Sunday, June 13, 2010

GLENN HUGHES - "Hello. This is a Rock Band"


                             "Joe and I were looking at each other going,
                                       what in the world is going on?
                                Joe and I have NEVER had a problem."

Black Country Communion were almost relegated to the scrap heap before the echoes of recording had ended in Kevin Shirley's home studio, The Cave, in Malibu, California.  Rumors had managers, and lawyers killing off the band before they ever had a chance to even consider logos, album covers, press junkets and tours.

"We're getting on famously," says the legendary Glenn Hughes, speaking from his Southern California home, waiting to begin a two month extended press tour that will see the singer/bassist chatting up journalists across the globe in expectation of the September 21st release of Black Country Communion, the new super-group's first record.  Black Country Communion is comprised of Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham, and Derek Sherinian.

Hughes continues,  "All that crap you saw on the internet about two months ago was something so silly. And let me tell you, it smacks of very early Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, or The Black Crowes, what with all the in-fighting. 'They're fighting!'  Well, that sells magazines....I've gone through that my whole career, 'Is he too heavy, is he on crack, is he gonna jump off the building naked?'  It's all the controversial stuff, I'm not mad that they put that out, it does sell magazines - rock and roll is not always pretty and sweet.  Let's just say that at the time there were too many cooks in the kitchen. Look....J and R Adventures (Bonamassa's management company) is gonna run this, and I certainly don't mind, they've done a great job for Joe.  J and R, my manager, and I, we're all on the same page."

Glenn goes on, "You need to know this, Tony.  Everybody's great pals, everybody loves each other, and we're just dying for the next thing. I'm going to be everywhere, talking up a storm, and the most important thing is that on September 21 this thing is gonna jump out."

Hughes is the point man for BCC press campaign, and it's hard to imagine a better man for the job. The singer explains, "I've been kind of the unofficial spokesman for the band, for the obvious reason that I'm the one who's available to do it.  I'm from the rock side, and I'm naturally a media person. I keep saying that there's no mistakes in God's world, but there's no mistake why I'm doing this."

Hughes's enthusiasm for the project has been typical of the great passion and energy he exudes.  In our first discussion of the band in February, he spent almost two hours discussing the group's potential, when only a few backing tracks had been laid down.  His desire to return to his rock and roll roots was undeniable, roots  which were born in the Black Country of England, home to himself and an old friend named John Bonham, the late drummer of Led Zeppelin, whose son Jason mans the drum throne for this super-group.  Hughes was adamant that this was a calling, a place in time in which his mission seemed clear.

Hughes goes on, "There was no doubt about it when Kevin Shirley suggested Jason Bonham, y'know?  I'm supposed to be playing with Jason Bonham. His dad was a great mate of mine, and Jason all these years later has become a huge fan of that music. There's this big connection between the Bonhams and the Hugheses, and I'm privileged and honored to be part now because Jason has become a close, close friend to me. We get along famously."

Almost eerily, at this point in our discussion the phone rings. It's Bonham.  "Oh hang on....It's Jason, now.  Jason, hey, let me call you right back, I'm talking to a friend but I need to talk to you - yeah, I'm doing the interview.  I'll me call you back in 15 minutes, all right?

"Jason is just amazing on this record, Tony.  I've waited for him to make a great record, and he has too, mate, he has too.  I'll say it ten times over that this is by far the best playing he has done.  One of his best friends told him, when he heard the tracks a few months ago, 'This is what waiting for 25 years for the great drum track has amounted to'.

"Y'know, I told him right after we cut the tracks, I said, 'Jason, this is the best you've played, mate. Yeah....really man, this is the shit!"

Truer words were never spoken, indeed, Bonham's playing on Black Country Communion is spectacular, elevating his playing to the levels of the Moons and elder Bonhams of the world.  He plays brilliantly throughout the record, driving the band like a tank commander.

