Interview and Pictures: Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
Black Country Communion the appropriately named ‘supergroup’ comprising vocalist/bassist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Trapeze), drummer Jason Bonham (Led Zeppelin, Foreigner), Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Alice Cooper, Billy Idol) and blues-rock guitarist/vocalist Joe Bonamassa, released their long awaited and frankly fantastic fourth album, ‘BCCIV)’, via Mascot Records last week. It’s some four years since the last album ‘Afterglow’ came out and in that time it seemed like we might never hear from the band again. A less than private airing of frustrations around Joe Bonamassa’s inability (rather than reluctance) to complete a proper tour came from Glenn and well everything just drifted apart.
Whilst Bonamassa continued to deliver great solo albums and play bigger and bigger venues, Hughes formed California Breed and went on tour with Slash ft Myles Kennedy & The Conspiritors before that too imploded and Glenn went back to the drawing board producing (in my opinion) one of his best solo albums to date. A UK tour followed, all went quiet and then out of the blue, BCCIV appears. We spoke to Glenn to understand how the unlikely had (thankfully) come about once more.
We start by discussing the recent appearance by Glenn at Ramblin’ Man Fair in Mote Park, Kent. “I have a smile on my face,” he says. “As a Brit you’ll know what it means to me to come back and play and in the rain. But you know what? What impressed me the most was that no one left, no one went to find shelter from the rain they all stayed.” The day Glenn played it’s fair to say the heavens were not our friend and for a man who lives in California, it was a rude reminder of what to expect in England on a summer’s day.
“It was a strange slot [mid-afternoon] to play at the festival but you know it didn’t matter to me as I probably got to play to people who were unfamiliar with my work. It was a good opportunity to grab some new fans.” Also on the bill were Glenn’s touring support from his recent solo trek, Stone Broken. Having migrated from the Rising Stage in 2016 to opening the main Planet Rock stage on the Sunday, they’d also amassed a fair number of new fans and Glenn had nothing but praise for them;
“When my agent told me about them he said ‘I’ve got this band from the West Midlands’ and I said ‘Well give them a slot then!’. When we played the first show of the tour, I went out to listen to them and I thought ‘You know, these guys are really good. They’ve got very strong songs.” As we talked about the tour and the opportunity I had to see both bands play in Cambridge at the Corn Exchange, Glenn points out that it was the same night that he had to rush to the hospital before he lost his Mother. “I’ll never forget that show, it was my last time with my Mum, it would have been January 30th going into 31st.” For those people that saw Glenn on that tour and the subsequent dates, you’ll know that he didn’t cancel a single show. That couldn’t have been easy;
“You know Adrian, I’ll be honest with you. I know we’re supposed to be talking about BCC but let me tell you, my Mum grabbed my hand and made me promise not to cancel any of the shows. I was steadfast about her wishes and I didn’t cancel a single show. People came up to me and said ‘Glenn you’re so strong,’ but I wasn’t strong I was simply being of service to my Mum. I wasn’t going to start drinking over it like the dark old days, I was simply doing it out of service to my Mum.”
A wonderful gesture, a wonderful tribute to his Mum for doing exactly what she asked of him and one that hopefully fans will appreciate even more now that they know the reason behind the age old adage of ‘the show must go on’.
The shots from that show are below:
Now, we are of course here to talk primarily about the new BCC album. There was as noted previously a fear that this might never come about, that three albums would be it and that ‘Afterglow’ would be the band’s swan song. Thankfully we were wrong.
“Long story short, Kevin Shirley came to me in 2014 and asked me if I was ready to do another one. At the time I was doing the California Breed album and then in 2015 I had problems with my knee so I had six months off to recover from an operation on that. Whilst I was recovering Joe came to see me to see if I wanted to do another record. Now that was a very private moment as you can imagine. It turned into us working on some songs and we wrote them as a duo, we wanted to refocus on the music so we thought that it would be best to write the songs as a partnership.”
To hear that is naturally music to the ears of fans that had been hoping the two artists would once again work together. I’d read elsewhere that Glenn had described the initial parting of ways as simply ‘falling apart’ and that the reunion was a case of just ‘falling back together again’.
“Well Adrian, let me explain to you.” Without a hint of not wanting to discuss it but also a willingness to ensure the right message is presented, Glenn continues; “When the band imploded, there was no falling out it was just that there was no touring schedule. I was tired of writing all of this material, there was no solo stuff, remember I hadn’t released a solo album [until Resonate] for seven years and not being able to tour it. Now I love writing for Black Country, I’m not complaining about that but as you know in today’s world, if you don’t tour, you don’t do any business. And business at the end of the day is how we survive. When we knew the band wasn’t going to tour, and yes there may have been a few quips on Twitter, sure there was, that was in the end all it was.”
During the intervening years between ‘Afterglow’ and ‘BCCIV’ Bonamassa came out to see Glenn perform three or four times. They remained in contact on a regular basis. Not the sort of information that will fill column inches in the music press so the good news as such doesn’t get reported. “People need to know this,” confirms Glenn. “There was never a massive falling out, no one was taking sides with anyone. As you know with everything I’ve been through in life, I don’t have any bad feelings, no resentment for anyone as I’ve been there, seen it and done it all. So when I got together with Joe to write this album, it was simply to make a wonderful piece of work.”
