To die hard rock n rollers, Glenn Hughes needs no introduction. From his first rise to prominence in the early 70's with Trapeze, through a three year stint with Deep Purple, later with Black Sabbath, Gary Moore and numerous solo releases, his vocal prowess has been such as to garner being called the "Voice Of Rock".
His story is also one of redemption. Overcoming a well publicized substance abuse addiction which very nearly cost him his life in the late 80's, over the past two decades he has rebuilt his career, gaining the respect of fans, musicians and critics along the way.
After primarily being a solo artist for the majority of his recent career, it would appear that finally, at the age of 58 Hughes has found a band in newly formed 'supergroup' Black Country Communion which may very well show the world once again that he is quite simply one of the finest vocalists to ever step behind the microphone.
Formed after the vocalist guested with blues guitar god Joe Bonamassa at the 2009 Guitar Center King Of The Blues Finals in Hollywood this past fall, Black Country Communion's debut self titled album, out September 20/21 world wide showcases Hughes' prodigious vocal talents in a classic way, as he delivers a powerhouse performance of a lifetime.
Reminiscent of Plant, Daltrey and Gillan in their prime, it would appear that the band has rejuvenated and pushed him past even the heights he has achieved previously, his chemistry with Bonamassa, drummer Jason Bonham and keyboardist Derek Sherinian shines through immediately, resulting in what amounts to quite possibly the classic hard rock album of the year.
Recently we had the wonderful opportunity to catch up with Hughes while in New York City for the first rehearsals of the band, in anticipation of a session for Eddie Trunk's XM/Sirius radio show on 'The Boneyard', and for an exclusive London premiere of Black Country Communion in London to coincide with the album's release.
In part one of our exclusive series of interviews with all members of the band, we discuss Hughes' thoughts on the new album, working with producer Kevin Shirley, his evolution as an artist and much more. Read on as we have an exclusive discussion with the "Voice Of Rock", Mr. Glenn Hughes.(Photo credit: Robert M. Knight)
Interview and text © Nightwatcher 2010
September 18, 2010
Nightwatcher's House Of Rock : You're currently in New York City for the first rehearsals of Black Country Communion. How are they going?
Glenn Hughes : We're super pumped. We've been rehearsing for a couple of days now. You have to choose your words carefully. We are a rock and roll band in the true sense of the word. We are making music for fun. It's serious, but it's so much fun. It's such an honor to play this kind of music with these guys. We're excited. Not arrogant, conceited, or out of our minds, but very in the moment excited right now. You have to be very careful though, because people will think that I'm being grandiose.
But personally, and professionally speaking I'd have to say in front of the whole world that the first rehearsal with this band was probably one of the greatest musical highlights of my life. Even in front of no audience. When you play with a bunch of guys who are so tuned in to what you do...and I'm stammering here because it was so insanely good...I've done everything, played with every major player you know...but this band is such a good band, such a good natured, free flowing rock band that it's just at the right time, at the right place.
NHOR : Is this in anticipation of a forthcoming tour for the band?
GH : We're playing a session today for Eddie Trunk's Boneyard show, which will be aired in a couple of weeks. Then Saturday we'll be playing at my dear friend, clothing designer John Varvatos' 10th Anniversary event. John is the Calvin Klein of today. He's having a party, and we're playing, also Alice Cooper, Ian Hunter and ZZ Top. That's here in New York City. We're premiering the band this week in New York, then we'll be premiering the band in London playing for a select group of press people. We're kind of doing that old school thing, like we did in the late 60's, early 70's, with premiering in London and New York. The rest will follow.
NHOR : I'd like to start into talking about the album, which is due out September 21st. Now that it's finished, are you happy with the results?
GH : Very happy. The album was conceived very quickly. I was the one who had to come up with the majority of the material because my schedule was a little bit looser than Joe's. The album was pretty much written by Joe and I. Simply because most bands have two guys, like Jimmy and Robert, Mick and Keith, Steven and Joe. The band was put together very quickly, and I'm a songwriter, that's what I do. I came up with the initial foundation, then Joe and I ran some stuff together.
