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Music interview – Glenn Hughes: ‘I just want the rest of my career to be simply dedicated to the art form of music’

Glenn Hughes plays at Leeds University.
Glenn Hughes plays at Leeds University.
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Former Deep Purple frontman Glenn Hughes is looking forward to returning to Leeds as part of his Classic Hits of Deep Purple Live tour. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, bass player and vocalist chatted with us about a life in rock, loss and love and even being a member of ELO.

How are you? Are you enjoying the sunshine – it’s almost like 1976!

“I was making the Play Me Out album that year and it was boiling hot. Let me tell you, that was a difficult part of my life. In ‘76 I wasn’t then what I am today and I remember the Olympics were playing, it was scorching hot and I was in the studio. It was a cracking record and here I am now, 40-something years later, talking to you!”

And it is almost your birthday – happy birthday!

“Thank you – unfortunately I’ll be working on my birthday, in the studio. If you know me well, you’ll know that what I’m about to say has not been said before, but I don’t have any days off now! I’m doing press this week, I’ll be in Russia on Friday, Bulgaria next week and then I’ll be flying off to LA to start my American tour. Then right after that, I’ll be coming to Belfast to start the UK leg of my European tour.

“I’m in the Black Country at the moment, it’s a chance to catch up with some people and I’m sitting here enjoying the view.”

Who’d have thought all those years ago that Glenn Hughes would be the only sober guy, the one left? He’d be the only sober one, when he was the one who was always out of his mind. It’s kind of turned around, hasn’t it?

Glenn Hughes

In all your years touring you don’t seem to have come to Leeds that often?

“Of course you know I played Leeds the night my mum died? I got the call an hour before I hit the stage, and I think a lot of the audience knew, probably from social networks. I’m sure some of you thought ‘He’s not going to make it, he’s going to cancel’. But my mum said to me on that bed before she passed away: ‘I don’t want you to cancel the show’, and I’m a good son and the only child she had. I’m sober now, as you know, and I looked at her and I said ‘I’m not going to cancel a show mum’. I had no hesitation. I was exhausted that night, and when I got the call from the hospital that she had passed, something came over me saying that I was given the life by this lady and I was going to dust myself down, wash my face, get on the stage and do my bit.”

I didn’t find out about your mum until after the gig – but it was a heck of a show you put on.

“Oh, I think everybody around me, my team, was so happy that I could complete my performance and there was no way I could walk off the stage. Look, I could have been a drama queen and walked off the stage, or done two songs and stood there bawling – and I may have been bawling, by the way – but that was internal I think. But I’m really not that much of a drama queen these days – all I need you to know for me about that show was that it was extraordinarily euphoric – for me to spiritually understand about life and death. In my world, there’s no such thing as death. It’s the interwoven spiritual consciousness, it’s the consciousness – I’m not going to go all ‘whoo, whoo’ on you – but I believe in consciousness and spiritual guidance.”

Well, it was certainly an amazing show you did that night. And now you’re coming back to Leeds to play the University Union in October...

“I can’t wait. And I have to tell you Leeds holds a special place for me. I played there with Slash and California Breed, and of course last year was monumental. But I hadn’t played there for almost four decades, and they came out in their droves last time and I got a great response from them, so I’m sure they’ll show up again and they’re going to get another great show because I ain’t doing this for the money - I just want the rest of my career to be simply dedicated to the art form of music. I do this because I’ve been given this life to expand and educate myself and live life on life’s terms and to me, those two hours on stage are what I’m all about. I get paid to travel! I get up, I get on a plane, that’s how I get paid. I’d go on stage for free, but I need to travel so I have to charge people to fly me somewhere!”

Of course you’re coming to the place where the legendary Who – Live in Leeds album was made...

“I love it, I love it, I love it – because that’s a very monumental record for me because John’s bass [John Entwhistle, The Who’s bass player] sounds so insane and now I’ve got what I’d call the classic Glenn bass sound again from 1974 and it’s going to be a cracking show.”

That’s interesting because you don’t seem to use that much in the way of effects pedals at the moment.

“No – in fact now I’ve gone back to simply using a wah wah, because I’m really dedicated on this tour to the music I performed from 1973 to 1976, and I don’t know if you remember, but that was the only thing I used, there was none of this fancy stuff and the wah wah for me is a punctutation of the Glenn thing – there was no other bass player in bass history playing the wah wah like me. I play it like a guitar player would play it and it kind of works in my world, you know! So I think a lot of people are digging that – but I’ve got to dig it first! If I’m digging it, then there’s a chance they’re going to dig it because I’m really meaning it.”

Of course you brought into rock, heavy rock, that whole soul, funk, Tamla sound that wasn’t necessarily there before.

“Only because my girlfriend’s brother back in 1966 – I was a runner for him at an all-night disco in Walsall – and he played only R’n’B, Detroit music. So here was this 14-year-old kid running and getting him cokes and coffee all night, hearing Sam ’n’ Dave, Wilson Pickett, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and I’m thinking, (puts on West Midlands accent) ‘What’s this music? It ain’t the Beatles, but I like it!’ So when I started playing music, I was infusing it with that Detroit sound.

