I was driving a 32-foot U-Haul truck from New York City to Tennessee with my heavy metal-loving buddy Juke.
We made the trip mostly by night. I’ve always been of a mind that road trips are meant for staring out the window while listening to songs like “Turn the Page,” for ruminating on life, death and all the miles behind and ahead and for having the sort of meditative conversations you’d never have in the day-to-day world.
“So who is, like, the most rock and roll-looking member of KISS?” Juke asked sometime around midnight, nine hours into a fourteen hour drive. “If you saw them on the street in their prime, just in a t-shirt and jeans.”
We concluded that Paul Stanley is the one KISS member who couldn’t be anything but a star. Gene, even in his gold chains and tarantula belt buckle, still looked like an accountant or a sixth-grade school teacher from the Bronx.
“Ace is no doubt a rock star,” I said. “But if you saw him out walking around you’d figure him for a cab driver or a liquor store delivery boy.”
We pondered the rock star auras of Joe Perry, K.K. Downing and Sebastian Bach, when somewhere around Kentucky Juke said, “Sabbath.”
“Geezer?” I replied. “Maybe?” We were huge fans of every Sabbath era.
“Geezer looked like an out-of-work house painter from New Orleans.”
“In the 70s he did,” I said. “In the 80s, he looked more like a science professor at a liberal arts college.”
Tony Iommi, we figured, looked more like a trigger man for the British mob and Ozzy, well, he just looked like an Ozzy.
“Like the seventeenth clown piling out of an Aston Martin in the Birmingham Circus.”
“What about Dio?” I asked.
“Dio is rock and roll,” Juke said. “But he looks more Lord of the Rings.” We decided Bill Ward resembled a banker in a fright wig and then it hit me.
“Glenn Hughes was the most rock and roll-looking member of Black Sabbath. The clothes, the hair, those sunglasses… If you saw him walking in downtown Manhattan you’d say right off, ‘That dude has got to be somebody….’”
Vocalist, bassist and songwriter Glenn Hughes is the former Deep Purple frontman who held a séance with Ritchie Blackmore, shared women with best buddy David Bowie, autographed John Wayne’s boots, hung out with Stevie Wonder in the loo, partied with both John Bonham and Keith Moon and beat the Stones in a cocaine-snorting competition.
Criss-crossing the world in Starship 1, Deep Purple’s own Boeing jet, Hughes enthusiastically embraced the rock superstar lifestyle while playing on three Purple albums, including the classic Burn. When the band split in ‘76, Hughes embarked on a breakneck run of solo albums, collaborations and even a brief, chaotic spell fronting Black Sabbath. All of this was accompanied by cocaine psychosis, crack addiction and other excesses, before Hughes survived a clean-up-or-die crisis and embarked on a reinvigorated solo career, enriched by a survivor’s wisdom. In his new autobiography, Hughes talks us through his whirlwind life with unflinching honesty and good humor, taking us right up-to-date with his triumphant re-emergence in the scorching hot new supergroup Black Country Communion.
Congratulations–I see your book is Number One on the Amazon Rock chart.
Yeah, I’m… uh, speechless really! I tried to be open and honest and I think it just struck a nerve with people.
I was reading the part where you mention doing the music for the “City of Crime” music video with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks. So I dialed it up on YouTube and saw those two rapping and dancing while you were wearing goat pants and….
Ah, man. To be honest I was on a major crack binge. I was the last to show and they gave me the goat pants. Which was appropriate at that time! Tom and Dan were very lovely to me though. Nice guys.
Then I watched the recent Black Country Communion Live in Europe , and I was blown away by your bass playing and singing. And you look frickin’ twenty-five! Rock and roll was a great comfort to me as a kid and I gotta tell you, it gives us a lot of hope and joy to see so many of our heroes still out there like Gene and Paul and Angus and Ozzy – and Glenn Hughes – still doing your thing with that kind of fire.
Well thank you for that, brother. I was buddies with Gene back when he was dating Cher and one thing we shared was that it was impossible to do this unless you had some sort of conviction, that inner — whatever you want to call it — spirituality, love of the music, work ethic — you have to have that inner drive. Or there’s just no way.
Yeah, but how do you do it health-wise after forty years in the business?
