The History of Alcatrazz

1983 - 2024

Alcatrazz is a heavy metal band that was formed in Los Angeles in 1983 by Jimmy Waldo, Gary Shea (both formerly of melodic rock band New England) and Graham Bonnet (formerly of Rainbow and Michael Schenker Group). The initial line-up was completed by the addition of young Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, who had recently left American metal band Steeler, and former Iron Butterfly drummer Jan Uvena, who had just recently departed Alice Cooper's backing band. It was Shea that named the band "Alcatrazz"; the misspelling of the famous prison's name deliberate.

The band's debut album, 'No Parole from Rock 'n' Roll' was released in late 1983 on Rocshire Records, MTV providing significant air time for the video of lead single, 'Island in the Sun'. The album spent 18 weeks on the Billboard charts and peaked at No. 128. A second video released in 1984 for 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' also became popular in Japan where the band were awarded a gold record for their debut album.

Rocshire next released 'Live Sentence' in 1984; a concert recording comprising tracks recorded during two shows at the Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo on 28 January, 1984. This album peaked at No. 133 on the US Billboard charts and a live video was also produced.

During this period, the band experienced increasing internal tensions between Malmsteen and Bonnet; the latter, according to Malmsteen, unhappy with the attention drawn to his guitar playing from fans rather than to Bonnet's vocals. Matters came to a head with the two having an altercation on stage after Bonnet allegedly tampered with Malmsteen's amplifiers during a guitar solo at a show in Oklahoma. The resulting argument ended with Malmsteen assaulting Bonnet during the show, then leaving Alcatrazz to forge ahead with his own band named Rising Force, which signed with Polydor Records. In fact, this merely hastened events as Waldo remembers Malmsteen having already decided that he would soon move on to form his own band.

Waldo replaced Malmsteen with former Frank Zappa guitarist Steve Vai, despite resistance from Bonnet, and the band signed with Capitol Records after Rocshire shut down. New material was written and rehearsed with Steve Vai, before a headline tour of Japan was undertaken, which was again filmed for a concert video.

Alcatrazz released its second album 'Disturbing the Peace' in the spring of 1985, produced by Eddie Kramer who had worked with Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Triumph, among others. 'God Blessed Video' was the lead single and video, the album charting for 16 weeks. However, another line-up change was in the wind as Steve Vai left to join David Lee Roth's solo band in 1986. His departure was on excellent terms, as it was an offer that Vai could not refuse. He was replaced by guitarist Danny Johnson, who recorded what became Alcatrazz's final studio album of the 1980s, 'Dangerous Games', released in September 1986. The album included covers of the Animals' song 'It's My Life' and Marbles' song 'Only One Woman' (written by written by Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees), Bonnet having been a member of Marbles in 1968 when they released this song in the UK. Disheartened by the turnover in band members and a direction drifting into more commercial territory, Alcatrazz split up in 1987.

In 1998, the Renaissance Records label issued the compilation album 'The Best of Alcatrazz' and 'God Blessed Video' appeared in the 2002 videogame soundtrack for 'Grand Theft Auto: Vice City', playing on fictional rock station V-Rock.

In the mid 2000's Bonnet formed a completely unsanctioned version of the band as "Alcatrazz featuring Graham Bonnet" with musicians unrelated to the original band.

Finally, in March 2017, three-fifths of the original line-up (Waldo, Shea and Bonnet) reunited for three shows in Japan, with Conrado Pesinato and Mark Benquechea on guitar and drums respectively. The performances were recorded for the live album/DVD 'Parole Denied – Tokyo 2017', which was released on 7 December, 2018. In February 2019 Alcatrazz was finally fully resurrected with guitar virtuoso Joe Stump (formerly of Holy Hell and Reign of Terror) joining to record a new album, which also included contributions from Chris Impellitteri, Bob Kulick, Dario Mollo and Steve Vai. Alcatrazz's first studio album in 34 years, 'Born Innocent', was released on 31 July, 2020, through Silver Lining Music.

Not made public at the time in June 2020 a month before "Born Innocent" was released, Graham Bonnet quit Alcatrazz after privately declaring his dissatisfaction with playing heavy metal; ironically a type of music he feels no genuine affinity for. In his place, the band recruited ex-Rainbow vocalist Doogie White (also previously of Tank and Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock). On 4 June, 2021, the first single from this new incarnation, 'Turn of the Wheel', was released. A second, 'Sword of Deliverance', followed on 23 July before the album 'V' was released on 15 October, 2021, again by Silver Lining Music. A harder-edged sound, the album also features guest contributions from drummer Nigel Glockler (Saxon), bassist Donnie Van Stavern (Riot), and a bass track from Cliff Evans (Tank). Around this time, personal issues forced Mark Benquechea to depart and drummer Larry Paterson (formerly of Chokehold and Blaze Bayley) joined the band as they made their first UK tour in support of the album at the beginning of 2022.

Following a successful European tour, the quintet recorded the band's sixth album 'Take No Prisoners' which was released on 19 May 2023 again through Silver Lining. The lead single 'Don't Get Mad Get Even', featured guest backing vocals from Girlschool and was the first of three video singles. Extensive touring followed. During this period, Gary Shea was obligated to step back from touring duties for personal reasons and was replaced on live bass by English musician Adam Sheppard.

In early 2024, after another successful UK and European tour, White decided to move on from Alcatrazz and was replaced by Giles Lavery, vocalist of power-metallers Dragonsclaw and Warlord. Lavery's Alcatrazz debut was in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 22 March where Alcatrazz began a three week North American tour with Lillian Axe and Girlschool. A second North American tour will take place in June 2024 followed by festival slots in Germany and Sweden. You can also expect another new album from Alcatrazz as soon as the dust settles.