Formed in 1983, Los Angeles-based band ALCATRAZZ became famous for its blend of melodic and progressive rock and for introducing guitar heroes Yngwie J. Malmsteen and Steve Vai to the masses. In a new interview with Jeff Gaudiosi of MisplacedStraws.com, ALCATRAZZ singer Graham Bonnet stated about the group's decision to split with Malmsteen in 1984, just one year after ALCATRAZZ's inception: "Yngwie had to go. We just had a battle which was not very good. I wished he could stay, but this kid, he grew into a monster — but a fucking great guitar player, no doubt. One night I walked offstage when it was time for his guitar solo, and I walked offstage and I tripped over his cord and I pulled it out of the fricking amplifier. And he thought I did it on purpose. I went to the bus and I was sitting there talking to the bus driver. And Yngwie runs in, gets me by the neck, does this [makes a choking motion], pushes his thumbs right into my throat. He said, 'You fucking asshole. In the middle of my solo, you unplugged me.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' I didn't know — I really didn't know what I'd done. What happened was one of our crew saw this happening, saw Yngwie. [Yngwie] was trying to kill my voice, basically. He dug his thumbs right in, right in here. I was choking. And this Hungarian guy, who was big and one of my close friends back then, came up to him and said, 'Yngwie…' He got Yngwie under his arm like this [makes a headlock], and he said, 'You fucking touch Graham again, I'm gonna break your fucking neck.' And that night, I remember we were driving home in the bus back to L.A., and we fired Yngwie on the tour bus because you can't do that — you can't strangle the singer. So that was the end of Yngwie."
A short time later, Vai came into the picture and stayed in ALCATRAZZ long enough to appear on the band's second album, 1985's "Disturbing The Peace".
"For me, it was better," Graham said. "I love the way Steve played, and he was so unusual — like Michael Schenker. There's something about those two guys; they aren't like anybody else. They do all that [shredding], but they have a certain style that's incomparable. I don't know. It's like Gary Moore and Jeff Beck — you can tell it's them. A lot of guitar players, it's just [shredding] for the sake of [shredding], which is great. It's fantastic, but it's not a song. Yngwie was great because he would play the song, not just say, 'Oh, here comes my guitar solo.' And Steve was the same. Steve, I got on with him very, very well, because he'd just kind of left Frank Zappa's band and we had different ideas. It was just very, very unusual — very sort of offbeat and so avant-garde about al lot of things. We had to kind of refine the avant-garde stuff to a little bit more radio-friendly stuff. But I love what he did. And we wrote some songs that we had to sort of pop up, if you will — make it more popular, commercial-sounding. Because he was on the same trail as I was. I liked things when they were unexpected, and that's what he was like. But I think that second album, for me, of ALCATRAZZ is my favorite — it really is — 'cause of his playing. The songs we made up I think were great. They still sound good."
Earlier this month, Graham Bonnet's version of ALCATRAZZ announced the addition of former NEVERMORE and current ARCH ENEMY guitarist Jeff Loomis to the group's ranks.
Graham's version of ALCATRAZZ is not to be confused with the band featuring original members Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea, along with new vocalist Doogie White (RAINBOW, YNGWIE MALMSTEEN, MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST), drummer Mark Benquechea and guitarist Joe Stump, which released a new single, "Turn Of The Wheel", in early June.
"Turn Of The Wheel" came out six months after Waldo, Stump, Shea and Benquechea issued a statement saying that would be joined by White for all their 2021 touring. Just a month earlier, Bonnet said that he was "no longer affiliated" with ALCATRAZZ's manager Giles Lavery." At the time, the other ALCATRAZZ members shot back, saying that they were "still represented" by Lavery and blasting Bonnet for "dictat[ing] to us who our collective or individual manager may or may not be."
Not long after, Bonnet released a statement via his social media in which he said that he "will still be recording and performing with ALCATRAZZ. I am the founder and main songwriter and have been since the band's inception in '83." He added that he will "be announcing the incredible new ALCATRAZZ lineup in the spring" and promised to take the new band on the road. He later said that he had "no plans to relinquish the name ALCATRAZZ" and he didn't expect his former bandmates to do so either. He explained: "This is an old story — bands break up and there becomes two versions. I'm not bothered by it. I've toured with Doogie the past few years with [MICHAEL] SCHENKER FEST and he is a good friend and a damn fine performer. In my opinion, there is no such thing as too much music. People can listen to one or the other or both versions and choose whatever they like. I'm not interested in squabbling over a name, I'd rather just make music."