California Breed strips down, makes musical 'Sweet Tea'

Glenn Hughes on life with his powerful new trio
By Peter Lindblad

California Breed is Jason Bonham,
Glenn Hughes and Andrew Watt
Those still mourning the death of Black Country Communion can throw away their black armbands. California Breed has arrived.

Eager to try something different in the aftermath of Black Country Communion's breakup, legendary vocalist/bassist Glenn Hughes and drummer Jason Bonham teamed up with precocious hotshot guitarist/singer-songwriter Andrew Watt to form a trio that makes swaggering, rough-and-tumble '70s-style hard rock with earthy soul and a touch of blissful psychedelia.

Tongues have been wagging about California Breed for some time now, and the interest only intensified with the video release for the strutting, Zeppelin-like first single "Sweet Tea," a sexy, riff-heavy number with strong hooks that exudes machismo. More leaked out, as the stormy, R&B-fueled "Midnight Oil" suggested a "Gimme Shelter" for the new millennium. 

California Breed - 2014
Out now on Frontiers Records, California Breed's debut album was produced by David Cobb at his Nashville studio, and Cobb's input was crucial to cultivating a forceful new vibe for these two rock veterans and their young charge, taking those elements that made Black Country Communion such a vital breath of fresh air and packaging them into something even more intoxicating and explosive. Not only that, but he somehow coaxed a wild fervor from Hughes's vocals that's animalistic and primal.

Hanging out with his five dogs in the garden, life is good for Hughes, having come through his period of addiction clean and hungry to explore new frontiers. Hughes talked about California Breed and the making of their sensational new record in this interview, while also touching on the 40th anniversary of Deep Purple's Burn and the biggest concert event for Deep Purple Mark III, 1974's California Jam Festival.

You have to be pretty excited about the new record.
Glenn Hughes: Look, Peter, if you know anything about my career, you’ll know what I’ve done, but if we look at the albums I’ve done, starting all the way from *Cathedral all the way to now, I’ve never repeated myself. Every album has been rock … okay, rock, but slightly different in content. Although Jason and I were in Black Country Communion, we wanted this band to be different in tone and recording. Although it’s rock, it just sounds different. 

In what ways does California Breed build off what you did with Black Country Communion?
GH: Listen, I’m very white. When I was 22, I wasn’t white. I was colorful, but I wasn’t white (laughs). Look man, (Joe) Bonamassa, a gentleman – no anger, no resentment – it would have been ridiculous for Jason and I to have found a guitar player who sounded bluesy like Joe, or ridiculous to have a Hammond organ player in the band, so we stripped it down. Whoever was going to play guitar, whether it was going to be this guy or you – you know, the guys I’m talking about ... we decided, “Hmmm, that would be ridiculous, because we wouldn’t be able to tour.” So I met Julian (Lennon) at – well, I’ve known Julian for 30 years – a party last year before the Grammys. He had a party and at this party was Andrew Watt. Because Julian introduced me to Andrew, and I really liked the way he was talking, I invited him to my home to write. And when he came to my home, we wrote two songs, and Andrew Watt and Joe Bonamassa are two completely different types of guitarists. You can hear that, right?

Right, absolutely.
GH: I wanted him to sound, in a trio … I wanted it to be, for all intents and purposes, Townshend, Richards, Young – right-handed guitar players. Van Halen, Malmsteen … you know, other guys are left-handed, hammer-on dudes who are really great, but I wanted to go back to an earthy playing guitar player. We didn’t know it was going to be this kid. We didn’t know this. We didn’t know he was going to be a 22- or a 60-year-old guy … didn’t know. We just got lucky. Let’s just call it “the hand of fate” that Julian introduced me to Andrew. 

What do you like most about working with him?
GH: So, he’s ambitious, New Yorker, very intelligent, great writer, great player, good singer – very, very strange combination these days to find a guy that could do all three. You know anything about me, you know that I love sharing the mic with other people, whether it’s Coverdale or Bonamassa, or anybody else I’m working with. I always try to tempt them to sing with me, and Andrew doesn’t have a problem with that. He’s a really good singer. And also Jason’s also a really good singer as well. And Jason and I didn’t want to make Black Country Part II; we wanted to make a brand-new bag, wanted to start all over again. Man, I don’t care what age you are. You can do whatever you want in today’s musicality. It’s not like you’re going to sell 10 million albums anymore. An album is a postcard for the tour, you know. It would have been ridiculous, Peter, for us to go get a famous guy to play in the band with us, because that famous guy has got his own band or his own repertoire to do. I just got really lucky the card that Julian dealt me that night – very, very lucky.        

