Still Going Strong

Born in England, a former citizen of Australia and now reciting in USA since 1980, more precisely California, the legendary singer Graham Bonnet from none other bands than Rainbow, Alcatrazz, Impellitteri, MSG, Blackthorne and others, gave his fans a really huge gift by bringing himself to Finland for a few shows. We met up with him before his show in Tavastia on May 9th in the Hotel President, actually the Presidential suite to be correct, to discuss what he's been up to before hitting Finland. Before us Graham met up with Perfect Strangers Of Finland, the Deep Purple society of Finland and did other interviews, so we had little time left from others to interview him. Graham also broke his watch so that might've caused some mixups in the schedule too. But even with all the fuss around the man, Graham was still very polite and on a good mood, even with the flu he was suffering from. He sat on the couch relaxed and talked about how he got involved with his band from Finland; Lacu-drums (Hanoi Rocks), Daffy-guitar (ex-Nuket, ex-Michael Monroe), Lamppari-guitar (ex-Michael Monroe), Jay Lewis-bass (ex- Princess Pang, ex-Skin & Bones, Yö) and Pate Flintstone-keys(Five Fifteen, ex-Hanoi Rocks). We also heard Päivi Lepistö (ex-Movetron) singing backing vocals at least in Tavastia. From Finland he headed over to Sweden to do the last show and then it was a trip back home.

So how are you doing tonight?

I'll tell you when I wake up. I'm doing fine. It's been good so far and I hope tonight will be a good one too and I hope I won't fall over you know. I don't mean being drunk, but healthwise. I've been suffering a little bit from cold, I've had cold for about three weeks now actually. It's cold and allergies, I suffer from allergies also. So it's been very intense worrying am I gonna make it through the night, telling the guys I'm sorry if I'll croak tonight, but would you mind if we didn't do this song or...but I think it's been ok you know. I think people will enjoy what we've done, eventhough Graham is a little bit "froggy" (makes funny frog-like sounds)

You were in Estonia last night, how did that go?

I thought Estonia was the name of the city. I didn't know it was a country (laughs). So I had a bit of a problem when we got on the boat, to cross over there. My bag had already gone to the ship and it was already in the truck and I had to go through one of those security guys to get my passport out of my bag. Nobody told me to bring my passport with me to have it handy. So that was very weird. But anyway, when we got there it was great, they were lovely people and we had a really great time. They wouldn't let us go home. They were (talking a lot), we were like stop now, let's go home. But it was a good show I think. The band played great...what can I say, it was just good fun.

So what else have you been doing lately, other than this tour?

I just recorded a song for Michael Schenker. Before I came here I've been playing in Los Angeles with my friends. We put together a little thing sometimes and we do some gigs and play whatever we like. Also I've been recording with other guitar players and I'm about to do a Beatles-tribute album. We'll be doing a song called "Happiness Is A Warm Gun", the one that John Lennon sang. I've been working with a band called Elektric Zoo, with whom I've been working with for a while. They're Italian. But Don Airey (now plays keys in Deep Purple) has worked with me and Elektric Zoo also. We played a couple of gigs some years ago. Then I'm going to England to play with some of my friends also, the Michael Schenker band in fact, Ted McKenna and Chris Glen, who are the bassplayer and drummer from Michael Schenker.

So what made you go on this tour and what still keeps you playing these old songs?

Playing the old songs doesn't bother me, I like them. I especially like "Since You've Been Gone", since it was the first thing that happened with Rainbow. And I've never been here before. I got an e-mail from Daffy and he said would you be interested in coming over to Finland to play with us, we know all your music. He told me about the band and everything and I said absolutely and how much (laughs). Yeah well, but that comes into it. But it's been great. Hopefully we'll get together later in the end to do something else. That's what I want to do.

I understand it's quite unusual for a famous singer like you to have local musicians in the band, how did this Finnish band take form in the first place ? You also have the same thing with a Russian band.

