Glenn Hughes has been on an emotional rollercoaster these past few years. Early in 2014, his heartbreak over the premature demise of Black Country Communion, the supergroup featuring Hughes on bass and vocals, Joe Bonamassa on guitar, Jason Bonham on drums, and Derek Sherinian on keyboards, reverberated throughout the industry. The break-up was further exacerbated by his heart surgery to replace an aortic valve, the operation resulting in near-fatal complications. Miraculously, however, he was back only four months later with California Breed and its brilliant eponymous debut record. As with BCC, Hughes had high hopes for California Breed—but by the end of 2015, the band had run aground, and Hughes faced yet another health concern: dual knee-replacement surgery.
The procedure postponed an eagerly anticipated, long-overdue U.S. solo tour—his first in nearly 40 years. But in early 2016, after literally getting back on his feet again, things were back on the up-and-up. Deep Purple’s Mk. II and Mk. III lineups, the latter of which he was a part, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That long-overdue accomplishment (Deep Purple had been eligible for 25 years and nominated two other times) was overshadowed by the death of his father only three days after the New York ceremony. But Hughes bounced back again, this time with Resonate, a bona-fide rock solo record—his first in eight years. He also got around to that U.S. tour, performing a set that included music from his storied past, including Trapeze, Deep Purple, Hughes/Thrall, and Black Country Communion.
Unfortunately, a crisis again usurped good news. Black Country Communion announced that it would reunite to record a fourth record. No one seemed happier about the comeback than Hughes. The band was scheduled to be in the studio in Los Angeles from January 5–10, 2017, with producer Kevin Shirley, but Hughes’ mother fell ill. So, he left for England on January 4, causing him to miss almost the entire session. He eventually returned to L.A. with just two days to spare—just enough time to cut his tracks and get BCCIV in the can. Sadly, his mom passed shortly thereafter, on February 1.
Despite all these hurdles, Hughes isn’t feeling sorry for himself. He’s creating some of the most inspired music of his career, as Resonate, BCCIV, and the forthcoming Joe Satriani record, What Happens Next. “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual,” he says. “I’m just channeling all of that emotional energy.”
Glenn Hughes was born in Cannock, England, on August 21, 1951. He originally started out playing guitar, but when his band Finders Keepers needed a bassist, he made the transition and ingested the contrasting styles of James Jamerson and Paul McCartney. Finders Keepers eventually morphed into the funk-rock power-trio Trapeze, which released a slew of seminal records, including Medusa and You Are the Music … We’re Just the Band. Trapeze captured an element of Hughes’ R&B influence, and the band achieved modest international success, often touring the States supporting acts like the Moody Blues. But Hughes was destined for more, and Deep Purple soon came knocking.
In 1973, at the height of its popularity, Deep Purple made the unconventional move of parting with two key members, bassist Roger Glover and vocalist Ian Gillan. Hughes had been on Purple’s radar for quite some time. “They had me earmarked for a while and watched me for six months. They saw me play in Los Angeles at the Whiskey and at the Marquee in London. I had no idea they were looking at me as a potential bass player. They just kept showing up, as a lot of bands did in those days.” In addition to Hughes, Deep Purple Mk. III would ultimately include future Whitesnake singer David Coverdale, who was plucked from obscurity in place of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore’s first choice, the unobtainable Paul Rodgers (Free/Bad Company). Burn, released in February 1974, was the first record to feature this lineup. Its mix of bluesy swagger and prog-inspired, neo-classical rock became the only Deep Purple record besides 1972’s Machine Head to crack the Billboard Top Ten, thereby cementing the Mk. III lineup’s place among rock royalty.
Black Country Communion (L–R): Joe Bonamassa, Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham, Derek Sherinian
Stormbringer and the Blackmore-less Come Taste the Band followed, but Deep Purple was slowly imploding, and the group officially broke up in 1975. Hughes went on to release inspired solo work and a pairing with guitarist Pat Thrall, Hughes/Thrall, in 1982. In the ’80s he fronted Black Sabbath for a spell, which ended with his dismissal, but ultimately led to his sobriety. That was followed by a long string of mostly excellent solo records that flew completely under the commercial radar. Things changed rather suddenly in 2009, when Glenn teamed up with Bonamassa to form Black Country Communion, and he was subsequently catapulted back into the mainstream rock market.
