The Glenn Hughes Interview
Glenn Hughes & Chad Smith
By Shawn Perry
Whenever the subject of great British rhythm and blues singers comes around, two names invariably pop up. One is Paul Rodgers. The other is Glenn Hughes. Rodgers, of course, enjoyed success in the 70s with Free and Bad Company, and continues to dazzle the ear drums as a solo artist and singer with Queen. For Hughes, the rocky road to success has been paved with a series of exhilarating highs and bottom-feeding lows.
Hughes first came to prominence in 1969 with Trapeze, a soulful hard rocking group from England. His big break, however, came when he received an invitation to join Deep Purple. At the time, Purple was considered one of the best hard rock bands in the world, and could have easily filled the slots vacated by vocalist Ian Gillan and Roger Glover with sound-alikes. By bringing in Glenn Hughes, a singer and a bass player, they could have cut their losses. Instead, they hired an unknown singer by the name of David Coverdale, and Deep Purple became a new band with two lead singers and a funky edge.
Unfortunately, the new Deep Purple was short-lived, and Hughes found himself without a steady gig in 1976. He returned to his funk and soul roots on his 1977 debut solo album, Play Me Out. Everyone from David Bowie to Ozzy Osbourne wanted to work with him, but Hughes, in own words, "went on a bit of a ride with the drugs." The plight of substances and booze continued to dog the bassist/vocalist throughout the late 70s and 80s, but he still managed to make brilliant records with Pat Thrall, Tony Iommi and countless others.
By the 90s, Hughes sobered up and started cranking out solo records, as well as collaborating with everyone from Gary Moore to Joe Lynn Turner. Healthy, enthusiastic and ready to work, Hughes is squarely focused on writing new music and touring these days. From the summer of 2008 well into 2009, he'll be traveling the world promoting his latest CD, First Underground Nuclear Kitchen, or simply FUNK. When Glenn Hughes plays live, he is truly in his element.
I've seen Hughes on a few occasions over the years. I witnessed his first American concert at the California Jam. I wandered into the Reseda Country Club in the early 80s where he sang like an angel before a captivated audience. In 1986, I was invited to a dress rehearsal where he fronted Black Sabbath on a Warner Brothers soundstage. He sounded fantastic that night, but as I would later learn, he ended up bowing out of the subsequent tour.
More recently, I've seen Hughes at various music biz functions with a spring in his step and a renewed sense of urgency. During the 2008 NAMM show, we chatted briefly and he agreed to an interview. Three weeks later, our schedules coordinated, I got him on the phone, and the man answered my every query with pronounced thought and conviction. I can hardly wait to hear that energy come blasting out of my speakers when I get my copy of FUNK.
Let's talk about the new record First Underground Nuclear Kitchen.
Obviously, the title is out there now. You know artists when they say, "Oh this is the best thing I've ever done." It's the common thing for artists to tell you. "This is it — this is the way to go." I've been making music a long, long time and I knew after the last couple of albums, I had to come up with something really special. I just spent so much more time, writing, arranging, producing — the whole gamut on this record is more of a Glenn album than ever before. I wrote it in the house and in the studio. It's just a very complete Glenn Hughes record; a very complete tapestry of where I'm at, where I've been, and where I'm going.
You've got Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on drums. Any other Chili Peppers on the record?
Not this time. I've got Luis Maldonado on guitar, Ed Roth on keys, J.J Marsh on guitar George Nastos on guitar and I play bass, guitar, acoustic and sing everything. This is the first record I've ever done since the 70s where I produced it alone and wrote most of it myself. You know, I like to write with other people, but this album is very personal. I can't wait for everyone to hear it because it's a big statement for me, a very musical statement.
How would you describe some of the songs?
Well, the title…the record, really, is just super funky. Before Deep Purple, I was in Trapeze, which was a very funky trio from the north of England. But my roots…well, I'm from Britain. So we had that industrial thing from Birmingham, you know where Black Sabbath and Zeppelin are from. Trapeze was kind of like a hard rock band, but we really listened to black America — Stevie Wonder, Sly & The Family Stone and that kind of music. So, when you cross British hard rock with Tamla-Motown, then you get Trapeze, which is basically the core of what they say, "Glenn Hughes is rock, soul and funk." I like to think of it as a big gum ball. You distill it together and all those three ingredients make up the flavor of my music.