It seems I'm kinda like a karaoke singer (laughs). I come along like I just walk into the karaoke bar and (ask) can you play this...yeah, Russia was the same thing. I heard about the band and they told me what they've done and they knew everything I'd been involved with. And when I did the Japanese band thing, it was the same thing. It was very hard to have an interpreter all the time sitting by my side even in the rehearsals, because nobody spoke English, it was very hard for me to communicate. But it's ok here, most people speak English. I don't speak Finnish, so...that's a good thing! But it's fun working with new people. They're complete strangers when you first meet them and after a couple of days they're your best friends. And then you say goodbye and that's the awful part. It makes you feel weird, it's like oh no, we just started, you know. Let's go on for a bit more. But as I said hopefully we'll get this band together again someday.

So all these guys are new friends to you?

Yeah, that's what I'm saying. And hopefully I'm theirs too. I never forget anybody you know. I like people and it's nice to meet people from different cultures, it's quite interesting.

How about the shows, how's the co-operation with the band been then, do you work well together?

Terrible ! (laughs)

Is there anything happening with Elektric Zoo now?

That's another thing I'll be working on when I get back home. I've got two new songs already and Dario (Mollo), the guitarplayer, is sending me new tracks every week. So far I've got five tunes for that album, whatever it's called, I don't know yet. That's just in the beginning stage.

You've worked with a lot of famous people like Micky Moody, Pip Williams and made friends with, to name a few, Ronnie James Dio, Russ Ballard and even the late Rory Gallagher, who's grave I've personally visited. You also knew Cozy Powell through Rainbow, who's also now unfortunately gone. Do you still keep contact with the people from the past who are still alive?

Haha, I still keep in contact with the ones that aren't alive, I think. I remember when Cozy died, when I heard the news over the phone. Don Airey called me. I went out in the backyard and I looked over the hills and there was a rainbow and it was really close. It was the weirdest one, I went all cold. I said is that you Cozy? It was very weird, it was like a sign. I don't really believe in all that kinda stuff, but Rory was a friend of mine and he was a great player and you also admired him. But I was managed by the same people he was and when I heard about his death it was awful. But from the people that are still alive Don Airey is probably the only person I keep in contact with from those days. And Michael Schenker. The other guys Ted and Chris, I hope to get together pretty soon in fact. They recently got in touch with me about doing something in England.

You've stated on your website that the most memorable show for you has been with Rainbow in Castle Donington. Was that the last show with the band or what makes it so special?

It was special, because all my family was there, my dad my mom, my brother, my dog, you know. Everybody was there. And lots of my friends from school. But apart from that it was an overwhelming crowd. The crowd was so big, it was so ridiculous. I've never seen anything like it and to have all of them cheer, it was like "ooh, for me?! For us?!". It was just magical, I'll never forget it. And that was the day Cozy left the band in fact, or that night in fact. It was like sad and happy at the same time. I remember we stayed up very early in the morning, seven o'clock in the morning talking to Cozy downstairs in the hotel lobby to say goodbye, it took that long to say actually you're really gonna go. But musically it was good you know, for a live show. And things went wrong of course (laughs), 'cos we're all excited about doing it and we want to be good. It was like the first metal concert we had, the Donington, I think it was the very first one, The Monsters Of Rock! (grunts heavy words out) So it was important for us and we did a good job.

Of all your bands, which has been your favourite to sing in?

Well I guess Rainbow. I have to say that, because it has sentimental value I suppose. I mean it wasn't the easiest of times, but the one album I made with them I'm really proud of. I loved singing those songs when I was in the band and I respected their musicianship and everything. And their knowledge of the business and everything, they told me a lot. And they also told me "don't ever grow your hair long, Graham" (laughs). But after a while they said it's alright. They're good guys, they're grownups.

Your image has stayed pretty much the same during all these years. Have you ever gotten any pressure to change your image from the management or others?

