The Glenn Hughes Interview
In 2011, Black Country Communion released their sophomore album, delivering on the promise of more authentic, hard rock from master musicians of various persuasions and backgrounds. And at the heart and soul of this band is the one and only Glenn Hughes. As the vibrant senior member, Hughes has committed himself wholly to BCC, putting aside any solo pursuits or invites for any number of projects he regularly gets called in for.
And like any good rock and roll band, Hughes and his mates — guitarist Joe Bonamassa, drummer Jason Bonham and keyboardist Derek Sherinian — hit the road over the summer to promote their album. Opening in San Diego, California, and finishing up at a blues festival in Norway (Hughes posted on Facebook that this was a tough and emotional gig), Black Country Communion showed the world that pure-driven hard rock and roll is still alive and well, festering in the hearts of the old and young alike.
The following interview took place just before the break, on the eve of the final show in America and the European tour looming over the horizon. Soon, Hughes would be off to England, ready to show his countrymen he was as good a singer, bassist and performer as he was since the days of Trapeze and Deep Purple. By all reports, few people have been disappointed.
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on Black Country Communion. I caught your show a week ago, and it took me back to the days of my youth when I used to get totally psyched about seeing a band.
I’m hearing this from everyone.
You guys were on fire that night. How has the tour been going?
It’s all there. Now remember, we’re in tough economical times and it’s a real difficult period, but we’ve been doing great business. We’ve been playing to capacity at most places. We’re super pumped. Now, remember: two albums, brand new band, building a foundation. I believe we’re the only band doing this genre. It’s very sincere. We didn’t really set out to have a blueprint. The blueprint is in my DNA, man.
We all know I love black music, but I’m not black. I’m white, and I’m a white rock and roll singer. And I’m in a rock and roll band. As soon as I switch gears, and I’m working with Joe, Jason and Derek, it sort of inspires me to write these kind of songs. Let me put it this way: If it was 1977 and I was sober and Tommy (Bolin) was still in the band, this is probably what Deep Purple would have sounded like. It probably would have been close to this. But I wasn’t the man I am today. I’m lucky to be alive and I’m having the greatest time in my life.
Producer Kevin Shirley is credited with bringing you guys together. How did it develop from there?
I am a writer. Joe will tell you, I am a songwriting, singing bass player. The other guys don’t write as much as I do. Let’s just say, it’s not in their genes yet. I am the writer that brings the stuff in and we pick it apart and everybody has their bits and pieces and that’s what happens with Black Country Communion. Kevin has given me Carte Blanche to bring in all this material. I bring in twice as much as you’re hearing — I bring so much stuff in that I write on the tour bus and at home, and I run up the road to Malibu and I play him my stuff every month. And I do this all year long. This band is my center.
You, Joe and Kevin wrote most of the tunes on the first album, and it looks like Derek and Jason got credit on some of the songs on the new record. How does that all break down?
I bring the songs in complete, except “The Battle For Hadrian's Wall,” which I wrote with Joe at my house, but the rest of it I brought it all in. Let’s just say I bring it all in and we take it in the studio and we kick my baby around the room. Kevin calls it kicking Glenn’s baby around the room. I divvy up the publishing; I mean, I’m not a whore. And like Kevin says, whatever is for the better for the song. Remember, he’s the producer; I’m not the producer. Whatever he says is better for the productional value of the song, writing-wise, then we start splitting stuff up. So I’m not like Townshend or Page where I want all the publishing or whatever. Let’s just say I bring it all in and we kick it around.
Obviously with your British rock and funk back ground, Joe’s blues, Jason’s Zeppelin pedigree and Derek’s progressive roots, you are able to merge a lot of styles and disciplines into a lethal hard rockin’ hybrid.
What you’re hearing is very, very close to what I bring in anyways. There are no funk elements to these songs. We don’t de-funk them. “The Outsider” or “Man In The Middle” — those are the way they were written. I write for the band; I don’t write for, let’s say Glenn Hughes is going make a super funk record. I write for, shall I say, vintage rock fans. It’s definitely a genre.
We’re not Foo Fighters and we’re not like Korn or Soundgarden. They’re a different generation. Joe’s young, yeah, but Joe was weaned on Deep Purple, Zeppelin and the Who. It’s natural for him to sound like Jimmy or Pete or Paul Kossoff. And Joe will tell you, he’s giving you back what you’ve heard before. There’s a whole generation of people who don’t know who Bad Company or Free were. It’s not like we’re copying. We are in the genre, if you will, of that. It is like a time warp, isn’t it?
I can see that.
