He may be known as the Voice Of Rock, but there’s plenty of blues in Glenn Hughes’ soul. His upbringing on the Stones led him to the greats of the genre, and in his work with Trapeze, Deep Purple, Joe Bonamassa offshoot Black Country Communion or his wealth of solo records, there has always been a spark of blues not far beneath the surface. But it could have been very different had he chosen bubblegum pop over the Mississippi Delta…
What introduced you to the blues?
Being a fan of the Stones. I was 12 and I started reading about who wrote songs like Little Red Rooster, was it Mick and Keith? No, it was black American Mississippi Delta blues artists.
How much of an impact did the blues have on your early bands?
My first band when I was 14 was the Hooker Lees, as in John Lee Hooker. When you listen to early recordings of John Lee Hooker, it is so real. That is why the blues has never disappeared. It is a real, honest art form. Everyone knows Glenn Hughes is the Voice Of Rock and has a soul background, but the response after The Beatles and the Stones was the blues. A lot of people think because I’m a rock singer and I’m friends with Stevie Wonder I’m not blues-fed, but I fed the blues to myself.
You’ve had an eventful life that lends itself to blues storytelling.
The great thing about the things I’ve gone through in my life, the heart attacks, open heart surgery, this and that, is that I’ve got a wealth of songs to sing. I have a blues register to sing with as well. I’m not versed in blues like Bonamassa though. Pre-teen Joe was already deep into the blues. Joe is his generation’s leader, he knows everything about every blues artist.
Which artists made the biggest impression on you back in the 1960s West Midlands?
The Kings – Albert, Freddie and BB – for sure, but it has to be John Lee Hooker. I saw him in Wolverhampton in the late 60s. Blues guys were coming over to England by the bucketload. A lot of them from the 30s and 40s had lost their publishing and came to England to make money. Me, Pete Townshend and Keith Moon would be at the feet of these Mississippi blues artists. My biggest regret for those Delta guys is that the music business is driven by greedy fuckers. Those guys in the Delta didn’t have lawyers and signed their publishing away, signed away some of the biggest songs you’ve ever heard. I’ve met a lot of very famous blues singers that didn’t have a pot to piss in.
Given that the region spawned Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, was there a strong blues scene around you growing up?
There was in the Birmingham and Wolverhampton colleges and universities. When I was younger, if you weren’t listening to the blues you were listening to bubblegum music like – and no disrespect to them as Micky Dolenz is a friend of mine – The Monkees. It was either manufactured or it was the real deal recorded on two-track blues.
Was it blues that inspired you to pick up a guitar and then the bass?
My first influences would have been James Jamerson as far as bass players go, and then the guy that inspired me to pick up a guitar was Hendrix. My girlfriend’s brother ran a discotheque in my hometown and I used to go get the coffees for him. The only music he played was R&B and blues, all night long. It got into my system. I can’t imagine what I would sound like if I had been a Monkees fan. I wouldn’t be here talking about the blues today.
In 1992 you released your solo album, LA Blues Authority Vol II. How important was that record in your wider career?
That was my first sober album. I was singing about the recovery of what I’ve gone through. I’d have loved BB King to play on the album but he wasn’t available. There’s nothing about rock on that record, it is about recovery, it is blues. When someone gets clean and sober they go back to when they were younger before they abused themselves and for me that was the blues.
Speaking of BB King, you chatted with him shortly after you became sober. What did you say to him?
I spoke to BB King years ago about the blues. I was newly sober and we spoke about my idea of the blues and his idea of the blues. I was honoured by that. I told BB that blues music for me when I sing it is dark, sad, deep and a little bit fearful. He said that you can rejoice with the blues.
What do you think of 2015’s blues?
I hear a lot of people and Philip Sayce is a really good player. Joanne Shaw Taylor is very nice as well. I love that she’s a girl from the Black Country and she is the real deal. Joe [Bonamassa] has been very faithful to the blues and he has been honest about it. I admire honesty. If you are a real blues player and fanatic then you only play the blues. That is true of Joe.
Glenn Hughes’ UK tour begins at Norwich Waterfront on October 19.