Lots of sleep and plenty of water. I eat healthy and run a lot. Good genes, I s’pose. A lot of my mates died years ago–drugs and alcohol, and you just can’t keep going that way. And I try to stay connected and live in the moment, you know? I let God in and let him run the show. Because when Glenn Hughes runs the show – that’s when the bad shit happens…. I used to watch my dad planting flowers and think, “How boring. How can he stand that?” But I’m 60 now and I spend a lot of time with my dogs and my family, in the garden.
You give spirituality a lot of credit for your sobriety after your bout with cocaine. What was the rock bottom point for you?
For me it was that moment in the back of an ambulance. I’ve overdosed – again — and I’m telling the driver “I’m not like those other people you carry…” and he turns and says, “Shut up, you piece of shit drug addict.” The reality of it just hit me. That was my wake-up call. I got into meetings, started reading books like A New Pair of Glasses by Chuck C. and Sermon on the Mount. I don’t want to offend any of your readers and some people might think it’s cornball but I’m alive and here today only by the grace of God.
Where do you think your career would have gone if not for cocaine?
Oh, that’s a tough one, mate. I’ve had a lot of people tell me I could have gone on to do much greater works. But you can’t let that eat you up. Everything’s ordered, I believe. Everything for a purpose. One thing that’s sure in life is pain and change. I didn’t understand then but if you get in enough pain you will change. But you know, I think I’ve bared my ass and beat the devil and proved myself to be honest. I’m not as interested in comebacks or career redemption as humanity and the human experience.
Tell me about Starship 1 because I saw that picture and tried to imagine what the inside of that plane must have been like.
You have to remember that in the 70s everything was grand. It wasn’t unusual for 100,000 people to show up to a rock concert. Excess. The Stones, Zeppelin and Purple, we’re the only ones that had that plane. Let me tell you there were no fire marshals on there…. Lots of shagging. Debauchery. It was the era.
I was listening to your version of “Ave Maria” and trying to imagine your take on “War Pigs” during your stint with Sabbath. Which song did you dread performing most?
Well, I was fearful of my own shadow. Not as much coke then but vodka – hiding behind the beard and makeup. I told (Black Sabbath guitarist Tony) Iommi, “This is like James Brown fronting Metallica!” The only piece I really enjoyed performing was the song “Black Sabbath”.
What do you think about the Sabbath Reunion?
Geezer is my neighbor and he came over, um, let’s say a little inebriated… So I knew he was spending a lot of time with Tony and I knew it was going to happen. I’m happy for Bill (Ward, drummer of Black Sabbath), such a sweet man. They’re working class guys from the Black Country and Ozzy, he wants to give back to his old mates and share the platform he’s been given.
I gotta ask about the Deep Purple Reunion.
We used to talk about it a lot but until Richie (Blackmore) gets his head around electric guitars again it’s just not going to happen. So it’s a moot point now. David (Coverdale) and I are still very close so there’s a good chance we might do something.
It’s a TNB Music thing, at the end of an interview we do a bit of either/or. Just for fun.
Blackfoot or Molly Hatchet?
Ah, Blackfoot, yeah! No knock on Hatchet, they’re great, but Blackfoot.
Kool & the Gang or The Bar-Kays?
Ooh, I love them both. Kool and the Gang were a little more pop but Bar-Kays, they had that groove, man.
Ozzy or Dio era Sabbath?
Well, one was my dearest friend and the other I’ve known all my life. Dio was just such a good mate. It’s like Eddie Trunk said — both were valid. Both deserve to be Sabbath.
Absolutely. Bootsy or Lemmy?
Bootsy! Lemmy’s my good mate. As a human, Lemmy. On bass, Bootsy is the man.
Led Zeppelin IV or Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life?
Songs in the Key for the music. When that came out I was hanging with Stevie and he was a mentor to me in many ways. Zep IV for the memories. Bonham must’ve played that for me a hundred times before it was released and I’ve got some great memories from that. So one for the music, the other for the memories.
Selected Glenn Hughes Discography
Trapeze – Medusa
Deep Purple – Burn, You Can’t Do it Right
Black Sabbath – Gone
Hughes/ Thrall – I Got Your Number
Black Country Communion – Smokestack Woman, Black Country