by Mark Kadzielawa
Black Country Communion is the newest rock super-group. Formed from a nucleus of vocalist/bassist, Glenn Hughes and guitarist Joe Bonamassa, the duo was joined by keyboard player, Derek Sherinian, and drummer Jason Bonham. And unlike many so called super-groups, Black Country Communion actually lives up to their billing.
Glenn Hughes is of course a legendary performer known from Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, and a respected artist in his own right. He is the man they call "The Voice of Rock." and there simply is no better name to describe his abilities. Joe Bonamassa is a blues guitar player supreme who's made a great transition to rock as a member of Black Country Communion. Derek Sherinian is a virtuoso keyboard player, excellent side-man, and one time member of Dream Theater. And Jason Bonham is the son of legendary Led Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham. As his father, Jason has what it takes to be a great drummer, and over the years his contributions to various bands, including the reformed Led Zeppelin, were very impressive. The resume here of all individual musicians clearly screams rock! And then add producer Kevin Shirley to the mix, and it just smells of perfection!
Black Country Communion released their self-titled debut album in 2010. The album was received enthusiastically by the rock community, and the band quickly followed it with "Black Country Communion 2" a year later. Last Summer, the group took it out on the road in Europe and selected U.S. cities. The result from those shows is a double live CD and a DVD titled "Live Over Europe." Black Country Communion quickly managed to build a solid and dedicated fan base, and this is still at the beginning stages. The band is currently getting ready for a studio album number three.
Glenn Hughes talks about the makings of Black Country Communion, reaffirms his return to rock, and shows a strong will to make this band an absolute success.
How did you get together with Joe Bonamassa in the first place?
Glenn Hughes: It started about five or six years ago. I met Joe in L.A. and we started to hang out, started to jam secretively. We started just to mess around, and come up with a few ideas. At first, we didn’t know what kind of music we were gonna make. We didn’t know if it’s going to be Americana music, Muscle Shoals type of music, horns. The longer we’ve played at my house, it became obvious that we started to play 70s rock. Then couple of years ago, Joe was playing in Los Angeles, and I got up and played with him. The audience went crazy. We figured at that time that we would form a band. Rather than make a duet album. We would form a rock and roll band. It was something I really wanted to do. And that’s what Black Country Communion is.
How did Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian enter the picture?
Producer, Kevin Shirley suggested these two guys. Joe had never met Jason or Derek before, but I’ve known Jason since he was a young lad. I knew his father, John, really well. I’ve known Derek for twenty years, he was in Dream Theater. These are all my friends, you see. So it was little easier for me because I was the one who knew everybody. When we got the band together almost two years ago, we just came together, had a bunch of songs, went in the studio, and it kind of worked.
With you and Joe having impressive careers on your own, did you even need to get into a band situation?
For me, it was kind of important for me because I hadn’t been in a band for years. I’ve been doing solo things, and my music is very varied. It crosses the bridges from rock to funk, soul, and so on. I really truly wanted to form band, a rock and roll band again with sort of a 70s feel. Sort of a celebration of real rock music. That’s where I come from, that’s where people know me from. I wanted to write songs that would fit that format. And Joe as you know is a blues guitar player, but he also really loves to play rock. So these four guys I play with are the perfect combination for this kind of music.
What compromises needed to be made in order to keep this band going?
It brings me back to you asking me why we didn’t play Chicago last summer. It should’ve been Chicago, Detroit, and many other Midwestern cities. I can’t really hide the fact that if you look at Joe’s touring schedule, and if you look at what’s going on with Joe. I mean, all I have to do is look at that schedule, and realize there isn’t too much time left for Black Country Communion to play. He can't really play twice in one city in the same season. Do a show as Black Country Communion, and then two months later come back as Joe Bonamassa, or Glenn Hughes. So what Joe is obviously doing, he's taking the Bonamassa route, and you know, I'm really happy for him. But as I said before, my main concern is getting Black Country Communion off the ground. I mean, we do really well in Europe. But, my main concern is to get this band off the ground, and my hands are little bit tied if you know what I mean. The beauty of it is. What it's done for me is it has shown people that I'm back in a rock'n'roll band again, and it's where I should've been for the last twenty years. I mean, I really should've been doing that, but I'm back now, and it's really great. The world is accepting the fact that I put my rock hat back on, and I really love playing rock music.
