As a founding member of ’80s hard rock outfit Alcatrazz, keyboardist Jimmy Waldo crossed paths with some of the most unique personalities in the genre. He played with Graham Bonnet and Yngwie Malmsteen, shared bills with Ted Nugent and Mercyful Fate, and later started a supergroup called Blackthorne with Bob Kulick and Frankie Banali.
While neither band ever got the respect it deserved from American audiences, Waldo never gave up and is now on the verge of releasing a new Alcatrazz studio album featuring ex-Rainbow vocalist Doogie White. I caught up with him recently to discuss the record as well as the reissue of Blackthorne’s “Afterlife” and “Don’t Kill the Thrill,” all of which illustrate why his playing remains an integral part of whatever he project he happens to be contributing to.
MNOD: Blackthorne is one of the coolest supergroups to emerge from the ’90s. How did the lineup come together?
Waldo: Let’s see. Bob Kulick and I knew each other from the late ’70s. We always got along really well and started writing together when we both wound up in Los Angeles again later on. Alcatrazz wasn’t doing anything at the time and Graham Bonnet had just moved back to the States from Australia. Graham was suggested as a singer and he ended up being interested. Chuck Wright, Frankie Banali, and I all got along pretty easily, as well, and the songs came pretty quickly. We had really strong songwriters and felt that we had a good well to draw from.
MNOD: The landscape had shifted significantly at the beginning of the decade, so how did that impact your long-term expectations for the band?
Waldo: It killed us. Grunge happened and we couldn’t even get arrested. It’s typical in America, though, because audiences here tend to latch onto the latest trend and forget about everything else. We were essentially done in the whole country. Europe and England especially were different. There, you can have metal, hip hop, electronic, and other genres are able exist simultaneously without getting buried. Unfortunately, it was just the wrong time for us to release a record in that style.
MNOD: As a keyboard player, how often did you have to fight to have your contributions shine through on the mix?
Waldo: I’m more interested in finding sounds that I like to stick through on the mix rather than just the keyboard. I always try to find a sound that is appropriate for the particular song we’re playing. The Hammond can really cut through and so can the Mellotron. I’m a big fan of the Procol Harum sound on “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” but I don’t ever use that as a guide. Some of the Moog stuff will also invariably cut through better in the mix.
MNOD: Was the demise of the band as simple as Grunge killing the whole scene or was there more to the story?
Waldo: Well, Graham left the band and left us all hanging. Polydor had actually given us an advance on the next record, but didn’t want to continue once Graham was gone. I tried to convince them to stay with us, but Graham left he holding the bag and cost me money personally. He took his money and left, which really isn’t uncommon with him. He does his own thing without concern for timing or anyone else. We tried continuing with a smaller Japanese label, but really had no support whatsoever.
MNOD: When Alcatrazz was started, did you guys have a philosophy for what you wanted the band to be?
Waldo: We all liked heavy metal such as Rainbow and Michael Schenker, so that was kind of a model for what we wanted to be. I certainly didn’t see the whole neo-classical thing coming, but that’s what happened when Yngwie (Malmsteen) came in. He settled in and was just killing it live. He and I put together material very fast back then. Gary Shea is the one that named the band and we really started out by doing what we felt and what we liked. We even did some Rainbow at the beginning, because we all loved the album that Graham had done with them.
MNOD: I spoke with Doogie White recently and he expressed his excitement for the upcoming record. Have you been pleased with his contributions thus far?
Waldo: Definitely. I had known Doogie from before and always loved his voice. He’s a real gentleman and a real pro. It’s been a pleasure working with him. When he writes and sings, the first thing that comes out is always rocking, so it’s been great.
MNOD: Were you surprised when Graham said that he was leaving again or did you sense that it was coming?
Waldo: No, that’s pretty much what Graham does. He leaves everyone hanging. He’s said for a long time that he doesn’t like this kind of music and guitar playing, so he won’t stick with something for too long if he loses interest. He screwed things up for us, because he has his own agenda. Doogie’s not into stirring shit up, so he won’t get into it, but he and Graham went out for coffee at one point and he told him that he was leaving the band.
MNOD: Is there any potential for Alcatrazz to tour the States or is the market gone?
Waldo: I think the only way it could happen is if we were part of a package tour, because America is just a funny market. If were together with two or three other bands, it might work. I remember we played a club one time and we drew 100 people on our own. We played the same club later with Joe Lynn Turner and it was jammed. We don’t get great crowds in America, unfortunately. Europe and Germany in particular are the best. Thank God the touring outlook is improving for this year, because we’re planning to hit England in November. I know Uli Roth has similar issues when he plays in America, because we played a 2000 seat theatre once and drew maybe 500 people.
MNOD: Is there a particular tour that stands out as your favorite from the early Alcatrazz days?
Waldo: Japan is definitely my favorite. We played two-and-a-half hour shows with great crowds and production. They were just the coolest people. I love being on stage, so playing that long is right where I want to be. We even played the entire ‘Down to Earth’ record from Rainbow back then.
MNOD: Besides not being able to tour, how did the pandemic affect you?
Waldo: I live in Chicago and my family is spread around, so we couldn’t see each other for a long time. The pandemic was way beyond anything that I have control over. I worked on the Alcatrazz record and also played on other people’s records. I was working seven days a week for 10-12 hours a day, which was a busy schedule.
Blackthorne’s double album reissue set of “Afterlife” and “Don’t Kill the Thrill” is available now.
Alcatrazz’s new album, “V,” will be available on Oct. 15.