Glenn Hughes - Head of the Black Country Community!
Interview by Janne Stark, July 12, 2010.
Published in FUZZ magazine (www.fuzz.se)
I’m a seventies fan, which is hardly a secret by now, for those of you who have read my reviews and features. Among my early favourites there’s Trapeze and there’s Led Zeppelin. To me, that’s kinda what Black Country Communion sometimes reminded me of, a mix of Trapeze and Led Zeppelin. Of course Glenn Hughes is one part and I guess Jason Bonham could also be considered a part of that historic sound.
I was excited when I heard about Chickenpox -- sorry Chickenfoot. But quite disappointed when I finally heard the album. Great musicians, great sound, but where were the songs? Them Crooked Vultures then? Well, yeah, I really dig that album to a certain extent (it gets a bit too druggy at times). I put my hopes in Black Country Communion – I wasn’t disappointed! I did talk a bit to guitarist Joe Bonamassa prior to the release, and before I had heard anything. Now I have Glenn Hughes on the line.
JS: It seems like this is the time for super groups with Chickenfoot, Them Crooked Vultures and Black Country Communion. To me, I also feel Black Country Communion did the album I hoped Chickenfoot would make, but didn’t succeed in making.
Hughes: It’s funny because Chickenfoot are my friends and so are the Vultures. We didn’t all get together three years ago and discuss we were gonna make super bands. One thing I can say, which is important for me, is that I’m fiercely proud of the material, the songs, the vibe on this album. I think it shows by intent that I wasn’t about to rest on my back catalogue. I was fiercely determined to deliver 12 songs that were big anthems. I was very excited about that.
JS: I have actually followed your career since the Trapeze days. This is actually the album I’ve been waiting for since I heard The Boy Can Sing The Blues on the Blues Authority album.
Hughes: I think you’re not alone. I think there are 95 % of Glenn Hughes fans that are rock fans, there’s a small community of soul and funk fans. I used to swim in those waters, like Rob Halford in his band Fight, Bowie when he did covers. We all switch gears at some point, but we all have to return home and that what I’m saying, I’m a messenger and this is my prophecy, I’m going back. What I’m saying to you as a rock fan or a critique, I’m saying I’m going back to rock. I think you can understand the brutal honesty I have going back to rock. And as you know rock and metal is a caricature of a culture and I have to go back to my roots again in order to feel part of this. It’s like being an actor in a big movie, it’s a big role and it’s a big time.
JS: I did an interview with Joe before the album. At that time he mentioned some problems getting your schedules together.
Hughes: You know what it was. That’s exactly what it was. There were some slight communication problems and it needed to be addressed because we all need to know what’s going on because we’re all busy. So there was a small problem, which actually sounded big, but it was really nothing. Just silly. That’s gone now and there’s nothing but open road in front of us now.
JS: How was the writing process?
Hughes: Very simply. In November, when Joe and I played in LA and we formed the band, we had six weeks to prepare for the album. We had two sets of recording sessions and we had two songs in January to record. We had two songs in March. Joe and Kevin asked me to come up with the foundation of the music for the first recording session. So I was down in Brazil with my acoustic and I went into the rain forest for a couple of days. There I came up with the initial foundation of what this album is. I wrote one last song, Beggar Man and Stand. If those songs had sucked we would’ve had to delay because we only had four sessions to make this album. So I spoke to Joe, Jason and Derek and they trusted me. I told them what I was going to write, traditional classic British rock that would hopefully fit in along Hendrix, AC/DC, Purple, Sabbath and Zeppelin. Sort of a mixture. That’s what I delivered. We went in and recorded those songs and it was successful.
JS: I really love the sleazy riffage in Beggar Man!
Hughes: Thank you. That’s the very first song I wrote for us.
JS: When listening to the album it feels kinda strange hearing you were sitting by the rain forest writing. It feels more like a city backstreet.
