Meanwhile, On the Phone with the legendary Graham Bonnet…
The legendary Graham Bonnet has a staggering list of vocal credits including the likes of Rainbow, Alcatrazz, the Michael Schenker Group, and a whole lot more. As well as touring currently as a participant in Michael Schenker Fest, the powerhouse singer has established the Graham Bonnet Band! On the verge of issuing a brand new album entitled Meanwhile, Back In The Garage on Frontiers Music Srl, the Graham Bonnet Band has unveiled a massive effort containing songs filled with dazzling musicianship – not to mention those much revered, supremely impassioned Graham Bonnet vocals!
Highwire Daze Online had the chance to issue a phone call to Graham Bonnet to discuss the brand new Meanwhile, Back In The Garage endeavor, his touring with Michael Schenker Fest, working with projects such as Blackthorne and EZOO, vocal training and exercises, and other topics of intrigue! Read on…
After you released the Graham Bonnet Band double album The Book, how daunting was it for you to think about writing and recording all new music?
Not at all. While we were doing the first album, I already had other ideas for new songs and so did the other guys. It was exciting to do it. In fact, now that we finished that album. we’re already thinking about the next. I’m already putting together some new songs now. I’m always ready to invent, to play and sing something new. And that’s the way it is with me. I just never stop writing. And I think that’s what most musicians are like. You go for a walk and you hear this song in your head and you go, “Oh what’s that? I must write that down and put a chorus to that.” It’s great! I can’t wait to begin again.
Is there any overall story or concept behind the title Meanwhile, Back In The Garage?
I mean, isn’t that where we all started? I remember at the bottom of my street when I was 11, there was a band on the corner in their garage – and eventually I joined that band. We of course rehearsed and played in the garage for our shows. And this is a return to then, because I did all of my vocals in the garage. Yes I did! And some guitar parts too. As you know, everyone records at home now – you don’t have to go into some expensive studio, which is great. You don’t have to go anywhere because you’re already there. It’s something that everyone does – so Meanwhile, Back In The Garage – he we are!
Select two songs from Meanwhile, Back In The Garage and what inspired the lyrics for you.
The so-called next single – whatever a single is these days – I don’t know – the next thing you’ll hear on YouTube or something is called Sea Of Trees. Which is about a place in Japan at the bottom of Mt Fuji where people actually go to commit suicide. It’s not a very happy song – and it’s called Sea Of Trees because when you see the trees from above, you can’t see how any light gets in there at all. It’s like a complete blanket of trees. When the wind blows, it’s like waves on the top of the trees. It’s a very dense forest, and the Japanese people who are suicidal – it’s unbelievable – they go there – and what they do is they tie a ribbon around the tree and walk into the darkest part of the forest. They take off their shoes and sometimes they hang themselves. But the ribbon is there in case they change their mind and decide to go back and go out. And that’s what the song is about – the chorus is “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” At the end I say “Put on your shoes. It’s time to turn back. Go back to the land of the living” so to speak. It’s a sad little weird story – and why they commit suicide I don’t know for sure – all for different reasons – and sometimes they don’t commit suicide and they do go back and they do get out of it. And for the second one, why don’t pick one…
Let’s do America, Where Have You Gone.
America, Where You Have You Gone. Again, I call it reporting rather than writing. I report on thing that are current or things that are real – I don’t do fantasy songs. And it’s basically looking at how America is right now – it’s a return to the days of the gun slinging cowboys right now. Because every morning I watch TV for the news, and you see kids are being shot at school – police have shot down another kid somewhere. And it’s just incredible the way the world is going, but now everyone has a gun and nobody’s doing anything about it. The government’s never going to change the law and they think its big business. I’m just saying in that song – it’s basically about a mom and dad saying “Okay kids, you better go to bed now.” It’s the beginning verse – “I’ve packed your switchblade and I’ve cleaned your gun and I’ve put it in your backpack already to go. It’s going to be a dangerous day tomorrow, but be as careful as you can. Try not to get shot.” And that’s what it’s kind of come to. Teachers now are being armed – it’s kind of weird. You’re going to have to have your kids go to school with a gun to protect themselves from another kid that might have a gun. I will never get it! I’m obviously British, and when I came here, it wasn’t as bad as it is now. And I can’t believe what’s going on. Police here have always carried guns – I think. And in England, nobody had ever carried a gun in the police force. I spoke to a policeman about two weeks ago – I was talking about this cuz he asked me the same questions. And I said “But British cops are now carrying guns, aren’t they?” And he said, “Yes, but what’s happening now is they’re going we don’t need to carry guns.” The police are handing in their guns because they don’t want to be armed. So they’re trying to change in a round a bit – and setting an example for the British public who may be carrying guns. So that’s what the song is about – how it’s a return to the wild west.