How different is Black Country Communion from what you do on your own?
Well, for Joe it's completely different because he plays blues. I think even Joe's next album will be more pure blues. For me it's a little bit different. I may say this to you, that from here on now I've decided I'm going to make rock'n'roll music, so the line between Black Country Communion and Glenn Hughes is very fine really. I've decided I'm gonna be focused on rock'n'roll. Whether it's the 70s rock that Black Country Communion does, or just really straight ahead groovy oriented rock music.
The debut Black Country Communion caught everyone by surprise. The album received very positive reviews and the overall reaction was great. Did it inspire you to work on a follow up quicker?
Well, you know, when we got together, Joe and I. The first song we wrote together was the song "Black Country," and when we wrote that song, I said to Joe "this is gonna signal, and be the blueprint of what the band is. It's gonna show that very distinctive guitar, vocal energy that hasn't been around for a while." That song is obviously very powerful. Songs like "Man in The Middle," Save Me," and "One Last Soul," they're kind of a blueprint for what we are. And the songs that I basically write, and then we finish them in the studio. So I'm very focused writing songs for Black Country Communion.
When you wrote for the second album, what things did you keep in mind that you sort of learned from the first album?
What I wanted to do, I wanted to have a sort of thread from one and two. If you remember Zeppelin from early years, the first two albums were rocking', and then they went kind of folky and stuff. What I didn't want to do on our second album is to take the listener on a completely different musical journey. I didn't want to go too folky, or go too funky. I wanted to keep it sort of mainstream rock, which is what we are. Of course, there is a lot of texture to the music, we have orchestration, and stuff like that, so it's really important to keep that going.
With two records under your belt, is there a Black Country Communion philosophy that sort of developed along the way?
Yeah, I mean, I come in with a lot of the music already done with lyrics, and what we do is we take my songs and we kick them around the room a little bit. We sort of mold them into Black Country. So, for me Mark, I really thing the focus is, let's not get too creatively musically out there. I mean, I really love to mix stuff up, and add all kinds of variable into my music, but Black Country Communion is a rock'n'roll band, and I don't want it to be anything other than that. I don't want to take the listener in to loops, hip hop, and all that stuff. It's not where we belong. We got an audience that understands who we are. In Europe the band won many awards already. We sort of like know the ground we stand on, and I'm very happy to write songs in that genre.
Glenn, you were involved with Deep Purple in the past. It was a huge band, but also a band that made several mistakes along the way. What mistakes are you trying to avoid with Black Country Communion?
We just have to keep everything friendly, and honest. For me the whole thing about being the older guy in the band is that I got to make sure everyone else is on the same page. And I'm a little bit of a control freak, and I am the one that carries the flag for the band. I think you know that. Although, everybody else has got other things to do, Black Country Communion is real special, and I really take it to heart! Of course back in the 70s everybody was getting high, lots of women, and lots of drugs, and buzz, and so on. It was a great time, you had Zeppelin, Sabbath, Purple, Who, Pink Floyd, Stones, Yes, and all those great British bands. It was a great time for music. I'm sort of one of those survivors of that period. And as you know I'm clean and sober now. The mistakes I've made actually had been life lessons for me. So, I kind of feel responsible for the other members of this band as far as keeping the flag flowing if you will. As I said to you in the past, it's a very touchy subject for me. If it was my decision only, and I was managing this band, I would have the band out and do 250 shows a year. I'd be doing 50 shows in America alone every year. But unfortunately I'm not that guy who can answer that question. But to all the fans that read this, they need to know that If I had my way we'd be doing mass touring!
Staying on a subject of Deep Purple, few years ago there was a rumor of the "Burn" era line up getting together for a special event. How did this get started, and what came out of it?