Hughes: I know, man. I also wrote more sympathetic or softer songs that didn’t make the album, but it was the harder edge songs I was going for. When I write songs I might write 3-4 songs in a couple of days and only one song you’ll hear. When I get in the writing zone I sort of don’t just write one song, I write in fragments and I’ll come and revisit it, like the next morning or the evening before I go to bed. I write very disjointed and fragmented. What you hear with this group of songs is you’re hearing more of a focused... you see I was given a sketching board to write the songs with, a focus, a poster of sound byte. I wanted to capture a certain iconic British rock, kick in the balls rock album from the opening track Black Country to the last song. I think the album is scattered with rock anthems.
JS: I honestly think the album contains some of the best riffs from you and Joe!
Hughes: I’d like to tell you it was done easily, that I wrote it easy and then Joe and I wrote the songs. It was done through hard hard work. It’s not a jam album, it’s not an album that is just hacked up dope smokin’ riffs. It’s very thoroughly orchestrated in a way where it’s riff rock, it’s got drama, it’s got passion, it’s got balls, it’s got sensitivity, it’s got soul and a little metal thrown in there, it’s got it all. It’s got all the attributes of a rock record.
JS: What I also love is the loose, live and earthy sound.
Hughes: It’s live, Janne. Kevin Shirley is not only a great producer, he’s a great engineer. If you listen to the album again you’ll hear during Joe’s soloing there’s no second guitar. You’ll hear it’s just live. You’ll notice of you really listen the vocals in some parts of Medusa, most of Black Country and One Last Soul are live while I was playing the bass. So I think, Kevin, when he does Maiden, the same thing he does with Bruce, I think he does it live and I think he did it with Chris Robinson on By Your Side. It’s something I hadn’t done before.
JS: It does sound live and with the guitars there are some small glitches and blue notes left in there, too, right?
Hughes: Yes, sure there are glitches! We only did one or two takes me and Joe and Jason. Jason would sometimes ask for one more take, but I’d always be looking at Kevin and he’d be giving me the thumbs up and I’d say are you sure, and Kevin would say: “Trust me”. This is the way Kevin works. Joe’s made 4-5 albums with him. When Kevin knows he’s got it, you gotta trust him. Kevin’s a really old school producer. He’s the kind of guy that -- working with him was really easy! It was really sort of… we developed the songs and we went in, he’s got a great vibe, a great ear and he’s a big part of our band.
JS: I know you’re a great keyboard player as well. You did a nice dedication to Tommy Bolin live. When you write - you’re both a guitarist, bassist, keyboard player and singer, where do you prefer to write?
Hughes: On the guitar, electric or acoustic. I did obviously write bass songs like Soul Mover, You Keep On Moving, You Can’t Stop The Flood, I think wrote on the bass. I think the general vibe for me is like for instance, Beggar Man I wrote on a Fender Strat and you can hear it, but it’s like I can say I wrote most of this acoustically down in Brazil. I transposed all of this stuff onto an acoustic. The best songs in the world whether it’s Yesterday by Paul McCartney or Start Me Up, was probably written on an acoustic guitar.
JS: In The Revolution In Me I love the way you turn the rhythm around.
Hughes: That was not easy, man. Coz we all don’t read and we were counting, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,7 and then 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Those time signatures were funny because we were all counting. We could see each other counting. Nobody’s asked me about this. The fact of the matter is, I could be flipping into the nonchalance and I could say it was easy, but it was kinda scary, coz we’re all fucking counting these fucking time measures out and you know it was kinda tough. Wacky. I’m a real sensitive funky real rootsy player and that was the real opposite for me. Very studious and technical. It was coming more from the prog rock thing which is something new to me.
JS: You made it sound really loose anyway.
Hughes: I think, once again, that’s because everyone was really loose in the studio. I think you can hear there’s a band vibe. From the get go you can hear a band.
JS: I also really like the bass and drum interaction between you and Jason.
