Glenn Hughes Interview: California Breed Rises Out of the Ashes of Black Country Communion
Image attributed to Glenn Hughes
For more than 40 years, vocalist, bass guitarist, songwriter Glenn Hughes has carved such a distinctive style blending the finest elements of hard rock, soul and funk. He is best known for his wide, explosive vocal range and singing and playing bass for funk rock pioneers Trapeze and Deep Purple, as well as briefly fronting Black Sabbath in the mid 1980s.
Hughes, a native of Cannock, England, absorbed all kinds of influences including early British hard rock, the Beatles and, most importantly, American soul and R&B. The sleek Motown sound from Detroit and the gritty Stax/Volt sound from Memphis left their mark on him. His first solo album, Play Me Out, was released in 1977, and Hughes joined former Pat Travers guitarist Pat Thrall to form Hughes/Thrall, which released an acclaimed self-title album in 1982.
“Black Country Communion was a really great unit of guys, you know? So when that broke up in late 2012, Jason (Bonham) and I decided we would continue. Well, we wouldn’t continue on as Black Country. We wanted to form an exciting new thing with whoever it would be. One thing was that we decided we wouldn’t have another keyboard player because we wanted to signify we were doing something different, although I’m the singer of that band, and Jason’s the drummer.”
Nicknamed “The Voice of Rock, Hughes has made countless guest appearances (both credited and un-credited) as a vocalist, bass guitarist or songwriter on other artists’ albums, but beginning in the mid 80s, Hughes’ health problems due to overeating, drugs and alcohol began to seriously affect his musical projects. By 1991, a clean, sober and fully rejuvenated Hughes returned with the vocal for “America: What Time is Love?” with the KLF.
In 2005, Hughes released Soul Mover supporting it with a European tour and also collaborated with Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi on the 2005 album Fused. He released Music for the Divine in 2006, which featured Red Hot Chili Peppers members Chad Smith and John Frusciante.
In 2009, Hughes formed Black Country Communion with Jason Bonham (drums), Joe Bonamassa (guitar) and Derek Sherinian (keyboards). The group disbanded in March 2013 following the departure of Bonamassa. Hughes biography, Deep Purple and Beyond: Scenes From the Life of a Rock Star, was published in 2011. In late 2013, he formed a new band called California Breed with drummer Jason Bonham and guitarist Andrew Watt. Their self-titled debut album is released May 19, 2014.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Glenn, how are you today?
Glenn Hughes: I had my pool water running in the pool for five hours, and it’s overflowing. Other than that, everything’s great. Check this out. I live at the beach. It’s 99 degrees at the ocean. I think that’s a record temp. I’m an English guy, but I’ve been living here for so long, I’m just used to … wouldn’t really call it a heat wave. But this is bizarre. Let’s rock on with this wonderful album we’ve got coming out!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Let’s do it. What were you thinking about as far as a particular sound for this new group called California Breed?
Glenn Hughes: Black Country Communion was a really great unit of guys, you know? So when that broke up in late 2012, Jason (Bonham) and I decided we would continue. Well, we wouldn’t continue on as Black Country. We wanted to form an exciting new thing with whoever it would be. One thing was that we decided we wouldn’t have another keyboard player because we wanted to signify we were doing something different, although I’m the singer of that band, and Jason’s the drummer.
At the Grammy’s in February of 2013, my dear friend Julian Lennon was having a party, and he introduced me to this chap from New York, a young 23-year-old named Andrew Watt. I meet a lot of musicians as you can imagine. I meet many people in my industry, and I hear a lot of demos. But there was something about this kid that struck me as really ambitious and really nice. I had him send me some music, and I heard it and went, “Wow! This is really great!” Andrew lived in New York City, and I called him and asked, “Can you come to my house next week?” He came to my house, and in that one day, we wrote two songs, “Chemical Rain” and “Solo.” The following day Jason was in town, so I booked a studio in Burbank, and we went and made … let’s just call them demos. They were great, but they were just demos. We realized then that maybe we should get together once a month in LA or down in Florida where Jason’s got a house. We did that.
But, you know, Melissa, we just kept it quiet. I don’t think an artist can really talk about what he’s doing or what she’s doing until they’ve actually recorded something and actually have it ready to go. We’ve been sitting on this for a while. I’d write something, then Andrew would ask, “Can I finish that for you?” It took me about two seconds to say, “Well, okay. Give it a go.” Then he’d do the same with me, and I’d finish some of his songs. Jason would finish up our stuff. What I really liked about this project, and the way we started out was that I said, “I really want this to be a collaborative effort, a real ‘band.’” So that’s what we got.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You had no idea before you met with Andrew the kind of songs you wanted on the debut album?
Glenn Hughes: No. He came to my place, and we wrote those two songs. When you write something that quickly, and it sort of sounds cool, you’ve just got to give it another go. For me, I could’ve had the option to make a solo album in early 2013 or make an album with two famous dudes in LA, which I can’t mention … or do this. My heart was going, “You should do this with Jason and this new and very talented young man.” So it really wasn’t a big thing for me to decide.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve said that you never make the same album twice. How do you keep reinventing yourself and keeping the music fresh?
Glenn Hughes: Yeah. I never do. When I really look back on my career since 1969, every album I’ve ever made has been completely … not completely. But the genre has been rock or it has been another kind of music. I’ve always followed my heart and art form to do something that I really believe is inside of me that needs to come out. I always write about human things, human conditions, never looking fictional.
When I was 22, I didn’t know about life per se. I didn’t know about the details, the Seven Deadly Sins, the what haves and the what have you nots. Now with everything that’s happened to me, good, bad or indifferent from heart attack to stabbings to gunshots to car crashes to watching some people die, there’s just so much to sing about and to celebrate life as well with a certain amount of angst and honesty. I think I’m an honest writer, so I sing about what pulls at my heartstrings.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have an amazing vocal range, Glenn. When did you “know” that you had something special?
