Glenn Hughes needs little introduction. He is a multi-faceted artist who lives, breathes and embodies rock and roll. Hughes spent more than five decades in the music business carving his niche. He developed a distinctive and infectious style blending the finest elements of hard rock, soul and funk. This incredible style, coupled with his one of a kind voice, earned him the moniker of “The Voice of Rock” by fans around the globe. As an artist, his musical legacy was forged by his unforgettable work in bands ranging from Trapeze to Deep Purple to Black Country Communion to California Breed. In 2016, Hughes will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the members of Deep Purple. The ceremony is set to take place April 8 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. However, this doesn’t mean the end of the road for Glenn Hughes. In fact, to hear him tell it, he is just warming up!
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Hughes to discuss his musical legacy, the challenges he faced along the way, his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and what the future holds for this unstoppable, musical force of nature!
I want to go back to when your amazing career started. What went into finding your voice as an artist early on?
It was simply serendipity. I was like turning right on Fifth Avenue, instead of turning left. Let me just say, very quickly, I was in a band when I was a mid-teenager. I was a guitar player and the singer had to go away on a holiday with his mom and dad, so I had to stand in for him. We were playing cover songs from the Beatles and the Stones and blues songs. I might have been only 14 years old, this is around 1965 or 1966. I remember sitting in with the band and playing these songs the best I could. I had never sang before. My dad was in the room, which was a pub in England. He had his back towards the stage and was ordering a drink. He said to me, “All of a sudden I heard the voice of an angel. I turned around and it was my son!” I’ve got to be honest with you, it was so sweet but I was so young, I didn’t quite understand the compliment. I was just doing my singer a favor and, when he came back, he could have went on with his gig, ya know? I joined a couple of other bands as a guitar player. I was doing a little bit of lead singing. When Trapeze formed, I was only like a background singer in the band. The band had a meeting one day and said, “We think that you are better than the lead singer.” I said, “Really?” I was always flabbergasted by that. It was almost like God or something like that was forcing me to sing or showing me a door to grab that mic or take that bass and do my thing. I never had any idea when I was a child that I would be a lead singing bass player. I started out playing the bloody trombone because I was named after Glenn Miller. I played guitar for three years and then found myself playing bass. The next thing I knew, I was lead singing playing bass. It was a bit of a five year journey to get to that place.
You spent most of your life playing the music you love. When you hear the words rock and roll, what does it mean to you?
What rock and roll was to people of an older generation would have been Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis Presley, of course. What rock and roll was to me was “Twist and Shout.” Remember now, the Beatles didn’t even bloody like it! I didn’t know that for quite some time! One day I was coming home from school, a pre-teen, and I saw this rock and roll band called The Beatles on TV. My inner voice said, “Whatever that is I want some of it!” It wasn’t about the girls screaming or anything other than the music and the fact they were playing something called a guitar. That was an interesting thing to me at that age. My parents went out and went without so I could have a guitar. I slept with that guitar and made my way in life!
It took you down an amazing path. You have been so successful in your career. To what do you attribute your longevity?
Honestly, coming to grips with the fast lane and coming to grips with when someone has a tremendous amount of success and starts to have profile. Remember, this was before the internet! This was 1970. When someone has something in their hands that they have worked hard for since they were 12 years old and, all of a sudden, overnight, they become known. I attribute everything to hard work. I realized at some point in my life, after making a lot of records and starting to move into the fast lane of drinking, drugging and chicks that everything was getting in the way of my music. I think I was very lucky to have been one of the guys who was able to realize that my gift in life has been music and something else had begun to take over. You know brother, when I was a young man, I never grabbed onto my mother’s skirt and said, “Mommy! When I am an old guy, I want to be a drug addict!” It wasn’t like that! Let’s be clear, in the ‘70s, we were getting drunk with famous people and executives and that doesn’t happen anymore. What I am trying to get to is that I am really grateful that I have been able to walk on that fucking highway and not fall off! A lot of my friends didn’t make it, ya know. I have had a very long career because I have been honest, I have been in acceptance, I don’t have any resentment and I always, always keep changing. My friend David Bowie, when he was living at my house years and years ago, said to me, “You have to continually change, change, change, the way you play, the way you write and the way you look.” He was right! That is exactly what I have tried to do!
