Piss Elegant Marionettes: The saga of Graham Bonnet’s Alcatrazz and their “God Blessed Video”

By on September 12, 2018

We’re taking another trip back to Night Flight’s popular “Mega Video Vault” episode — which originally aired on September 3, 1988 — to have a closer look at Alcatrazz’s “God Blessed Video,” the first single from their second album.

Watch this mega-episode — which also features videos by Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Devo, Tony Powers, Will Powers, Grace Jones, Chaka Khan, Peter Wolf and David Lee Roth, among others — on Night Flight Plus.

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Alcatrazz: Graham Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo, Yngwie Malmsteen, Gary Shea, Jan Uvena

Alcatrazz were a heavy metal rock band from Southern California, who were originally formed in 1983 by lead singer Graham Bonnet.

Bonnet had wanted to front his own band after he’d been unceremoniously sacked from Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (he’d replaced their original lead singer, Ronnie James Dio, in 1979).

The original lineup featured Bonnet, Swedish-born lead guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen (ex-Steeler, fronted by future Keel vocalist Ron Keel), bassist Gary Shea, keyboardist Jimmy Waldo and ex-Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr (he was quickly replaced after just one week, however, by ex-Iron Butterfly drummer Jan Uvena, who’d just left Alice Cooper‘s band).

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Yngwie Malmsteen

Unfortunately for Bonnet, the focus quickly shifted away from him, and over to his flashy lead guitarist.

In Malmsteen’s highly-entertaining 2013 autobiography, Relentless: The Memoir, the Swedish-born guitar phenom excitedly rambles on about his relatively short time with the band:

“I called [Alcatrazz] up and told them I would accept their offer, but only if they’d change the drummer. The initial idea had been to put together a band with the guitar player from Nazareth, the drummer from Jethro Tull, the keyboard player and bassist from New England, and Graham Bonnett. The drummer and the guitarist backed out, so the other got a drummer from a band called Detective, who were semi-hot at the time, and then approached me.”

“I didn’t think the drummer was all that great, so I said ‘I’ll join your thing here if you’ll get another drummer.’ They weren’t too happy about that, but when it looked like I was walking away, they said ‘All right, done,’ and that guy was out of there. And I was in, without playing a note for them. They just said, ‘He’s the one,’ no further questions. All that happened in just one day, and my fortunes went from a rat hole in the ghetto to a beautiful house overlooking Laguna Beach, which was where my record company, Rocshire, put me up.”

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Alcatrazz debuted in late ’83 with their first album, No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll, released on Rocshire Records.

Malmsteen wrote most of the album’s original tracks (with additional help from Bonnet and Waldo), but later tried but failed to prevent its release due to its sonic problems.

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Their single “Island in the Sun” failed to get much airplay, however, even though the video was given a fair amount of airing on the new MTV network.

A second video, for “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” released in early 1984, scored them a minor hit in Japan, though, so the band flew there to play a handful of shows (Rocshire later released a concert video, Live Sentence, filmed at Alcatrazz’s two shows at the Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo).

No Parole spent eighteen weeks on Billboard‘s album charts, peaking at just #128.

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Gary Shea and Steve Vai of Alcatrazz

After returning from Japan, Bonnet and Malmsteen came to blows onstage in Oklahoma, after Bonnet allegedly tampered with the guitarist’s amplifiers during a guitar solo, which led to Bonnet hitting Malmsteen in the stomach with his mic stand, and Malmsteen responding by punching Bonnet in the face.

Malmsteen soon was departing to embark on a solo career, and his replacement was ex-Frank Zappa associate Steve Vai.

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A noted guitar-slinger, Vai penned “God Blessed Video” (along with Bonnet) for the second Alcatrazz album, Disturbing the Peace.

MTV execs didn’t care much for their video, though, which depicted an angel and devil debating music videos, apparently inspired by the band members hating some of the videos MTV played constantly, particularly those by Duran Duran.

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It’s possible, though, that MTV execs didn’t care for “God Blessed Video” because of the song’s lyrics:

“Let’s take a plane and go somewhere exotic, to play with a nondescript song/We’ll shoot all the crotch shots for twelve-year year old hopefuls, to make you a real man, my son/Some cheap kid from Birmingham, blessed with an accent that pours like the darkest brown ale/Just one more puppet, piss elegant marionette, he’s just a fast buck for sale/Don’t you know that God blessed video.”

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“God Blessed Video” was directed by future filmmaker Michael Miner (later a Robocop co-writer and cinematographer).

Miner really didn’t care much for directing videos, though, telling Esquire magazine that they were “really awful 20-hour days surrounded by people that ran on cocaine and cigarettes.”

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Alcatrazz left Rocshire — the label owners were arrested for the embezzlement of millions of dollars — and signed with Capitol Records, recording their second album with producer Eddie Kramer, who’d worked with Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Triumph, among others.

Unfortunately, Disturbing the Peace was also considered a commercial flop, peaking at just #145 after sixteen weeks on the charts.

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Vai soon quit Alcatrazz to join David Lee Roth’s band.

His replacement, Danny Johnson, joined Alcatrazz in time to play on 1986’s Dangerous Games, but the heavy metal and hard rock audience were largely indifferent to Alcatrazz, who called it a day in 1987.

Watch Night Flight’s 1988 “Mega Video Vault” episode on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.