Glenn Hughes: I started out playing the trombone like Glenn Miller, the famous World War II captain that died. I was named after him. My parents were big Sinatra fans, so I started out playing trombone, and then I sort of found my way to the guitar after hearing the Beatles when I was 11 like everybody did in England and America. So I found my way to the guitar and sort of switched to bass to be in a band, and then I found myself singing background vocals. But the band I was with at the time after a year said, “We think you’re a better singer than the lead singer. How do you feel about being a lead singer?” I went, “I never really thought about that.” But all these years later, that’s what I am, the bass playing lead singer … sometimes just a singer.
Look, I’ve been given a gift like movie stars, doctors, soccer players or dancers. When you’ve been given a gift that is freely given to you, you’ve got to really acknowledge that and be grateful. I know many people that have been given a gift that weren’t so grateful and lost their lives or sort of went mad. So I try to keep myself in the right shape.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What type of child were you?
Glenn Hughes: I was a studious child. I never really missed a day of school. I was an athlete. I was a good music student. I did my homework. When I was young, I was really into sports, especially soccer, so I was a bit of a jock. Then music came to me sort of naturally. Like I said before, some people really have to work at something, and then some people just do it.
I adore soccer players, and they’re so bloody gifted. Something I really wanted to be was a soccer player, but I wasn’t good enough. I understand about the gifts people are given. That’s the key to everything for me … a “gift.” It’s my job. Boy, I hate that word “job.” My thing is to give that back. To give that back.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Which guest appearance in what band is your favorite?
Glenn Hughes: Oh God, Melissa. I’ve done so much work in 45 years. When I look back at all the bands I’ve been in, they’re all special to me even the ones when I was, let’s just say “in the fast lane” when I was really out of my mind. I’ve taken something from each one, good, bad or indifferent to become the man I am today and hopefully to continue to be that way. Even some of the things I’ve done that have been shocking. Look, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk. But I have to remember that. I’m probably one of the most grateful people you’ll talk to this year because of what I’ve been through to come to this point at 62 years old with this gift to sing and write and to give back.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there someone you still haven’t worked with that would be exciting for you?
Glenn Hughes: My mentor back in the day before Deep Purple was Stevie Wonder. I’ve been a big Stevie Wonder fan since the late 60s. I met Stevie in the early 70s, and he took me in the studio. Stevie was really helpful to me in watching him sing, the way he worked and the way he conducted his life. I thought it would be really important to me to see the way he was with people.
I always looked for people that could help me. I have to use the word “spiritually” really. If I put material before spiritual, I’m going to fall on my ass. We see it a lot, don’t we? We see people put material first, and we always see what happens to them a few years later. I think that if my spiritual health is in shape, then the rest just comes natural.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were uninterested in joining Deep Purple at first?
Glenn Hughes: No, no. I kind of flirted with the idea. They were going to ask me for about a year. I kind of flirted with it, and went, “This is kind of cool.” Then when they asked me, I thought I was going to be offered singing, you know? I was ready to decline the offer because I didn’t …I’d been singing for three years with my own group and was doing pretty well. Then I decided at the last minute that I probably needed to grow and probably needed to learn. I’ve always said that I like to educate myself by working with other people.
Maybe my first band before Purple, maybe that end of the road was obviously done. Apparently it was so because when I joined Deep Purple at 21, they were like the number one group in the world, and it was a big thing for me. It wasn’t really a monetary thing. It was just a growing thing I needed to do and move on. Some of the guys were 10 years older than me, but I was just young.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): There are rumors that Led Zeppelin may be writing new music and reuniting again. Do you have a fallback plan in case Jason leaves California Breed to reunite with Led Zeppelin?
Glenn Hughes: Well, I don’t think that Zeppelin will ever get back together again. If it did, obviously it would be Jason. But I’m not sure. I can’t really comment because they’re all really good friends of mine. It would appear that Robert (Plant) doesn’t want to go back and visit the legacy. He does what he wants to do. Yeah, the fans would like it. Of course, the fans would like it. There have been many people hoping it would happen.
People want me to go back with (Ritchie) Blackmore and David (Coverdale), and it’s like, “We kind of tried to do it, but it just didn’t work out.” You know, it worked great in the 70s, but maybe it wouldn’t be so great now. Maybe it would. I always believe in giving the fans what they want, but I don’t run the show. You have two or three other people, too, so it’s one of those things.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you ever think you will slow down or retire?
Glenn Hughes: A friend of mine, Ringo Starr, and I just recently talked about this. He said, “You’re a real musician. Real musicians don’t retire.” I understood what he said. I can’t see myself retiring. I’ll play anywhere if it was appropriated organized. I love to sing. So I think retirement is not in the cards. Hopefully, I won’t have to stop.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I believe Paul McCartney said he’d still be performing in his 80s.
Glenn Hughes: Let’s be clear about Paul. Brilliant, brilliant songwriter. Isn’t it weird that the Beatles sold more albums than anybody else? Isn’t it weird when an artist in his golden years doesn’t sell anywhere near the about of records he used to when he was younger? You know something? Paul still writes fantastic new music, and I smile when I say that because I sometimes go, “People, come on! There’s some great stuff out there.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Glenn, any final thoughts about your fascinating life in rock music?
Glenn Hughes: I live for the moment. I’m not really a nostalgia dude. I look back at my life, and I’ve learned lessons from it all, good, bad or indifferent. But I live for the moment. I live for the music I’ve just made and just about to promote on the road. I look forward to doing that until I cannot do it anymore. I want to say to everybody that reads this interview that we can do anything we want if we choose to do it. It’s a choice. Thank you, Melissa. God bless.
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