The Glenn Hughes Interview
Glenn Hughes may go down in history as rock’s ultimate survivor. Already assured of his legendary status as a former member of Deep Purple, the singing bassist has never shied away, even during his dark days, from the challenge of staying in the loop — be it as a solo artist or as a member of a band. When he formed Black Country Communion in 2010 with Joe Bonamassa, Derek Sherinian and Jason Bonham, he was giddy and excited about the prospect of being in a band. After so many years of gaining respect, he was about to step out with something new and fresh, accompanied by world-renown musicians with rich histories of their own.
“With BCC, we’re building a foundation,” Hughes told me in 2011. “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...Mark my words…I’m taking this to the fucking top.” But after three albums and a handful of shows, the band splintered over scheduling issues, among other minor differences. Bonamassa returned full-time to his successful solo career, and it was widely speculated that he’d be replaced. Hughes was still hungry for more, but as far as he was concerned, BCC was finished. It was time to wipe the slate clean and start over. And that brings us to his latest venture, California Breed.
The story goes that Julian Lennon introduced Hughes to 23-year-old guitar wunderkind Andrew Watt. Despite a 40-year age gap, the two met, shared ideas, got together and wrote some songs. Hughes called Bonham, and the three went straight into the studio and put down tracks. Signed to Frontiers Records and paired up with producer Dave Cobb, California Breed’s debut album was recorded in Nashville and may well rate as one of Hughes’ most daring and noble achievements. At 62, his vocals have never sounded more authoritative, an instrument unto themselves without limits in range and depth. Rising high with his first power trio since Trapeze, Glenn Hughes is running headlong into a rock and roll revival that could very well take his legend to an entirely different level. He lays it on all on the line in the following exchange.
So you had a great run with Black Country Communion, then you hit a little bump in the road and the band came to an abrupt stop. Was your initial reaction to replace Joe Bonamassa and carry on with Black Country Communion?
No, no. Here’s the thing, Shawn. I didn’t want to continue Black Country 2. When Joe decided he didn’t want to play, we didn’t fall out. He just wasn’t available. It wasn’t an angry feeling in my head; I just went, “Oh, what a bummer.” I went away with Gabi, my wife, for a week in Mexico, and halfway through went, “We can go home now.” She says, “We’re not done yet.” I said, “Yeah, I just spoke with Jason; we’re gonna form a new band. I don’t know yet. Give me a couple weeks.” And then, of course, Julian Lennon introduced me to Andrew. People ask me about “calm” all the time. When you’re 23, you don’t know about calm, but when you’re 62, you know good, bad or indifferent. Whether to turn left on La Cienega, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, so, I’ve made some wrong turns in my life. We all know about that. I had no expectations. I’ve done it all, I’ve had the T-shirts. So when Black Country broke up, I left a beautiful legacy, a beautiful legacy of three great albums, hardly any touring, really hardly anything at all. But it really woke me up, and the fans, that Glenn Hughes is finally back singing and playing rock music. And everybody thanked me, you and fans alike. I’m going, “Really? Do you mean that?” I was kind of like … because I’d been playing groovy, bluesy R&B kind of rock for 10, 15 years. As Robert Plant likes to do mountain music; Chris Robinson too. We all do what we do. But when I came back with Black Country, when the band broke up, people thought, “Oh, maybe Glenn’s going to do a jazz album.” Nah. No, no, no. I’m a rocker. I was famous as a rocker in the 70s, and now, sober a long time, I want to stay in the genre that people believe me in.
Obviously, you and Jason had established this strong chemistry and you had some unfinished business.
And we felt that way. Jason and I — I’ve known him for 46 years, since he was one-year-old, before he could speak. I had him in my lap in diapers. It’s a crazy visual, but it’s true. I also believe we are being too spooky here, but Jason’s dad is involved in this. It’s a triangle here — it’s Jason, his dad and me. It’s important, and Jason and I have private moments and we talk about his dad, and I’m the only one that can really do that because I’ve played with him and his dad. In Jason, inside that huge frame of his —big dude — he’s a very little boy that plays, so badly he wants you to love him. I say to him at the end of this album, I say, “Jason, your dad would be proud of you.”
He’s really good on this record.
Best drumming he’s ever done. I mean, no disrespect to any other bands Jason has played with, but he’s the best drummer. I gave the album to Jimmy (Page) last week, so I haven’t heard back from him, but I’m hoping Jimmy likes it as well. You know, I mean it’s really important as well.
I’m sure he will. Did you consider getting somebody in on guitar that was well- known and established?
