Glenn Hughes may have lived in California for more than 40 years, but the Black Country will forever be his home. His birthplace of Cannock gave rise to the band Trapeze, which launched a five-decade-and-counting career for the singer and bassist. Stints in Deep Purple and Black Sabbath led to a successful solo career that’s included high-profile collaborations with the likes of Pat Thrall, Tony Iommi, and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.
But even though he’d long since swapped the West Midlands for the West Coast, when Hughes, singer-guitarist Joe Bonamassa, drummer Jason Bonham, and keyboard player Derek Sherinian teamed up in 2009, their band name just had to honour his and Bonham’s birthplace.
As Black Country Communion return with their fourth album, BCCIV, Hughes tells us about getting the band back together, the challenges of creating the new LP, writing a song for Boy George, singing about healing, what he’s learnt from Stevie Wonder, and finding his life’s purpose.
One of the many striking things about BCCIV is the way it starts, with a few seconds of the band warming up before the song starts. It really emphasises that this album was recorded by a real living, breathing band. Was that the intention?
We don’t argue in this group, you’ve got to try and believe that. So, when we started to decide on the song list, it wasn’t my idea to put Collide at number one, but then I started to think about it: it’s got the little count in and then such a massive start, you know immediately that this is possibly Black Country Communion. If you heard that intro on the radio and you didn’t know it was us, you’d go: ‘That’s BCC’. That’s what we wanted you to think and I believe we’ve accomplished that.
But then you’ve got fiddles all over The Last Song For My Resting Place.
It’s a song about The Titanic and the Stradivarius violin on the ocean floor, so we knew there was going to be a violin on the song, but we – well me and Joe – didn’t know it was going to be a fiddle. So it was something completely uniquely different in the way that on all the albums we’ve made, there’s always one song of Joe’s that’s a little different to the rest.
That touches on something you said when BCC’s return was first announced: you’d only record an album if could be as unique and special as the previous three. With that self-imposed pressure, how did you approach writing these new songs?
Joe and I had a meeting over dinner at my house. We thought it would be a great idea to get back together again and create a window to write and create a window to record. The only thing we wanted, we said to each other: ‘When we’re writing this album, if we feel the songs aren’t strong enough, let’s take a break and come back later’. But, I think by day three or four, when we got ‘Love Remains’ we knew we had something special, so we knew we were going to make an album.
So when you were writing, did you sit in a room together?
Toe to toe.
Did you bring in your own ideas or start each song from scratch?
For someone who’s recently put out a solo album that you described as “a pure Glenn record”, what’s it like to collaborate that closely?
Joe is so incredible, so gifted. He’s the best guitar player of his generation, without a doubt. He’s generous. And we understand each other. The way we write, the way we speak, the way we sing, the way we walk, it’s very, very, very, compatible. He’ll say: ‘I’ll finish a Glenn sentence and he’ll finish mine’. But there were moments in the writing sessions when one of us would say: ‘Oh, let’s just work on something else’ or: ‘I’m not sure about this’. Then we’d start something else, and within a few minutes a new song had come. We had to both agree that what we were writing we would complete. We didn’t finish anything that we didn’t think was right.
How would you compare it to working with, say, Tony Iommi?
It’s similar, but only with Tony. It’s very, very similar because I can understand the way Tony writes and because Tony’s a very, very good writer. Tony’s the king of the metal riff and Joe’s the king of the blues-rock riff, so I’m very fortunate to have worked with both.
What is it you look for in collaborations?
Trust and openness and no fear. I said to Joe: ‘If there’s something you dont like here, let me know’ and we were very open with each other. I’ve been very, very uniquely gifted in that way.
What do you get out of collaborations like these that you don’t from a solo record?
Whether it’s California Breed, Black Country, or the Fused album with Tony, there’s never going to be something I do with a band that I don’t like. I can’t record something that I don’t believe. It’s impossible as a real artist to do something that’s fake.
So, for you, what makes Black Country Communion real?
The quality of the musicianship, number one. I’m working with my old friend John Bonham’s son, Jason, who I’ve known since he was born. And I’ve seen him play all his life, so I know he understands what I’m doing and I understand what he’s doing completely. I just know behind me is the greatest rock drummer since his father. And Derek Sherinian is the most intensely musical keyboard player: you can hear grand piano and Hammond and Mellotron all over this album, and it’s all really, really good. And of course having Joe. Not just as a guitarist, he’s really quick too at writing stuff. I mean, uncanny.
Quicker than you?
I think we’re even.
I only ask because famously you write every single day.
It’s not that I want to write, I have to. It’s like, everyone cleans their teeth in the morning. Well, I clean my teeth and then I write. I’ve got guitars in every room and my iPhone’s in my pocket, so I feel I’ve got to write something every day, something that’s going to feed my soul. It’s not about an ego thing, it’s just making me feel I’m here for a purpose. I’m not really good at much other than writing music, it’s just a natural thing.
Like a couple of years ago I met Boy George when he was contemplating getting Culture Club back together, so I went home and wrote something for him. It’s just the way I operate. He really wasn’t looking for any songs, but I just needed a purpose. Generally speaking, I feel my life’s purpose is to be a good husband and a good, honest friend, but I think what I’m genuinely here for is to write music.
But what about performing?
Performing comes right after that. I sing better now than I used to sing in my 20s. I know how to breathe better – I’ve had lessons – and my mentor is still Stevie Wonder. I’ve learnt from the greatest singer in the world. He’s taught me really to navigate around the seven deadly sins. And to sing about empathy and giving, and sing about fact. Steve doesn’t sing about fiction, neither do I. I don’t sing about witches and goblins and dark lords, that’s not for me. I like to sing about healing, I really do.
When people hear me sing, I think they hear someone who’s very emotionally charged. I’m not a metal, screaming, barking man, I have something to say. My purpose is to be a messenger, and my message is love.
Nils van der Linden was in conversation with Glenn Hughes at Mascot Records in Soho. Photographer Kalpesh Patel joined Glenn on a trip around record stores and through central London.
Black Country Communion release the new album BCCIV on 22nd September 2017 via Mascot Records. They play Wolverhampton Civic Hall on 2nd January 2018 and London Eventim Apollo on 4th January 2018. Further info at www.bccommunion.com.