communion with Glenn Hughes

The Voice Of Rock – that’s what the man with the same name as the biker from the Village People is often called. Glenn Hughes is one of the greatest voices in the history of rock, as well as one groovy bass player. He’s known for his strong solo career, his participation in a myriad side projects (Hughes Turner Project, Pat/Thrall, Voodoo Hill, various rock operas, etc.), for his one album, Seventh Star, with Black Sabbath as the lead vocalist, and for his collaboration with Tony Iommi, with whom he produced two other albums, The 1996 DEP Sessions and the excellent Fused. But above all, Glenn Hughes used to be one of the main members of Deep Purple Mk. III and IV, which produced the huge classics that are ‘Burn’, ‘Stormbringer’ or ‘Mistreated’.

During three years, from 1973 to 1976, Glenn was the bassist/vocalist of the band, sharing the vocal lines with the great David Coverdale – the same Coverdale who later left to form Whitesnake, and who achieved a legendary status thanks to an incomparable voice. Glenn marked Deep Purple in an indelible way, particularly on Stormbringer and the unrecognized Come Taste The Band, with its refreshing soul/funk touches (‘Getting’ Tighter’ or ‘This Time Around’, for example). ‘Cause Glenn is also known for having two sides: the rock side, and the soul side. Throughout his career, the man went from one style to the other and managed to make them go hand in hand beautifully. That’s it for the man’s far from exhaustive but compulsory biography – ‘cause Glenn Hughes is a character you have to know.

Today, Glenn is back with a new and particularly promising project: Black Country Communion. Aside from the bassist/vocalist, the band is composed of none other than blues/rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham, the son of Led Zeppelin’s legendary drummer, and former Dream Theater keyboard player Derek Sherinian. The result, 70s rock with loads of jam, melodies and authenticity, exceeds all expectations. The kind of record that automatically makes everyone feel great – much like the first album released by Chickenfoot, another super band that recently made a lot of people talk.

We couldn’t miss the opportunity to talk to the master – and once again, this interview exceeded our expectations. Glenn told us all about the genesis of Black Country Communion, a band for which he shows tremendous enthusiasm, but also about Deep Purple and the possibility to see Mk. III again on stage, or about Chad Smith, drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chickenfoot and his solo band. By the way, you’ll learn that Glenn is now Chad’s children godfather. In this respect, every time Glenn talks about his past, you cannot help being amazed by what he lived, by the people he worked and still works with. And to top it all, on a more personal level, he turns out to be one of the most charming artists I ever had the pleasure to talk to.

« Oh God, I really missed being in a band… If you’d asked me last year: ‘Are you gonna be in a band again?’, I would have said: ‘I don’t think so’. »

Radio Metal: You’ve got a new band called Black Country Communion. How did you, Joe, Jason and Derek meet and when did you decide to put a band together?

Glenn Hughes: I’ve known Joe for about three years. We’ve been hanging out, having dinner, writing a few songs, jamming behind the scenes quietly for a couple of years. Last November, Joey was playing a show at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, and he called me at my home in LA and said: ‘I’d love for you to come down and sing a couple of songs’. I did come down and sang ‘Mistreated’, from the Deep Purple album Burn, and ‘Medusa’, from my band Trapeze, from 1970, which is a really old album. So that night Joe and I played on stage, and it was very, very well received. In the audience was Kevin Shirley, Joe’s producer. That night, Joe and Kevin and I had a meeting: what kind of album should we make? Should we make a duo album, should we make a blues album? Should we make a band? We decided to make a band. We talked about who was gonna play drums, and who was gonna play keyboards, and we all decided that Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian would be the two guys. The next morning, we called these guys, and we were already a band! So we started to plan to go to the studio.

Why did you choose Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian?