Because he lives in Florida and I live in LA, Jason and I were tempted with a couple of very famous musicians that the world knows of, we were tempted to do a series of one-offs with them. And then, you know, I said, it could be difficult because they might bail or they might have other commitments, and we just got this kinship, our friendship and our strikingly unique rhythm section, I said, what we might do is we might have to think of plan B. And of course, plan B is when Julian introduced me to Andrew. You know, the night before the Grammys last year — it was February 11, Saturday night — I was going to go out to the Grammys early the next day and it was late at night and Julian says, “I want you to meet somebody before you go.” I said, “Who is it?” “This guy.” And he walks in; he was like a boy. Andrew Watt, you know. He spoke to me in terms of how he was influenced by the psychedelia. He was influenced by like Page in 68, 69; then the70s and 80s were really nothing to him. He’s influenced by my friend Jerry Cantrell, so I’m going, Whew, this is nice. I said, “You’ve got any music to listen to?” He said, “Yeah, I’ll send you some music.” And about three days [later] — I was in Minneapolis — I got off the plane and in my inbox are three songs from Andrew. And I went, “Damn good writer; got a great right hand on the guitar, no hammer-on trickery, no bullshit; and goddamn, the guy’s got a great voice.” So, I said, “Can you be at my house next week?” I get back on Tuesday, he arrives on Wednesday, we went upstairs in my studio, we came down after four hours and we wrote two songs — “Chemical Rain” and “Solo.” I get Jason on the phone, because he’s in Florida, I said, “Where are you?” “I’m actually in LA.” I said, “Ooh. Can you be — give me an hour.” I call him back; I said, “Can you be at Ocean Studios in Burbank at 11 tomorrow.” He said, “I can. I’ve just got like six hours, but I can be there.” By the end of that day, we had recorded those two songs. And we knew there was a good chance that this possibly could be a new band.
We continued monthly from last February onward; I’d go to Florida to Jason, he’d come to here. We would write — we wrote a lot of songs. But we kept it quiet. Because when you’ve got a new guy, you can’t announce a band with a new guy until you’ve got some music to play, you know. Andrew’s very ambitious; he’s born and raised in New York City, so, you know, he’s very ambitious and he ain’t frightened, man. I’m not saying he’s got an ego. I’m just saying New Yorkers are pretty in your face. He’s pretty wise for a young man. I’ve got to tell you the truth, man, when we were writing the songs, I was getting used to. When I was in Trapeze years ago, Mel Galley was our right-handed guitar player, as is Pete Townshend and Keith. Right-handed guitar players are really key for me. Andrew’s got this right hand — I’m not really, I’ve never been interested but a lot of my friends are really good hammer-on players. Even some of my friends who are bass players play like that. I’m not that guy. The most important notes on bass and guitar for me are the ones we don’t play. Doyle Bramhall — great example of the notes you don’t play. It’s there, and I was really interested what we could do without a keyboard player. I didn’t want keyboards in this thing. I didn’t want any Black Country 2; didn’t want to have any reference to the legacy of my wonderful band Black Country, who I love still to this very day — but we had to move on.
You haven’t been part of a three-piece band since Trapeze when you did Medusa.
Excuse me when I tell you this, but we’re fucking trying to get back to it. You know, this thing with Jon (Lord) and Deep Purple, selling millions of records with a Hammond player. Let’s just say, when I came back in ’92 when I got sober in ’91, let’s just say I was gone for 16 years. And when I came back, it was like keyboards back in the early 90s were so prominent. Asia and all the, you know, my friend Rick Wakeman and all that, very prominent. I’m going to be honest with you bro: I was never really a keyboard dude. I bought Joe a Fender Rhodes to change it up a little bit, because Kevin Shirley wanted a keyboard player for Black Country, and I said, “Oh, shit.” Derek’s a great keyboard player, but I really wanted to be in a trio. Jason and I were firmly adamant that the trio was the right thing.
For the uninitiated, how would you differentiate California Breed from Black Country Communion?
Man, that’s a very, very heavy question because I don’t want to go down a route that’s gonna I’m not the guy that talks about people. But Joe just didn’t have time to write. On the first album, he came to my house twice and we wrote the “Song of Yesterday” and we wrote the song “Black Country.” The rest pretty much I was coming up with alone. The second album, he came to my house once, and the third album he didn’t show up at all. So, what I wanted in this band, all the guitar players knew, I wanted a band … all bands that stay together — Kings of Leon, I’m talking about the newer bands — they’re all collaborative efforts. So I wanted a band — although I do write a lot of music and lyrics — I wanted a band to be collaborative; I wanted it to be a brotherhood. On paper, Black Country was a brotherhood, but it really, really wasn’t. Joseph was really, really, really into being a solo artist. And you know something? I don’t blame him. But I was never angry when the band broke up; I was just a little sad. Everybody else was. When I look back now and I listen to California Breed — you know, I’ll be in the car and I’ll play a California Breed song and I’ll slip it over to a Black Country song and I’ll go, “Man, this sounds … we’re fucking rocking here.” Black Country gave me the life and leg to do this in California Breed. I established myself again within the rock industry worldwide, actually lead-singing, bass-playing rock guy. I’m addicted to it, man. I’m addicted to playing rock music in the way I like to play it. California Breed is a lot groovier than Black Country. It’s more sexual … you’ve got to be when you use the word sexual funky. It’s got swagger, it’s got that movement.