The songs were written to be played live. When I make my own records I write songs which can be translated to a live setting. These songs definitely jump out at you. We rehearsed seven songs yesterday live, for the live show. I keep saying there's no mistakes in God's world. I told Joe ten months ago that there are certain things in life that are real special. And I'm telling you right now that this is going to be one of them. Don't take that as arrogance, but I just know. I've been around a bit, and I know when I'm going to work with somebody, I choose who I'm going to play with now. A) They have to be a nice person, and B) they have to have a good nature, and C) they have to be able to play. And of course Joe checks all those boxes. He's one of my best friends. And I've known Jason since he was two years old.
NHOR : You've been involved in some really big rock albums throughout your career, Deep Purple's 'Burn', 'Stormbringer', and 'Come Taste The Band', and so many projects throughout your career. Have you ever been involved with a band or project which has generated the massive amount of buzz that this one has? There seems to be something very special happening here....
GH : I can't be flippant and say yes, and I can't go back to where I joined this band, or that band, but no, I haven't had this much buzz in America, and in Europe it's massive. Black Country Communion is going to be huge in Europe. The pre-sales in Europe are already quite astonishing. We're all super excited. The average person who hasn't heard the album yet, we're all anxious to see their faces when they hear it. Because we've come up with a great rock n roll album. I say that in the good sense of the word. We've come up with a great rock n roll album. We're fans of music, and now we want to give this album to the fans. It's theirs now. We've created it, and now it's yours. It's all yours to do what you want with it. I'm just watching the tide roll now.
NHOR : One thing which impresses about this album is the fact that in a very limited amount of time you've managed to come up with an album which captures the feel of a classic, yet at the same time still sounds very contemporary. But at the same time, you haven't added any modern touches in an attempt to fit in with what's currently popular. Do you feel that this will be an advantage? There's nothing quite like this album being released onto the market, at least in a mainstream sense....
GH : Here's the thing : We recorded this album with no playbacks. Kevin cut each song twice. The songs were rehearsed by the band directly before the cuts were recorded. I would show the guys the song and the chords...first I'd show Joe, we'd talk about it, then Jason and Derek would hear it. We'd talk about it for twenty minutes, perhaps put a chorus here and there, then the red light would go on to record it. Then twenty minutes later we'd have a completed song. That's the way the album was recorded. When you hear Joe or Derek's solos, there's no rhythm behind it. It's live. Even some of the vocals..."One Last Soul", "Medusa" and some of "Black Country" were all done live vocally.
This album was recorded in the true sense of the late 60's, early 70's vibe. Believe it or not, we didn't try to make a vintage album, to sound like that era. But we recorded with the organics on tape. We recorded just as we used to do it back in the day. What we have here is an album that fits in that slot perfectly. There's no high tempered Pro tools, no Auto Tune, no smoke and mirrors here. What you hear on this album is exactly how it was recorded. This is the greatest thing about this record. The songs came together very quickly at my house. Let's just say I had my muse with me. It was as if a tap turned on strong.
I am a fan of rock music, and if I wasn't in this band, I'd want to be in this band. You've got to understand, I've got Jason Bonham in this band, Derek Sherinian, who is an insane Hammond player, then you've got the newest...for all intents and purposes Joe Bonamassa is the #1 new guitar player on the planet at the moment.What I want people to know who are reading this, is that we all are very, very good friends. We really care about each other. Nobody's trying to outshine the other. It's a band. I'm the mouthpiece, if you will. Joe has made me the guy that goes out, as I'm the lead singer, and I love talking to the press. So I'm very honored to be part of that.
NHOR : A lot of attention thus far has been given to your vocals, on the tracks which have been previewed thus far, and quite rightly so, as they are top notch. But your bass playing is also incredible. You very much lock in with Jason on this album, and it's a hard driving groove which moves the songs in a very organic manner, which isn't forced, it feels very natural. What was it like working with Jason on this album, after knowing him pretty much all his life?