How that started? It was about five or six years ago. David Coverdale and myself had a meeting in Los Angeles, and we thought "wouldn't it be nice to sort of like close the book on Mark III?" Sort of like a show, DVD, or maybe a charity event, or maybe do a series of shows, kind of like friends. And you know, David and I tried to bring it to the table. I think Ritchie (Blackmore) commented that he would like to possibly be involved in it. But that's as far as it got. And of course now with Jon Lord being not well, there's also other rumors going around, like "wouldn't it be great to do it now while Jon is still here?" And we do wish Jon our very best. If it was up to me, I'd be doing it for that reason only, just to do it. In a grand scheme of things, there maybe things happening within the next six months, but then again, I'm just one man here. I think the intent is to do something, but it's all so difficult when you've got five different individuals involved. I think for the love of the band, and obviously Jon is not feeling so good. If we could just look at that maybe in those terms, and go out with a big smile that would be really cool for the fans. I say this to you Mark, and said this to many people in the industry, the one band that everybody want to see reunite is the Deep Purple Mk III. It's the last band that needs the reunion, but once again Dave and I exhausted a lot of time. Five years ago, we sort of spent a lot of time trying to get everybody to the table, and it was very difficult. And of course in the last five years, my career and David's career took on different shapes. I know he's touring a lot with Whitesnake. But you know, it would be really nice for that reason only, but we'll have to wait and see.
Perhaps this article will send the feelers, and open a door or two.
Well, you know Mark, I get asked that question once in every two interviews. Somebody asked me the question, and I tried to answer it appropriately, and we just have to wait and see.
And as I recall, and you told me this years ago, you had some police trouble in Chicago dating back to Deep Purple days, correct?
I played the old Amphitheater in Chicago with Deep Purple. Deep Purple played two shows there in two days, and I remember a security guard was beating the shit out of a fan with a Billy club, and I told him to stop, and he didn't do it, so I kicked him in the head. And you know, they tried to arrest me, and I was already halfway to Milwaukee before they got me. It was scary because I really didn't mean to hurt the guy but it was gonna be a riot. It really was gonna be a riot. And Blackmore was enticing a lot of fans as well. I just had to stop it because this guys was just killing this kid, and all this fan did was standing up. It was like I've never seen the American security team do that. It really offended me. But I love Chicago, and I haven't played there in a while. That's all gonna change!
Black Country Communion's producer, Kevin Shirley, is involved in the band on many more levels than just producing. How would you describe his role?
What he does, he comes in and produces the album. What I do, is bring my songs in, and he listens to them, and makes suggestions. He would say something like "can we just change this chord here, or that chord there?" He doesn't just sit in the control room, he sits in the room with us, while we're making an album, he has an engineer in the room. Kevin sits with us, kind of like a movie director would sit in a chair, and kinds directs us in the middle of the room. It's kind of unique in that way. That's the way he does it. Rick Rubin does it differently, as does Kevin Shirley. Every producer does it differently. He is a musician himself, so he know what's he's talking about.
You finally had a chance to take Black Country Communion on a tour of Europe and U.S. last summer. You documented the event on a live DVD and a CD. What was it like to introduce the band to the live audiences?
Obviously, you've seen the DVD, and you've heard the CD because we're talking about it. What you're seeing here and what you're hearing is a band without any overdubs. There is no overdubs on stage, no fake shit, it's what you hear is what was going on at the gigs. I firmly believe that live albums should be just that, especially with YouTube because you can easily see if it's not true. For the last 10/15 years there's been bands and artists sort of faking it. Black Country Communion is sincerely a band that is really live. So it goes back to that 70s thing again when everything was live. And that's the beauty of the band. I think the musicianship and the quality of it within the band is very strong. That's why I'm in the band because I'd really like to be challenged. If any band that I'm going to be in the future or this one, or not, I want to challenge myself. And the great thing about this band, it's a very highly challenging band.
Even prior to hearing the official live recording, I came across several bootlegs, and they are smoking!
Yeah, they are, aren't they? It just shows you how great this band is on stage! We really are a live band.
