Veteran rocker talks to FBPO about new record from new band, California Breed (with Jason Bonham and Andrew Watt)
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
May 26, 2014
Glenn Hughes is a true rock legend. With a career that goes back to ’60s, Glenn has performed with Trapeze, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Black Country Communion, among others. FBPO caught up with Glenn to talk about his new band, California Breed, which includes rock veteran Jason Bonham and rising star Andrew Watt.
FBPO: Your legacy includes Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Black Country Communion and so many others. How does California Breed follow that lineage in terms of the spectrum of your musical career?
GH: I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I’ve never actually repeated myself within an album, or even from album to album or band to band. I never tried to be in Trapeze again, or Purple or Black Country. Although Jason and I were in Black Country, there’s a significant thing that’s different here. We went about this with a different producer and a different way of recording. We went to analog and we found a guitar player that was more right-handed sounding, like Angus Young and Pete Townsend, rather than the left-handed virtuosity of Joe (Bonamassa) or Ritchie (Blackmore) or Tony (Iommi). [Editor’s note: Tony Iommi plays lefty, but Glenn’s point is well taken!] We wanted to be different. I’m very proud of what I did in Black Country, but I’m fiercely, fiercely proud of what we did with this new band. Can you imagine or believe that we haven’t played one show and we did this record and it sounds truly like a band that’s played at least sixty shows?
FBPO: It does. It’s an interesting dynamic, too, the three of you being from, well, three generations, really. What kind of effect, if any, does that have on the band and on the music?
GH: I’ve known Jason since he was in diapers, in the late ’60s, because his dad was one of my best friends, so we all knew about that. But when Julian Lennon introduced me to Andrew the night before the Grammys in LA last year, Andrew came to my home and we wrote two songs and I went, “Wow!” I woke up the next day and I said, “Man, this is really good. I want to get Jason to come in and play on these two songs.” You can call them demos, I guess. Look, man, I wanted to be in a band. Being in a band is just what I wanted to do. I get to sing and write and I get to do what I do within a band and I like that, especially when Jason’s involved. Having a new guy come in who’s in his 20s, you know, seriously ambitious, amazing guitar player and writer and singer was a great fit.
FBPO: You and Jason have been playing together for a while, as you mentioned. Now that Andrew’s joined you, people must be making comparisons between him and Joe Bonamassa.
GH: You know, Jon, the thing is, it’s really cool because they’ve befriended each other, Andrew and Joe. Joe and Andrew are completely, completely different guitar players. Joe is a little virtuoso, having been playing since he was like 5 years old. The thing with Andrew is that he listened to a different kind of music. He missed the ’70s and ’80s. He missed the Van Halens and stuff, but he went more Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam. Andrew plays like he’s from ’68 or like he’s from ’94, so he’s very different from me. He’s very right-handed in the Angus Young department.
FBPO: Tell me about the in-studio experience recording the album. Weren’t there times you didn’t even know you were being recorded?
GH: Jason and I chose Dave Cobb a year ago, before we went in—we went in in December. We chose him as our producer because we like his work and we wanted to get out of LA. I visited Nashville often and we found ourselves in Dave Cobb’s studio in Nashville. Dave said to me the night before we started, “Do you have the lyrics and melody?” I said, “I do, man,” and he said, “Well, why don’t you just go out and sing tomorrow while they track guitar and drums and then maybe you can overdub the bass at the end?” So I said I could give that a shot. Why not?
So the guys were recording and I was singing in a vocal booth. I was just going for it. At the end of the day, or two days later, when it was done, I said to David, “Now I’m going to overdub the bass,” and he said, “Great!” After that, I said, “Now I’m going to sing,” and he said, “Well, you’ve sung the album, then.” We recorded every song twice, and we comped the two takes from each track onto the end of it. Every ad-lib and scream and whisper and cry and utterance and verbage is all there, man. I’ve got to tell you, it was very liberating for me to do that!
FBPO: If you ever work with Dave again, you’ll know.
GH: Listen, Bro, I’ve never – and everyone that’s ever worked with me knows this – I’ve never been a guy to spend more than two or three takes on a track. I won’t name names, but there are some that do seventy or eighty different vocal takes. That’s not me. When I do more than two or three, it becomes a job and it becomes sterile. When I write something, I have a melody in my head. I know what I’m writing about and it’s really important for me to get it down real quick.
FBPO: I understand the album was recorded on two-inch tape. That’s really old school. I love it!
GH: I haven’t done that since ’82 with Hughes/Thrall. That was a really significant record back then for Pat and me and it was the last time I’ve even done an analog record, so it was kind of cool. Once again, we had the choice, the on-the-spot choice: Do we want to do this digitally or do we want to use the two-inch tape? We thought fiercely and we said, “Let’s just go to two-inch tape.” We’re so glad we did that.
FBPO: “Sweet Tea” and “Midnight Oil” are already getting a lot of attention. How did you decide what tunes to include on the album?
