I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Glenn Hughes, a man whose career spans several decades and includes Trapeze, Deep Purple, Hughes-Thrall, Black Country Communion. We spoke about his new band, California Breed whose debut album comes out on May 19th.
Your latest project is called California Breed. First of all, where did the name come from?
The hardest part is that everyone’s got the name now. If we’d decided to call it “Purple Tiger” for instance someone will probably already have a band by that name, so we as a collective of the band members would discuss on the phone and someone would say “I’ve got a really cool name”, then we’d Google it and find someone’s already got it. So Andrew said last September, six months after we got into this, “Why don’t you look at your lyrics book and maybe there’s a word there”. So I went through it and there were things like Avalon, things that I really like, King Arthur and stuff, then I came across in “Solo” which is a bonus track, the line “California Breed acceleration”, kind of a fast moving California dude, which kinda I am, been living there three quarters of my life. So, Black Country Communion, very dark and industrial but very rock, California Breed very light, purple, orange and yellow, amber and magenta, and very rock. It might sound like a different breed but it’s a definitively rock album.
You’d worked with Jason Bonham in Black Country Communion. Was it when the band ended that you decided you wanted to work together more?
We knew immediately, even before the band broke up. Because there was some speculation before the band broke up, Jason and I were resigned to the possibility that Black Country wouldn’t continue, before it didn’t continue. I’ve known Jason since he was in diapers, his dad and I were very good friends. I have a lot of famous friends who are drummers, but they’re always busy, it’s like the Joe thing, he was Busy. So Jason and I decided we would stay together and form something new.
Who was it who came up with Andrew Watt as a recruit?
Julian Lennon, one of my dear friends was in LA in February 2013, the day before the Grammys and I was with him. He said “there’s someone here I’d like you to meet, a young man called Andrew Watt from New York city”. So I said ok, and Andrew came over and spoke about his love of how this guy plays, or how this guy writes a lyric. I gave him my email and said to send me some music. After the Grammys I went to Minneapolis, and I got an email from Andrew with three songs. Not California Breed’s type of music, but more Americana singer solo songwriter stuff, and I heard a good writer, a good guitar player, and a good singer, three things that are important. So Jason and I thought it would be a good idea to choose him instead of choosing a famous guitar player, who would bring into the band baggage of his own band and the unavailability to play. People have said to me before they hear this music “Oh you should have got that guy, or that guy”. Well that guy is busy, and I think what’s brave about Jason and I choosing Andrew is that he’s an unknown but uberly talented young guy – I mean I’m 39 years older than him. I think when people hear the album they won’t hear the generational gap.
It’s very aggressively distorted. Soulfully distorted aggressively. Where Black Country was supremely talented in the way we were with the kind of Purple organ sound, Jason and I successfully did another thing. We said “No more keyboards, lets take it to a trio”. Led Zeppelin was a trio, The Who – trio, Humble Pie – trio, Rush – trio, Free – trio, The Police, Cream – all trios that did wonderful things. I’m not trying to be 1968 like Black Country was 1974-76, I am a key figure from the late sixties, early seventies, that has gone back to my roots – organic distorted guitar, not hammer-ons on the left hand – that would have been wrong. It would have been wrong to have an iconic Bonamassa, Blackmore, Iommi player – we had to have somebody new, someone who understood the sound we were after, and when I heard Andrew play, his right hand spoke to me, I mean Keith Richards has the greatest right hand. I’ve never gone down that road before and I think we’ve done good.
One thing that stands out is that all the albums and projects you’ve worked on sound different – is that something you’ve done deliberately?
No, I’ve said this many times over the years, I’ve said that I have never made the same album twice, starting from Trapeze, all the way to now. Every Black Country album was different, every Purple album was different. There are bands that have a certain style, like Motley Crue. I’m good friends with Nikki Sixx, and when you hear Motley Crue’s albums you know it’s a certain development. With Aerosmith it’s been slightly different, and with me, although it’s me singing, it’s different to Black Country.
When I closed the door with Black Country, it was not easy to walk away, but I had to walk away because Joe wouldn’t play, so what are we waiting for? I’m not one to sit and wait because my time on this earth could be 30 years or it could be 30 minutes, I just don’t know. People around us are dying. I said to my wife that I was going to move on, and she said “Honey you can do what you want, you don’t have to prove anything to anybody because you’ve done it all, and anything you do from this point is just gravy. Don’t expect anything, just go out there and do what you do, because you have a certain amount of people who understand that you do your thing”. I didn’t want to be like any other singer or any other bass player or writer, I’ve got this sound now.
What was the song writing process for the album – is it a collaborative thing or are there one or two main song writers?
The first week of March, Andrew flew to my home from New York City where he was raised. He had wonderful parents, who had him listening to Led Zeppelin, so when Andrew was 9 years old and all his school friends didn’t know what Led Zeppelin was, because when you’re born in 1991 and it’s the year 2000, Led Zeppelin had been broken up for 20 years, but Andrew had to learn how to play his own instrument.
The thing with music is that although Led Zeppelin are long gone, their music lives on.
Led Zeppelin to me because of my relationship to Jason, and Robert is a good friend……….I don’t listen to a lot of music, but we’re at an age now that when we talk about great iconic bands, iconic, when was the last majorly British iconic band? You can go to Coldplay if you want, or Muse. I’m talking arena or stadium size bands, and back in my era, there were iconic bands being born every three months.
There are very few arena size bands at the moment either in the UK or the US, who are newish bands.
