“I’m so fortunate not to have died. I’ve overdosed, been pistol-whipped, shot at, stabbed, run over in a car... and I’m still here”: Glenn Hughes, The Voice of Rock, has lived the lives of 10 men, and he's not finished yet

Glenn Hughes
(Image credit: Fin Costello/Redferns)

Flying away from the site of the California Jam, Glenn Hughes only twigged that he wasn’t actually under arrest when the 'policewoman' sharing his helicopter took off her hat, shook her hair loose and knelt down to unzip his white satin trousers.

Perhaps if he hadn’t been up all night partying with Ozzy Osbourne, or wasn’t still buzzing after performing in front of 400,000 festival goers, Deep Purple’s 21-year-old vocalist/bassist might have realised that his German tour manager Ossy Hoppe was taking the piss when he solemnly informed him that the local police had been handed film footage of Hughes snorting coke behind the amps during the quintet’s co-headlining show on the evening of April 6, 1974 and wanted to have a word with the young Englishman. As it was, the prank “scared the crap” out of Hughes, so much so, in fact, that he politely declined the offer of fellatio from his mischievous airborne travelling companion.

“I was too freaked out to do anything,” he recalls, ruefully. “Looking back, I wish I could have helped her out.”

Dressed in black, and sporting tinted sunglasses, a pashmina scarf and two fistfuls of chunky rings, we join Hughes today in an upscale boutique hotel in Cambridge. The Voice Of Rock, arguably the greatest British rock singer of his generation, is in fine fettle today as he reflects upon five remarkable decades in the music business, a journey which has included stints in Trapeze, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Black Country Communion and some wild adventures with drug dealers, gangsters, movie stars and beauty queens en route. Hughes freely admits that he has “lived the lives of 10 men” and “done everything that you can imagine, good and bad, wonderful and silly.”

“I’m so fortunate not to have died,” he confesses. “I’ve overdosed, been pistol-whipped, shot at, stabbed, run over in a car… and I’m still here to tell the tale. Where shall we start?”

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Who was the first musical artist to capture your imagination?

The Beatles. I remember coming home from school and saw them on a TV show with Muriel Young in 1963 and that was it for me. I asked my mum, who’d named me after Glenn Miller, Is there any chance I could get one of those instruments?, meaning a guitar. I’d originally wanted to be a footballer, but I wasn’t good enough, but I found that I was adequate on the guitar, so I stuck with that. When I left school I was set to get a real job in September, but in August I got offered the chance to be in a professional rock’n’roll group [Finders Keepers] so I accepted that offer. I was the youngest guy in the band by ten years.

Your first step into the big time came alongside Mel Galley and Dave Holland in Trapeze. In America, at least, you were a proper rock star before you’d turned 20.

Yeah, Trapeze did really well in America. We toured there initially with The Moody Blues, before we’d even made an album, and played unknown songs for 45 minutes every night to their audience and the reaction was incredible. I was 17 then. By the time I accepted the offer to join Deep Purple in 1973, Trapeze were doing 10,000 tickets a night in America as a headline act.

At the time, Deep Purple were one of the biggest rock bands in the world, but given the success you were already enjoying with Trapeze, did you have any hesitation when you were asked to join?

In my recollection, I’d a difficult time leaving Trapeze because of my friendship with Mel and Dave. The opportunity to play with Deep Purple wasn’t something I’d thought about, but the offer that came in was hard to resist. Trapeze were kids, a family band, but Purple were established stars, and I was asked to join on equal terms, in terms of money and songwriting opportunities. I was 21 and I was thinking about the big picture, long-term, and thought that the chance to do something on a grand scale couldn’t be ignored. 

Hughes joined Deep Purple in July 1973, fronting the Mk. III line-up of the band alongside 22-year-old Yorkshire-born vocalist David Coverdale. This line-up would make just two albums together, Burn and Stormbringer, both released in 1974, before founding guitarist Ritchie Blackmore quit to form Rainbow, expressing his distaste for the funk and soul elements that Hughes and Coverdale had brought to the band. Undaunted, Purple recruited Iowa-born guitarist Tommy Bolin for their tenth studio album, 1975’s Come Taste The Band.

The new-look group’s attempts at forging a new identity weren’t helped by the fact that both Hughes and Bolin were developing hardcore drug habits: Hughes was snorting as much as half an ounce of cocaine per day, while Bolin was covertly using heroin. Tiring of the circus enveloping the band, David Coverdale quit Purple in March 1976 at the climax of their British tour. Nine months later, Tommy Bolin overdosed and died in a Miami hotel room. He was 25-years-old. 

