Life over the Rainbow

Graham Bonnet, Alcatrazz' lead vocalist, is nursing a hangover from the night before's photo session. The fledgling group's debut album is running behind schedule, and the tea Bonnet has been drinking hasn't quite taken the edge off of last night's revelry repercussions.

"This new band started last November in my garage," Bonnet says. "It's a real garage band. "What I was going to do was to work on a solo album," the former Rainbow and Michael Schenker Group lead vocalist continues. "I thought about it for a while, and my manager said, 'How 'bout getting a new band together?' He just happened to see a classified ad in a music magazine, and there were two guys a keyboardist and a bassist looking for work.

I thought, 'That's a good start.' They were both from the same band, a band called New England. They were a bit like ELO. "We went into my garage and started thumping out tunes with the rain pouring in my garage door. It was like going back to when I was 12 years old, but it worked out pretty good."

Both bassist Gary Shea and keyboardist Jimmy Waldo had been looking for work since New England's demise following a three-album lifespan, and although Bonnet had his doubts as to how they were going to fit into his new band, the combination of Waldo's swirling keyboard work and 20-year-old Swedish guitar prodigy Yngwie Malmsteen's talents clicked immediately.

"I was really worried about the whole project, especially the two guys from New England," Bonnet confesses. "I listened to their albums, and I didn't really like them. "But it's worked out really well because Jim Waldo and Yngwie play really well together. It's a lot like that Jon Lord / Ritchie Blackmore sort of thing and Gary and our drummer, Jan Uvena, are great players, too. It's just all fitted together. It seems that all of the members of the band have wanted to play this type of music in the first place, but they were in the wrong bands at the time."

Bonnet's personal history reads like a road map of late sixties / early seventies British pop and heavy metal music. Starting with a group called the Marbles, Bonnet's vocals were backed by the Bee Gees on a Robert Stigwood-produced single that went to #3 in Great Britain, but having lost his Marbles, Bonnet spent the next few years playing bass and guitar in several groups in addition to singing on a couple of TV jingles.

Bonnet's solo career included two albums (GRAHAM BONNET and NO BAD HABITS) for Phonogram Records in 1977 and 1978, respectively. Neither album was released in America. In 1978, Bonnet was asked to fill the vacancy in Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow left by the departure of Ronnie lames Dio. He accepted and stayed for two years during which time Rainbow enjoyed their greatest success based on the popularity of such songs as "Since You've Been Gone" and "All Night Long."

It brought me together as a musician," Bonnet says of his Rainbow years. It strengthened my voice for one thing. Being onstage with all that noise really brought me out of my shell. I really enjoyed it."

Bonnet's decision to leave the band after a gig at Castle Donnington in front of 60,000 heavy metallurgists seemed foolish at the time, especially to Bonnet's manager. "I left because the music was becoming all the same," he explains. "My manager said,'Graham, you're going to lose a lot of money if you leave Rainbow,' and I said, 'But I'm not happy. I've had enough. This band doesn't seem to be going anywhere. It getting more poppy which it has.' I mean the stuff they've doing now is like Foreigner. It doesn't sound like Rainbow at all. The Rainbow Sound is gone, if there ever was a Rainbow Sound.

"I think Ritchie is throwing away his guitar playing," Bonnet continues. "He's just going onstage and appearing as Ritchie Blackmore instead of being Ritchie Blackmore. The guy still is great, but I think he doesn't care. He's had enough, but he just likes being onstage. I don't know what he's all about now. It's a shame."

Although Bonnet professes an admiration for the Eurythmics' music, he dismisses most of the music currently coming out of England as "unemotional garbage." The New Wave of British heavy metal, especially Def Leppard, is also held in contempt. "I don't like Def Leppard," Bonnet declares with pride. "I can't stand 'em."

"When I was in MSG," he continues, "their manager was our manager, and we used to rehearse in the same building. We'd hear them playing our riffs the next day we'd go to rehearse. They had been copying our stuff. "And I don't like them as people," he concludes. "So I definitely don't like their music. They're little snot-nosed bastards. They're horrible, and I don't mind saying that."

© Marc Holan, Scene Entertainment Weekly - December 29, 1983