A brief history of one of the better heavy bands of the early ’80’s – and one which even captured my imagination (having been a fan of Graham Bonnet when he was in Rainbow): Alcatrazz were formed in 1981 (allegedly in Graham Bonnet’s garage) and recorded three studio and one official live album before spiltting in 1987. They reformed in 2006, trading under the moniker of ‘Alcatrazz featuring Graham Bonnet’, mainly to tour Japan, but also played some gigs on the West Coast. A further version, Escape from Alcatrazz, toured Japan last year. These six discs are for hardcore Alcatrazz fans since it contains the entire studio output, plus various live offerings both on CD and DVD, and numerous bonus tracks and rarities – some available for the first time. here
The anthology kicks off with the classic debut album, released in 1983, No Parole for Rock and Roll, which has a predictably negative history of its own, due to the record label’s problems (Rocshire, distributed by RCA). The line-up for this release was (ex-Rainbow vocalist, for clarity’s sake) Graham Bonnet, the highly touted guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, Gary Shea – bass, Jan Uvena – drums (ex-Iron Butterfly) and Jimmy Waldo – keyboard. A high-quality mix of classic heavy rock; Bonnet and Malmsteen reached an absolute apex. Amongst the high points are the slight radio-hit “Island in the Sun’” (released as the first single but didn’t chart, even with MTV airplay) and the one that caught my attention, the epic “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (also a single and shown on MTV as well as other outlets). The other standouts are “General Hospital” and ‘Too Young to Die, Too Drunk to Live” – it should be said that for a genre not known for its depth of thinking, these songs did contain some serious messages.
The second disc is the Live Sentence, which is the only official live album from Alcatrazz and was released quickly in the wake of No Parole… Recorded January 1984 in Tokyo and features the original line up shortly before Malmsteen departed for his solo career. This edition of the album includes sixteen live tracks, consisting of several from the debut album plus the classic “Night Games” from Bonnet’s solo album Line Up and the massive Rainbow hit, “Since You’ve Been Gone”.
Disc three is the second studio release, Disturbing the Peace, where Steve Vai replaces Yngwie Malmsteen and a move (at the time) to Capitol Records. “God Blessed Video” is an uptempo and catchy track, released as a single but, again given little airtime by MTV. This album – while maybe unfairly compared to the debut, is less heavy rock; the standout being, “Mercy” which again, shows their social lyrical skills, is about British colonialism. Being a reconstituted line-up, the album shows an attempt at growth and diversity.
Disc four is their third and last studio release, Dangerous Games. At this point, Alcatrazz had abandoned the heaviness of the first album and had a more – and predictably – commercial sound; they also had another line-up change when Danny Johnson joined, replacing Steve Vai, (who, of course, became David Lee Roth’s guitarist). Not a strong album but there is one curiosity – a version of the Gibb brothers (yes, THOSE Gibb brothers) “Only One Woman”, which Graham Bonnet had released as his first single when he was in The Marbles.
Disc five is a compilation two different live performances, recorded 32 years apart… The first set is the original line-up playing the No Parole… album plus “Since You’ve Been Gone” in California in 1983; there isn’t much difference from the one on Live Sentence; the second set on the disc is billed as “Escape from Alcatrazz” and recorded in 2015 in Japan. This line-up is Bonnet, with Conrado Pesinato on guitar, Beth-Ami Heavenstone on bass and drummer Chase Manhattan. Containing four Rainbow tracks (“All Night Long”, “Love’s No Friend”, “Since You’ve Been Gone” and “Lost in Hollywood”), “Night Games” from Bonnet’s Line Up and “Suffer Me” from No Parole…, this collection of performances is really an afterthought of what Graham Bonnet is doing now. It isn’t bad – it’s merely perfunctory, although a nice gesture. The sixth and final disc is a DVD containing two separate (and complete) live performances on DVD, three extra live tracks, the original videos to “Island in the Sun”, “Hiroshima Mon Amour” and “God Blessed Video” and a Japanese TV interview from 1983 with Graham Bonnet.
While Alcatrazz didn’t have a long existence, for me, it was that first album that had something special, something different. Intelligence, skill and the mastery of Bonnet’s vocals – for that alone, it makes listening through (and watching) this compilation worth the time and effort.
The Ultimate Fortress Rock Set is available now