Glenn Hughes says producer David Cobb
captured his vocals live for the
first time since 1969
Talk about your vocal performance on this record and what producer Dave Cobb did to bring it out of you.
GH: We knew Cobb was going to produce us six months before we went to Nashville. We got him in, because Dave is a fan of my band Trapeze. He’s also a Zeppelin fan, as you can imagine. And then I started talking to Dave every couple of weeks on the phone in Nashville, and he’s in L.A. I’d play him stuff over the phone. I wouldn’t send him any stuff on e-mail, I’d just play him stuff organically over the phone, kind of old school. He asked me, “Well, what do you want to do? Do you want to record this on to tape, or do you want to go …” And I said, “Let’s make that decision when we get to Nashville.” 

And we made that decision the morning of the session. We had a decision to go analog, and we all said sort of, “Let’s go analog.” And Dave said to me, “You got the lyrics?” I said, “I do.” He said, “You got the melodies?” I said, “I do. Yeah, yeah, I think I’ve got all the melodies and lyrics.” He said, “Good. How do you feel about Jason and Andrew cutting, and then you overdubbing later on the bass?” I said, “Sure. Where’s the microphone?” And he said, “You’re going to be in a booth, and let’s go record.” 

And basically, Peter, I sang to the tracks, and if anybody knows anything about Glenn Hughes, it’s never more than two takes of vocals for me. There are singers – I won’t name names – who have to sing 60 or 70 times on a song. I’m not that guy. Any more than three times, and it’s like a job, and I don’t want it to be a job. Trying to write songs is a really huge art form for me, and I like the spontaneity of making that first take. So long story short, we recorded the songs, and then I overdubbed the bass, and then I went to bed. And the next morning, I went to the studio and I said to Dave Cobb, “Now, I’m going to sing.” And he said, “Oh no, you’re not. You’ve already sung the album.” Now, he wasn’t tricking me. I knew I was recording, but I never actually questioned to myself whilst I was singing, “I wonder if this is good enough?” I was just singing, just singing, like The Beatles used to do in 1964 on a four-track. To me, when I sing … I mean, I write this shit, and it envelopes inside of me, and it just lives inside of me until I record it. Normally, Peter, the way I’ve been recording for the last 20 years, when I sing it for the first time, it’s normally the way I want it to be, whether it’s something I’m overdubbing later or whether it’s like it’s this instance where it’s done live. Hats off to Dave Cobb, full marks from me, two thumbs up from me – he really captured me completely live, and I want to thank him for that. 

There's a real swagger to this record, especially with "Sweet Tea." From your standpoint, is that what's missing from a lot of rock music today?
GH: Look, look, look … none of this music was written for Black Country. When Black Country disbanded privately behind the scenes in September of 2012, these songs were written … I think I came up with three, and “Sweet Tea” and “The Grey” the first week of March, and then I sent them to Andrew and then he would complete them, and then he would send me something that was obviously his, and then Jason would … and I said, “Guys, a band is a collaborative effort.” Black Country really wasn’t. I was working a lot of it alone. Joe was too busy, you know, and I understood that, but I think really bands, I don’t care what age you are, have got to collaborate. We’ve got to talk. I don’t like to call it rehearsing. Let’s go play, let’s go down to a room and play for a week. Let’s go to L.A. and play for a week. That’s the way we got this band together.   

What song came together the easiest on the record and which one was the hardest and why?
GH: I think “Sweet Tea” was … God, “Sweet Tea” … Look, Peter, I’m going to be honest with you, man. There was nothing technical about this album. When you listen to the songs, (sings a riff), it’s pushing full. We’re not Led Zeppelin, but Led Zeppelin was push and pull. This is life and shape and push and pull, and it’s breathy and it’s aggressive, it’s soulful, it’s harsh, it’s brash, it’s sensitive – it’s everything it started out for me in 1969. 

This album was written in the wind for me to record, with these two guys. It’s not me. This is what they’re saying. This is what you guys are saying. This could be the greatest Glenn Hughes moment in a long time, and that’s from working with these two fellows. It’s a really great moment. How can a guy who’s 62 sound even better than he was at 22? Hey Peter, I don’t know. I have no freakin’ ego. When I’m singing, I’m singing. I’m a singing fool. I’ll see for free and for fun, anywhere at any time. It just so happens that I’ve captured it. 