You shared friendships with and worked alongside some tremendous artists. Who had the biggest impact on you personally and as an artist?
Stevie Wonder. We all know that I love him. When I met Stevie in 1974, we kind of fell in love with each other as humans. I was very, very lucky to go into the studio with him and he came into the studio with me. I fell in love with him as a person because of the way he conducts his life with family and children, along with how he treats his people and staff. The man can’t see but he taught me not only how to sing but how to breathe. I will never forget that! Everyone on this planet has an idol or a mentor. Mentors in life are so relevant today. He was my mentor and still is. We still see each other. Well, I see him but he doesn’t see me. [laughs] It is very simple. Some people in the rock world will go, “Oh, there is Glenn again, talking about R&B music.” I can’t lie to you. I don’t want people to think my mentor was somebody else. My mentor is someone I chose because of the way he conducts his life, the way he handles situations and his spiritual progression, not perfection.
When you look back on your life, in a creative and personal sense, how have you most evolved?
My answer would have to be spiritually. When it comes to my musicianship, I am one of these guys who plays all the time and writes all the time. I am not going to name names but there have been other people who have stepped into the fast lane, done some damage to themselves and lost the ability, hunger or magic moment and have never gotten it back. I never ever stopped playing or writing. I got sober a long, long, long time ago. When I first got sober my sponsor said to me, “You are going to write better songs and sing better.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Trust me.” I was really encouraged by that. I stayed on that path, ya know. Music to me is the center of the universe. Again, I music, because we live on a dangerous planet. All the shit that is going down not only in America but around the world with terrorists, dolphin killing and everything else. We are all in a strange bloody place. My world is, hopefully, spiritually healing. Hopefully, I can help one person or two and move through my life with that which has been freely given to me. It is a gift. They call me the Messenger and I hope that I can carry a message to people. That message is really simple, man. It is about love. Yeah, call me a hippy. I am one!
That is one of the things I love about you, Glenn. I follow you online and you are always so positive and bringing positivity forward. That is rare these days and I love your authenticity when it comes to the message.
Well, thank you! I do go online but I don’t read comments or anything like that. By the way, Jason, it is none of my business what people say or write about me. I am not a hate guy, it’s just not who I am. It is none of my business what people say about me. My business is how I conduct my life around my family and how I can move spiritually through my life. People take shots at people who have profile. They can shoot as much as they want but I am someone who is really, truly grateful to be standing on a stage in New York City in April to get a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame award, which not many of my peers get. I can name you 10 bands that should be in there and they are not. So, I am truly grateful that I am a member of a band that is getting in there!
It is a tremendous honor to be headed to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How did you first get the news you were being inducted and what were your initial thoughts?
I was in Tokyo in December when I heard the news. In November, I knew they would soon be announcing the inductees. I knew the voting was going pretty well for us from the fans votes. Jason, this is really important, I would split this award in half with Tommy Bolin and I would spilt in another half with the fans. This award really goes to the fans. They have stood by the band steadfastly for 40-something years. This award is all about fans and the grace that I have been given because of the fan base. It is really truly amazing!
Even with this prestigious award on your shelf, you won’t be calling it a day anytime soon! First of all, you have a headlining tour coming up this summer! What excites you about that?