What were your initial impressions of the other guys in Deep Purple?

They were good people, welcoming and open. I lived with Ian Paice initially in London, in Camden, for six months, before I moved to Los Angeles and I was always very close with Jon Lord. He not only convinced me to join the band, but he drove up to meet my family from his home in Reading, and hugged my parents as he promised to look after me, which was really fantastic. Ritchie asked to spend a weekend with me alone at the start, so we had a boys’ weekend in Hamburg, though that was a one-off, and I never spent much more time with him alone. Ritchie’s a quirky guy, and I never had a problem with him, ever, but I was closer to Jon and Ian.

David Coverdale joined Purple not long after you signed up. As a fellow ‘new boy’ did you help him bed in?

Immediately. David came down to London to sing with us, after a couple of belts of Bells whiskey on the train, and when the other guys took a lunch break, he and I decided to stay in the studio to play piano and sing melodies together. It calmed him down, because he was pretty nervous as you can imagine, and we instantly sounded good together. We had a wonderful relationship from the start.

I had a couple of seances with Ritchie Blackmore in the dungeon, one of which freaked him out so badly that he scurried off, shrieking like a banshee.

What do you remember of the making of Burn?

We were at Clearwell Castle, and we wrote that album in the dungeon. It was spooky, and Ritchie loved that. I had a couple of seances with him in the dungeon, one of which freaked him out so badly that he scurried off to his room, shrieking like a banshee. David and I formed this great partnership as vocalists, and I thought that Burn was a major step forward for the band after Who Do You Think We Are.

The speed with which things moved for Purple must have been dizzying. Within 9 months of joining you were playing to 400,000 people at the California Jam, above the likes of Black Sabbath and The Eagles.

Yeah, that was a memorable day. I’d been up all night with Ozzy, I don’t think I slept at all, and we flew in together in a helicopter. The California Jam must have been the first festival in history to run ahead of schedule, so we were asked to go on stage one hour ahead of our allotted time. Ritchie wasn’t having it, he refused, and he barricaded himself in his trailer, angry as all hell. It took the promoters, and then lawyers, and then security, and then the police to persuade him to open the door. The police in America have guns, so you can’t fight that.

The show itself started off quite normally, but then Ritchie got pissed off with this camera man, and shoved the neck of his guitar right down his lens, and that’s when all hell broke loose. He had paraffin poured over his amps, and set fire to them, which looked great for the audience, but we could have all been killed. Ian Paice’s glasses got blown off his face in the explosion!

You mention hanging out with Ozzy. Did you and the Sabbath guys go way back?

Yeah, back when Paranoid came out in 1970 I opened a show in Birmingham for them with Trapeze, and we became friends. Ozzie lived not far from me, I was in Penkridge and he about eight miles north towards Stafford, and I spent a fair bit of time at his cottage. We did a lot of… partying together.

Your battle with cocaine addiction has been well documented. At what point did it become your drug of choice?

Well, look, rock fans will know that I’ve had issues with cocaine, but that was a long time ago. In the ’70s, when you had some success, people would just give you stuff, whether that was property, or cars, or their body, or drugs. I’d find pills or cocaine in my pockets all the time, and I resisted taking anything for ages. But eventually curiosity got the better of me. I’m not proud that I did cocaine – at five years old I wasn’t tugging on my mummy’s apron saying, When I grow up I want to be a drug addict! – but unfortunately it slowly crept up on me. In the ’70s, cocaine was everywhere and everyone was doing it, everybody had their nose in something.

Were you hiding your drug use from the other guys in Deep Purple?

As much as I could. But there were a couple of big time dealers who followed Zeppelin and The Who around who got into our circle too, and they could see that the pretty boy from the Black Country needed some stimulation. I started to do coke alone, but it became common knowledge at some point that I had issues, and the guys did confront me. It got worse later…

Deep Purple

(Image credit: Fin Costello/Redferns)

Ritchie Blackmore quit Purple after touring Stormbringer. Did you sense that he was drifting away?

Well, when we went back to Clearwell Castle to work on that album Ritchie had just two songs, Stormbringer and Soldier Of Fortune. So that was an early sign. Most of the rest of the album was actually written by me, David and Jon in the studio, in the moment. We didn’t want to make Burn Mk. 2, and although Ritchie was still in the band, a lot of the time making Stormbringer he wasn’t present, so we had no alternative but to press on.

When Ritchie finally walked away did you consider doing the same?

A couple of us wanted to call it quits. I wasn’t sure. David Bowie, who was living in my house in the spring of 1975, suggested Mick Ronson [as a replacement], and I’m not sure we even spoke to him. We did try Clem Clempson from Humble Pie, who was great, but didn’t really fit the personality of the band. We wanted someone flamboyant and elegant, with charisma and their own vision. 

