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Catching Up With… Graham Bonnet

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Graham, let’s talk about the release of your first Live Album/DVD in 33 years Live..Here Comes The Night.  It was recorded in April 2016 in Milan Italy as part of the Frontiers Rock Festival.  Was the intent to record that night for a live record or did the idea of releasing this come later?   

We were told in advance that this performance would be a filmed live recording for a CD/DVD package.  What’s interesting about this show was that we had just come off a boat, literally had been travelling on a ferry to get to Milan.  We had been up for a whole day.  Actually, a little more than 24 hours and we had this damn show to do.  When I watched the footage for the first time I could not believe how worn out I looked.  We were all so damn tired but in the end I think the results are what counts and it sounds terrific.  I could not watch the entire show because I look like I’m about to drop dead.  

Was it tough picking a set list from your years as a solo artist along with your work with Rainbow, MSG, Impelleteri & Alcratrazz?

It sort of is but it isn’t.  What happens is as a band we all bring to the table what we feel we would like to perform from my catalog.  By the time everybody has their input we sometimes have upwards of two full sets of material so we try and whittle down a bit and get the list down to a working set.  There are so many songs to choose from for the set because I’m been lucky enough to have a reasonably successful career and a lot of the songs are known by a lot of people all over the world, which is really cool.  So we pick from not only my solo releases but all of the other band projects that I’ve been a part of which you have already mentioned.  Two or three songs from each band and then we plan to change it up again for this coming tour and revisit some other songs from the same eras.  Eventually I’d like to promote more of the newer material and less of the old stuff as the band gets more comfortable with it.         

I’d like to go back a few months to the release of The Book also out on Frontiers Records.  Talk about the writing process for those new tracks and what it was booklike to revisit some of your older material to be re-recorded?

Well, to be honest, revisiting the older material was horrible.  I always believe that the original recording is the best. Period.  Even when I was in the bands like Rainbow and suddenly we were out on tour and listened to songs like “All Night Long” I’d be like oh my god it’s not like the record at all.  It would be something different about it.  It might be better sometimes but often it wouldn’t quite meet the expectations I wanted it to.  It’s kind of difficult because I’ve been singing these songs for 30+ years and they do become a bit stale.  But for the audience at a show the tendency is to bring the song to life again like a new baby because they are all singing it with you. In other words, if your singing your heart out then maybe I should too.  But aside from the live experience, to go back into the studio to recreate that sound or that energy it took a bit of rethinking.  There is no reaction from anyone.  It’s just you and a microphone alone in a room.  Not quite the same buzz.  It seems easier live than recording.  I simply can’t listen to those recordings because I always think back to the originals and how I felt at the time recording them.  Whether it was a happy time or sad time it doesn’t matter.  Most of them were happy times because we were creating something new.    

As far as the new material goes we worked from a clean slate in terms of the arrangements and such but several of them I had been knocking them around for a bit.  To be honest, I never thought I’d be recording an album of new material.  My last solo effort was about 16 years ago and these new tunes have been in my head for the better part of that interim period.  I played them to the band and we all took it from there.  They added their parts and did the best we could do take an old-fashioned song and make it sound new.  I tend to write in different veins and styles and the band could take several jazzy parts and make them into a rock tune.  I’ve always sung different types of music all my life.  From rhythm and blues to pop to reggae to comedy tracks; you name it, I’ve done it.  If I have a song that’s somewhat light and play it for them on acoustic guitar eventually it becomes a band song and turns electric once we all plug in.  I hate calling it The Graham Bonnet Band because it truly is an effort of all involved.            

grahambonnetbandjoey_638You have some dates booked in Europe in July with your band playing some festivals and you are also going to be playing with The Michael Schenker festival again.  What has it been like to reconnect with Michael at these festival shows?

It’s been amazing. Given the circumstances based upon my initial departure from the band it’s nice to see Michael smiling across at me after my three songs in the set during these festival dates.  We did it after all these years.  We actually played live on stage when not drunk and wanting to kill each other.  It was very special and Michael was very, very pleased and so was I.  I know we have the show in Europe in July and again starting next March this may life as a full N American tour the details of which are being worked out. As long as I’m invited and available I’ll be there.  Michael truly is one of the greatest guitar players ever and I love playing with him.     

Are there any plans for your band to tour in North America at all in 2017/2018?

We are trying to get dates in North America but trying to book them is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It’s just not that easy.  We are what I like to call a “B” band.  We are getting to be an “A” band but we are not quite there yet!  But nobody seems that interested and moreover nobody wants to spend reasonable money which is a huge factor in this.  We have had offers to play here but the money is shit.  May as well stay at home and work on a session for the next record which is under way.  We do need to make a name for ourselves here Stateside there is no doubt about it.   

Will your touring band include the same lineup as you have or have there been any changes at all?

Actually, there have been a few changes.  We are adding Joey Tafolla on guitar and Mark Banquechea on drums while retaining Beth-Ann Heavenstone on bass and old friend Jimmy Waldo on keyboards.  It’s a much more powerful line-up for sure.  Bigger sound and I think people are going to like it.      