And you have a summer tour of Europe planned behind the record.
We're going to start on May 8th, but we're doing a few selected shows in March and April. A charity show in London for Childline, and I'm doing a couple shows with Chad. We'll do a handful of shows to warm up, and then we'll start the major tour on May 8th and it will run through Christmas. It's gonna to go to Europe, it's gonna go to Australia, New Zealand, then we'll come back to Europe for a festival. Then we'll do Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp tour in America in July and August. Then we'll go to South America and back to Australia, the Far East, then some selected American shows.
You're going to be busy.
(Laughs) I'm going to be very busy. Like I said, it's been building to this point. I think a lot of my peers are maybe slowing down a bit, maybe doing something a bit different, or just doing their hits. With me, I just want to create brand new music for a vibrant audience. When I started again 17 years ago, my audience was like 40, 50-year-old men, and now my audience is anywhere between 18 and 35, and they're mostly girls. It's a bizarre. There's more women at my shows than ever. And I think it's because our music is kind of groovy and funky, so it's kind of an interesting thing.
You mentioned the charity gig for Childline Rocks, where you are sharing the stage with your old bandmate from Deep Purple, drummer Ian Paice.
We're really good friends. Ian and I have always been good friends. We were actually room mates in Purple for a while. It's going to be interesting to go back and play some Deep Purple songs with Ian for those people at Childline and give back to the kids.
Speaking of Deep Purple, I'd like to go back to that period when you first joined the band. What was your initial feeling when you received the invitation?
At first, I said no. Well...I really didn't say no. I sort of quizzed them because they wanted me to sing. They wanted a lead singer. And I quizzed them on that. And when they told me they wanted Paul Rodgers, I went, "OK that's different. Paul Rodgers is one of my favorites." So I thought, we get Paul Rodgers and I get a chance to sing with him and learn from him because he's a very talented guy. So the premise was, I was gonna get Paul Rodgers, but they never got him because he'd already started Bad Company.
So, here we are, I'm in the band now and we started to look around for a guy that kind of sounded like him (Rodgers) in a way and we found David Coverdale. He hadn't really recorded with anybody. I wasn't really that excited about singing just background vocals — I'm a lead singer. It was my idea at the time to have a two-lead-singer thing, which was done really well by David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes. Dave and I sort of shared the vocals on the albums we made.
There were lots of changes when you two came aboard, which is interesting because they were already well established and successful with the previous lineup. But you guys pulled it off.
I thought it was a very bold move, They knew when I joined the band that I was not the kind of bass player that followed the guitar player; I played in the holes and I play with the drums, because you know the drums and bass are very, very important. I'm a very different player than Roger Glover. And, of course, I'm a very different singer than Ian Gillan, so I think it was a very bold move to have us two replace those two guys.
How would you describe your relationship with Ritchie Blackmore back in those days?
You know, you can ask anyone who's worked with Ritchie — it's kind of difficult to have one. I think Ritchie Blackmore is a very talented guy, but I don't think he's a very approachable guy in a band situation. I think Ritchie Blackmore is the kind of cat that when you look back on 1968 to 1976, you think there's a great, great musician. But, it's like we don't know who he is because you're not allowed to find out. I come from a long line of caring, nurturing people. I'm very much a giver and I'm a very humble guy. And Ritchie is a guy that sort of likes to have that edge, you know. Ritchie and I started off very well. We flew off to Hamburg and stayed up all night drinking for three nights. We bonded together. And then we did really well when we made Burn.
But as soon as we hit the stage for the first time, a line was drawn in the sand. You weren't supposed to go over to his side of the stage; you weren't supposed to interact with him because it was "his" thing. I'm very much an inter-actor. I like to get involved with people on stage. If you look at Deep Purple footage before me and Coverdale, there's five guys on the stage and no interaction at all. I sort of brought that out in the band. If you look at California Jam video, I interacted with each member. I tried to do that with Ritchie, but it was difficult.
I know the California Jam was one of your first gigs with Purple in the States. What else do you remember about that day?