There are a lot of new metal bands, like Avenged Sevenfold, I don’t know their music, but I see they’re doing really well and I’m really happy – I always love to see a new breed of revolutionary band, but I’m talking Aerosmith status and the great thing about California Breed is that we’ve got two established English musicians who live in America with a brand new musician How brave were Jason and I to have an unknown guy come in and do that, to take that seat and fucking own it? He’s an amazingly gifted young man. New Yorkers sit up high on their perch, like Londoners do – try knocking him off his perch, it’s impossible.
Presumably California Breed isn’t going to be just a studio project?
Good god I hope not. We’re looking at early winter, late-fall in America to come and play shows in Europe. We’ll play a couple of shows in America this summer, like surprise things in the summer, but the tour proper will start in late September.
I think that’s something a lot of people will be happy about.
You need to know that at the end of Black Country that I didn’t know, but I figured in my heart that the band was over, and the band was over way before it finished. The reason we started this new band is that we need to be available, and we need to build a brand, again. I can sit at home with my dogs and relax, but at my age a lot of people want to retire or may not want to do it, they’ve lost the hunger. But then my friend Ringo, he’s got more money than god – he’s 74 and he’s still rocking. He said to me at Christmas, “You can’t retire. If you’re a real musician, which you are, you cannot retire”. If John Lennon was still here he’d still be making music.
Looking at some of the people and groups you’ve worked with over your career it’s like a who’s who of music – Trapeze, Gary Moore, Tony Iommi, Deep Purple and Black Country Communion. Which of the albums or bands you’ve performed on over the years are you most proud of?
I’ve got to say Trapeze. I know you’re too young to remember that but that was before Purple, and we started out in 1969 playing to 20 people in the North of England. Then we found ourselves in 1970 in America, opening for the Moody Blues in front of 20,000 people a night. I was 18 and I couldn’t drink, we were led everywhere, and we built a huge following in America. That was the key moment for me. “Burn” from Deep Purple, a significantly brilliant album from a brand new band, “Seventh star” with Tony Iommi and Black Sabbath, “Fused” with Tony Iommi, “Hughes-Thrall”, “Soul mover”, Glenn Hughes solo, these are the key elements. I’ve done ten solo albums, “Play me out” from 1977, that’s when I met Stevie Wonder and my whole life shifted about meeting the right people, to breathe, to do yoga, and sing from here, Stevie Wonder taught me to do that. I’ve been helped by my peer group whether it’s black or white or yellow.
That was something I wanted to ask. Your voice still sounds fantastic 40 years after your first album, so presumably you take care of your voice?
I think, it’s the “No fear” factor. Not confidence or an ego boost, no fear. Right now I’m not thinking something’s going to knock us out through the window, it might but I don’t know what’s going to happen in five minutes, but I know that when I hit the microphone and I’ve got it in my hands or I’ve got the bass on that holy ground I call the stage, you’re looking at a man that has zero fucking fear with my voice. There’s not a note I won’t try. It’s not like I’m trying to sing that high, but I’ve got an energy that enables me to have no fear. Humans in general are fear based, animalistic, we’re driven by a hundred forms of fear. Some people go on stage driven by fear. I won’t name names but you can see how uncomfortable they are, or they’re not relaxed, but I’ve beaten that in sobriety.
One collaboration you’ve done might surprise many rock fans – you sang on “America, what time is love?” by The KLF. How did that come about?
It was 1991 and I was in London working on something, visiting my family, and I got approached by Jimmy from KLF. I’d already seen they’d done this video clip with Tammy Wynette and it was on top of the pops. I’m American so KLF were new to me, and I remember seeing Tammy Wynette with them, and the next thing I know I get a call from Jimmy…actually it was Bill who called me, and he said he was a massive Trapeze fan and that they’d got this song and while the guy was rapping they wanted me to sing the chorus and some adlibs and lines. They said they wanted me to come down, and if I got the gig – they were going to ask Roger Daltrey and Robert Plant, so I said “I’ll be there tomorrow”. It took me half an hour to sing “What time is love”, and they said “You’ve got it, it’s yours, but we want to bill you as the voice of rock”, so I said ok. Then I went into Betty Ford, because I knew that after Tammy Wynette’s top 5 success around Europe that there was a good chance this was going to go big, so I’ve got to get my sobriety intact, I’ve got to lose weight, and I’ve got to get healthy, so I went to Betty Ford, and when I got out of Betty Ford that fucking song was number 4. I came right over here and started the new era.
You did well in that you went to Betty Ford and sorted out your problems, whereas some of your peer group weren’t able to manage that.
Look man, a lot of my friends have died. You’re looking at somebody who should have. When you look back at Trapeze, when I was newly sober, you’d have looked at Mel Galley, who went on to Whitesnake, and Dave Holland who went to Jail, and then me, you’d have said “Hughesie’s going to go first” – in fact all bets would have been on me to go first, and it would have been true, but I’m the one left as available, above ground completely sober and clean, don’t smoke, don’t do any medication. How can I still be here man, and sing like that? I don’t think you’ll talk to anyone this year who is as supremely grateful as I am, and completely humbled by the gift.
You’ve survived and gone from strength to strength.
I’ve gone from strength to strength because….I’ve been reading books and sermons from hundreds of years ago about “You can’t take it with you”. All I’ve got is today. I’ve walked away from material things to have the spiritual life because I believe my art form, the one that has been supremely and freely given to me. I’m not Lionel Messi, but Messi or Beckham or another gifted footballer, I’ve kind of been given this gift like they have, or a great lawyer or dentist or surgeon, we’ve been given a gift that can be taken away from us in seconds, so it’s all about today for me, so it’s all about me telling you how grateful I am and how wonderful this new band is.
Thank you very much for your time.
California Breed’s self-titled debut album is released in the UK on Monday May 19th.
For further info, visit – www.californiabreed.com