GH : Here's the thing. I've played with all the great rock drummers. I played with Jason's father. So here I am, 40 years later, playing with his son. I've known Jason from before he even remembers me. I've been his "Uncle Glenn" forever. Now I've been given the keys to take care of John's boy. I'm very protective of Jason. We have a very strong family thread because of his dad.
Locking in with Jason...The first song that we recorded was "Stand (At The Burning Tree) that first day. When we counted it off, and he came in playing 1/2 time, it was like "Okay, this is just supposed to be this way". He's a very musical boy. He challenges you absolutely. And I love a good challenge. I also love the fact that we can agree to disagree. (Laughs)
For instance, there's a song on the album called "No Time". I wrote that in half the time that you hear it. At the end of the session Jason just started playing, picked up the groove, and moved it 40 bps higher than what I had it. I was infuriated at first. I was like, "How can you do that?" But when you listen to the way he plays it, it's like, "Okay you've got a point". This is a band where we challenge each other. It's not all tea and biscuits. We're four fiery people. So that also shows.
NHOR : With his style of drumming being so close at times to his father's, was there ever a time when it was like the spirit of John was overseeing the recording?
GH : I said that his dad was in the room. Don't forget, I believe in the hands of fate, and karma, and the Buddhist aspects of things, about there being no mistakes in this world. Everything that happens was supposed to happen. I do believe John's spirit was with us. I have to believe in that, in those good things.
You see, I knew a different John Bonham than the one most people read about, the crazy John. I knew the family John. I knew the guy who was digging up the floor in his house and stuff. So that's the one we talk about. Jason's father was with us on this recording. He's with us every day. John's with us all the time, and that's the way we like to think. Jason and I spend a lot of private moments talking about those moments. It's a very beautiful thing, and I'm super protective of that boy.
NHOR : This was the first time that you've worked with Producer Kevin Shirley on a full album. What was it like for you to work with him, in that capacity?
GH : I've known Kevin since the 'By Your Side' album by The Black Crowes. I met him through my friend Chris Robinson. You need to know this about Kevin. He's a motivator. He's even more of a workaholic than I am. He is the greatest modern and classic rock producer. If you want to go into the studio and record live, Kevin Shirley's the guy. Kevin and I have been really good mates, for crikey, about 15 years now. There's no mistakes, I was supposed to work with Kevin.
NHOR : He's known for doing things very efficiently, with very positive results. Were you comfortable doing things that quickly?
GH : I had no choice. Kevin does things like ...1..2..3...Pop! Pop! Pop!...You have to be on your mettle with Kevin Shirley. Because he's quick. So, you'd better be good. (Laughs)
NHOR : How would you rank this album against your previous work?
GH : I've been on over 100 records, and I think this would be in my top three for me. Simply because it is an album where I allowed myself to be free, and I allowed myself to make a record for me and my fans. I'm not going to make a selfish record for me, or a certain market of people. Whether they be funk fans, rock fans or whatever. I made an album that would generate my soul into rock n roll. This is the album that a lot of my rock fans have been wanting me to make for twenty years. We all get to benefit from that. Like I said, if you like rock music, and you like rock music from The Who to Purple to AC/DC, then this is an album you probably will like. It ticks all those boxes.
NHOR : You're singing better than ever on this album. It would appear that you have found the fountain of youth, at least vocally speaking. Do you feel rejuvenated with this project?
GH : I do. It's crazy. Every year, or two years I make an album, and as you know I always keep pushing the boundaries. Some artists take five or six years to make a record, but I write and make records every year. I shelved an album last year, and didn't release it in order to release this one. I wanted to take a break from my solo music in order to do a focused rock album with Black Country Communion. I didn't want to confuse people. Because I have many different forms I like to swim in the ocean. I like to do many different kinds of rock.
This is a traditional, classic modern rock album. A lot of youngsters today, in their teens, are buying records that sound...I don't know the names of the bands, but they're aping the sounds of my period. So I am very privileged to have been born in the '50's, and to have come to make records in the late 60's, and have major success in the 70's. But if you look back in the annals of rock music, in the last 50 years, the time when I was privileged to have tremendous success in, was the golden era of rock. I've been in two of the biggest bands in the world. I've worked with every major rock artist.