Just another day at the office to me, I don't know. The day before, I spent with Tony Iommi and Ozzy doing lines and drinking beer. We were up all night and Sabbath played before us at Cal Jam. I remember flying in on the helicopter with Coverdale, looking down at the audience, and Sabbath were on stage. We flew in there and…I don't mean to make this sound grandiose, but I knew that show was going to be a great Glenn Hughes moment. I just felt like I was born to play at events like this. I was 22-years-old. I just felt, "You know — I feel real good today. And I'm gonna go out there and I'm gonna give a go." And you know, I think it was a really good statement and testament.
After Burn, you made Stormbringer. And when I spoke to you last year, you told me you were involved with remastering it for re-release. Any progress on that front?
It's supposed to come out some time this year. I thought it was going to be Christmas, but I think April is when it's coming out. I haven't actually heard the mixes I did — I did them very quickly. I was only supposed to do one track, but I got on a roll and did four. They're just different than the original versions. It's pointless remixing them the same. I just wanted my opinion on what they would have been like. They were very quick mixes, but they're something a little different. There's a different vocal on "Hold On." I wanted to bring a different vocal up, and thought, "ah…this is interesting to fans, you know…" I brought up the bass obviously more. And I brought up some rhythm guitar that Ritchie didn't like, to bring it a little out. I wanted to give the audience something a little different.
Blackmore split to form Rainbow, but Purple moved forward with Tommy Bolin. What are your memories of that period?
Actually, when Ritchie left, I was going to leave the band and David Bowie was living at my house at the time. He was making Station To Station. So I said to Bowie, "I think I'm gonna split." And he said, "No, no, don't split. You got to get the right replacement." Like we were the right replacement for Gillan and Glover. I said, "No, I think I want to go back to playing funky music." He said, "Give it a shot. See what you come up with up as a replacement."
Ian Paice and David Coverdale had heard the Billy Cobham album (Spectrum, 1973). We got Tommy to audition and Bowie was with me. Tommy walked in and he had yellow, green, red, purple hair, and I said, "I'm already impressed. No matter what happens, if you don't get the gig, you're still gonna come home and party with me tonight." So he got the gig and he actually moved into my home in Beverly Hills as well. So, for about three months, we were jamming and writing. That's how we started Come Taste The Band at my house.
Unfortunately, Tommy Bolin passed away and Deep Purple shut down. What was going on in your mind? Was there ever any chance you could have joined up with Whitesnake? Or did you want to go solo?
And Ozzy asked me too. He was doing Blizzard Of Oz, and he asked me in '78 to do that. He was my neighbor back in the U.K. I said, "No, I'm not interested." Oz and I were very, very good friends, not many people know that, but we were very close. But I said, "No, I really love you. But I gotta sing. I've been in a band as a singer." David never asked, but I wanted my own identity.
But I was a bit too loaded back in the late 70s to do anything that was really gonna stand the test of time. Of course, everyone knows I've been clean and sober for a long time. But for me, after Purple, I sort of went on a bit of a ride with the drugs and stuff. I really wasn't focused. I was sort of hell-bent for leather there for a while.
How did you end up forming a band with Pat Thrall?
It was 1981 and Pat Travers was headlining with Def Leppard, a very young band from Britain at the time. They were very wet behind the eyes. So I went to see Pat Travers and I saw Pat Thrall. Right after the show, I went up to him and said, "Man, if you ever leave this band, you gotta call me up." Three months later, he leaves the band and calls me up. And I said, "Well, let's get you an apartment in L.A. Let's get a manager, let's get a record deal, and let's go…" And in about nine months, all those things happened.
Such a great band with so much potential. To my recollection, Hughes-Thrall were one of L.A.'s earliest hard rock melodic bands, a blueprint for others to follow. I remember flocks of L.A. musicians going to your shows at the Country Club, and taking notes. Could it have gone any further? What happened?