I’m going to tell: this idea I’m running with, people are chasing me and saying we want to be on this train. We’re not metal, we not this…or this…but this. With BCC, we’re building a foundation. There’s a hole in the marketplace for this band. We’re not like Styx or Foreigner. We’re a little like Zeppelin, Humble Pie and Free. And that’s kind of where we’re at.
You cut the first album live in less than a week. Was the second record just as easy?
We made the last one Monday through Friday. This one, we had time to go to the bathroom and have a coffee. That’s the only difference. Let’s just say we had a bit more time to work on the drum sound. We wanted a huge — let’s just say we wanted the Bonzo sound on this album, which we got. So we took two days on getting that sound at EastWest, where I took Hughes-Thrall in ’82. I suggested to Kevin we use this room because it’s the largest, tallest, widest room in L.A. It was called United/Western on Sunset Boulevard, Frank Sinatra’s old studio. It’s a huge orchestra room where we experimented with some different drums. Let’s just say, we had a little more time. But we cut live again, everything else live. You can’t hide in this band. You’ll be found out. There are no drop-ins, there’s no fixes, there’s no “Can I do this again?”
In fact, I wanted to change a chord that I wrote, and Kevin said “Why don’t you write and I’ll produce.” And I understood what he said. On the first album, we were going to toe-to-toe. Trust me, you can’t go toe-to-toe with Kevin. It doesn’t work. When in your in his room, he’s the guy who’s going to produce. And let’s be honest: he’s been on the money, hasn’t he.
When we spoke in 2008, you told me you play with the drums. Now you’re playing with Jason Bonham, a world-class drummer. Have you guys pretty much locked in as a rhythm section?
Here’s the thing with Jason. I have played with Ian Paice, Narada Michael Walden, Steve Gadd, John Bonham, Kenny Aronoff, Jeff Porcaro. I’ve played with great, great drummers. With Jason, he leads by example. Where I normally would lead the charge in everything, even with Purple, I kind of lead the charge with the ending of songs and I’d cue people. Jason never really makes eye contact with anyone on the stage until the very last part. He’s so immersed in the music, listening with his ears. He’s got an amazing system. He did this in Zeppelin too. He’s so musical that we actually work a lot better with him more than probably any other drummer for this band. He’s not just a powerhouse. If you watch he does, he’s very, very musical.
I noticed that. He most definitely plays for the song.
I gotta tell you something about him man. Our band is so good. If you don’t get a groove right in a song like “Man In The Middle” or “The Outsider,” you lose the concept of the groove. So it’s like, the band is only as good as the drummer…the band is only as good as the drummer.
And what about the voice? The voice sounds better than ever. How is it that so many of your contemporaries can barely croak out a verse, and you sound like the rock and roll equivalent of Pavarotti?
On the first record, some of it was cut live in the studio. Afterward, I go to Kevin’s cave in Malibu. And I listened to what we’ve done. And I said, “I’ll do that again, and some things we’ll keep.” Kevin always does vocals at the cave, whether it’s Journey or whoever. I’m standing at the microphone, the first time I sang for Kevin on the first album, I’m about three feet away, and I can see this huge, shit-eating grin on his face.
It’s really important to me that when I’m working with an engineer slash producer that’s going to produce my vocal, I have to have the most intense vibe with this guy. I would actually vibe this guy out so badly, that he’d have to engage me. You can not use your cell phone or fucking text when I’m working with you.
And at the cave, I could see him so involved in what I was doing that I was part of his DNA. He’s a guy that doesn’t come out and back slap a lot, But I could see by the look on his face, he was going, “I’ve got something here…”
And did that inspire your performance?
Yeah. Let’s just say, I’ve worked with a couple — and I won’t name names — a couple of producers in the last 10 year that have been just fucking rude or have no idea how to produce. No bedside manner, no appropriate manner on how to work with an artist, whether it’s a bloody oboe player or a singer. Because of my high quality of what I do, I have to look you in the eye, look in your soul, and, “It’s on baby…” Because if it ain’t on, I’m gonna split.
With Kevin Shirley, when I’m singing on this record, I can do what I want, by the way, he never tells me what to sing EVER. He says just be Glenn Hughes, the rock and roll singer. That’s it. And I’m off to the races. So what we captured on 1 and 2 is Glenn Hughes, the rock and roll singer. I’m not black. Guess what. — I’m fucking white, I’m not black. I’m English. I grew up in the Led Zeppelin, Stones, Who era. I’m a fucking Northern British guy who’s been living in California for most of my life, but I made my name as a British rock and roll star in the 70s, and god damn it, all these years layer , I’m 60 next month (editor’s note: Glenn Hughes is officially 60) and here I am.
So you’re gonna be 60 and you’re in this red-hot rock and roll band. Could you have ever imagined this happening?