Now, all these years later, I've formed a band at a point in my career where most people would be going, "Oh, surely he's retired by now", or "Isn't that man dead yet? Didn't he overdose on drugs?" Oh no, he didn't. Actually he's been working his ass off to get to this point, to throw down that rock n' roll gauntlet.
NHOR : Where would you say this album fits into the evolution of Glenn Hughes as an artist?
GH : It comes at a time for me where I needed to focus. I needed to go out. Let's just say that I've got ten more years to rock. After that I don't know what I'll do. I might be doing something different. But I do want to go out rock and rolling like I came in. I'm in great shape, spiritually, physically and mentally.So it's all good.
NHOR : Lyrically speaking, which songs on the album are you most proud of?
GH : "The Great Divide". I could tell you the whole record. Let's just talk about it. "Black Country", simply because I'm throwing down that, "I am the messenger, this is my prophecy...I'm going back to the Black Country". When I sing this, it means I'm going back to the core of my being, where I was born, in the Black Country.
The Black Country, for all intents and purposes, means the birthplace of hard rock. Purple, Zeppelin, Judas Priest, all these bands were born there. So I'm really.."I speak to the millions, from city to shire...We come from the heartland...We walk through the fire...We rise to the measure...A line in the sand...It's cold on the mountain...And this is our land..." I'm getting chill bumps, because I'm really standing up and planting the flag of a rock n' roll band. I've never wrote a lyric so forged in granite before. That is rock.
"One Last Soul" is a winning song. It's for winners. You know, "You're the one last soul, you can win it". Basically it's a song for winners. It's something I don't really write about all that much actually. Rock n' roll is supposed to be dark, and stark. But this is a shining beacon of light for people who want to win.
"The Great Divide" for me is probably the most spiritual song on the record, because I'm telling people that I'm back. That I've clawed my way back up to that mountain top, and I'm on the great divide. I'm looking out across America, and I'm looking at something that's beautiful. I'm here, I'm back, it's nice. I'm here with my friends. I'm saying I don't believe in superstition, and I'm going to let my conscience be my guide. Basically it's an in the moment song. It's a beautiful piece of music. It's everything that I wanted it to be.
NHOR : You talked to me before when we spoke about the need for you to make music which would paint a picture artistically. With that in mind, what type of picture were you trying to paint with the songs on this album?
GH : You know what I was trying to do? I was trying to paint a picture of what a rock fan would want to hear, as far as lyrically and dynamically. I wasn't making a record for a small aficionado group. Because you know me. I don't need money, power and fame anymore. Once you've witnessed that...I don't strive for those things. I strive for spiritual progression. I don't care about that other stuff.
If I have spiritual progression, then I have everything else in control. God will provide me with everything I need in my life if I am in spiritual progression. That's one thing I do have in my life. The rest will be taken care of. Whether it's material, or happiness. If I am spiritually intact, and I have a conscious contact, then I am set. So this album is the most free album that I've ever made, as far as I'm letting you know who I am now. I'm not afraid to let you know who I am now. Because I am who I am, and it's taken 58 years to show you this. Where other artists may have shown you 20, 30 years ago. Now I'm letting you know at the last third of my career.
NHOR : How far along in that process are you, in shedding your skin that way?
GH : I'm...and this is not a statement of silliness, but I am now starting to show people who I really am. I'm not frightened to show you anymore. Let's just say that I didn't want to show too much before. I always wanted it to be a bit of a mystery. But now, it's time. I'm that kind of person who's really private. But this album has changed that. Because this album is a big album, and it's time to let people in, and to show them who I really am.
NHOR : Is there anything else that you'd like to say to all the fans out there?
GH : I love my fans. I love new fans, old fans, and fans who haven't heard us. They may have heard Joe, they may have heard Jason, they may have heard me, they may have heard Derek, in another situation. Welcome to Black Country Communion. If you're a rock fan, then this is your band. We've made music for you, and we hope to see you on the road of happy destiny soon.
For more information on Black Country Communion go to this location.
For more information on Glenn Hughes go to this location.