I had the chance to speak with Joe Lynn Turner recently and he indicated that at one point there was a Rainbow reunion tour in the works that would have included not only JLT but you and Doogie White as well.  As it turns out Ritchie decided to go in another direction and tour with an all new Rainbow lineup consisting of no members from past incarnations. Based on everything that Schenker has done recently to instill an appreciation of the history of MSG, consistently inviting past members of his different lineups to play with him, is Blackmore disappointing his fans in your opinion by not opting for inclusion of past members?

Absolutely.  But you know why he did, don’t you?  I spoke to JLT fucking years ago when the first wave of Rainbow being reunited (1995) and he (JLT) told me that I should be the singer because I had the most hits with the band.  Do you really think so Joe?  It should be Ronnie (then still alive and well fronting his own band Dio) who should be the singer and as many of the original members who are still around.  Not me and not you and not anyone but that original core lineup.   I was surprised when Ritchie went out doing these shows last year and again this year given his 20+ career in Blackmore’s Night.  I think  personally that he was chucking spaghetti against the wall to see if it stuck.  To see the Rainbow name on the marquee and see who would show up.  To be honest I have not watched or listened to any of the shows.  To me it won’t be Rainbow.  Almost anyone I have spoken to who was watched in person or who have watched or listened to it said that same thing.  It’s a shame.  Russ Ballard got up and played him very recently and I heard that didn’t go that well either.  “Since You’ve Gone” was written by him and that’s what made Rainbow into the radio friendly band it became into the JLT years.    

Your longtime fans were thrilled that Cherry Red Records not only released the first Blackthorne album Afterlife with a new expanded edition but also the never before released 2nd album Don’t Kill The Thrill.  What do you remember most fondly about that period of your career? 

Well I think leaving the band was a good one!!!  That was probably my happiest day.  It was so much work in the studio getting that thing recorded.  I was away from home for almost 8 months and we were doing gigs here and there.  By the time I got home the kids didn’t even recognize me.  It was very difficult also due to the fact that family was living in Australia at the time.  The songs were wonderful and the end result was great but the agony of making that first record was diabolical.  Endless disagreements and numerous confrontations over how the songs should sound to lyric content.  I disagreed with everything and Bob Kulick didn’t like anything I did and I would often ask him what am I doing this band then? Things have changed a lot since those and he reached out to be very recently wishing me the best of luck with all of my new endeavors.  It wasn’t just me that had issues with Bob during the making of that first record.  He criticized everyone from Frankie Banali on his drumming to Chuck Wright on his bass playing and Jimmy Waldo on keyboards.  Nobody was off limits.  It’s a shame really because he’s such an amazing guitar player but he just couldn’t help himself and had to rip everyone during the process.  Everything wasn’t quite right.  He would say “No, No don’t sing it like that.” I’d be like what? I know he wouldn’t mind me saying this now because it’s all blood under the bridge and I know he’s all happy now because he released the second album which is a bunch of songs we recorded in between gigs and the first album.   We recorded something almost every day just in case a second album would see the light of day and it indeed has and hearing a lot of good things about it.                

You must get asked all the time amongst the amazing guitar players you have played with over the course of your career do you have a favorite? Is it Blackmore, Schenker, Malmesteen,or Vai?  

I’d have to say Steve Vai just because of his versatility alone.  However, I will say that Richie Blackmore did revolutionize and originate a style of playing that Yngwie Malmsteen copied and took just a little bit further. He became much better than Ritchie I think but when I worked with him he was just a kid and was very difficult to work with, an ego that couldn’t fit in a room.  I knew he would become a big success because he always wanted to be in the spotlight and the star would stop at nothing to get it.   I have ever lasting gratitude to Blackmore for asking me to join Rainbow because it was a huge turning point in my career.  I didn’t originally want to do it but I’m glad I did.   But Vai is my favorite.  More inventive.  He thought more like me.  Instead of just writing a song and do the obvious he takes it somewhere else.      

Besides touring, what do you have scheduled for the remainder of 2017 in terms of any new music or collaborations?

Well the GBB is writing new music and with the inclusion of Joey and Mark we can start working on songs as a unit while we start to tour.  If you liked the original material from The Book then you will enjoy the new material.  We are starting to develop our own sound and that’s important.  It’s not a copy of something I’ve already done but it does have elements from the past.    

What message do you have for your enduring fans  as this brand new CD/DVD gets released on July 7? 

Please go to your local promoter and request the band!  We are now being seen as old man rock or old white guys rock and it’s tough to get gigs here in the states.  I know there is an audience out there we just have to find it.  I’ve always enjoyed playing the East Coast and can’t wait to get back there.  I miss playing in America.  This has been my home since 1979 and now I find myself flying back to Europe for work.  

For more info, visit:

http://grahambonnetband.com/
https://www.facebook.com/grahambonnetmusic/

 

 

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