graham Bonnet is leaning back in one of those armless corduroy chairs sipping beer. I recall the time I interviewed Ritchie Blackmore for Sounds. During the course of the somewhat belligerant tete a tete Mr Blackmore, becoming irritated with my line of questioning, had interrupted one of my carefully prepared questions to inform Sounds readers that, in his opinion, he was (and is) the best guitarist in the world.
Bonnet reacts with something less than surprise. "Oh yes," he notes matter-of-factly, "He really thinks he is." But according to Bonnet, who, after all, owes something of his personal and professional renaissance to Blackmore after having joined Rainbow at their zenith in 1979. "He is fast. Really, he must be one of the fastest rock guitarists in the world. "The only trouble is that his style is completely fixed."
Graham Bonnet was born in Skegness, Lincolnshire; his mother was resident singer at the local Butlins Holiday Camp. Bonnet's childhood heroes were Buddy Holly, Elvis and Paul Anka. He weighted 7 stone 12 and was on the dole. His father bought him his first guitar. His first performances took place in the local church halls. Later he took part in a series of bluesbands (commercial white blues spearheaded by John Mayall and Fleetwood Mac was then sweeping the country) - and in the process began to develop the power and control his voice now possesses (apart from becoming proficient on bass and guitar).
However. Bonnet soon tired of knocking out the old standards, so exchanging old for new began playing cover versions of contemporary Chuck Berry material. Moving to London with his cousin Trevor Gordon - the two of them working together in a butcher's shop - it transpired that Trevor had worked with the Bee Gees in his early teens.
Inevitably (as such stories go, it would appear), Robert Stigwood expressed interest and invited Bonnet and Gordon to make a record... although as part of the conditions the boys were forced to drop the other guys in the band. Hence a band called The Marbles came into being. In 1968 they had a huge hit, "Only One Woman", which gave Bonnet his first and only taste of fame for almost 10 years.
"We had a follow-up single, "Bonnet explains. "But it didn't sell a light."
But didn't you make any money from the hit?
"No. Not a bloody penny."
In desperation one of Bonnet's other cousins - now a schoolteacher - tried to - as they say on Fleet Street - "re-structure his rock career". Bonnet was to have been the new Tom Jones. TV commercials followed. Beer and after-shave. In 1977 Bonnet released a solo album that went gold in Australia, in its wake came a myriad of offers, but, despite the self-assurance and power Bonnet exudes on stage he is a desperately unsure and insecure individual; the kind of musician who really lights up if paid a compliment...
To return to Rainbow. During his stint with the band Bonnet recorded the 'Down To Earth' album which produced two hit singles. 'Since You Been Gone' and ' All Night Long'. He left in 1980. Why?
"There were many reasons," he replies. "Firstly I simply couldn't get on with Roger Glover and increasingly I was finding it difficult to work with Ritchie. He's a good guitarist - in his own way. But he's so rigid - and he does tend to be a little dictorial. I mean, quite honestly it'd get to the point where the band had been playing so long that it simply became a series of cliches."
The atmosphere within the band did actually become quite vindictive, apparently. Blackmore considered the length of Bonnet's hair and his Florida beach shirts 'inappropiate'. Thus, minutes before Bonnet was due to take the stage he discovered a 'conspiracy' (his word) involving the locking of all his stage clothes in a trunk.
"It was," he says, "the straw that broke the camel's back." Graham disappeared for a while but last month he released his solo album. 'Line-Up' but one thing that seems odd is there's no self-written material on the album, why?
"I wanted it to be a strong follow-up to the hits I had with Rainbow but the next album will include a lot of my songs. We basically started 'Line-Up' with one of the songs on the album. 'Be My Baby', we were in the studio just banging it out on the piano and someone suggested we record it."
Although Graham left a strong band, his new album includes such stalwarts as Jon Lord on keyboards, Cozy Powell on drums, Micky Moody on guitar and Gary Twigg on bass, so we'll have to see if that combination can bring him his pot of gold.
Pete Erskine, Kerrang November 1981