The Great Rainbow Debate (Part 2): A Boost For Bonnet
It’s the triple-header everyone is talking about (well, almost): Ronnie vs. Graham vs. Joe.
Yesterday, Dave Ling stoutly stood up for Ronnie James Dio as the pre-eminent Rainbow vocalist.
Today, Malcolm Dome takes an 007 route in putting the case for Graham Bonnet.
Tomorrow (Saturday, October 10) Geoff Barton flies the flag for Joe Lynn Turner.
No disrespect, but Doogie White is currently lying fourth in a three-horse race.
Right, seconds out, round two…
The forgotten one. The man who was sandwiched between the eras of Ronnie James Dio and Joe Lynn Turner. Yes, it’s all too easy to dismiss Graham Bonnet as someone who kept the seat warm while Ritchie Blackmore moved Rainbow cunningly out of the 1970s, and into the more commercial zones of the next decade.
However, it’s for this very reason that Bonnet should be acclaimed, hailed and generally applauded. For me, he’s the George Lazenby of Rainbow. Think about it. Lazenby was the man called upon to take on the mantle of the irreplaceable Sean Connery, as James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He lasted just the one film. His performance was decried and slaughtered almost universally. Lazenby was perceived as ill-equipped and inconsequential when compared to his predecessor. And OHMSS was consigned to the scrap heap as bilge. Eventually Roger Moore rescued the franchise, and for years hardly anyone talked about the man with the one movie Bond portfolio.
But time has made us all realise that Lazenby was actually quite good, and OHMSS is one of the best Bond movies. The same can be said of Bonnet and his one Rainbow album, Down To Earth (1979).
Yes, he wore horribly overcoloured Hawaiian shirts, and had a distinctly non-rock ‘n’ roll bouffant. But if we all agree that Dio’s time had run out with the Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll album, then Bonnet proved the perfect replacement. And it’s because he took on the impossible task that his part in the Rainbow saga deserves to be massively lauded right now.
Impossible task? Well, how do you take over from Ronnie James Dio, the man whose contribution to shaping heavy rock in the latter half of the 1970s was titanic? Nobody, except Geoff Barton, can surely argue with what he achieved over three studio records. Ronnie had become an all-time great, and would himself go on to take on the herculean task of replacing Ozzy in Black Sabbath.
So, when Blackmore turned to the comparatively unknown Graham Bonnet (admittedly, only after Ian Gillan had rejected overtures from his one-time Purple pal), eyebrows were raised to Roger Moore-esque heights. But the Man In Black knew what he was doing. It was time to revamp the Rainbow sound, to take the lyricism and the music away from the medieval preoccupations which had hitherto littered their records. Yet, also to retain some connection to the past.
The result? A quite brilliant album. Down To Earth was dynamic, forthright, full of astounding riffs, and featured Bonnet proving himself to be an inspired choice. Here was an English hard rock singer who could belt out the power, yet also had the smoothness to offer light and shade.
Eyes Of The World and Lost In Hollywood gave him the chance to let rip, while All Night Long and Since You Been Gone showcased a more melodic awareness.
Bonnet even got to front Rainbow at the inaugural Monsters Of Rock Festival at Castle Donington in 1980. But sadly, his tenure was short-lived. He was fired the night drummer Cozy Powell played his last gig with the band before quitting.
Of course, the reason Bonnet only did one album with Rainbow is, at least, partially his own fault. He had an alcohol problem, and his image just did not fit. But the job he did in taking Rainbow forward cannot be underestimated. Down To Earth was as successful as Rising in the UK, and got the band back on the right track in America. And the charting power of the singles All Night Long and Since You Been Gone gave Blackmore the springboard for what was to follow.
One can only wonder what might have happened had Bonnet stayed with Rainbow. His short time there had seen the man prove he had the weighty demeanour to be heavy, while also the tuneful application to appeal to a wider market. With due respect to both of them, neither Dio nor Turner could combine these extremes.
Nobody, except Geoff Barton (again), can question Ronnie Dio’s rightful status as a master vocalist, and his era with Rainbow probably remains the one most fans would love to see recreated should a reunion ever happen. And Joe Lynn Turner was a major factor in taking the band to bigger stuff in America. But don’t make the mistake of simply brushing aside Bonnet. Like George Lazenby, he deserves a lot more respect than that.
– Malcolm Dome