There is already a talk of the third album being written. How are the new songs coming along?
I mean, they're great. I've got pretty much a whole record of songs ready to go. Like I said, I don't really know too much of what's gonna happen in the future. There are rumors the we will make an album this summer. But I'm not too sure. For me, all I wanna do is play live in Black Country Communion. We're supposed to go in the studio, but by the time it will come out, I'm not sure what's gonna happen.
After two successful Black Country Communion records and plenty of Glenn Hughes solo albums, when you write a song, how do you distinguish where it will end up?
Black Country Communion to me is pretty standard classic rock, and that is also the direction my music will also take. And like I said before, it's a little bit of a fine line for me. It's hard to really release a Glenn Hughes album, and Black Country Communion album in the same year. Especially now, when I went back to rock. Prior to making the Black Country Communion I've had a couple of funky albums on my own, which I really liked by the way. It's a difficult procedure for me because of that fine line. I am writing a lot of the music, but I think there is a definitely BCC sound to it. I do have a bunch of songs written that aren't Black Country songs. I've got an albums worth of solo material as well. Slightly different, but it's not too dissimilar. What I'm not gonna do, and you know I love black music and funky music, is specifically write in that sort of feel. But I think now, the general consensus in the music industry, and especially with fans is that Glenn Hughes has returned to be in a rock'n'roll band. To be that guy, your father liked, or people from my generation of rock fans that really wanted me to do it again. I promised you, and I got thousands of letters, and e-mails from fans welcoming me back to pure rock. And of course since I went back to playing rock, the doors had been opened where they may have been closed before. And I'm gonna say this to you, I don't do this for money, I don't bow to the god of money. I do things that make me sleep at night. As you know I've been cursed if you will with the knowledge to make funky soulful albums, and to make them real. And also I've been blessed to be a rock and roller, a really hardcore rock and roller. And there is not many people that have crossed that divide really.
I was talking to Uli Jon Roth recently, and he was saying how much of a problem that is to have fans that can relate to everything he is trying to do.
I know, and he's completely right.
The thing is, and I feel strongly about this, if you like an artist, you should follow the passion this artist is expressing with, and not necessarily the style he is doing it in.
I agree, I completely agree. But you know today, with all the blogging, and an artist should never read blogs. With all the blogging, it's criminal what people want from you, or say about you. I was talking to Jimmy Page about this last year. The more famous you become, the more en vogue you are, the more people want to shoot at you. The Internet is like a powerful tool. But for me, honestly, I've got to go to bed at night, put my head on the pillow and sleep, and I'm the kind of human who feels deeply about things. If something's going on inside of me that is uncomfortable that I won't sleep good, and I wake up not feeling so good, I have to deal with it. And for me, your first comment about us not playing Chicago last summer sort of still makes me have sleepless nights because I really believe Black Country Communion really truly should be playing a lot of shows. And that's not being the case, and that is the only bone of contention with everything that is Black Country. Because the band is so insanely good. And I've actually been in arguments about as to where we should be going, and I think everybody is on my side.
You know this band will continue to get bigger, because it is simply too good, and the time for it couldn't be better. But like you repeatedly said today, it needs to be out on the road playing.
You know Mark for me, truly, and you know how old I am, and you know how old Joe is. There is 25 years difference. We all know that I look good, I sound good, I'm in good shape, and I don't do drugs. We all know that about me, but the fact of the matter is that I've got about a ten year window where I wanna go out rocking. I want to really look at every year I have left on this planet to rock. I'm in good shape, and I wanna go out every year doing these things that you want me to do, and your father would want me to do. And if I'm being held back from doing that then there may be other things I need to do, without alerting anybody, or without gossiping or rumors. I need you to know that I need to fulfill every desire God has given to me by playing music, and that' playing in a rock and roll band, and that's playing live. Hey, we can talk about how good Black Country is in the studio, but for me, and you've heard that obviously from the live stuff, I'm a rock and roll singer that needs to sing live in front of lots of people. And while I'm still here, that's all I want to do.