Joe had already played with Jason, and he’s a big fan. I had played with John Bonham, Led Zeppelin’s drummer. When I played in Trapeze, John Bonham used to jam with Trapeze all the time. I’ve known Jason since he was two or three years old! That’s a long time in anybody’s life. I was very honored to be playing with him. Derek Sherinian was brought in by Kevin Shirley, who had produced an album for Dream Theater, Derek’s band. It’s kind of an interesting mix: you have the blues/rock type in Joe Bonamassa, you have Derek Sherinian on keyboards, a Bonham on the drums, and you have a rock singing bass player. It’s kind of a crazy combination, but it works!

I heard it was Jason Bonham who brought up the name Black Country after an area in the West Midland in England. Can you confirm that and explain what it is?

The first day we recorded, Nicolas, I looked around the room and I said that two out of four members of the band were from the Black Country. So wouldn’t it be a great idea if we called the band – and Jason said: ‘Black Country!’ And I said: ‘That’s the name of the band’. That same week, Jason gives an interview on the Internet and mentions the name of the band. But another band from Baltimore, Maryland, were already called Black Country, and we didn’t know that. They’d trademarked the band name, so they stopped us from using the name. We just added the word ‘Communion’ to the end of it, so we’re now Black Country Communion. The Black Country, by the way, is the industrial part in the middle of England, where Plant, Bonham, myself, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, The Moody Blues and a lot of other rock bands were born.

For the last 20 years or so, you’ve been mostly playing either as a solo artist or as a guest on other people’s albums. Have you been missing working in a band and being on the same level as the other musicians in the band?

Oh God, I really missed being in a band… If you’d asked me last year: ‘Are you gonna be in a band again?’, I would have said: ‘I don’t think so’. But now that I’m back in a band again, it’s wonderful, because it’s an experience. It’s like being in a band of brothers, we’re all good friends, and I guess we’re all talented! It’s great to be working with such talented people.

(About the Trapeze’s cover) « I saw John Bonham tutoring his son when he was three years old. It was kind of a special moment for me to be playing this song with a Bonham: I’d already played it with John Bonham, and now here I am, 39 years later, playing it with his son. It’s absolutely incredible! »

On the album we can hear some quite long songs and there’s a lot of jamming and soloing going on, just the kind of songs bands used to do in the 70’s. Do you think that today’s rock bands kind of have lost the art of jamming?

That’s a great question! I don’t really hear anybody doing what we’re doing. What we’re doing is kind of like Zeppelin, or The Black Crowes, or The Allman Brothers: it’s something that hasn’t been done since the 70’s. When I listen to the new bands today, it’s all formulas and prop tools, it’s all pitched, it’s auto tuned and it’s not the same. These songs, Nicolas, are written very organically; there’s no double-tracking, the solos were done live on the guitar and on the keyboards. So when you hear the guitar solos you’ll notice there’s no rhythm guitar behind it, and when you hear the keyboard solos, you’ll notice there’s no keyboard behind it. This is an album, Nicolas, that was recorded ‘live’, some of the vocals are ‘live’. What you’re hearing is exactly what went down in the studio.

There’s a new recording of ‘Medusa’, an old song from your first band Trapeze. Why did you decide to include this song in this new project?

John Bonham used to play that song with me in Trapeze in 71 or 72. Jason was very excited, because his father told him about this song. I saw John Bonham tutoring his son when he was three years old. It was kind of a special moment for me to be playing this song with a Bonham: I’d already played it with John Bonham, and now here I am, 39 years later, playing it with his son. It’s absolutely incredible!

The kind of old school, bluesy hard rock you guys play really echoes the super group Chickenfoot created two years ago by Joe Satriani, Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith. Have you somehow been motivated by their collaboration to form Black Country Communion?

It’s crazy! Because, John Paul Jones from the Vultures (Them Crooked Vultures) is a very good friend of mine and all the Chickenfoot guys are really good friend of mine. You know, I’m the godfather to Chad’s children, this is my best friend. But it’s just a coincidence, Nicolas. I think it helps that there are a couple of super groups; we’re the newest super group. When you have these musicians in your band, you can’t help being called a super group. I’ve been in Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. I can’t help that! But people will label us as a super group; it’s kind of what they all expect.

