It was the late summer of 2012, and hard rockers Black Country Communion had just released their third album. But the co-singer/bassist of the very successful group, the legendary Glenn Hughes, was pissed.
That's because the very future of the band featuring Hughes, co-singer/guitarist Joe Bonamassa, drummer Jason Bonham and keyboardist Derek Sherinian was in doubt. Hughes wanted to tour, but Bonamassa's thriving solo career limited their opportunities. The two traded barbs in the press and on Twitter, and a planned big concert was cancelled.
Cut to spring 2013, when Bonamassa announced his departure, officially ending the band.
Per their previous agreement, the remaining trio could not record or tour under the name; Sherinian would eventually join Bonamassa's solo band. But the rupture proved to be a blessing for Hughes. And it took the son of a Beatle to kickstart power trio California Breed, Hughes' current group that also features Bonham and 23-year-old hot-shit New York guitarist Andrew Watt.
They've just released their self-titled debut, a loud, hard-hitting affair that is thoroughly greasier than the music of BCC. Tracks like "The Way," "Sweet Tea," "Midnight Oil," "The Grey" and "Scars" are classic rock-sounding without sounding throwback. And they are hard.
And now, Glenn Hughes isn't pissed anymore.
"My friend Julian Lennon introduced [Watt] to me at a party in New York," Hughes recalls. "He came to my house and we wrote two songs right away, powerful stuff. So I knew this could be interesting, and then I got Jason involved. But I didn't talk about it because the internet is ripe with rumors of hate and fear and love!"
Hughes notes that after putting his "rock hat" back on in 2009 with BCC, part of him always wanted to eventually gravitate back to the power-trio format where he first found success with '70s rockers Trapeze.
"As much as I love groove music, I wanted to make arena-sounding rock that could go live to lots of people," Hughes offers. "And I wrote music on [this record] for that market. I want to make a lot of noise to a lot of people. The song that opens the record, 'The Way,' is about that. It signals the sound. It's the flag for it."
He also knew he didn't want keyboards in this group, and he knew he wanted to work with Bonham again.
"I've played with Jon Lord, the Hammond King!" crows Hughes. "And Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, all the [keyboard] greats. But I wanted to go back to playing in a trio, the way Trapeze was. And the way it was when I was 17 and we just had an SG guitar, a Fender bass, kit of drums, a great PA, and a great audience. And you make great rock music."
He also thought that finding a guitar player would be a challenge, since the ones he knows "are all very famous," and thus likely deep in career commitments of their own.
In Watt, Hughes thinks he's found someone with enough talent who is "destined to go all the way," and praises his ambition, songwriting skills, and guitar playing.
"Look, man, I believe in fate and karma and good things happen to good people at the right moment," he says. "And I needed another trio."
Story continues on the next page.
While California Breed the album is out now, California Breed the band won't start playing its first live dates until October, after Bonham's current (and previously-scheduled) musical commitments with Heart and Sammy Hagar run their course. But he's happy to wait for his bandmate and friend.
"Look man, let's talk turkey here," laughs Hughes. "Jason's father [Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham] was one of my best friends. I've known Jason since he was in diapers!"
He remembers sleeping many a nights at the Bonham house, only to be awakened in the morning by the sound of loud, pounding drums. Thinking it was John at play, he would go downstairs only to find the pint-sized Jason behind the sticks instead.
"Look, man, John Bonham is rooted in this band," Hughes adds. "And I embrace his presence and his legacy. And I told Jason -- nothing spooky here -- that his dad was with us while we were making this record. And I told Jason to be fearless. Because you have to be fearless to make this music and make it worth something."
Coming up in Part II: Hughes discusses his drug-fueled past and recovery, the tragedy of Deep Purple bandmate Tommy Bolin and the Indonesian trip that almost killed him, and why Houston above all cities in America holds a special place for him.
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