GH: When we decided that we were going to do this, when Andrew and I got together at my place and when we made those two songs, we said, “Let’s get together once a month at my place in LA or at Jason’s place in Florida.” We got together every couple of months and I would write alone, like I do, and then Andrew would write alone and we would send each other songs through the Internet. We would do it, but not finish them. I would finish some of Andrew’s and he would finish some of mine and then Jason would come in and finish them. I said, “Listen, man, this is so good. This is the way a band should be collaborative. Everybody gets to pitch in and we have to figure out what is appropriate for this trio of musicians.” It was done in a very collaborative feel.
FBPO: Julian Lennon sounds great on “Breeze,” too.
GH: Yes, doesn’t he? When I wrote that melody and that lyric, I gotta tell you the truth, I was actually hearing Julian sing it. When we were going to cut that track, it was in December and Julian was in Monaco. I called him and he was really happy to sing on that song. So I sent him a file and, seventeen hours later, he sent it back and it was done, man! I gotta tell you, it’s really special, a really special feeling on that song.
FBPO: Did Andrew do any of the vocals too?
GH: Andrew sings lead vocal on the verse of “Spit You Out.” He’s got a great voice, very New York. He’s kind of got a Mick Ronson/Bowie thing going on there, which is new to me, although Bowie is a good friend of mine and Bowie was always trying to get me to play with Mick Ronson. Andrew was born and raised in Manhattan and he’s got this edge to him. He wanted me to sing “Spit You Out.” I said, “No, man, you’ve got to sing that because you own that thing. It’s so you.” He’s got a really cool voice.
FBPO: What kind of basses and equipment did you use?
GH: Man, I gotta tell you, I went back to my ’65 original sunburst P bass. We all use retro. I am fucking retro! I’m a ’60s guy. When you’ve got young guys trying to play old instruments, I wanted to go back to my ’60s P bass. It’s what I’ve been playing on for 15 years. Even the pedals we used were retro pedals. We had a Helio console, too. I just wanted this to be really what it was in the ’60s. I wanted it to be really that simple.
FBPO: I noticed on the production, at the end of a couple of the songs, you hear a little bit of that studio noise. You can tell it’s intentional, but it captures that feel.
GH: Yeah, and there was even more. When you’re recording live and when you’re recording to tape, there’s a lot of stuff that you could add. There’s a lot of talking and laughing, too, so there’s actually more than you hear. I had some of it taken out.
FBPO: Aside from the initial shows at The Whisky and The Gramercy, what about a California Breed tour?
GH: Oh yeah, absolutely! We start in mid-September. You know, America and Europe both want us to start, so we’re actually deliberating on that. Things have started to be booked mid-September onward. We want to actually take this around the world, so there’s going to be no shortage of playing and that’s really what I want to be doing, Jon. I mean, I really want to be playing live. I’m only telling the truth, man. We really want to play this album live. We don’t want to go up there and start playing a bunch of covers. We could play Zeppelin or Purple or Black Country, but I would rather play this entire album and maybe just a couple of other songs.
FBPO: I just hope Detroit is one of those stops that you make on your tour.
GH: Oh yeah! Are you out of your mind?! That was a really strong point for me in Purple. First time I ever played in America was in Cobo Hall in 1973.
FBPO: How about the future? What lies ahead for California Breed and what lies ahead for Glenn Hughes?
GH: For me, when I’m asked about the future, I try to stay out of it. I try to live in the moment. I have a manager and an office that take care of all that stuff. And now that we’ve been offered to play on festivals and tours and safaris and South America, I want to get this band off the ground. It’s vitally important. That’s why we’re playing the Whisky and New York. It’s vitally important for all three of us to do this.
FBPO: I know you’re every bit as much a vocalist as you are a bass player, perhaps even more so, but my site is called ForBassPlayersOnly.com…
GH: Yeah, man! I’m very familiar with your site. There’s so much out there on guitar, even drums, you know, but bass players are like a certain sect of people that are different. I started out playing guitar and every bass player that I could name to you, McCartney even, started out playing guitar. Not very many bass players start out playing bass. Maybe James Jamerson did. The great thing about your site, Jon, is that people can learn and realize how it’s done and what a great selection of people bass players are. Although some of us are mainly guitar players, to play bass is certainly really great. For me, singing and playing bass is truly a great thing.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player, Glenn?
GH: Oh, God! You know, when I was a young boy, 9 or 10, I used to play soccer for my school. And then I played for the town, and then I played for the county, which is kind of a big step. And the next thing would be to go play for England, you know. I used to be a fullback. My ambition when I was 12 or 13 was to be a professional athlete and, of course, as I got a little older, I found that playing guitar meant more to me. I wasn’t quite good enough to become a professional athlete, but I was becoming a musician. Athletically, I’m really kind of a jock. I love sports, so I probably would have been a soccer player.
To purchase California Breed’s self-titled album, click here.