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Guitarists: Graham Bonnet

You’re a singer who has worked with many famous guitarists. Is there always friction between the two?

Oh yeah. It would be boring if everyone was happy, wouldn’t it? But normally, the guitar player and the singer are a pretty tight team. There’s this myth that they always have a battle. That doesn’t happen all the time. But of course it’s fun to talk about.

What makes a really great guitar player?

Someone who’s original, like Jeff Beck or Gary Moore. Someone who plays with soul and depth.

And a bad one?

All those ‘widdly-widdly’ guys. I’ve been in bands with a few of them. They can play fast, but there’s no feel to it. It’s like singing high all the time – what’s the point? Who gives a shit?

At the end of the seventies you worked with a legendary guitar hero – Ritchie Blackmore – in Rainbow. Were you intimidated by him?

Not at all. Ritchie had this image of being dark and nasty and moody, but he was the nicest person you could ever meet. He was very shy, he didn’t have many friends, but he and I got on very well together.

After you quit Rainbow, you hooked up with another famous guitarist in The Michael Schenker Group. How did Schenker compare to Blackmore?

Well, Michael really was moody. He and I were both heavy drinkers at the time. Every morning was cocktail hour. But there was a clash between us – I’m not sure why. And my time in that band came to a dreadful end, as we all know…

You’re referring, of course, to the gig at Sheffield University in 1982, when you drunkenly exposed yourself to the audience and were promptly sacked.

Yes, the famous penis-hanging show. I was totally out of it. I’d been out boozing with Whitesnake in the afternoon, and then had an argument with Michael before the show. It was a disaster caused by the Devil Drink.

You then formed a new group, Alcatrazz, with another virtuoso guitarist, Yngwie Malmsteen.

Yngwie looked like Ritchie and played liked him. He was young and hungry. He seemed to be perfect. But very quickly he developed a big ego. Suddenly he was pushing me out of the way on stage. Etiquette went out of the window. And then he was widdling through all of my songs. Just awful.

Did Yngwie walk or did you push him?

We fired him three times. The final time was after he tried to strangle me at a gig. After that, I said: “This kid is insane.” So Yngwie got his own career, and we got Steve Vai, a much more inventive and original player. And he was more the hippie type – a vegetarian, like me. Steve is a good guy.

Do you have a favourite guitarist?

Not really. I liked Gary Moore a lot. But I listen to songs more than to the players.

And in your experience, who gets more groupies – the singer or the guitarist?

Usually the guitar player. There’s a simple answer.

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”