FROM TRAPEZE & DEEP PURPLE TO BLACK SABBATH & BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION, GLENN HUGHES ON JUGGLING BASS & VOCALS
DESPITE HAVING A DOZEN SOLO ALBUMS TO HIS CREDIT, A MILE-LONG RESUMÉ THAT includes storied stints with Trapeze, Deep Purple, Gary Moore and Black Sabbath, and a crossover hit single, “America: What Time Is Love?” with UK electronica act the KLF, Glenn Hughes still flies somewhat under the radar of pop culture. Hughes is acknowledged by many as “The Voice Of Rock” for his ecstatic, soulful singing, but what’s truly underrated is his superb bass playing. It has been the anchor for several classic albums, including Deep Purple’s Burn and Come Taste the Band, yet it often goes unacknowledged because of his vocal prowess.
Glenn’s new group, Black Country Communion, is poised to bring his low-end expertise into the spotlight. From the incendiary opening riff of “Black Country” through the closing jam in “Too Late for the Sun,” Black Country Communion is a bass-heavy album that illuminates the brilliance of Glenn’s playing. Thanks to producer Kevin Shirley’s keen ear, the vibe of this new group with guitarist Joe Bonamassa, keyboardist Derek Sherinian, and drummer Jason Bonham relies heavily on Glenn’s muscular pickstyle P-Bass tone. Seemingly ageless at 58, Glenn Hughes has crafted a record that simultaneously reaffirms his status as “The Voice of Rock” while delivering a legitimate tour de force on bass.
How did Black Country Communion come together?
Joe and I met three years ago. He’s a fan of my work with Trapeze. What people don’t know about Joe is that he’s a big fan of bands like Led Zeppelin and Yes. He’s already a blues icon, but he’s really a rock & roll guy. We’d been hanging out, secretively making music, knowing that one day we’d do something. Then Kevin Shirley saw us play together at the House of Blues last year for a Guitar Center event and suggested we get a full band together. He recommended Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian, and so the next day we got them on the phone and agreed to meet for an exploratory session. When we got into Kevin’s studio, we crossed our fingers and counted the beat off. Four sessions later, we had an album.
Did you guys write the album together in the studio?
I came up with the first four or five ideas, Joe came up with a couple of ideas, and we re-cut “Medusa” from Trapeze. The music was cut over four days, and in between the sessions Joe and I would go away and complete the writing process. It’s a band, don’t get me wrong, but Joe and I came up with most of the material because we didn’t have a lot of time to mingle. The material really came together in the studio.
It’s a pretty bass-heavy record.
Isn’t it? I’ve been doing this a long time, and after all these years I still have to fight every engineer for my bass to be loud. But here with Kevin I didn’t even have to ask. Let’s face it— he’s really, really good. Sonically, this album has to be the best I’ve ever done. I’m really happy to hear that P-Bass growling away like it should.
What was your setup?
It’s a ’65 Fender Precision on most of it. On a couple of tracks it’s a ’51 reissue. I’ve been using the ’65 since the Soul Mover record. It’s got that undeniable P-Bass sound. I’ve got a lot of basses, but I always seem to go back to the P-Bass when I’m making this kind of music. It’s the instrument for me in this genre. You’ll often see me playing a lot of ’62 Jazz Basses too. I also have a Manne bass, and I’ve been working with Yamaha on a signature bass. I discovered Bill Nash basses last year, when I was in Melbourne, Australia. I really fell in love with those, as well.
What about amps?
I recorded direct, and Kevin re-amped it through some Ampeg SVTs.
Do you consider yourself a vocalist who plays bass or a bass player who sings?
I’m a natural bass player—an old school, groove player. I hear things in a bass world. Everybody talks about my voice, and some people don’t even know I’m a bass player. My manager was standing in the audience at a gig in London recently and he heard someone say, “If you didn’t know Glenn was a singer you’d hire him to play bass; he’s got to be in the top five rock bass players.” I’m underrated because people always talk about the voice, as they might with Paul McCartney or Sting. We’re in the same category; we’re all pretty good bass players who happen to sing well. I guess I’m known as a “singing bass player.”
Who are some of your influences?
My very first influence was Paul McCartney. Ask anybody from England in my age group, and they’re going to have to acknowledge Paul. The bass lines on songs like “Fixing a Hole” and “Eleanor Rigby” were so amazing, melodically. And then you have to throw in what was going on in San Francisco in ’68 with Larry Graham and Sly and the Family Stone. So there’s McCartney, and a little Graham. Add Andy Fraser from Free to the mix, and that’s what you get with me. Every bass player is going to have somebody they look to as a signal for their style. My style is ultimately about the notes I don’t play. It’s about laying down that nasty groove.
What’s the writing process like for you?
I have a combination of Pro Tools and some old school stuff in my studio. Sometimes I’ll program a drum groove or I’ll play over chords. Not many bands do it, but I like jazz chords in rock; I like the way Yes used to write in 1971 and ’72. I use a lot of chords that are usually a no-no for most rock guys—triads, major 7ths, and minor 9ths. I write a lot around minor 9 chords. That’s a very sad, yet sexy chord.
When you’re crafting a song in which you’re going to sing and play bass, how do the two inform each other?
It’s a lot easier now than it used to be. In the early ’90s, I wrote not knowing that what I had just written for a record was pretty hard to play live. What I do now is write a lot on bass, and when I’m playing and singing up in my studio, I’ll determine if I can do it live. Soul Mover, Music for the Divine and First Underground Nuclear Kitchen are records that were cut to play live. Black Country Communion is another “live” record. My fans want to hear new material, so it’s dangerous to not be able to play something live.