That leaves Hughes in what might be the most prolific moment of his career. His 2016 release, Resonate, features songs like the crushing, bass-driven “Flow,” “Steady,” and “How Long”—heavy, well-crafted gems highlighting his bass prowess. On BCCIV, he wrings every drop of emotion from his instrument with roaming, upper-register solos and signature left-hand trills on songs like “Collide” and “The Crow.” Joe Satriani’s What Happens Next is the first album he’s ever recorded that he did not sing on, and without his otherworldly vocals, the record reveals just how commanding he is on bass: Check out “Headrush” or “Super Funky Badass” for bass lines that are equal parts foundation and fireworks. He calls the record “powerful, epic, and soulful, with big grooves and insatiable guitar melodies.” After five decades in the biz, Glenn Hughes’ bass playing is as relevant and in-demand as ever.
You played bass, but didn’t sing a lick, on What Happens Next.
It was a complete blast playing in a trio with Joe and [Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer] Chad Smith. We recorded live, and it was a moment that will live with me forever—big love to Joe and Chad and all music lovers who dare to dream.
Do you prefer recording live?
When I left Purple in the mid ’70s and went back to doing other work, it was all about getting the drums right, and then building a bass track, and so on. I never liked it. When I started working with Chad [on 2005’s Soul Mover], he kindly insisted we record live, and together. We did the same in BCC and California Breed as well.
You work a lot with Chad Smith. What is it about his drumming that moves you?
Chad is like the new John Bonham. I’ve worked with some great drummers, like Ian Paice, Jason Bonham, Kenny Aronoff, and Chad fits comfortably into that lineage. He’s been my right arm—I call him my wife. In addition to playing drums, he’s helped produce my records, and he’s a great writer.
How does that compare to playing with Jason Bonham?
There’s nothing like having a Bonham behind you. His dad played with Trapeze 15 times or so. Jason simply makes me a better bass player. He’s very musical, and he’s got a very good ear—great light and shade. He plays with a flair that comes from the wrists. It’s blissful for me as a bass player. John [Bonham] was a big part of the arrangements of those Led Zeppelin songs, and Jason is a big part of that process with BCC. On “Sway,” for example, it was his idea to use a drum groove like Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”
How did BCC decide to reunite?
I was in New York for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction with Deep Purple in 2016, and I got a call from Joe [Bonamassa] congratulating me. He asked if I wanted to have dinner when I got back to L.A. During dinner he asked me if I wanted to make another record, and of course I said, “Yes!”
BCC doesn’t tour much. Are you okay with that?
The thrill that keeps me going is the live sound. I love playing live. I’m a live bass player.
What was the songwriting process like for BCCIV?
Joe and I wrote the whole album at my house—just the two of us. It’s a band, but Joe and I came up with most of the material, because we didn’t have a lot of time to make this record. “Wanderlust” is a good example of us partnering on a song; Joe wrote the intro and I wrote the chorus.
Do you write on bass?
I write everything on guitar. But if I write a progression that has a lot on minor 9’s and major 7’s, I can automatically hear what I’m going to play on the bass.
You seem to write a lot of songs around minor 9 chords.
I like jazz chords in rock, and I use chords that are usually a no-no for most rock guys—a lot of triads and major 7ths. The minor 9 is a very sad yet sexy chord.
Are you always writing?
I probably write 100 songs a year. I do it because it makes me happy. I always say, “I sing and play freely. I get paid to travel” [laughs]. I am so grateful for what God has freely given to me—to give back is so important.
Are Black Country Communion’s nods to Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple intentional?
Absolutely. Look, we recorded live to tape just like we did with Purple in the ’70s. I am the ’70s. Why would I want to be something other than that?
How did you end up with a bass solo in “The Crow”?
It wasn’t supposed to be a bass solo; it’s just what I was playing. Kevin called one day and said, “Can I send you something?” And that was it. He just carved out the space around what I was already doing.
There’s more distortion on your bass on this record. What were you going for with your tone?
I was going after more of a Deep Purple vibe. I used a Black Cat Bass Octave Fuzz, and I have a big pile of Orange amps. It’s the greatest rig for me. It sounds like my Hiwatt rig from 1972.
Every bass player has somebody they look to as the basis for their style. Who was yours?
That’s Andy Fraser. I saw Free in 1969, and I was like, “Stop. What the hell is that? What are you doing?” But my very first influence was Paul McCartney. You can ask anybody in my age group from England, and they’ll acknowledge Paul—Magical Mystery Tour, Sgt. Pepper, that period. The bass lines on songs like “Fixing a Hole” were so amazing melodically. And then you throw in what was going on in San Francisco in ’68 with Larry Graham and Sly & the Family Stone. So, there’s the McCartney influence, a little Larry Graham, and Andy Fraser—that’s what you get with Glenn Hughes.