Hughes: Well, I’ve known Jason since he was about two or three before he remembered me being in his dad’s house. So, Jason is, I don’t think I’ve said this about any drummer, maybe Chad, but Jason is possibly the most musical drummer and I’ve played with all of them from Steve Gadd, to Paice to Kenny Aronoff, but Jason is extremely musical. I talked to Jimmy Page about this last week. How Jason has taken his father’s vibe.
JS: Wasn’t the song Higher Places on your solo album a tribute to John?
Hughes: It was. I never really got to say goodbye to John. I like to do tributes to my friends. You know, I mean Bonzo was the greatest rock drummer we ever had.
JS: So, is Medusa a tribute to Mel Galley?
Hughes: To Mel and to John, coz John played it live with Trapeze a lot. Jason was very exited to play it. When Jason knew we were gonna record Medusa he called me and said - I’m gonna get to play on one of my father’s favourite songs! When we were recording it Jason asked – Did dad play it like this or like that? So I got the opportunity to say how his dad played it. Which is really emotional, very guarded and very private, coz he’s got the Bonham name on his shoulders. I can say this to you personally. Jason is a very loving guy and he’s got this Bonham heritage on his shoulders and it’s difficult for him sometimes coz he’s expected to be a Bonham. But Jason in his own right I think on this album is the best work he’s ever done. So I’m really pushing the Jason Bonham ship into the water here because I think he has exceeded himself and he’s excelled himself.
JS: I actually did a cover of Monkey myself with Mountain Of Power.
Hughes: Oh, I love that song! We used to do that. He wrote it after I’d left the band. That’s a song we did on the 1976 tour and I think we did it on the 94 tour. I love that song. There’s no bigger Mel Galley fan than me, and Billy Gibbons is second close. I must hear that!
JS: You’ve done so many things like the Phenomena, Hughes Thrall, Iommi, John Norum, Turner Hughes Project, Trapeze, Purple. Some have been 1-2 albums. Is there something you feel you’re not finished with?
Hughes: I’ve spoken to Tony Iommi about this two weeks ago at dinner. I -- you know when I was out of my mind in the 80s, when I came back in 1992 I sort of came back very hungry. I was hungry for love, not for money, I really wanted to play and I wanted you to love me, as fans and critiques. And I may have done one too many albums. The problem with me is I so wanted to play, my thirst for music was so strong, that in the 80s, I can’t remember too much about the 80s, but when I came back I was very hungry and the only thing I’ve done really wrong in my career is I’ve done possibly a little too much work. I should have taken a little more time off. But because I’m a child of the 60s and The Beatles were releasing an album every 9 months. So I come from this school, I could actually release three albums a year as I write all the time. I should not have done some of those tribute albums, I really should not have done Hughes Turner as it was different for me. I think at this point I only wanna choose the right people to play with and the right music I wanna make. There’s only so much time I’ve got left and I only wanna make music I can play live, so God I just hope I can get these fucking guys on the road!
JS: So, those projects, what did they bring you in terms of experience?
Hughes: Well, I also get stuff I know I shouldn’t do again. I know that working with Pat Thrall was great for me. It was a difficult period with me on drugs, but the music was great. It took a long time to make it because we were very high. I think Seventh Star was a wonderful album. Considering I was not the man I am today. I’m talking about the 80s now. I think with Fused that’s more of a classic rock album that should have been massive, but due to Sanctuary going bankrupt and due to no promotion, the album died. It could have been top 10 if it had been released two years before. I get a lot of love working with people like Tony Iommi, Chad Smith and John Frusciante. These are my friends, you know. Bonamassa is a strange animal. He’s there in my house one second and then I won’t see him for weeks and months. It’s like, you make an album and then you goys go. It’s like I like to think of myself as the head of the family and I need to see my kids. The problem with this band is we’re four people in different parts of the world all the time. We are a super group and it sucks that we can’t be playing the album the day it comes out, but we have to hope and pray we can all surface at the right time.
JS: I also heard rumours about another super group also featuring John Sykes.