You see Shawn, it's my duty to tell your readers the truth. And the fact of the matter is, it's not pretty. Drugs at that point, in the early 80s, had become sort of like, "the thing." Cocaine in Los Angeles was very, very big. I was still kind of young and I didn't realize I had a monkey on my back. I didn't realize I had a cocaine problem. I knew that I liked it and I thought I could quit. But cocaine in '82 was consumed nightly with Hughes-Thrall, whether it was in the studio, rehearsal or on the road. Because we were so screwed up, particularly me — I don't want to blame Pat for everything, it's my band as well — I was so loaded. When a singer is so loaded and he doesn't get sleep, he can't sing. So, consequently, I really couldn't tour because I was more into getting high. A lot of people were angry at me for the simple reason that I was very, very talented, and they said, "You're throwing it away for drugs." What they didn't realize then, that people don't understand about drug addiction…I did not want to become a drug addict, I did not say to my fans, "I want to become a drug addict when I'm 30."
It's just that you fall into it, you hang out with the wrong people, and you have all these people that give you drugs and the chicks and the booze. You know, free shit. Then you become an addict if you're an addictive personality like me. And in '82 with Hughes-Thrall, we had some great moments, you know. But mostly, it was behind cocaine. You know, there's no successful people in the industry or walk of life who have success with cocaine. There's no such thing. So, eventually, it's going to ruin everything. 'Cause you can't sleep, you get irritable. You can't bring the records in on time. You're over-budget. You can't give proper concerts. You've got chicks, you've got blow, you've got delays with airlines. You've got to hire out airplanes because you missed your flight. It's a nightmare. The Hughes-Thrall album was a brilliant, brilliant album, but we only did 17 shows because we were too loaded.
What about making other records with Pat Thrall?
We started, but I pulled the plug because I can't get Pat to finish it. We started in '99. I'm a strict workaholic that delivers things on time. I'm on the road, I'm touring, I'm producing, I'm making records. I have deadlines and I have schedules. Pat has got his thing in Las Vegas he produces and edits. We started the record in '99 and I wanted to hand the record in by 2000. We still haven't handed it in, and I pulled the plug because it's never coming out. And you see, those songs from '99 are real dated and I don't want to be in competition with myself. If I were to release a Hughes-Thrall album, it would be state-of-the-art. It would be like amazing. And by the way, the stuff I have recorded with Pat these last eight, nine years is really, really great. But, because it's taken so long, I'm onto the next thing. And the next thing for me is promoting FUNK. I've been offered to make albums with other artists, very famous artists, but I've had to say "no," because I'm so bloody busy. I would love to work with Pat but I'm telling you, I can't get him to complete the record. Anyone who reads this and writes Pat a note to say complete the record because Glenn is tired of waiting, I say go for it.
I'll certainly pass the word along. One of my favorite Glenn Hughes vocal performances is on Seventh Star. Did you have any reservations about appearing on this record under the name Black Sabbath?
I did. Tony (Iommi) brought me in. His idea was to have three singers. One being Rob Halford, one being…I don't know, like another rock singer…and me. I was the first cat to go down and sing. I think the first night I wrote with the guys "No Stranger To Love" and I wrote "Heart Like A Wheel." I did those, and it was sort of like, "Well, Glenn did two songs tonight, then we'll just continue." So I continued to write and finished the record with Tony. We got along so well that nobody else was really invited to come and sing.
You know people talk about my voice and how good it was back then. The performances were OK, but remember you're dealing with drug addiction and alcoholism. I love Tony like a brother, and it was difficult when we're all getting stoned — the producers, Tony and myself, we're all getting pretty high — and nobody can look each other in the eye. It's difficult making records under the influence. It's difficult dealing with ego and inappropriate behavior and schedules and — once again — chicks. It's like a movie. And Seventh Star was a bloody movie. Tony was engaged to Lita Ford, and they were fighting all the time. Lita would come to my room, and then Tony would come to my room (laughs). They're really good friends now, but it was difficult. I was completely out of my mind. I'd left my wife. I met a chick down in Atlanta who was crazy. It was a crazy time.
Well, you guys apparently lived to talk about it because you've gotten together in the studio several times since Seventh Star. How would you describe your working relationship with Tony Iommi?