Many fans have wondered and speculated about what Black Country Communion means for guitarist/vocalist Joe Bonamassa's solo career, so I asked Glenn about this.  He replied in a matter of fact manner.

Hughes said, "See, the thing is, Tony, you can't really get around the fact that Joe has his solo career. Joe is going to be a solo act for the rest of his life.  I'm not resentful of that at all, I think he's great - he's gonna be playing the blues and doing his thing.  I said to Joe when we started this project, I said, 'Joe, I want to be in a band, I want to go out and rock.  And he said, 'Absolutely.'  So, I think what'll happen with our band is this - the album IS what it is, and it'll go viral, it'll just be everywhere.  It'll be undeniable that we gotta play.

"Listen, I don't want to spend the rest of my career playing to smaller audiences in smaller places, to funk and jazz aficionados, which you know I really love doing, but I want to go out rocking.  People call me 'The Voice of Rock, the great rock singer from the 70s,' and the fact of the matter is - I kind of woke up to that.  When I play live, Tony, I get into the funk, the grooves, but it always comes down to the heaviness and the funk - it's really dark and really nasty, and I wanna play with a great drummer who can play the grooves with me, and I wanna play with a great guitarist that plays organically.  And Joe Bonamassa's that guy.  

"You see, Tony, Joe just wants to play.  He doesn't especially want to talk about it, he doesn't especially want to talk about my new leather jacket, or fashion, my new suit.  He does want to talk about his new guitar - and that's Joe.  He's great.  I'm the fashion/rock guy, and he's the blues guy that kind of wants to be like Jimmy Page, so we're a match made in heaven.  A good point is that I don't want to work with people I don't genuinely enjoy.  Why would I?"

I asked Glenn about touring, given that he was about to embark on a long press junket that would seem to indicate more than just a one-off vanity record project.  Instead of stating with any sense of certainty whether Black Country Communion would or wouldn't be going out on the road (though some web sites are stating this as fact, I have yet to hear it from any BCC insider), he spoke of touring America in a more general sense.

"It's a little embarrassing to say this, but I haven't really toured in America since '94 when I did 15 dates with Trapeze.  America's a big, big animal.  America is a place where I want to do it right, I want to play America appropriately.  The right album, the right band, the right agent, and organization.  It's too big an animal otherwise.  I have an amazing hunger for playing live and always reinventing myself.  I was never the guy to get comfortable, just kicking back and making albums.  I'm the guy to be totally ensconced in working on brand new material.

"My manager gets it, and I'm sure that Joe does too, 'Can Glenn come play a session, can Joe do a session? - and it's great to know that I can do a session any day of the week, but I don't want to do that now.  I want to be investing my time in this band."

After listening to the record, and given the fact that Glenn Hughes is taking the summer off from touring to do a major intercontinental press tour, I'd be rather amazed if a tour didn't become an unavoidable inevitability.  The record is such a powerful rock and roll statement - I'd almost go so far as to call it the new rock and roll mission statement - that I believe the listening public will flock to it in huge numbers and continue to carry Bonamassa up on the amazing upward spiral that has become his career, taking Hughes, Bonham, and Sherinian with him.

We carried on our chat with Glenn speaking of how his past lead to the present.  

Hughes, on the path from Trapeze back to the Black Country, "I came busting out of the gate in 1969 as a rock singer and a rock bass player, and now for the rest of my career I've just got to concentrate on being that guy that came busting out of the gate and this particular project is a cornerstone of that belief.

"It's difficult to tell you how excited I am, because most musicians will go on and on and on about how great their new album is, and you've heard it all before, it's like....

"I gotta have you hear it.  I've just got off the phone with Roy Weisman (Bonamassa's manager), and three months later he's still on a pink cloud.  He cannot believe what a great record this is.  Kevin Shirley (the band's producer) just e-mailed me, and he just got off the back of doing Iron Maiden and Journey, and all he can do is talk about our record.