A lot of the stuff you’re asking is, “How do you sing that?” I was just going for it. Listen bro, we’d probably try to recapture it later, but not all of it, and I’d say, “Hey, can I sing that again?” And he said, “Don’t try it.” And, you know, he was right. The first take of Glenn Hughes is going to be that moment. If you go back and look at Jagger in the late ‘60s, he wasn’t f**king around, prancing around the microphone for hours. He was doing that sh*t live! That’s what Robert did on Led Zeppelin I, and (Steve) Marriott in f**king Humble Pie. I mean, this is my peer group. These are my friends, and what David Cobb did, he’s 43, he f**king captured me for the first time since 1969 completely live. 

I knew Steve Marriott really well. We’d talk as musicians, and we’d talk as friends. When he sang at Fillmore East, the last year he sang at Rockin’ The Fillmore, that to me is the greatest, and when he sang “Black Coffee,” that is like the shit – that’s live f**king singing, and I’m never going to be able to go back to doing it overdubbing again – never going to be able to do it, man. I’m sold on the way Cobb did it. Listen, man … Dave Cobb, two thumbs up, man. Got to be – not just for our record – but what he’s done for Rival Sons, and other people, he’s got to be producer of the year, man. He’s been great.

Take me through the day of your performance at the California Jam Festival. What are some of your strongest memories of that day and looking back, where does it rank as far as your career achievements?
GH: You know, man, we got there the night before and I’m really good friends with, because I come from the same part of England, Tony, Geezer, and Bill and Ozzy. We stayed up all night doing drugs and chicks and stuff the night before, and we went on after them that afternoon. But for the first time in history, that f**king festival … the festival was running early. So, of course, the problem we had with the Marshall stacks, we get up onstage and Ritchie had locked himself in the bloody trailer, and we had to go on, and there was a lot of aggression from Blackmore. 

You could see him looming toward the camera at one point. That camera cost us like $30,000, and that was a lot of f**king money. But there was aggressiveness to that performance, wasn’t there? There was a real brash, aggressiveness to … I mean, when the stage was on fire, and that shit went up, I didn’t actually see it, but it broke in places and glass blew him off the stage. It was really f**king gnarly. It was like … hey, we were pissed off. And lo and behold, it was just captured live on ABC, "Dick Clark Presents" … (laughs). So what are you going to do? And it’s like, some people say, “That’s all Glenn Hughes talks about.” No, I don’t. I don’t really talk about yesterday. You asked me the question. It was a really vital experience from a … we tried to … our contract says, “The band will go on at 11 minutes past 7 p.m. on April 6,” or something like that, and it was f**king six o’clock and it was still light. So it was one of those moments.    

Glenn Hughes in the studio
In 1974 you recorded Burn with the new Deep Purple lineup. What were studio sessions for that album like? 
GH: A weekend at a 600-year-old castle called Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire, and it all sounds very King Arthur, doesn’t it? So we were the fucking … we were the first band to ever go to the castle environment and write. If you want to Google it, Clearwell Castle is in Gloucestershire, and it’s a haunted place. And we wrote – because Blackmore is nuts – we wrote in the f**king dungeon. You know, the song “Burn” is about a witch, and it’s like, “Well, how dark do you want to go people?” I’m having s√©ances with Blackmore in my f**king bedroom, and the lights were f**king going off and on. It was f**king gnarly, man. You know, that band, with two new guys, me and Coverdale … that’s what they needed at that time. You know, if he couldn’t stand people after two or three years, he was going to get rid of them. So the plan was new. After Machine Head, they were selling more albums than anybody else, but that album was a crucial moment. You’ve got a guy in Coverdale who’s never actually been onstage before really, right? And then you’ve got me, the new guy who’d been playing with Trapeze like in America for three years, and it was quite interesting, wasn’t it? 

In what ways was it different from albums you'd record later with Purple? 
GH: Listen, Peter, you’ve got to remember what I talked about six minutes ago. Ritchie … it was difficult to work with Ritchie. It wasn’t so much that he was the leader. It was like, by the time we got to Stormbringer, he hadn’t really written much. He’d written “Stormbringer,” the track, and he hadn’t really written any more riffs. So me and David and [keyboardist] Jonathan [Lord] would like write a lot of the record, and I think Ritchie at this point is thinking about forming a band with Ronnie (James Dio). I think he was done. I think that my blues and soul influences, and David’s bluesy camaraderie put him off. I think he was going to the woods with his medieval costumes back then. I think he was into that Bach-influenced music. Of course, me and David are from the north of England, and grew up listening to Otis Redding. And Ritchie knew this. All the gang in Purple knew that David and I were soul fanatics, as Robert Plant and Paul Rodgers are blues fanatics. And they knew this going into it. And, of course, Ritchie really, really, really wanted to make Bach-influenced music, and he really didn’t come prepared for Stormbringer. So, after Stormbringer, he left. 

Had you ever worked with a mobile studio?
GH: That was the first time, and that was the only time.

Did you find it difficult?
GH: It was great, but it was a bit of a pain in the ass, too, to keep walking down flights of stairs from this like warehouse in Montreux, Switzerland. Look, look, Peter. Burn, after Machine Head ... we had to come up with something new and special. And you know, I’m so close to Burn, you know. I mean, I’m part of the album, so people talk about that album like, oohhh, you played and sang on Burn. Yeah, I did. Great, you know. I’m glad people like it. 

How does California Breed fit in the history of Glenn Hughes and what are you looking forward to most in working with this band again?
GH: Here’s what I want to do Peter, and this is what we couldn’t do with Black Country because of Joe and with fellow artists. I formed this band to make records, at least two albums. I look at things in two, I never look at things in one – though, sometimes I look at them in threes. I’m in this to make records, and I want to promote it. Me talking to you, I want to get on holy ground, which is the stage. I am, for all intents and purposes, a live – I’m a studio guy for sure – but I am a live singer. I am a live performer, a performer that lives and breathes the stage. So I found some guys that want to do the same, you know.   

Glenn Hughes says he's an "actor"
in the studio
How did “Midnight Oil” come about?
GH: Listen, you’re asking some really cool questions. “Midnight Oil” was written, and I called it “I Want to be Free,” and we felt, you know … we were going to cut the track, and then Cobb said to me, “There’s something with this track. It needs a little … maybe you should write a new lyric for it?” It’s the only song he said you need to write a new lyric for. I think I wrote a pretty good freedom track, you know, for “Midnight Oil.” Nobody’s asked this question, so it’s kind of an exclusive. I said, “Okay. So what are you thinking?” He said, “Well, what would you think about singing something with ‘burn’ in there?” And I said, “Well, it’s been 40 years since I’ve sung that.” Of course the tracks “Midnight Oil” and “Burn” don’t sound anything like each other. I just went … where it said, “I want to be free,” I sang (sings), “Let it burn, let it burrnnn,” instead of “I want to be free, ffrreee.” And it just made f**king sense. And then the verse where, you know, “I don’t stick aaarrrrouuund.” It was just fucking 1967, wasn’t it? Look, look. I wasn’t trying to be Jim Morrison, but I just put a different code on it. I like to think, when I’m in the studio, I become an actor. I can be this, I can be that. I am afraid. I am fucking fearful of a lot of things offstage. I’m clumsy, I’m a klutz, but when I’m in front of a microphone, you gotta get out of the way, ‘cause I know what I’m doing. It’s like fire, man. I just know. It ignites it. I’m not saying I’m the best or the worst, or whatever, I just know that if I’ve got a microphone, get away from me, get out of the way. And that means anybody, just because I know I’m going to deliver. This is what I’m supposed to do. 

You can hear that on “Spit You Out,” too.
GH: Yeah, it’s … look, Peter, I’ve been doing this for 45 years. I’ve been recording for 45 years and touring for 45 years. I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited. I don’t think so. Who would have thought this would happen now. And hopefully, it’ll help other members of my peer group who’ve taken the foot off the gas, whether they want to do this or not. I have an urgency in the sound of this album and the writing, you know. I don’t sing about fairies and goblins and dwarves. I sing about the f**king human condition. I sing about lust, I sing about hate. I sing about distrust. I sing about f**king gluttony, f**king fear, f**king resentment – all of it. You know, life, death, what happens in between. “All Falls Down” … that f**king song, Andrew and Jason said, “Why don’t you talk about that moment you almost died”? I’m going, “Do you really want me to do that?” And I did. And it turned out great. Give me a suggestion, I’ll f**king run with it. So I really love being in a room full of very creative people, and Cobb – call him the “fourth Beatle,” call him “member No. 4” – he was f**king insane! The guy deserves f**king producer of the year. Ask other people he’s worked with. They feel the same about him. I’m all about giving the producer some love.   

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