Rock Survivor Glenn Hughes: "The Kids Went Apeshit!"

The heavy-hitting California Breed is Jason Bonham (drums), Glenn Hughes (vocals/bass), and Andrew Watt (guitar).
The heavy-hitting California Breed is Jason Bonham (drums), Glenn Hughes (vocals/bass), and Andrew Watt (guitar).

Legendary rocker Glenn Hughes is on the phone, ostensibly to talk about California Breed. It's the new band he has with drummer Jason Bonham and guitarist Andrew Watt and who have just released a loud, crunchy, self-titled debut CD. But before he gets to that his rapid-fire mouth has something he wants Rocks Off to know.

"Look, man, you need to know this off the bat. Houston, and the reaction the city has given to my music, is the reason I'm probably talking to you now!" he offers. "Talking to anyone from Houston brings back all the love, and I'll never forget it."

As Hughes tells it over the phone, as well as in his autobiography, his band Trapeze had finished a tour in 1970 opening for the Moody Blues. But nowhere did they get the frenzied reaction they did during their set as at the Sam Houston Coliseum.

After that show, a Texas promoter quickly booked them for a two-night stand at a Houston club whose name is now lost to memory, and both nights sold out. Hughes has never forgotten it.

"We had kicked off a vibe in Houston, which loves its bluesy rock trios playing for very vocal audiences. And it was so crazy. I remember the balcony almost came down. The kids went apeshit!" he continues. "So it was in Houston that we in the band knew that everything was going to be all right."

REWIND: Glenn Hughes' California Breed Redefines the Power Trio

And while Hughes' career (so far) is bookended by his time with Trapeze and California Breed, he is also known for stints with both Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, and more recently Black Country Communion.

One of the most famous tales from his time with Purple was the band's disastrous 1975 shows in Jakarta, Indonesia. They were bullied into playing more shows to more people than agreed by government thugs, who also let trained attack dogs loose on concertgoers.

Most tragically, road crew member Patsy Collins was either pushed or jumped down what turned out to be an empty elevator shaft in a hotel after an intense argument with their Indonesian "hosts."

Deep Purple, Mk. IV (clockwise from upper left): David Coverdale (vocals) Jon Lord (keyboards), Tommy Bolin (guitar), Glenn Hughes (bass/vocals), and Ian Paice (drums).
Deep Purple, Mk. IV (clockwise from upper left): David Coverdale (vocals) Jon Lord (keyboards), Tommy Bolin (guitar), Glenn Hughes (bass/vocals), and Ian Paice (drums).

Bizarrely, Hughes and some other crew members were thrown in jail for suspicion of murder. The band finally made it out of the country alive, but only after paying a huge amount of extortion money.

"That shit was flying in Jakarta, we were in a time bomb in the midst of war that had just started in the country. All of us were lucky to escape alive," Hughes says today. "It was just the worst. And they wanted more money on the plane before we could go. Machetes were drawn, and grown men were crying!"

Hughes and band members David Coverdale and Jon Lord have already recounted the harrowing time in the Deep Purple: Phoenix Rising documentary, and Hughes says that another one just on the Indonesian trip is currently in production.

One band member not around to give interviews anymore, of course is guitarist Tommy Bolin. After leaving the Mark IV lineup of Purple, the troubled player died in 1976 at age 25 from an overdose of heroin, though it could have easily also been the booze, coke, or barbiturates that did the trick.

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Hughes, himself a legendary imbiber of drink and cocaine, swears that he was never exactly sure what Bolin was up to, and not sure if any intervention would have made a difference.

"Tommy lived with me for three months, and I'm going to be honest with you. Even though I was addicted to coke, I was so naïve to anything with opiates or heroin. I just didn't know," he says.

After noting that Bolin kept falling asleep at odd times and scratching himself on the band's private plane, Hughes said that others told him Bolin was on heroin, though he never saw the guitarist shoot up.

"So I finally just [confronted] him and asked it was true, and he told me [Hughes takes on an approximation of Bolin's whiny voice] 'it's just a rumor.' And I [pretty much] believed it. And this guy was my soul brother!"

Hughes documented his own wild struggles with substance abuse in his autobiography, which was notable for its frankness even by rock and roll standards.

"I even left out a lot of the grandiose stuff, because it became a bloody pain in the ass," he says. "My book is about a guy who grew up in a working-class family and got rich and famous and had it all and then lost everything because I was so addicted. And then I had the heart attack!"

Hughes hopes to carry his message of recovery and sobriety to others. He adds that he takes inspiration from friends like Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, and Slash, who have also come through their dances with Mr. Brownstone and his ilk.

"These were people who were completely out of their minds, but now have turned their lives around 100 percent," he says. "And I am a true survivor, but I'm still in recovery, even though I came out of treatment in 1992."

To that end, it's clear that the 62-year-old has the energy and focus of a man half his age, and his vocal and bass work on California Breed could have come from decades ago.

He credits a lot of sleep and taking care of his voice with exercises and drinks with keeping the sonic clock stuck in time. Also a "no druggie, no drinkie, no cigarettey," policy. And he's excited about a California Breed tour that will start in October this year.

"Hey man, if I'm boring now, I'm good because I'm still standing here doing this," he sums up. "I've been given ten lives. And if it all ended tomorrow, I think I've served my purpose. And, hopefully, people will remember."


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