No, nobody cares (laughs). What they see is what they get, I guess. What they hear is what they get, I guess. I don't think nobody really cares the way I am. I've always been an old rock'n'roll fan, so it kinda shows a bit. You know 1950's rock'n'roll, I love those. So it's just something I adapted at the time. Everybody had a long hair, I thought I'd do something different, which was years ago. I'm not talking recently, this was way before Rainbow. So living in London you know how trendy that is. London is a trendy kinda place. And everybody had a different image I thought ahh, 1950's, I'll go with that, 'cos I love that music and I love those looks. When people mention me to somebody they know what to expect, some guy with short hair...

I understand you also like blues?

Yeah, that's how I started out, with a little blues band when I was a little kid like fifteen or sixteen. We played in pubs in England and that's how we started, listening to Johnny Lee Hooker and who else. There was a whole list of people I used to listen to. And very early blues, like the 1920's, so it's a little bit of that as well. We kinda mixed it up with the Bob Dylan stuff we did also and The Beatles at the same time. There was a bit of everything.

Is your voice fine with all the material after all these years?

Yeah. It's just that when you don't feel very well it's just hard you know. But it's still the same, I hope. I think it is.

Do you keep it in shape?

I don't. I just hope for the best. I don't do anything I'm supposed to do. Maybe it's my own fault I've made myself sick, I don't know.

But you look really healthy.

Oh, thank you, but I look really tired. But I'm OK, I do a lot of bicycle riding and that's my hobby. I don't get fat, I don't know why. I get thinner very quickly. I gotta watch it. If I don't eat in a week I'll be as thin as a rail. It's one of those things, my metabolism is a bit strange. But I'm not dying, I'm not sick or anything. I just look thin. My wife keeps telling me you gotta eat more Graham. Why are you so skinny ?! She's worried, 'cos she's getting heavier. You know how it is (laughs).

So what does the year 2005 still hold for you?

Well I hope a bunch of things. This is one thing I've really enjoyed. I didn't realize it was so much fun as it has been. Also I've got work to do when I get home with different musicians. I don't know what's gonna happen with that (Michael Schenker) album when it comes out. Then there's the Electric Zoo thing, playing live in England and as I said hopefully back here and in Los Angeles. There's more recording than playing at the moment.

Do you have much spare time then?

Yeah, I've got spare time. Couple of hours a day sometimes. Nah, I'm just kinda writing words all the time. That's what I do when I have time to do it. But I'm very busy with my little daughter, she's only five. When daddy's writing songs, she likes to come sing with me, she's singing along and telling me what to do. I spend most of my time with her. I miss her terribly now, it's so weird not to have her here right now.

You used to live in Australia for a few years. Have you been there lately?

Yeah, I was there last year. I went over for a vacation and saw my wife's mom and her family. We went there for a month. We went to the beach. It's a beautiful country.

You now live in California, is it hectic over there?

No, it's very relaxing where I live in, which is outside the city. When I lived in New York it was a bit like that in there. It's a very rush around kind of a place. But you know what California's like, all that surfing and stuff.

Is there something musicwise you still dream about?

I'd like to if I ever had the talent to do write something, I hate to call a musical, but something that is like musical, but something more than a musical. Instead of being like Phantom Of The Opera and things like that. I hate that, it just doesn't turn me on that much. But something like that one day. Or at least have a bunch of stuff that is complitely different from things I normally do, 'cos there's more than one side to what I think about musically.

Would you like to say something to your fans here?

Well, be there for start (laughs), where ever we're playing and I hope to come back to Finland pretty soon and anywhere else. I'm here and I wish I was playing out more than I am right now. I wish I could be around touring the whole world for the whole year. It would be lovely, but things get in the way, like life you know. Besides playing I have a life as well. This is part of it, but you know what I mean. But I would like to play more than I have been really. There's no doubt about it.

You're still going strong?

Oh yes ! I think so yeah.

Thank you for the interview.

You're welcome.

Satu Reunanen, RockUnited.Com May 2005 - Pictures by Kari Helenius, RockUnited.Com
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