And then Tommy Bolin appeared…

Exactly. When Tommy walked in to the audition, with his green/red/purple/orange hair, I walked over to him and said, I don’t care if you get this gig or not, you’re coming home with me tonight! He looked so cool. And within playing one song together we knew that he was the guy. We didn’t know, sadly, that there was trouble brewing beneath the surface with him.

You didn’t realise that he was using heroin?

I didn’t see him at the edge of the cliff. I was with him sometimes on the walk towards the edge, and there were some drugs involved, though not heroin. Maybe he was doing it and not telling us. Heroin never tempted me, never once.

Until I met David Bowie, no friend had ever asked me to take home their wife and shag her

You mention David Bowie: how did he enter your life?

We were making Stormbringer in LA, and staying at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. One night, at about 11pm, I was in my room, and there was a party going on, as there were most nights, with Alice Cooper and Ronnie Wood and Keith Moon there, and there was a knock at the door. Angie Bowie, David’s wife, walked in and whispered into my ear, ‘David wants to meet you.’ It turned out that they were staying on the floor above, so I went up to meet him.

The California Jam concert had been on TV a few days before, and David was fascinated by the fact that here was a long-haired rocker guy with soul, and he wanted to work with me on Young Americans. Purple had scheduled some time off in Hawaii, and I was going to go to Philadelphia to meet David to record, but Ritchie found out, and he strongly suggested that I shouldn’t do that, because he felt it could be damaging to Deep Purple.

Were you upset? 

Yeah, but I understood that it may have looked bad to our fanbase. But David and I ended up spending a lot of time together in New York. Then in the spring of ’75 he called me and said he was going to come out on the train to visit me in LA. He was at my home for three months with no-one else knowing, and we had… an interesting time. He actually wrote Station To Station at my house, which was incredible to see.

In your 2011 autobiography, you wrote about being shocked that you got to spend a night with Angie Bowie…

I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but up to that point, no friend had ever asked me to take home their wife and shag her. I thought, Er, okay, where are we going with this? I had no business being with my mate’s wife. But David was David, he was bisexual, he was into all kinds of wacky shit, and they had a very open marriage. That wasn’t my thing, but I ended up being led down that path, and doing exactly what he wished for. I felt bloody awful about it, actually, and it still seems weird today. But Angie is still a close friend of mine.

When Deep Purple ended, were you distraught?

I wouldn’t call it distraught. I think I may have been hanging off the cliff myself. Let’s just say that the last Purple tour with Tommy, bless him, he and I were… not in a great place. It’s so sad what happened to him.

By his own admission, Glenn Hughes doesn’t remember very much of the 1980s at all. While dating a string of high-profile girlfriends, including The Exorcist star Linda Blair and former Runaways vocalist Cherie Curry, mounting drug addiction contributed to the collapse of a number of hugely promising projects for the singer, including Hughes/Thrall, a collaboration with Californian guitarist Pat Thrall, G-Force, a short-lived band with Gary Moore, and an ill-fated stint with Tony Iommi in Black Sabbath, following the release of the under-rated Seventh Star album. A proposed venture with former Europe guitarist John Norum fell apart too.

Aware of the singer’s problems, David Coverdale extended an offer to his old friend to sing backing vocals on Whitesnake’s Slip Of The Tongue album, paying him $25,000 and offering to help Hughes get clean. The vocalist wasn’t yet ready: by the end of the decade he was holed up in Los Angeles with five kilos of cocaine, dumped by a friendly local dealer after a deal went disastrously wrong.

“People would be coming to my house for six months afterwards just to smoke crack,” Hughes noted in his autobiography. “They’d bring piles of it, knowing that I’d be a great host to them. I was now becoming the guy in the robe at the end of [1997 film] Boogie Nights… you’d trip over cocaine in my house there was so much of it.”

Something had to give, and on Boxing Day, 1991, something did… namely, Hughes’ heart, following one drug binge too many.

Post-Deep Purple, is it true that Ozzy offered you the bass role in his Blizzard of Ozz band?

He did. And I said to him, Ozzy, I love you to death, but as much as I’d like to do this, with the greatest respect, I gotta sing and you’re Ozzy Osbourne, you don’t need another singer.

So you formed Hughes/Thrall in 1982, and made a great self-titled debut album. The band never got quite got off the ground. 