We picked two serious songs there to discuss!
Yeah, they are all about death! (Laughs) But I always have a sense of humor in there too. But they are pretty serious subjects.
You’ll be doing some touring in support of this album, including a stop here in Southern California on September 29th. What are you looking forward to the most about your upcoming tour?
Eventually I would like to start incorporating more of our new songs, but we’re always around to do the obvious ones such as Since You’ve Been Gone, All Night Long, etc. I do want to play more at home, because we’re always playing overseas. The next thing I’m going to do is in Russia with Michael Schenker – just a couple of days – but it’s a long way to go to do a few shows. But we want to play at home. It’s really hard to get work here because we’re not exactly Beyoncé or whatever. We’re not sort of a trendy, groovy band. We’re playing music that is basically tailored to an older audience if you will. Our audience is mainly guys in their 50’s and 60’s who listen to all that 1980’s music. Our audience is mainly male also. It’s kind of hard to get an audience ignited. We’ve got more girls coming to our shows – it does happen but not so much. Since Beth-Ami – my girlfriend the bass player who’s in the band – has been in the band, we find out that a few more girls have been coming out because like, “What’s this girl doing in this hard rock band with four other guys?” It’s kind of created a bit of interest, which is great. I love that, because we have a different look I must say – because there’s one girl in this sort of hard rock band. We want to play more at home, but it is difficult because the venues don’t want to pay much. They’re small venues – they don’t promote greatly over here. They just say “Who’s this? Okay, let’s just put up a couple of little flyers here and there.” But it’s disappointing when you get there, and you find out you’re playing to 50 people or something – which is a shame. But the clubs that we do play – they’re not huge, but they’re usually for 200-300 people. We’re no longer playing arenas at this moment.
Do you still enjoy playing the older songs such as Since You’ve Been Gone after all this time?
Yeah! I mean, when we play that, the crowd comes alive. As soon as we play that they, it’s like, “Oh there it is! I know who you are now!” What’s happened is we are going to have to establish my name as opposed to being the songwriter/singer in Alcatrazz and Rainbow. They really don’t know me – they don’t know Graham. They know the bands and the songs, but they don’t know who I am. So The Graham Bonnet Band is a new entity.
How did the Michael Schenker Fest North America Tour go and what were some of the highlights for you?
It was great – it was fantastic! Well the reunion thing – it was great. So that created a bit of interest. And we played in front of pretty big audiences – instead of 50 people, like 5000 or whatever. It’s been really cool! It’s been a great thing with Doogie White and Gary Barden and Robin McAuley. It’s been great because we all share the stage together when we sing on each other’s songs – when we’re doing backing harmonies and stuff. We’re great friends and its great fun. It really is. I enjoy it very much. I didn’t think I would, but I do.
What’s was your favorite song to do on the Michael Schenker Fest Resurrection album and why?
I think Night Moods –that one – because it’s very much like one of my old song Night Games. Very similar I must say. I didn’t write it. It has similar parts in it that are like Night Games. And I kind of like doing that one because Robin and Gary sing on that with me. It seems to be a good song live – the audience seems to be like it – and that’s probably my favorite. Of course I like the older songs that Michael and I wrote years ago.
When you look back on that Assault Attack album, what do you think of it now?