"I been doing this a long time, and I knew going into it what kind of record I was going to write, and I knew that Joe Bonamassa could do that with me.

"There's nothing out there like this (Black Country Communion's album), it's such a big album sound-wise.  And as I've said, this album was made in hours, man - I sang the vocals in a matter of 10-12 hours, and there's no rhythm guitar, Joe's playing one guitar and there may be one or two overdubs, and that's it.  Live solos, live Hammond, and maybe a few overdubs - that's really it."

In listening to the record, I was repeatedly impressed with Glenn and Joe's vocals, which sound like the result of months of work, but are actually a product of less than twenty-four hours of recording. Glenn had this to say about working with Bonamassa and super-producer Kevin Shirley.

"When I got 'round to doing the vocals with Kevin, just with Kevin and I, well normally I don't really like having people around when I'm singing -  but people seem to always want to come and watch me sing.  The beauty of working with Kevin is that it was just me and him - no second engineers, nothing, and we got on a roll.  We did five the first day, four the next, and then I went back to England, came back and finished it up. First take, second take maybe, but never really a third.

"I'm getting a feeling of how Joe Bonamassa makes records, I sort of understand it now.  It's like Joe goes in with Kevin, and it's like they get together, get the guy from New York - the guy from Letterman (drummer Anton Fig), Carmine, and Rick, and they just go sorta live; and Joe records live, and he solos live, and I'm goin'....OK.  I didn't realize this.  We're cutting live, are we?  I'm really playing on this album, there are no fixes on the bass.  Just exactly live, and I'm going....'You know something? I like this!' I haven't done this for 25 years!"

I asked Glenn how the band went about learning the songs, as they developed the tunes live without benefit of rehearsals.  His reply. "Joe's really great, because we played guitar together.  The first time I had to play guitar in front of him was when I showed the band One Last Soul.  I came in - the first production meeting with almost no time.  Sitting in front of Joe, and I didn't know Joe too much, we'd had dinner a few times.  So I'm sitting in front of Joe and I have to play Joe Bonamassa my new songs - you gotta be twisted.  But we got comfortable.  He looks at me, and says, 'Wait a minute, what's that chord?' He just makes you feel real comfortable.

"This one song, No Time that I had written, it was more, I guess....I had written it as a kind of a lazy drop D thing.  He made it sound Jimmy Page rather than Tony Iommi, which was very interesting.  And he had my song Beggarman, that you'll hear, that I just's the same riff I wrote, but Joe bent the crap out of it, and I just went, oooooooh, that's great!"

I asked Glenn about the sensational title track, Black Country.  The song is an instant classic, the kind of song people will know from now until the end of rock.  

He laughed a bit, then said, "That track....and when you hear that track in it's entirety - and this is difficult to tell you until you hear it -  that's the best rock track I have ever written.  It's a Glenn and Joe track, but it is the best thing I have ever been involved with.  That's our Immigrant Song, that's our Burn, our Highway Star, that's our Start Me Up, it's our, 'Hello. This is a rock band.'

"Tony, we're all super happy, we're all very excited.  This is difficult because you two haven't heard it (I was assisted in this interview by Libby Sokolowski), but you've gotta get it tonight if possible, contact Rachael now and see if you can still get it this evening. You've gotta hear this to get what I'm saying."

Glenn's final thoughts. "It's awesome.  There are certain things in life that are givens.  I was telling Joe.  I told Joe Bonamassa, I said, 'Joe, let me tell ya, buddy - this is a sure fucking thing.  Trust me when I tell you this - you're young.  This is a sure thing."

He wasn't lying.

Black Country Communion coming September 21, 2010.

tony conley and libby sokolowski

a note on photos: Given the paucity of available images, I pulled these photos from Google Images. I know several are the work of the legendary Robert Knight, and several are from Libby Sokolowski. If any others remain uncredited or if anyone would wish their photos not be used, I will gladly comply with all wishes.  Thanks, tony conley.

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