Joey Tafolla on Channeling Legends in the Graham Bonnet Band

Joey Tafolla details the thrills and challenges of interpreting the work of legends in his work with the Graham Bonnet Band.
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For former shrapnel records alum Joey Tafolla—his releases on the label include 1987’s Out of the Sun and 1997’s Infra-Blue—it’s hard to think of a sweeter gig than playing with Alcatrazz, Rainbow, and Michael Schenker Group vocalist Graham Bonnet. Think about it: He gets to cover guitar parts on the singer’s tours that were originally laid down by Schenker, Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Steve Vai. But, even better, Tafolla gets to do his own thing with Bonnet, as he is writing and recording an album with the vocalist.

“It’s a good place to be, because I love the music,” says Tafolla. “But when I got the gig, I thought I’d have plenty of time to learn the material and rehearse it. That wasn’t the case. We went on the road almost immediately. Then, we started writing the new record the day after we got back. I love that pressure, though, because you find out who you are when you have to write a record so quickly.”

Shortly before heading back to Europe for more dates with the Graham Bonnet Band, Tafolla took a moment to detail the thrills and challenges of interpreting the work of the players who came before him.


“Rainbow’s ‘Lost in Hollywood’ is one of my favorite songs,” says Tafolla. “I try to stay true to the original recording, but I add some of my own stuff, while still maintaining the integrity of the song. My vibrato has always been very wide, and Ritchie’s is a little quicker than mine. I don’t necessarily try to imitate that part of his playing. My main concern is making sure all those beautiful classical melodies are there.”


“I don’t exactly go after the Schenker tone—I pretty much use the same sound for the entire gig—but a friend of mine is building me a pedal that has his half-cocked wah tone, so I may use that in the future. As far as the parts go, it’s almost a crime not to keep Schenker’s melodies. The audience deserves to hear them.”


“A lot of players say to me, ‘Yngwie’s parts must be the hardest to play on this tour.’ I always say that nothing is easy if you want to do it right. Lots of people can play the same notes as Yngwie, but only one person can have the same feel, and that’s him. I love Yngwie’s playing. The whole neoclassical thing is in my DNA, so to recreate the parts from No Parole from Rock and Roll [Alcatrazz, 1983] is a real challenge, but I love it.”


“Steve brought a different style to Graham’s work than Blackmore, Schenker, and Yngwie. Vai is more legato and quirky, with lots of layers and harmonies. Then, there’s his great whammy-bar work—just a whole different thing. When Steve recorded Disturbing the Peace with Alcatrazz in 1985, he was still trying to prove himself, and that hunger comes through in his playing.”