I still think it stands up as pretty good – I really do. A lot of people really like it, and that’s why we incorporate a couple of those songs in our set. And Michael loves it. Don’t tell anybody, but it’s his favorite Schenker album. He’s pretty proud of that too – and so am I. It was my first effort with Michael – and the last effort. Cozy Powell got me in that band – and I thank you Cozy for doing that. But Cozy didn’t last long – he was gone before we actually started recording it – Ted McKenna came in. But I’m pretty proud of that. The songs ain’t too bad!
The Blackthorne album was released and a second one with unreleased material was issued as well. When you look back at that album Afterlife, what do you think of it now?
At that time, I was away from home for eight months. I didn’t get to see my kids who were very young at the time and my wife. And it was a miserable time to be honest with you. And when I look at that album now, I sort of associate the way I felt rather than the way the recording of the songs were going. There were some decent songs on there – Afterlife was a good tune which I was very proud of – that turned out well. It was really hard work and we were struggling like hell to play live. Nobody was interested, so most of the time was spent recording and putting down new songs. And that’s where the second album came from. I mean, we all wrote songs almost all day. I forgot all about it when I left the band. We demoed a whole album actually. And so the second album came out recently as you know. I think the album is good. Bob (Kulick) is a great guitar player and we had great players on that album. But for me it was an unhappy time, and I just had to leave the band because I was getting so homesick. My kids were growing up and I wanted to be there as a dad. It had nothing to do with the music.
Another project you recently did with EZOO with Dario Mollo. How did that project and release come about?
I played with Dario with Don Airey. Me and Don had a band together way before the Deep Purple days – way before Don was with in Deep Purple. The Bonnet/Airey Band it was called. He said, “I’ve got a guitar player whose absolutely perfect for the band.” And that’s when I met Dario. And later when Don got a job with Deep Purple, he went his own way, and Dario and I got together. Dario sent me some tapes as we had back then – and said “Can you write some songs?” And so we put some songs together – and this was a long time ago. Eventually it became an album, which was released just recently. I recorded those vocals – it must be 11 years ago maybe? Because I put a band together – I think I did another Alcatrazz type band. I didn’t want to keep going over to Italy playing out there – I wanted to stay at home and play around here with Alcatrazz music. I sort of put EZOO aside, and Dario went on to do other things. So it was left on the shelf. And then Dario asked me to write another tune and put it out as an album – and that was just a couple of years ago.
On this new album Meanwhile, Back In The Garage, your voice is as powerful as ever. How do you keep your voice in such great shape? What do you do?
Not much. Nothing. (Laughs) . Just try to – “I wonder if I could sing today? Oh maybe…” (Laughs) Yeah, I don’t do all the vocal exercises and all that kind of stuff. I don’t think it does anything. I remember Ronnie Dio saying to one of my friends – somebody asked him “Aren’t you going to warm up before you go on Ronnie?” And he said, “No, it’s a waste of notes!” (Laughs) And I agree with him 100 percent. He’s like “Why warm up? You’re probably going to need that when you’re up there.” So it’s one of those things that I’ve never done. I just hope for the best. I guess I’m lucky in a way. Don Airey played a song with Pavarotti and he asked “Don’t you warm up before you go on?” And he just said, “No. I just hope for the best.” If I can sing this night, then I can. If I can’t, then I fucking well can’t. It doesn’t always work. I must say that I’ve had bad nights – if I’ve got a cold it screws me up a little bit. I’ve been pretty lucky so far…
And lastly, do you have any messages for Graham Bonnet fans who are reading this now?
Those people who are reading this now – I just hope that you come out and see us whenever you see some kind of advertisement for the Graham Bonnet Band. Because if you like Alcatrazz and if you like Rainbow, you’ll enjoy my band A LOT. Because this is probably Rainbow or Alcatrazz but in 2018 – and this is more progressive I think. I’m very proud of the band. I’m very proud of the people who are in the band right now. This is the best lineup ever.
Graham Bonnet – Vocals
Kurt James – Guitars
Beth-Ami Heavenstone – Bass
Jimmy Waldo – Keys
Mark Benquechea – Drums
(Interview by Ken Morton)
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