“Look, when you’re a musician and you’re 14 years old and you’re listening to R’n’B, there’s a good chance you’re going to infuse that into your style, so while McCartney and Lennon were Little Richard and Bill Haley fans, I’m a different generation and I just brought soul into my music. Whereas Paul Rodgers and Robert Plant were more blues guys, I’m a soul guy.

Looking back to the litany of famous names who supported you in Deep Purple on the tours you did from 1973 to 1976, there were some incredible bands –– Montrose, Nazareth, Rory Gallagher, Fleetwood Mac...

“And ELO. You don’t know this – it’ll blow your mind – I was in ELO for one week in 1972! Don Arden [legendary music impresario and Sharon Osbourne’s dad] came down with Roy Wood to see my play with Trapeze, and Don said – big cigar – ‘I want to sign you for my new band Electric Light Orchestra, are you going to sign?’ Well, I was petrified, and so I said: ‘Yes, all right’.

“Well of course, a week later my mum phoned him up and said, ‘Don, it’s Sheila. Glenn can’t make it. He’s freaking out...’! Of course what would I have done – they had Jeff [Lynne] and Roy, so where would I have fitted in? So I was in ELO for a minute!”

Do you still keep in touch with any of those people?

“Of course. Jeff lives in LA and I try to catch up with Roy whenever I can. I try to see as much of my old friends as is humanly possible you know. It’s vitally important for me to see as many of my real friends as I can. To be honest, where I come from in the West Midlands, people are pretty much gone. They’ve either passed away or disappeared, the most recent being Ian Lees from Finders Keepers [Glenn’s 1967 band], last week. So three guys from Finders Keepers dead, all the guys from Trapeze dead, two guys in Deep Purple. They keep going. Who’d have thought all those years ago that Glenn Hughes would be the only sober guy, the one left? He’d be the only sober one, when he was the one who was always out of his mind. It’s kind of turned around, hasn’t it?”

You’ve done well.

“Dedication, my friend, to the art form of life. Dedication to meditation, spiritual progression, not perfection, choosing happiness, to get on the right foot and get out of bed thinking that all we are is thoughts from that past. All I have in my life, is what I have thought of. What I think of, of wishes fulfilled. I don’t think ‘I’m gonna miss that penalty when I step up to the spot.’ My mate Alan Shearer never missed a penalty because he knew he was going to score and that’s the way I look at life. Whatever life I’ve got left, one day at a time, I’ve got live it to the full.”

I saw on Twitter that you were at the World Cup.

“Yes, it’s my second World Cup. I’m an ambassador for Hublot watches, along with my buddies Alan Shearer, Robbie Keane and Gary Lineker, and I’m a soccer fanatic. I get to go to the World Cup and hang out with these guys who all have a sing with me and we have a fantastic time.”

You’ve played with an amazing array of other musicians down the years. Who would your imaginary super group be if you could pluck some people from the ether?

“Well, hopefully this will make sense to you. About a year ago I made a record with Joe Satriani and Chad Smith [Red Hot Chilli Peppers], my best friend. Now we’re playing in the studio, and I’m playing with these two dudes and I’m thinking, ‘these are my buddies – and we’re making a racket in here, we’re making a great racket’. And Joe and I have been talking about doing something with my vocals. So you know it would be fun to do something with Chad and Joe as a trio, with me singing too. I could talk about the likes of Jeff Beck and this guy and this guy, but it’ll never happen, so I prefer to think of something that may happen and try to give someone a little bit of encouragement. I like to play with other people who are loving and nurturing. If people aren’t on the path I’m on, well then I won’t be there. Satriani and Chad are right where I’m at. So if I can have breakfast with somebody and look them in the eye over a cup of coffee, then we’re on!”

You’ve talked and written about your life journey in the music business. Leeds has lots of aspiring young musicians – what advice would you give them?

“If you’re a young musician in your teens and you fall in love with an instrument, whether a trumpet, guitar, keyboard or drum, my advice to you is this – and it’s not a joke: I slept with my guitar for two years as a 12-year-old kid. Sleeping with a guitar – well it may sound bizarre – but what I’m trying to say is that you have to live and breathe it. You have to have breakfast with the guitar – I still have a guitar in every room in my house. I dedicated myself to guitar. I started out playing trombone – I was named after Glenn Miller, who died when the plane he was in went down in the Channel in the Second World War. I transposed to guitar and I’ve been playing and studying guitar ever since.

“I’m always going to be a student. I’d say take your eyes off the prize, you youngsters. It’s not a monetary thing – don’t think about the money before you put the guitar on, think about dedicating yourself to the art form being a musician. The smell of a guitar, the smell of a drum, the feel and texture of a microphone, the advantage of knowing you’ve fallen in love with your instrument, you’re falling in love with the artistry of making music, it’s all about that.

“Dedication, meditation and prosperity in abundance will happen if you’re genuinely in love with the things you do.”

Glenn Hughes performs Classic Deep Purple Live at Leeds University on October 9. www.glennhughes.com