I'm pretty much a ferocious songwriter as far as what I do on daily basis. When I'm with him…let's just say, we'll get together on a Monday and we'll work, right? We'll sit face to face, and then Monday night, I'll go home. The next morning, I'll come in and he'll have five riffs for me that he'd actually done at night when I had gone. Five different gargantuan riffs to choose from to write a melody around or write a bridge or a chorus to. That's Tony's forte — "the riff." And I would come in with a chorus or the melody, and he would do that on a daily basis.
He and I can write a mammoth amount of material. And that's what Tony likes about working with me. If you ask him these questions, he'll probably say the same. I can keep up with his work rate. He's got a very quick turnaround in writing great riffs, as you know, and I thrive — since I've been sober — on delivering the goods. I mean, I just love completing. I love that word "complete" — I love completing things. And we completed a beautiful album called Fused.
You've had your ups and downs, but you've come back strong in recent years – making solo records and collaborating with everyone from Joe Lynn Turner to Quiet Riot. Any particular favorite guest appearances?
I want people to remember Kevin (Dubrow). Because when he passed away in November, it was a difficult time and it's all history now. But he was supposed to show up at my party. I was supposed to pick him at the airport and he never showed. I knew something was wrong, so I called the paramedics and you know the story.
If you knew anything about Kevin — if you spoke to Kevin — I was his favorite singer of all time. He adored me as a man and he loved that I changed my life in '91. He loved that fact. Kevin was also a loud, proud, soulful rock and roller who lived life to the fullest. But Kevin was also a guy…that…wasn't a bad guy…let's just say that Kevin was a partier, but Kevin was a partier that geographically did it on his own time, in his own house. He wouldn't go out and he wouldn't get loaded. I was privy to that, I was privy to the fact that I knew maybe Kevin was going off the road, but I tried to help him. It's really personal for me, I really, really tried to help him.
He really thrived by showing me that he was together. He looked up to me like a big brother. So, when he asked me to sing a duet with him and write some of the music and lyrics for Quiet Riot's Rehab, I jumped at the chance because I knew how important it was to him as a human being. This is one of my closest friends of all time that you do things for. Kevin was talented and I love Frankie Banali — he's a dear, dear friend. I wanted to help, I wanted to give back.
So you were happy with your performance on Rehab?
Yeah. The vocal I did with Kevin was done live. You know, I'm not one to drop in and punch lines. That's the way I like to make music, and so did Kevin. It was a wonderful experience. He was like a kid in a candy store. I miss him dearly. Of course, I've made a lot of great records with other people, but I think that was the most rewarding because of his childlike quality, looking at me when we were working. It was a beautiful moment for him and myself. I could go on forever about Kevin, I miss him very much.
Is there anyone you haven't worked with yet that you'd like to?
I've been waiting on Jeff Beck for 15 years. The head of his label Sony called me 15 years ago to do a vocal record with Jeff, like a rock-soul record. And Jeff came to see me play. I've known Jeff since '71 and we were talking about doing something back then. I'm still waiting on Jeff to do the album, that's 15 years and I've kind of moved on from that. Regarding working with people, there are so many great musicians. I think Doyle Bramhall (II) and myself will probably do something. I love Doyle. He's my favorite American artist, and I love him as a man, he's a great husband and father. And he's an incredible, incredible songwriter, guitar player. We've only just become friends. We love each other's work. And that will probably come to fruition at some point.
Any last words before we let you go?
I want your readers to know that my friend Mel Galley, from Trapeze and Whitesnake, has announced that he has terminal cancer. He doesn't have long to live. He's still my oldest, dearest friend. I've been speaking with Mel these past couple of days. He called me. It's completely devastating news because he's like family to me. So I implore your readers to go back and listen to the first couple of Trapeze albums, Medusa and You Are The Music...We're Just The Band. And listen to Mel — Mel was also on Whitesnake's Slide It In album — and remember him fondly because he was an amazing guitar player and songwriter…and a great humanitarian. The world is gonna lose another beautiful, beautiful young man.
Like I said, Mel is still with us right now, but his doctors don't give him much longer. It's a type of cancer — Ian Wallace, my friend from King Crimson, died of this two years ago — it's a silent killer. So, I implore your readers to…check your esophagus people, get under the cameras and have the endoscopies, because it's the kind of cancer that once you got it, it's really, really, really too late.