Hughes: You know what that was, man. Crazy. It was myself, John Sykes, Mathias Jabs and fucking Herman The German on drums. It was like, you know, when Keith Olsen the Whitesnake producer came to me and wanted me to do this, I said – Keith, this is no disrespect, because these are all my friends, but I don’t want to go down that road. It’s very 80s for me. These guys are all great, but I don’t wanna go down that road. Like I said, there’s only so many albums I have left to do this, so I chose this project with BCC to be the right one. Let me tell you this – I could have formed another super-band with three other guys and it would have been really really good, but I believe the ones I’ve chosen on this are probably the right ones.
JS: It seems like John Sykes has disappeared from the face of the earth.
Hughes: Look, I can’t comment too much on John Sykes and his personal life. I can comment on his playing. He’s got a great wide vibrato. I don’t know too much what is going on in John’s head, but remember now, you didn’t know what was going on in my head in the 80s. I’m not suggesting John is out of his mind, but it’s just very bizarre he fell off the face of the planet, so. I don’t know anymore than you do.
JS: As a bass player, were did you come from?
Hughes: It’s simple really. It was McCartney on Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt Pepper, a cross between James Jamison and Larry Graham. You get a very British melodic bass player and then you get the supreme funk of Detroit and San Francisco. Motown come San Francisco, Height Ashbury vibe, which was very important for me. I’ve said it before and I say it 37 years later, it’s the notes that I don’t play that are the most important. It’s the holes in the groove, it’s the way it should be, it’s very early Stones meets Free meets Humble Pie in Trapeze. It’s the sassiness and decadence and eccentricity of the way I am. I live my life. I’m pretty wacked out.
JS: When recording what equipment did you use?
Hughes: It was all into the board direct with a SansAmp and it was re-amped with an SVT. I used a ‘51 re-issue Fender Precision bass on Black Country and on the rest of the album a ‘65 original four string Fender Precision which is my sweet baby from around the Soul Mover period. It’s the sunburst one. It’s pristine, it’s beautiful. But I have a ‘62 Jazz Bass with a price tag on the top with the original strings, but I can’t use it because it’s like museum quality. I do have a signature bass on Yamaha, it’s not available, but I play two or three of them. But this album, no disrespect to Yamaha at all, but this album needed a big thick Fender P bass! I don’t need to endorse people to get free gear or money, I wanna play what I wanna play and Joe’s the same way. He’s got his signature Les Paul, but if he wants to play an Ernie Ball, he will.
JS: You re-recorded Medusa here. Is there any other track you’d like to revisit?
Hughes: No. Honestly I truly truly don’t wanna re-record any more. The only reason we recorded Medusa was because, when I was down in Brazil Kevin was concerned we didn’t have enough material, so when I came back with the songs we had Medusa as a fifth song and recorded it, just for prosperity and it came across great. I’ve done it before, but Kevin wanted me to sing it a bit more in the tradition of the original. But, you know me, when I’m on stage I’m free, I don’t really sing with the parameters. Jeff Buckley is another one.
JS: The song Stand reminded me a bit of Ode To G.
Hughes: Yes, it’s the same notes except one and I wrote that song the day before, and then Joe came up with some pieces. It’s one of my favourites.
JS: Your bass playing on the track Black Country is quite intense. You always use a pick?
Hughes: I’m a pick player, but as my friend Kevin Dubrow used to say - Glenn is the only pick player who sometimes sounds like he’s playing with his fingers. That’s a big compliment. It’s too late in the day for me to start learning to play without a pick, but I think like a finger player. Basically, thinking is really the start of it, if you’re not thinking you can’t do it.
JS: What about live dates with this band? Will you play live, too?
Hughes: I said to Joe I can’t be in the band and not tour! I’d like to do a hundred shows a year with this band.
JS: Any plans for a new Glenn Hughes solo album?
Hughes: No, I’m not recording solo. I have no plans. It’s all BCC. I’m the flag-bearer and I run with it!
We at Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Glenn Hughes and Janne Stark for this interview. Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved.