Buyers’ Guide: Glenn Hughes
Thirty years of hard-rocking, blues’n’funk alchemy has earned this golden-throated bassist a place at the top table of British rock.
Words: Philip Wilding
Arguably Cannock, Staffordshire’s most famous son (though he does face strong competition from footballer Stan Collymore and one-time Britain’s Strongest Man Richard Gosling), Glenn Hughes has enjoyed a renaissance in his fortunes in the past decade.
Throughout his career Hughes has been equally blessed and cursed: respectively, with arguably the most distinctive voice in hard rock, and by drug addiction that saw him ricochet from one project to the next with no real cohesion or direction, although almost all were flecked with flashes of brilliance. Impressively, even during his drug years he contributed to landmark albums either as a fully fledged band member or bassist/singer for hire. Infamously, while touring with Black Sabbath, with his band due on an LA stage in a matter of hours Tony Iommi couldn’t find the errant Hughes. It turned out that the elusive bass player wasn’t even in the state of California.
Since experiencing some sort of epiphany on Christmas Day 1991, which resulted in him forsaking his cocaine mainstay, Hughes has intensified his work ethic. He’s now trim and, despite a self-destructive impulse and years of abuse, still blessed with a voice that can straddle funk, soul and rock (sometimes critically to his detriment), but it’s to his eternal credit that he can genuinely say that he sounds absolutely like no one else; vocally he has no peers.
It was the three albums he recorded as bassist/vocalist with Deep Purple (Burn, Stormbringer, Come Taste The Band) that brought Hughes international attention and acclaim, but it’s the durability of his extensive catalogue that may turn out to be the cornerstone of his legacy: from his relatively brief tenure with British hard rock quintet Trapeze, to the aforementioned hazy days with Deep Purple, through his first solo album, the quite excellent Play Me Out, to the landmark Hughes/Thrall album years later – and many people are still waiting breathlessly for its successor.
Hughes is equally at home tied to the mast of The KLF’s Viking longboat in the video for America: What Time Is Love? or as Tony Iommi’s foil on the 2005 Fused project. Latterly he counts Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith (co-producer and occasionally part of his live band) and guitarist John Frusciante among his admirers and is introducing himself to a whole new generation of fans. And you can guarantee that they’ll look as startled when he sings as audiences first did when he let loose on the chorus of Burn all those years ago.
Though both were vital and vibrant sidemen, no one could have foreseen the impact of Glenn Hughes and Pat Thrall uniting for what still remains a frustratingly elusive one-off.
The Hughes/Thrall album still sounds crisp – a rarity for an album recorded 26 years ago. Given the strength of the songwriting, it could have been made on a wax cylinder and it would still have had the power to startle. With the exhilarating I Got Your Number, the tough-as-leather Muscle And Blood and the understated take on Trapeze’s Coast To Coast, it’s a heady debut. Hopefully it won’t be their swansong.
Given the upheaval in Deep Purple’s personnel (singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover had departed, and been replaced by Hughes and a shoe salesman and part-time singer from Yorkshire by the name of David Coverdale), surprisingly Burn – the first release from the new line-up – remains one of the band’s most enduring albums.
It may have divided their fans with its funkier feel, but Hughes and Coverdale’s combined vocals and the creativity on tracks like Might Just Take Your Life, You Fool No One and the title track still guaranteed the album an eager audience.
SUPERIOR: THE ONES THAT HELPED CEMENT HIS REPUTATION
The third album from Trapeze, and the last that Hughes would play on before he left to replace Roger Glover in Deep Purple, was a more soulful proposition than the hard rock Hughes would become famous for.
With jazz, funk, soul and rock influences, You Are The Music… was the perfect showcase for Hughes’s warm vocal. He’s equally at home with the harder-sounding title track or the rattling Keepin’ Time, but it’s on the beautifully paced What Is A Woman’s Role and Coast To Coast – with some great sax and vibes work – that the singer really makes the song.
After the fallout from Deep Purple’s break-up, Hughes finished work on an album that he’d been recording intermittently while still touring with the band.
David Bowie was originally pencilled in to produce (a nice idea that didn’t materialise), and appearances from former Trapeze bandmates Mel Galley and Dave Holland helped Hughes abandon his hard rock leanings almost entirely. Closer to Motown in feel, Hughes showed how at home he was with funk and soul. Vocally he was rarely better, cruising through a range of rich material like Soulution, Space High and the lingering I Found A Woman.
Criminally overlooked on its release, Fused saw Iommi discard the idea of working with a series of guest vocalists as on his self-titled debut in 2000 in favour of forming a trio with Hughes and drummer Kenny Aronoff instead. The pair had already worked together in a fitful version of Black Sabbath and on a demo set that became The 1996 DEP Sessions album, but it was with Fused that the collaboration came to spectacular fruition. Relentlessly heavy with Hughes in blistering form on songs like Grace and Dopamine, the best is saved for last with the epic I Go Insane.
It’s only a shade over 36 minutes long, but Hughes’s second album with Deep Purple sounds anything but slight. Most notable for giving both the band’s singers their chance in the spotlight – Coverdale must have been far from delighted, originally thinking he was joining the band as lead singer. Hughes shone on the wonderfully understated Holy Man, the blistering title track promised a hard rock tour de force, and all in all it was a funkier record than Burn; the band’s ever-evolving direction was rumoured to be one of the reasons for finally parting with an exasperated Blackmore.
GOOD: WORTH EXPLORING
The last Deep Purple album for the best part of ten years, Stormbringer was also the only Purple record that featured guitarist Tommy Bolin. Bolin, of course, would be dead little more than a year after its release.
It was considered uneven at best at the time of its release, but over the years the album has grown in stature. Bolin proved himself to be as adept – if not quite as erratically brilliant – as Blackmore, and alongside Hughes and Coverdale he was the perfect foil on songs like Gettin’ Tighter and the more melodic material like Dealer, Lady Luck and the expansive You Keep
The first of two studio albums from Hughes and former Rainbow and Deep Purple singer Joe Lynn Turner. Though both take their foot off the gas to shine on their respective ballads – Turner’s Mystery Of The Heart, Hughes’s Heaven’s Missing An Angel – it’s when they let loose on traditional stompers like Devil’s Road and You Can’t Stop Rock & Roll (no lyrical cliché is left wanting) that the album comes into its own. Guitarists John Sykes and Paul Gilbert add their own uniquely histrionic edge. We can only imagine there’s an audience somewhere (Japan, at a guess) keenly awaiting HTP 3.
One of the strongest albums from his solo canon, Music For The Divine pairs the Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith with Hughes alongside regular guitarist JJ Marsh.
Co-produced with Smith and recorded at his Hollywood home (the cover shot is the view from his garden), Music… also features contributions from John Frusciante, and shows the singer in a more reflective light. His trademark funk is evident (The Valiant Denial, Monkey Man), but it’s the judicious use of strings and acoustic guitar that lifts the album to new heights, as on the lilting Frail and the sublime This Is How I Feel.
The voice of an angel he might have, but it’s hard to forgive Glenn Hughes for this cloying collection of Christmas favourites. Even the sleeve – a grinning Hughes posing next to a vase of unfestive sunflowers, for some reason – grates.
Although his vocals are keen and sometimes quite brilliant, it’s still hard to take as Hughes warbles all over Ave Maria or drones through O’ Come All Ye Faithful, and there’s a point during his take on Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas where you almost want to beg him to stop. And this from a man who made a song called Get You Stoned palatable.