Yes, I definitely hear that. It does seem like you are a more cohesive unit and there’s more of a focused cohesiveness in the music. How did you like working with Dave Cobb?
That’s the next thing I was going to tell you. This band is really four people. Although Dave didn’t write, he wanted us to write with him, but we didn’t have the time. I wrote, we wrote a lot of it at my place, and we didn’t have enough time to do that. But I’ll tell you what, I’ve been speaking today for the last year knowing he was going to produce this album, and I said to Cobb, I said, “Hey Dave — you got any fear?” He said, “Nope.” I’m going, that motherfucker has got no fear. So when we went to work with him, I gave him the keys to California Breed and said, “You can drive this fucking car, but you better drive it good.” I spent enough time on the phone with him, but now … I love the work he’s done with the bands he worked with. I’m going, “Let’s do it.” And he was like the fourth people, if you will. He was very inspiring to work with. We changed a lot of our arrangements with Dave. We did a lot of rearranging. And then Vance Powell, who mixes Jack White — he’s won Grammys for the Raconteurs — Vance did a fantastic mix, you know. Every vocal whine, every melody, every utter, every hiccup, every laugh and tear, is live. It’s the first time Glenn Hughes has sang everything “live” on a record in 45 years.
I heard about that.
It kind of tricked me. He said, “Why don’t you just go out front? Just go sing some vocals.” We recorded each song twice and at the end, I said, “Now I’d like to sing.” He said, “Sing? You’ve been singing. You sung it.” He said, “Give me the rest of the night and come back tomorrow morning.” He comped the vocals. We recorded each song twice, so he comped the vocals. When I went back the next day, it was done. And I thank him for that. … Like I said, I’m pretty fearless in the studio. But when I’ve got the microphone really by my face, or I’ve got the bass on my amps and I’m working an audience, I’m pretty fearless. So, I think with all of us, Jason’s played the best he’s ever played. He’s run the gauntlet down and it’s a really important record for him. He’s really ambitious. I guess it’s like a father-son thing. He asked me last night, he said, “You know, you’re like a father figure to me.” Because I don’t have a son or a daughter, so it kind of was a shock for me. So I said, “Yeah, I can do that for you.”
I really love the work Dave Cobb did with Rival Sons, and I hear bits and pieces of sort of what he did with them on this record, especially on the guitar.
You know what it is. I’ll let you in to a secret. When I’m just playing, Dave’s got this vintage, very old, vintage — I don’t know where the hell he finds it — vintage 60s or 70s pedals. Dave’s on his knees working the pedals. There’s a lot of ambience, there’s a lot of feedback on the album. That’s Cobb on his hands and knees, man. Red, raw knees — he was on his knees all the time. I said, “Andrew, you’ve got to give Cobb credit. Cobb, you know, although you were playing the shit, he produced some shit here that — we were writing the shit, but he put some other shit in here that he’s really, really …” I mean, I tell you man. This is a quote from me — Dave Cobb, right now, greatest rock producer we have on the planet.
I guess the next logical step is for you guys to hit the road. Where are we at with that?
What we’ve got here, Shawn, is Jason and I and Andrew have got commitments through the summer with other people, and September 14 we start in Germany. Before I can announce anything in America, you need to know that that’s being worked on as we go to print here, but we’re going to go everywhere with this band. (Editor's note: the band just announced their first two shows — May 28th in Los Angeles and May 31st in New York).We’re going to go every-fricking-where we can. Everybody wants to book the band. The album now is starting to percolate within the press. It’s starting to get radio. The videos are getting pumped. Everybody’s getting excited. Somebody sent me today, somebody painted on a wall in Chile, on a government wall, our logo. So the shit is now flying. But we’re really, we have Andrew in it. We’ve got a different angle. We’ve got this new dude here. And our album sounds more — I don’t know — I wouldn’t say modern, but it’s got an edge to it. I think that’s Cobb, Cobb brought that. People say to me, “Do you believe in fate?” Come on, man. I’m all about fate. I’m all about karma. I’m all about it. All about watch out for the seven deadly sins, because some people don’t realize it, but that’s what takes us out.
It’s been 40 years since you played the California Jam. And now, here you are in a band — 40 years later, two guys from the Black Country of England and a guitarist from New York City — called California Breed. I guess California’s been pretty good to you?
It’s been very, very good to me, man. I’ve been in California for 41 years, and … look, man. I have no expectations in life. I just show up, I suit up, you know, have a nice dinner with my wife, I write a song, I go to bed, and it starts again the next day. If I expect this thing to change the world or this thing to, you know, help the rainforest, I’ll do everything I can to be a good human being. But with expectations or resentment under construction, so let’s be clear: California Breed is a people’s band; it’s a live band. It’s a band of the moment. And I want everybody to realize that we are so grateful to be on board and fly the flag.