When he and Joe got together to write, Glenn made them commit to make the best album they could do. To comply, Bonamassa spent 11 days at Glenn’s house to work on and record the new material. Those sessions resulted in 18 songs being recorded of which 10 have made the cut onto the album now on sale. Those ten tracks when you hear them sound like a band playing together and not sending files backwards and forwards via email to the far corners of the earth. Opening track ‘Collide’ even has the live ‘1,2,3,4’ count in before the start fully kicks in.
“I’ll go back to my Mum if I may,” says Glenn. “It was day 3 or day 4 of recording together and I get a call from my cousin to say that my Mum was very ill. She didn’t want to tell me, to bother me but at the end of that day 4 I got a Virgin Atlantic flight back to the U.K. to get to my Mum. Now I’m telling you this Adrian because by the end of day 4 we had recorded 10 songs. 10 songs in what was just a record time. We just had to get it done and do you know what, every guy in the band came up to me and said ‘you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go and be with your Mum.’ There are songs on there that were made under duress. I’m not looking for sympathy but it was a difficult time for me. Now we recorded 10 songs but I sang on 2 in that time as well. ‘Wanderlust’ and ‘When The Morning Comes’. If you listen to my voice on ‘When The Morning Comes’, it’s different, you will think “what was he going through when he sang it.” I’ve never told anyone about this before. I wrote those lyrics on the fly. The way people write songs these days are different but that one… yes.”
Interesting before speaking to Glenn, my hand written notes had focussed on the very same track. The one that closes the album ‘When The Morning Comes’ is different, it does have a different vibe to it. If nothing else, it makes you stop in your tracks and pay attention.
“You know what it is Adrian?” explains Glenn. “If you’re a Deep Purple guy, if you’re a Purple fan, when I wrote “This Time Around” with Jon Lord, it’s written around a minor 9 chord. Now a minor 9 chord is a very haunting chord. They tend to go into different areas and “When The Morning Comes” is written in an E minor 9 and it takes me into another world. It’s a very real song and a very real sound and I cannot fabricate stories, I cannot write anything that’s not real, not at this point in my life. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. When I sing songs I’m in the moment of whatever I’m feeling. Remember no drink or any pill is going to make me feel any better if I’m going through grief. It’s like this album, I sang it entirely in two days. Some of it was recorded in Hollywood at East West and the rest was done in Malibu at The Cave. Kevin (Shirley) didn’t know I could do it so quickly but you know I don’t sing songs in the studio more than twice. ‘When The Morning Comes’ is actually the first take. He wanted to have something in my voice and that take was definitely what I was feeling at the time. I have to say I’m extremely grateful for what I have.”
As he ponders grief and the effect it had on the recording of that song, Glenn starts to look inwards at his own career and the longevity that’s seen him as a major force in music for over four decades. “We’ve lost a lot of friends recently, Bowie, Chris (Cornell), Chester (Bennington) to name a few and I have to ask ‘how is Glenn Hughes still here?’ And I have to say I think I’m here to carry the message.”
Agreeing with him, Glenn goes more into depth about getting sober and his own spiritualism. “When I changed my lifestyle and went from being a complete dead end and a drug addict, a loser if you will….. I looked like another guy and I was inside. Happiness comes from the inside and I had to change. I’ve had to go through the loss of two parent in a year, losing a couple of my favourite dogs as well…. It gets to you. Now I’m not looking for sympathy I just want to say that we have to live life on life’s terms, any way it needs to drag us. It has made me a better person who wants to be of service to another person and that is my calling. I love life, I love to get up to the sunrise. “When The Morning Comes” how relevant then was that song to write?
I’m just in tune with what the higher power wants me to be. I read a lot, I’m a book worm and I want to learn about the inner self, the higher self. It’s an inside job and I have to work on it.”
Whilst Glenn works on his inner self in what can only be a never ending search to better himself (is it ever possible to get to the final solution?), he breaks his time away from the music, both solo and BCC by working with Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project as evidenced by the song on BCCIV ‘The Cove’.
“I work very closely with Ric and the Dolphin Project. There’s a cove in a place called Taiji and it’s a fishing village where, between September 1st and the end of February, every year it’s a tradition for Dolphin hunters to go out and drive the dolphins into the cove to be killed. As you know dolphins are highly intelligent animals and you can imagine what it’s like to watch you parents killed in front of you as these poor animals do. I’ve seen a lot of what goes on here, I’m an ambassador for the project, I’ve seen video footage that you wouldn’t want to watch so when Joe and I were writing I said ‘You know I never get to write about the dolphins’, and whilst he thought that perhaps rock fans don’t want to hear about global sea life I think he’s wrong. Rock fans aren’t stupid and they will want to understand what goes on out there. I feel strongly about the way animals are treated and I will continue to do things for the project until I die. Joe plays out of his skin on that track and to me it’s a really haunting song, a haunting, haunting piece of work. When I die I will be happy to know I’ve been able to write that song. My job is to be a humanitarian and I work tirelessly with groups across the US. When I was 21 years old I didn’t know I was going to be this guy… I’m being led, pointed this way by something greater than me.
I get to stand on my little soapbox and tell people and those people can either turn me off or turn me on but I’m gonna’ do it.”
One thing you can guarantee is that if Glenn does decide to tell people and do it through his music, people will listen. He is after all, ‘The Voice’!
Black Country Communion’s BCCIV is out now and the band play two exclusive European shows early in 2018, details below:
Exclusive European Shows 2018
WOLVERHAMPTON CIVIC HALL
TUESDAY 2 JANUARY 2018
LONDON HAMMERSMITH APOLLO
THURSDAY 4 JANUARY 2018
24 HOUR TICKET HOTLINE: 0844 844 0444