Speaking of Soul Mover, Music for the Divine and First Underground Nuclear Kitchen, how did Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith influence those albums?
I look at Chad as the new John Bonham. I played with John in 1971, when he was with Zeppelin. I’ve worked with some great drummers, like Ian Paice, Narada Michael Walden, Steve Gadd, and Kenny Aronoff, and Chad fits comfortably into that lineage. Chad’s been my right arm; I call him my wife. In addition to playing drums, he’s helped produce my records. He’s very good at that. Chad is a great writer. He’s obviously responsible for a quarter of the Chili Peppers’ material, so he’s a good guy to have around in the studio.
You played with John Bonham?
John saw me play with my band Trapeze at a place called Mothers in Birmingham, which was a very famous rock club in the ’70s. I remember the unmistakable figure of John Bonham as he walked up to the front of the stage and said, “I want to play with you guys.” It was something he did quite regularly with bands. He loved to jam. So, John and I became fast friends and every weekend, when Zeppelin weren’t playing, he would pick me up from my mom’s house and he would sit in with Trapeze. I’d say he sat in with us about ten times. For me, he’s the single most recognizable rock drummer of all time. Chad Smith comes from that school of drumming.
Do you find any similarities between John and Jason Bonham?
The beauty of this one is that there are not many of us who’ve played with both Bonhams. I remember how musical John was. If you ask Jimmy Page about the arrangements of those songs, he’d tell you John was a big part of it. And Jason was a big part of our arranging on this stuff too. He’s very, very musical. He blew me away. I think personally, as a friend of both Bonhams, this is Jason’s finest 72 minutes and 58 seconds. Jason and his father are two different animals, if you will, but they are both Bonhams, and they play with a flair that comes from the wrists. As a bass player, it’s really blissful for me.
Where does Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice fit into all of this?
With Ian Paice you’re getting the master of the snare drum. When I joined Purple they’d just come off Who Do We Think We Are?, and Ian and I roomed together. A great rhythm section should live together, and Ian and I shared the same home in London, then we moved to LA. We did a lot of playing together, just the two of us. I’m not the same bass player as [pre-Hughes Deep Purple bassist] Roger Glover; Roger is pretty much a traditional follow-the-guitar player bassist, which was great for Deep Purple. When I came into the band I brought my R&B influence and my soul, funk thing, which Ian loved.
How did you land the Deep Purple gig?
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. They watched me very closely. 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 the ’70s, everybody would watch everybody, not like today where people don’t bother. It was something everyone did, so I just figured they were digging my band, but then they asked me to join. I kind of freaked at first though because they just wanted me to play bass and not sing.
Had they pegged you as a potential replacement for Ian Gillan, as well as Roger Glover?
Honestly, I think they just wanted me to play bass. Though they said I was a fabulous singer, they were hoping to get Paul Rodgers, who was busy with Bad Company. So when they got David Coverdale, I said, “It’s not going to work for me unless I can sing at least 40 percent.” I wouldn’t be true to my art if I didn’t do that. No money in the world—and back then, Purple was making a fortune—could have kept me in the band if I wasn’t going to sing.
In 1985, when you first worked with Tony Iommi on Black Sabbath’s Seventh Star record, you sang, but didn’t play bass, correct?
Oh my God, that was a disaster. It was a disaster on many levels. Mostly because I think I was drinking too much, but it was also a disaster because I wasn’t born to sing “Paranoid” and stuff like that. It’s not my thing.
Certainly your relationship with Iommi has evolved over the years. The song craftsmanship on the Fused record you did together is extraordinary.
Those songs are phenomenal. Tony wrote some of those for Ozzy to sing on a Black Sabbath reunion record that they never did and I said, “I’ll take that one, that one and that one,” because I knew I could sing them. I knew I could take a song like “Grace” and make it Glenn and Tony rather than Sabbath. Tony is a big advocate for me to be myself. He really likes the bluesy, soulful aspect of Glenn Hughes. You wouldn’t imagine that, but he really does. But when you have Tony Iommi playing with you, you’re going to play or sing in a direction that is appropriate. It’s never going to be “funky Glenn” with Tony Iommi. It’s going to be the other Glenn, which is the more “rock Glenn.”
Do you ever feel that your bass playing has suffered as a result of singing or vice versa?
No, I don’t think so. There was another period, in 1994, when I put the bass down and I hired a bass player for my band and nearly went insane. Playing bass actually allows me to breathe better when I’m singing. It’s also the sexiest instrument to play. There’s nothing better than seeing a great bass player sing well. There are only a few of us; it’s a great club to be in. But it’s also a win-win situation when you get me in a band, especially if you like the second singer or the guy who plays bass and sings. I’m a great supporter of helping the other singer sing and I am really good at working out harmonies. I love to sing with other singers, especially ones who push me. Like I said, I’ve tried singing without playing bass, but I breathe better when I play bass. It’s a crutch that allows me to be the singer that I am.
Solo Play MeOut , Songs in the Key of Rock , Soulfully Live in the City of Angels (DVD and CD) , Soul Mover , Music for the Divine , FirstUnderground Nuclear Kitchen 
With TrapezeTrapeze , Medusa , You Are the Music...We’re Just the Band 
With Deep PurpleBurn , Stormbringer , Made in Europe , Come Taste the Band 
With Tony Iommi Seventh Star—Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi (vocals only) , The 1996 DEP Sessions , Fused 
With Others Hughes/Thrall, Hughes/Thrall ; Gary Moore, Run for Cover ; Hughes Turner Project, HTP ; Hughes Turner Project, HTP 2