I hear a Stevie Wonder influence as well.
If you ask a white kid from Nebraska what he’s listening to today, it’s probably going to be hip-hop. For me it was originally the Beatles, but very quickly I jumped to Booker T. & the MG’s, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and Stevie Wonder. I grew up listening to Detroit music, so I’ve got this rock voice that is timbred on American music. Because of that, I’d love to be remembered as someone who created his own style of bass playing and singing.
You’ve always been a very free-form vocalist.
There are five different Glenn Hughes voices: the rock voice, the soulful voice, the rock-turbo voice, the whisper voice, and the vibrato-melodic voice—and when you throw all five together, it’s very soulful and aggressive.
If you had to analyze your playing style in BCC, what would you say about it?
My style is ultimately about the notes I don’t play. It’s about laying down that nasty groove. I’m really going back to my youth, playing how I would have played in Trapeze and finding the holes in the grooves. The notes I don’t play are probably more important than the ones I do. It comes from my taste for James Jamerson and Carol Kaye.
What basses do you record with?
Bill Nash makes me the most amazing basses. If you know anything about the Black Country sound or the Black Country look, it’s Nash—and my ’62 Fender Jazz Bass, which still has the £250 price tag on it [laughs].
How’s your relationship with Deep Purple these days?
Non-existent, but David Coverdale and I were always close—even more so today than ever before.
You are often “blamed” with making Deep Purple funky.
I didn’t make Deep Purple funky—the band was changing. David Bowie was staying with me in Beverly Hills for seven or eight months, and when you’ve got a guy like that living at your house, you’re going to change. I was in love with what he was doing on Young Americans [1975, RCA], so that was an enormous influence on me.
You slapped on “Gettin’ Tighter” from Come Taste the Band, though. That’s funky.
It’s the only song I ever really slapped on. I can slap, but for me, what I have to do comes from playing with a pick and the trills with the left hand.
Do you ever feel that your bass playing has been undermined by your singing?
I don’t think so. Playing bass to me is as important as singing. People probably don��t realize that, because they generally know more about my voice than my bass—but if you know my bass playing, you know that I really enjoy playing bass. And playing bass allows me to breathe better when I’m singing.
There’s nothing better than seeing a bass player sing great.
There are only a few of us—Sting, Paul McCartney. It’s a great club to be in. It’s also a win-win situation when you get me in a band; I’m good at working out harmonies, and I love to sing with other singers, especially ones who push me. I love playing bass and singing. It’s the greatest thing.
What keeps you inspired?
It’s learning how to grow and learning who I am as a bass player, as well as a singer. That’s really important to me.
Joe Satriani, What Happens Next [2018, Sony Music]; Black Country Communion, BCCIV [2017, Mascot/J&R Adventures]; Glenn Hughes, Resonate [2016, Frontiers]
Basses 1962 Fender Jazz, 1965 Fender Precision, Nash PB57, Nash JB63
Rig Orange AD200B MK3 head, Orange OBC810 cab
Picks Dean Markley .96 mm
Effects Black Cat Bass Octave Fuzz
As “The Crow” Flies
By Chris Jisi
Glenn Hughes’ step-out on “The Crow,” from Black Country Communion’s BCCIV, may have been producer Kevin Shirley’s audio creation, but both the solo and Hughes’ opening bass line capture key elements of his style. Example 1 contains the Joe Bonamassa-doubled bass line, equal parts metal and funk. Hughes played with a pick and tuned his ’62 Jazz Bass down to Eb, but it’s written here a half-step up from the track, in E, to reflect the open strings in the tab. Breathe and leave space on the beat four of bar 2, and then get ready for the funky fill at the end of bar 4.
Example 2 shows the solo, written in half-time (and up a half-step, like Ex. 1), even though the drums are playing double-time. Hughes dives in with his trademark use of the blues scale, adding pull-offs, hammer-ons, a string bend, and slides as he goes. Among the ear-grabbers are his bent Fn in bar 2, the chromatic motion in bars 4 and 5 (dig bar 5’s non-bluesy Bb passing tone), and the syncopated phrase in bar 6. In addition to his signature fingerboard moves, what stands out about the Hughes bass approach is his R&B and funk-rooted pocket, his gnarly tone, and his aggressive, fearless, go-for-it gusto.