No. We sold one million copies of that record, but again, Pat and I had been bitten by the same bug, so when we went on the road, all the distractions – birds, booze, drugs, late nights – came back into play. I remember Gene Simmons said to me in 1979, ‘Do you have any idea what it’s like to wake up sober?’ and I said, ‘No.’ So yeah, we – Pat and I as a unit – weren’t able to sacrifice everything to tour, and so, understandably, CBS pulled the plug.

By your own admission you were becoming addicted to crack when you hooked up with Gary Moore. I didn’t realise that he’d hidden in your house in LA when he walked out on Thin Lizzy in the middle of the US tour for Black Rose

Yeah, he was hiding from Phil [Lynott]. Gary was staying with me, and after about three days, he said, ‘You know I’ve left the band?’ I said, What? He said, ‘Yeah, we’re supposed to be playing in Phoenix tonight. So if Phil calls, don’t let him know I’m here.’ And so, of course, Phil calls. [Puts on impressively authentic Phil Lynott accent] ‘If you’ve got him over there Hughesy…’ Don’t laugh, it wasn’t funny, you don’t want to piss Phil Lynott off! That wasn’t a fun situation. Gary and me eventually fell out… it’s a long story. Again, things weren’t right for me in the ’80s. We’ve been talking a lot today about the dark side of Glenn, but over the years it’s become very clear that I had to go through these things to live the life that I have today. When I talk about that other Glenn it’s a little uncomfortable, but I’m man enough to tell you the truth. I’m such a different person now.

Sabbath’s Seventh Star album was another great record, and another missed opportunity. You were fired less than a week into that tour, right?

Yeah. That was a mess. I’d just come out of the thing with Gary, and Tony [Iommi] and I had been best friends for a long time. That album was supposed to supposed be a solo album for Tony, with have a few songs from Rob Halford, a few songs from Ronnie [Dio] and a few songs from me, but I was the first one to go down to Cherokee Studios, where he was recording. Tony asked me to work on No Stranger To Love so I cut that song on the first night, and on the second night I wrote Heart Like A Wheel with Tony, and after we did that song Tony pulled me aside and said, ‘Would you like to sing on the whole album?’ So then we did the album, and we were in Atlanta and Don Arden, Sharon’s father, comes in and says, ‘For record sales and ticket sales, we need to call this Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi.’ I was, like, Hold on… I love and respect Sabbath, they’re dear friends, but what I’d sung had nothing to do with Black Sabbath. It’s a shame how that went down.

That story in your autobiography about a drug dealer leaving five kilos of cocaine at your home… There must have been times then where you feared for your life.

I don’t like to go over it, but let’s just say that in LA… I never made my drug use public, but some people knew me as a guy to hang out with. I ended up hanging out with some heavy people, people who would do horrid things to others, and guns were involved. I didn’t ask people for cocaine, but they would knock on my door in the middle of the night and say, ‘Can I leave this stuff here for a few days?’ I’d be thinking, Behind this cocaine, either someone is dead, or someone is going to be killed, because something bad has happened. I knew that, even though I was out of my mind. And so I never touched any of that stuff although it was in my presence, because I knew that if I touched it, I would be the next one dead.

My girlfriend at the time actually had a stroke on coke, and she was dying, and the cops came… I said, There’s a girl here about to die. I got on my knees with her, and I prayed and prayed. And she came around. And I thought, Okay, that’s it. We left in the middle of the night and went straight back to London. Like I said, the ’80s were a difficult period for me.

I’d be thinking, Behind this cocaine, either someone is dead, or someone is going to be killed

Were there periods where you genuinely didn’t care of you lived or died?

I was fearful of death. And I was also a man who knew that the next hit of crack could be my last one. I was having so many bad, paranoid moments where I was thinking, This is close to the end… That incident with my girl having the stroke stopped me for a little while, but I went back to it. By the end of the ’80s going into the ’90s I was thinking, It’s time for me to seek help.

And then [electronic duo] The KLF came along, and asked me to sing on their song America: What Time Is Love. I knew it would be a hit song, and I remember speaking to my girlfriend and said, I gotta get treatment here, to be ready for this. So I went home in December 1991 and I went to the Betty Ford clinic for an evaluation on Glenn Hughes. I made that first step to get help. But unfortunately it was Christmas Day, and they didn’t have any room for me, because it was chock-a-block with people getting sober. So I went home for Christmas, bought a big bag of coke and I had a heart attack on Boxing Day. It was horrible.

It seems slightly insane that you’d buy coke straight after a visit to a rehab clinic…

Well, I knew three years before that I was in trouble. My mum couldn’t help me, nor my dad, nor my band, nor my girlfriend… if you want to get clean and sober you have to have a mindset to do it yourself and I wasn’t there yet. But by Christmas of 1991 I was ready. And then I almost died that Boxing Day. I remember coming out of a stupor and looking in the mirror and I thought, That’s not me. I said to my girlfriend, Don’t let me sleep. She called an ambulance and I went to hospital, otherwise I’d have died. 