Do you think that Black Country Communion will be a one-album project or do you plan to do more records in the future?

I really hope not, Nicolas, I really hope the band continues. My honest desire – I’m talking to you very honestly – is that I want this band to tour all the time. Joe was extremely busy with his solo thing, his blues thing, but I believe that this band can be so much bigger than all of our solo careers. I think it’s a big, global, international, universal rock statement. It can be very, very big, and I really want to play all over the world, and I really want to play in France. I haven’t played in France for a while, and I would love to bring the band to France.

Do you have some live dates coming up in France?

As a solo artist, I’m coming here in October. As you know, Joe’s touring as a solo artist as well, and because he does that, I have to tour as well, because I’m not going to just sit around. But I think at the end of the year, there’s gonna be a break where we can start booking some shows around the world. This band absolutely needs to play live.

You’ve worked on the remastering of Deep Purple’s Stormbringer album, which came out last year. The same kind of treatment is being done with Come Taste The Band. How does it feel to put your hands and ears back into these recordings? I guess it must bring back some strong memories…

I remixed Stormbringer two years ago at Abbey Road. I went over all the instruments, I soloed my voice with David’s voice, I soloed Blackmore’s guitar, and I changed some vocal things. What I was happy about was how well they were recorded; it was very easy to remix. Kevin Shirley remixed Come Taste The Band in March of this year, and I was over there at the studio with him. That was another insane time, because that was one of the last recordings of Tommy Bolin, one of my dear friends from Deep Purple, who died. It was great to be listening to that again, actually. It’s an incredible remix, by the way, everybody’s gonna love it. It’s gonna be fantastic.

« There’s a possibility that Mark III would get together again, but I’m not holding my breath, because there’s so much bullshit going on behind the scenes! »

What kind of bonuses can we expect? I’ve heard there were some unheard tracks from the recording sessions…

There’s a song called ‘Same in L.A.’, which is basically just a chorus, it’s an incomplete song. And there’s a track where we jam, it’s just us going crazy. There are a couple of new tracks, and the remixes are very different. So I’m hoping people will groove to it!

David Coverdale has also been involved in the project; have you guys met each other again for the occasion?

We always talk, David and I talk every week. I was also sending him daily mixes of Come Taste The Band, he loves what we’re doing. He’s one of my best friends, the only member of Deep Purple I have a relationship with.

Don’t you feel any desire to collaborate with him again?

I think you’ll hear something from Glenn and David again. I don’t know how or when, but we spoke about this a couple of weeks ago. David and I are like brothers. I think people would love to see us sing, so that’s something that may happen.

It sounds like if you hadn’t done it yourself, no one would have cared about remastering these albums. Don’t you think it’s a little bit sad that all the great songs from that era of Deep Purple tend to be forgotten? Only you or maybe David Coverdale sometimes play one or two of these songs…

Well, of course, because the current Deep Purple, with Gillan and Glover and Paice, they can’t play those songs. I get to play some of those songs, as you know: ‘Burn’ and ‘You Keep On Moving’. People love those songs. If you’re a rock fan, if you like 70’s rock, that’s what people love to hear. I don’t play so many Purple songs now, but I used to.

Just like Black Sabbath did with Ronnie James Dio calling themselves Heaven And Hell, have you ever thought of reforming the Stormbringer/Burn or Come Taste The Band line up under a new name? Well, with another guitarist, maybe J. J. Marsh, because obviously Tommy Bolin won’t come back from the dead…

Honestly, I’ve never thought about that. There’s a possibility that Mark III would get together again, but I’m not holding my breath, because there’s so much bullshit going on behind the scenes! I only wanna work with people that I really love, and Coverdale is the only one I have a relationship with.