You know, I have played all over the world but I really haven’t played anything in America for quite some time. I am playing a run in August and I am really looking forward to playing in the country I have lived for 43 years. Part one of the tour is from August into September and part two will be next spring. I am concentrating more on America and I am going to keep building, building and building because I live here. I am always traveling to Australia, Malaysia and Japan. I play a lot in Europe. Bloody hell, I play Eastern Europe so much! It is really important for me to play in the country that I absolutely love! I live in the greatest country in the world and I really want to play here! There is not a city or town in this country that I live in that I don’t love. I love America and I love Americana. That might sound a little corny to you but it is not to me. This is a country where I had success very, very early on as a teenager. It is the first country that accepted who I was and the first country where I had real fans. I have been really, really grateful for that. I fell in love with Texas, all those years ago, in 1971. I had a place down there in Dallas. When I joined Deep Purple, we all moved to LA and I have been here ever since 1973. I love Seattle, San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Chicago and New Orleans. The fact of the matter is, I am an Englishman living in America, man! I am more American than British and this is the country I love. This is where my blood is!
You always have a bunch of irons in the fire as an artist. Where do you see yourself headed musically?
I am going to make an album this year! I did three with Black Country Communion and one with California Breed but I haven’t made a solo album since 2008. I am now going to go into the studio and make a Glenn Hughes album. I am going to Copenhagen in late June to make a Glenn rock album — groove based rock music, which is my forty in my solo thing. After Black Country Communion blew up and was successful, I realized my fan base really wanted the rock side of Glenn but they know it is groove, you know? So, I am going to give my fans kind of what they want and I am going to have fun making it!
What can you tell us about your songwriting process? Is there a method to your madness?
Normally, it is all the same as far as the style of the way I write. It starts with picking a guitar up and I have guitars in pretty much every room in my home, some with amps and some acoustic. There is never a moment where I don’t have one in my hands really. I might hear a melody and I might pick a chord that will fit the tone of the track or it might just be a groove. I’ll be in the car and I might hear a groove in my head. I am a very groove-oriented songwriter. Even in Black Country Communion, the songs are very groove-oriented. What I will do normally is come up with a verse or a chorus. It doesn’t matter which order it is in or I might come up with an intro. Sometimes I may even come up with a song title and then write a song around it. For example, “Soul Mover,” first I wrote the title and then I wrote the song. It is all sort of entwined. I do like to write with other people but I do a lot more work when I write alone.
You have seen the music industry and musical landscape change exponentially over the years. How have things changed for you along the way and what is the best lesson we can take from your amazing journey as an artist?
I can breathe easier, travel easier and relate to people better. When I was 24 years old, one thing I wasn’t was wise! I might have been a wise guy but I wasn’t wise! What I am now, after open heart surgery and two new knees, I have become grounded and calm. That is really important for me. Somebody is probably out there reading this and drinking a Jack Daniels at 19 years old going, “Fuck that shit!” Trust me, I have lived most of my life in my garden with my hands in the soil. I love to see shit grow. When I was 24 and heard someone like my father say that, I would have said, “That’s bullshit!” But it’s true! There are two Glenn’s. There is the one who travels and plays around the world and the one who sits at home with his wife. You have to have separate lives. With what I do, I am pretty much an actor on stage. That is the way I feel about it. I turn into something else when I am on stage. I think that is what it is for me, there are two different versions of Glenn.
You know, people often say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” I am lucky, Jason, because I have survived a heart attack and open heart surgery, as you know. I still wouldn’t change a thing. There have been some really diabolical things done to me in my life. I have been hurt by people and I may have hurt others along the way with my behavior whilst I was inebriated but I have made amends to people. Being a rock ‘n’ roller or being a modern day troubadour, if you want to call it that, means you have to have stamina, strength, determination and soul but most of all you have to be real. You can’t ride that fakeness. You have to be honest. I think my lyrics, when I was writing lyrics in Deep Purple, some of them were OK but I don’t write like that anymore, man. I write about really deep things. There are songs I wrote for Black Country Communion like “Cold,” “Faithless” or “Soul Mover,” which show the way I really feel about life. It is really important for me to carry that message.
As a fan I appreciate your openness as a songwriter and the positivity you bring to the table, Glenn. I want to sincerely thank you for your time today. I am sure we will talk again soon and I am sure you will have even more to tell us about the tricks you have up your sleeve!
Trust me, Jason! There is more news coming!
Awesome! Thanks again and I wish you continued success, friend!
You’re welcome, Jason! Have a good day, man!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.