When it comes to rock and roll bloodlines, you’d be hard pressed to find an active artist with a more impressive pedigree than bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, who fronts British/American supergroup Black Country Communion.
Hughes, who was born in 1951 in Staffordshire, England, came to prominence in the early ’70s as a member of British funk-rock pioneers Trapeze. That led to a career-making spot in the commercially successful Mark III and IV lineups of Deep Purple in the mid-’70s, when he replaced Roger Glover and evolved into one of the band’s main songwriters, co-penning “Holy Man,” “You Keep On Moving” and “Burn.”
Before forming Black Country Communion with Joe Bonamassa, Derek Sherinian and Jason Bonham in 2010, Hughes released several solo albums; enjoyed a brief stint with Black Sabbath; collaborated with Gary Moore, Tony Iommi, Chad Smith and Pat Thrall; and appeared on recordings by Whitesnake, George Lynch, Richie Kotzen and Manfred Ehlert’s Amen — to name just a few.
Hughes was grounded during much of the 1980s due to his struggle with drugs and alcohol, as detailed in his autobiography, Glenn Hughes: The Autobiography, from Deep Purple to Black Country Communion, one of Guitar World’s Top 15 Books of 2011.
Black Country Communion have released two critically acclaimed studio albums — Black Country (2010) and 2 (2011) — with a new one in the works for 2012. Their first live album, Live Over Europe, was released February 28 and is a companion to the DVD of the same name, which was released in October 2011.
I caught up with Hughes last week, just as he was letting his dogs into his Southern California home. We discussed Black Country Communion, gear and Gary Moore, with a healthy serving of Deep Purple.
GUITAR WORLD: Congrats on Black Country Communion’s new live album, which sounds incredible, stating with that opening bass riff in “Black Country.” We’ve also heard reports that a new studio album is expected later this year. What’s its status?
Well, I’ve got the songs ready, and more will be revealed soon. Let’s see what happens this year. I know we’re supposed to record in the summer.
What is the writing and recording process like in Black Country Communion?
With each album, I go into my place and write the majority of the music, then I take it in to Joe and Kevin [Shirley, producer] and we make the songs more “band sounding.” With this next album, I’ve had the luxury of being able to write for six months. With the first album I had six weeks, and the second one was about four months. But I’ve had a lot more time to write this one. If you look at Joe’s schedule, he doesn’t even have time to wipe his nose. I’ve been left as the keeper of the keys to write these albums.
In the last five or six years, I’ve been writing consistently every day of the year, even Christmas Day. It makes me feel like I’m doing something in order to grow. Some people might go to the gym and swim laps, but I write songs. Every single day, I write something new and record it.
Black Country Communion have a very classic rock sound, which is especially evident on Live Over Europe. Given your diverse history and your background in funk, what is it like writing in a 100 percent rock format?
Realize that my roots are rock music, although I did grow up listening to black American music, as Robert Plant listened to American blues music. Everybody’s got their story to tell. But when I embrace the rock hat, when I put it on two or three years ago, when I realized I’m gonna go and make really focused rock albums, it felt like wearing an old shoe. It was a perfect fit.
Every artist you interview, I’m sure they like to tell you, “I’ve done a little of this, I’ve swam in the blues waters, I’ve tried a little bit of funk,” they’ve even done a little opera or whatever. But the fact of the matter is I didn’t come back to rock for financial gain. I came back because it was supposed to happen when it happened. I joke to people in the press that I realize I’m not black, I’m actually white. But I’ve got these roots in black American music. I love it.
Would you say you were the driving force behind Deep Purple’s groovier sound in the mid-’70s?
That’s a great question — but no one put a gun to my head telling me to be me. I mean, if you study those records, like Burn , which was where David Coverdale and I came in, replacing Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, we were brand new, fresh, living in this castle, writing the album. We’re getting along really well, as Ritchie Blackmore does with every new member that comes in -– he’s a great guy. The album was more what you would consider to be rock-focused and Deep Purple-sounding, with its majestic keyboards and Blackmore’s insane guitar playing.
But when Stormbringer  was being written at that same castle, Ritchie didn’t come in with any songs. He came with only one track, one idea. So it was left up to David, John and myself to come up with the goods, if you will. And we started to write things that were groovier, more melodic. I really liked the direction of Stormbringer, but left to my own devices, I’m gonna be — you know — left to my own devices. I think it would’ve been silly for David and me to come into Deep Purple and ape Ian and Roger. It would have been pointless.
Am I the man who killed Deep Purple? I don’t think so. I think every band from that era, even if you look at Led Zeppelin, if you look at their first four albums, they’re extremely different from one another, and I’ve never made the same album twice. There are other artists who I shan’t mention — all good friends of mine — who have this one-dimensional sound, and it really works for them.
For me? I’m not driven by the mighty dollar. I’m driven by the artistic form of writing music that is different from the last album, while still keeping a focus on what the general direction should be. I don’t take responsibility for Blackmore leaving Deep Purple because of the music I was writing. If you look at the annals of Deep Purple, you’ll notice that Blackmore, every second or third album, would like to change the vocalist anyway.
When you listen to those albums, including Come Taste the Band , you’ll notice they’re very much three different albums because, if you’re between 18 and 25, that’s when you’re really growing musically and spiritually, and I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’ve never been a one-dimensional rock artist. I can’t help myself.
Speaking of age, Paul McCartney recently said he plans on recording and touring when he’s in his eighties. Do you feel the same way?
I do, I do. Paul’s an example of a great songwriter who’s lived his life in a fishbowl, being so famous. He’s a true legend and a nice bloke; he’s obviously found unrequited love with this new gal from New York, and he’s in a happier place. Some people say the best songs are written when someone’s in pain. Yeah, I get that, but I think that song he sang on the Grammys [“My Valentine” from 2012’s Kisses On the Bottom] was very good. I’m glad he’s got this resurgence and he’s doing what he’s doing, because without him, I wouldn’t be around. He was my first influence when I was 11.
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