What do you mean by bullshit going on behind the scenes?

You’ve got five artists, five managers, and let’s just say that one or two of these managers are completely impossible to work with. So it’s difficult to get five men around a table to talk about making music. It’s easy to talk to them, actually, but you also have to talk to the managers, and it’s a nightmare – an absolute nightmare. I come to a point in my life where I don’t wanna live in a nightmare. The fans want to see Deep Purple Mark III, but there’s so much red tape and bullshit behind the scenes, it’s making me sick.

Have you by any chance begun working on a new solo album?

Great question! I actually wrote an album last year, which I was supposed to record last October. But I didn’t do it at the last second, because I wanted to make Black Country Communion. So I decided to put my solo career on hold. As far as making music is concerned, I’m going to concentrate on Black Country Communion. That’s my main thing right now.

You’re known to have two musical sides…

Yeah! (laughs)

What will we get, then? The rock side or the soul and funky side?

It’s very safe to say that, from this point on, what you’re hearing in Black Country Communion is the kind of music I’ll be making now. I’m known as the voice of rock, I’m known as the lead singing bass player from the 70’s with this big rock voice. I’m going to devote my time and love to the art of singing rock music.

« I think Rick Rubin prevents Chad from playing what he really wants to play. When Chad plays my music, he can play in a free style, which he can’t do with Red Hot Chili Peppers. »

Chad Smith’s been your drummer for a few years now and it looks like nowadays he is having much more pleasure playing with you or Chickenfoot than with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. When we hear your live album Soulfully Live In The City Of Angels, it sounds like he really is having a blast. Same thing for the latest Chickenfoot DVD. Actually, he now barely talks about the Red Hot Chili Peppers anymore, at least not with that much enthusiasm. Is this just a feeling I have or do you feel that too, being close to him?

Right now Chad is getting ready to make a new Chili Peppers album, with a new guitar player called Josh Klinghoffer. He’s the replacement for John Frusciante. It sounds good, it’s very Chili Peppers. Chad has been in the studio for the last six months, preparing for the new album with Rick Rubin. It will be recorded in September. They should be touring next year.

Ok, but do you feel that he is more enthusiastic with the music he plays with you compared to what he does with the Chili Peppers?

It’s a very nice thing you said. Chad and I are very close, I think he loves playing music with me. I think I can tell you why: he can play very freely with me. I think Rick Rubin prevents Chad from playing what he really wants to play. When Chad plays my music, he can play in a free style, which he can’t do with Red Hot Chili Peppers. I think he has a lot of fun in the Chili Peppers and in Chickenfoot, but what I give Chad and he gives back to me is insane. He’s an insane drummer.

In 2006, a second Hughes/Thrall album was announced but apparently you have put this project to rest. Why?

Oh, God… In 1999, Pat and I started to come together in New York City to write the reunion. I spent a week in New York and we recorded six songs. In 2004, Pat moved to Las Vegas, so I went there and recorded four more songs with him. We finished the vocals, but the guitar wasn’t finished. I had written four more songs to do with Pat three years ago, but he couldn’t commit to go and finish in the studio. In every interview I do, I’m asked when we’re gonna release the album. I can’t really answer that, because I can’t get him to commit.

Can we expect a new collaboration with Tony Iommi anytime soon, to get a follow-up to the Fused album?

I’m doing the High Voltage Festival in London this month for the Ronnie Dio tribute. Tony, Geezer, Vinny, myself and Jorn Lande are doing the concert for Ronnie. As you know, Tony and I are very close friends, and there’s a possibility we’ll work together again.

You’re known to usually have a lot of projects; do you have any other project for the future?

No, the only thing I’ve got right now is this band, Black Country Communion. It’s my baby, it’s my pride and joy. I’ve just worked on the logo, I’ve got the cover design, I’m doing all the press. This is my only love, I want to cherish this baby till the end!

Interview conducted by phone in July 2010


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