Well, you know, here’s the kicker…last night, Joe comes to me on the tour bus. It’s about three in the morning. Joe’s very shy — I’m like his big brother. It’s always Joe and I at the end of the night on the bus. Everyone else is sleeping, and Joe and I are always together. He says to me (in high voice): “Big Daddy…Tell me the last time you toured America.” And I said, “Joe, the last time I toured America, you weren’t even born. That would be 1976, February.” “Are you kidding me?” “No I’m not Joe…”
I thought when I came out with Black Country Communion, that it would be 90 percent Joe fans and 10 percent Jason fans. I have been overwhelmed at the number of GH people coming out of the woodwork, whether they’re old fans or kids of the fans. I am beyond tears. I get on the bus, I’m sobbing. The people are screaming. It’s like, I had no idea I had a fan base in America. I had no fucking idea. And it’s so beyond insane. So it’s like…I don’t think you’ll interview a more grateful guy this year.
The video for “Man In The Middle” is pretty much all you. Simple, yet powerful. Was it a fun video to make?
David Lee Roth probably worked on his moves in the mirror and probably looked at Jim Dandy, but I never really knew what I was going to do in “Man In The Middle.” When I saw myself, I saw a little bit of that guy and a little bit of that guy and a little bit of that guy, because we all borrow man. We all borrow from black people.
I was very impressed with how fearless I was. And I remember now: you got a guy that’s 60 and in the days of the blogging and the days of the horrible thing called the Internet — and Jimmy Page told me this last year when I saw him at the Classic Rock awards. He said, “Now it’s all happening for you again. They’re all gonna come out and have a pop at you.” Funny enough, there’s a lot of thumbs up and some of thumbs down. It’s none of my business what people think, print or write about me.
My manager said to me: “You can do all that flamboyant shit, but you can back it up. You’ve got the talent, you’ve got the writing, and you’ve got the writing. So, if you want to do a little bit of this and that, then do it.” And I’ve said before: I ain’t a shrinking violet. I want to go out, all guns a-blazing. I don’t say that arrogantly. I want to leave some kind of mark that I’ve been here.
I’m great friends with Ozzy, Nikki Sixx, Tyler…whether we think of them as artists, they’ve left their sort of mark. Whatever it is, I want it to do the same, but I want there to be some integrity behind it. And I think with Black Country Communion 1 and 2, I’m getting to write about the human condition. I’m writing about what goes on in the gut.
What about your solo career?
It’s all on hold man. My solo career is at the moment on hold. I’ve had a long solo career and I’ve had 15 years of touring. I have decided that the time I have with Black Country Communion…they put me in the position to write the next album, which I’ll be doing throughout the fall. I’m not a multi-tasker; I’m not fucking God. I’ve got to have time to write and write. I want to spend six months writing the next record.
I’m will do some acoustic shows and I might do some symphonic shows in Australia. But I’m really defining the band as the brand Black Country Communion. We’re working on the DVD with Kevin and we’ll be shooting that next month. There’s a lot of post-production with that and I’m sort of hands-on with that…so where as Joe will probably go out and do another 100 shows before we meet again next year, with his own band because he’s on a great roll, I’ll select things. Joe seems to think I should do a solo American tour in the spring, which I will probably do. Because he says there’s an audience here now. I want to play America. I think I should play some solo shows in America.
You should. I saw you a couple of years ago at the Whisky and you were incredible that night.
Thank you bro…
All of the band’s press releases call Black Country Communion an Anglo-American classic rock group. Journalists have a more convenient term: “Supergroup.”
I’m sure you know there’s a lot of baggage associated with supergroups. In fact, I understand your buddy Chad Smith has to bail on the Chickenfoot tour because he has a commitment to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. With all the obstacles all-star bands have to dance around, do you feel Black Country Communion can avoid the common pitfalls and endure?
I think so. I’ll say this to you: Joe and I are joined at the hip. Joe and I are pretty much the go-to guys here. We are the ones who started the band. Jason Bonham is Jason Bonham. He’s going to do his Led Zeppelin (tribute) tour at the end of the year. And Derek will work with Billy Idol. We’re good. We have our plan. We know our demographic, we know here we going to go next year.
In America, there’s going to be a large tour next year. This is Joe’s quote: “We want spectacles.” We don’t want with our band for it to be just another tour; we want it be a spectacle. So we are choosing the venues appropriately, we’ve got Live Nation, we’ve got everybody behind us. All the ducks are in a row. And like I said to Joe on the bus last night: “Joe…this band is my baby. And I want you to know that I’m not going to stop.” And he said, “Go daddy go…” And mark my words: I’m taking this to the fucking top.