Was that the cut off point where you decided to get straight?

Yes. [Pause] Well, for a while… I went back and had another stab. I had a place in Amsterdam and I’d go hide there, and I was there on November 23, 1997 I had my last drink and my last line of coke. I knew I was really ill, and got in the ambulance and I told the guy, Oh, by the way, I’m not like the other guys you pick up, I’m not those guys. He got in the back and smarted smashing my arm and beating my leg, calling me all kinds of names - cocksucker, piece-of-shit, loser. He said, ‘You’re nothing special, you’re just another fucked-up addict.’ The arrogance of me to tell this guy that I was just a little torn up! He was like, ‘No, your life is about to end.’ He scared me to death, but he was right. It really brought me to my senses, and I thanked him later on. I knew then that this was the end of me using, the real end.

The Glenn Hughes story since getting clean and sober is a remarkable tale of redemption and resolve. The singer made a string of creditable solo albums in the 1990s, before hooking up again with Tony Iommi in 2005 for the guitarist’s second solo album, Fused, and recruiting Red Hot Chili Peppers men John Frusciante and Chad Smith plus Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell to play on his own 2006 solo album, Music For The Divine.

Hughes returned properly to the limelight in 2009 with Black Country Communion, the LA-based hard rock supergroup he formed with guitarist Joe Bonamassa, keyboard player Derek Sherinian and drummer Jason Bonham. Between the release of the band’s third and fourth albums, some of the best music of Hughes’ career, the singer formed California Breed with Bonham and guitarist Andrew Watt, releasing an excellent self-titled album before falling apart acrimoniously on-stage at a British festival. Since then, the singer has served as the frontman of hard rock supergroup The Dead Daisies, and toured his Classic Deep Purple Live show with great success.

Did getting sober feel like a whole new beginning to you?

It did. I met my wife Gabi two weeks after I got sober, and she’s the most amazing person in the world. Having that family orientation and then working with people that I adore and love allowed me to build a new Glenn. I don’t live on past glories, I live here, in this moment, and I don’t think about tomorrow or yesterday, I am absolutely at peace. I have no inner turmoil in my life now. I have been in so many awkward situations in my life, but underneath there’s my inner child, a quite normal kid, raised in the Black Country, an only child born to a working class family, born to be a rock’n’roll singer.

Black Country Communion have overcome some bumps in the road. Has it worked out like you hoped?

Well, I knew going into Black Country Communion that it wasn’t a full time thing. And fans need to know this, because there’s been so much gossip about this. Joe is a good guy, with a great kindness about him, and he said at the start, ‘You know Glenn, my whole life is my solo career’. I heard him say that clear as a bell, in January 2010, in Malibu when we started writing. When we finished the album I thought it was great, but I knew that there may not be any shows at all. And we all know that if the band could have had legs it would have been massive. We did some shows in 2011, and it was fantastic, and we’ve done fantastic things since. I love Joe dearly as a brother, he’s a magical guy.

I have never felt so damn good, physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally

Did you know from the start that California Breed would only make one album?

No. Andrew Watt is a very, very  talented guy, and I brought Jason in, and we made a great record with Dave Cobb in Nashville, and did two shows – the Gramercy Theatre in New York and The Whisky in LA. So then after the LA show I said to Jason, Right, we’ve got this tour booked, opening for Alter Bridge, and he said, ‘I can’t do it.’ I said, But the shows are on sale. He wouldn’t give me a reason why, but he said, ‘I just can’t do it.’ I felt responsible for those who had bought tickets, so we had no alternative to find someone else, but that’s when I knew the shit was going to be over, because the guy who replaced Jason [former Queens Of The Stone Age drummer Joey Castillo] was not the drummer we needed, as a person, and as a drummer. It divided me and Andrew, and I couldn’t be in that band one more minute after Planet Rockstock, that bloody gig which was a nightmare. That gig was awful, silly band stuff onstage, drinking and all kinds of cavorting. I wanted out of my own band right there and then. 

You’ve talked about not relying on nostalgia, but there must be a certain pride for you taking your Deep Purple songs on the road again.

It’s been wonderful to do, and I get offers to do this from all over the world. I’m a spiritual dude, and I believe at this time, currently, I have never felt so damn good, physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. I feel so conscious and present around the human race right now. I feel like I’m about to show the world who I really am, because I actually really like who I am. 

This article was first published in 2020.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.