THE MAVERICKS - Classic Rock Sept/Oct 1999 - Issue 6
Soldier Of Misfortune
Pages 38 - 42
By Dave Ling

His roles in Deep Purple and Black Sabbath have flitted from the sublime to the ridiculous, but the exploits of Glenn Hughes rarely fail to entertain. A former alcoholic and cocaine addict of twenty years' standing, he's been accused of murder, trying to upstage his bandmates and even breaking Gary Moore's scales. Now clean and sober for seven years, the vocalist/bassist is gradually re-building his life and career. In the third of our mavericks series, he tells Dave Ling his cautionary tale...

London, England - On my way to meet Glenn Hughes, I passed the London hospital where Victoria Adams and David Beckham's child had just been born. Paparazzi snappers forced passers-by off the pavement, their long lenses praying for a curtain to twitch. Witnessing such a circus first hand prompted some contemplation upon the insanity of fame, and the joys and tragedies it can cause. As a member of Deep Purple in the 1970's, Glenn Hughes fleetingly experienced a more transient but no less extreme type of super stardom, and although two decades later the singer/bassist fins himself infinitely less newsworthy, his fascinating story should educate as well as entertain. Blessed with a voice to charm the birds from the trees, Hughes is a wayward talent in the mould of George Best, Oliver Reed or Hurricane Higgins. He took all the excesses that the '70's and 80's could throw at him and played with some of the biggest names of both decades. Although he has wasted the best years of his life, The Voice of Rock, as he has been dubbed, still makes music and, although objective enough to appreciate that lightning rarely strikes twice, Hughes retains the hunger to do it all over again.

"The alcoholic in me will always want more. I've got fifty gold and platinum albums, but I know I'm incredibly lucky to have come through all those things with not just my talent but my life intact," he says. "If that helps just one person to avoid my mistakes, I've succeeded. This will sound pompous, but I've never had any competition. There's no other white male singer who combines rock, soul, funk and jazz like I do. I'm singing better now than when I was in Deep Purple. I have been given the gift."

Glenn Hughes was born on 21st August, 1953, in Cannock, Staffordshire. Named after Glenn Miller, he briefly followed his namesake by playing trombone. Hughes left school at 15 to play guitar in local bands the in Pack and The News, before switching to the bass for his third band, Finder's Keepers. He made his first vocal appearance on record in inauspicious circumstances in 68 on Finder's Keepers third single, 'Sadie(The Cleaning Lady)'. "It was just backing vocals on this fucking horrid song, complete with George Formby banjo," he recalls with distaste. However, Finder's Keepers also featured guitarist Mel Galley and drummer Dave Holland, with whom he would form his next band, Trapeze. They quickly inked a deal on the Moody Blues' label, Thresold, and found themselves supporting the Moodies in the States. "We'd been playing to two hundred people in England and my first American gig was to 18,000 people in San Francisco. And by the time the tour finished in Los Angeles in Christmas, 1970, I was a cock-sure 18-year old who was full-on addicted to playing those types of places."

Other types of dependence would follow, of course, but let's not jump the gun. Hughes' life was to change forever when Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice turned up to see Trapeze in November '72 at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in Los Angeles. Two months later, Lord, Paice and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore were spotted in the crowd at a show at London's Marquee. An offer to replace the clearly Ian Gillan followed, but, as with similar proposal to join the newly formed Electric Light Orchestra a year earlier, Hughes initially declined.

"Trapeze were just about to crack it when I was asked to join Purple, But Trapeze's management and the band's backbone could have been stronger," he explains. "Purple had three albums in the Top 40, so I suddenly saw lots of money. I saw them play New York's Madison Square Garden in May and although I saw an Ian Gillan that was unhappy and a Roger Glover that was about to get fired, I thought they were great. So I agreed to join, although I made it clear that I would not be the guy who came in and sang 'oohs' and 'aahs'".

The choices of a complete unknown, David Coverdale, replacing Gillan at the mic, and bassist Hughes providing vocal backup were to prove inspired - in the short-term, at least. The new lineup's first album, 74's Burn', was a huge success, reaching #3 in Britain and #9 in the U.S.A. With the acclaim came money, fame and , as often occurs in these situations, a drug habit. Hughes says he had witnessed cocaine abuse for years before indulging, because he was unsure of its effect. "In Houston, Texas, somebody gave me this bag of white powder. I kept it in my guitar case for a couple of weeks until a bird I was with asked me if I had any drugs. So we sniffed this coke, and in two minutes I was sitting on her lap, telling her my life story, crying and babbling. Afterwards, I wanted to feel like that again.

"I was never into smack," Glenn clarifies, "I never smoked pot or did mandrax, I always wanted to be on the moon. So I became a coke fiend, and coke was pretty much pure in the 1970's. It made me feel superhuman - I could drink more brandy, but one would counteract the other and I could stay up all night - but it wasn't pretty and I did some stupid things. In later years I've apologized to Jon, Ian and David, but I've not spoken to Ritchie yet."

Once ensconced in the ranks, however, he decided to make his influence felt. "Purple were hugely successful, but they were so unhappy" reflects Hughes, "so I saw this as a green light for me - this new , younger, long-haired cat who was so full of himself - to come in and just take over. A little bit!"

He freely admits that he fancied Coverdale's lead singer's role. "Of course I did! And the pressure wasn't on me, it was on David." Some hilarious video footage exists of Hughes with Blackmore's eventual replacement, Tommy Bolin, patting their stomachs behind a somewhat tubby Coverdale as he stood at the mic in Japan. "It's frighteningly funny," he winks. "I think Ian and Jon would have accepted me as the singer, but the guitar player had had his sights set on Paul Rodgers. Apparently, Rodgers' response was, 'Why would you want me when you've got Glenn Hughes?' Which was a real compliment. So they got David instead."

In later years there was considerable tension between Hughes, with his love of funk and blues, and the aforementioned 'guitar player', Ritchie Blackmore, who was so opposed to the more soulful direction of the 'Stormbringer' album that he quit the band in disgust. Yet things had begun amicably enough.

"Ritchie asked me to stay at his house and took me under his wing because he wanted to be my pal," states Hughes. "While there, he and I wrote the early part of 'Mistreated', and he said the immortal words, ' I think you have the capability to be better than Paul McCartney, you could be the next big bass player/singer.' But when I started to be Jon and Ian's friend too, Ritchie didn't dig that he wanted me to himself. So the walls went up."

Hughes' friendship with Blackmore ended suddenly when he over-stepped over the line -literally. "Down by the drums there was a mark which he told people not to cross, or he'd hit them with his guitar, and that's exactly what Ritchie did," Glenn says. "He meant it, man, he came after me a couple of times." He still recalls the moment when he knew that Blackmore would quit. "For Ritchie, 'Stormbringer' was the final straw," maintains Glenn. "Coverdale and I had written the song 'Holy Man' and I asked him to play some slide guitar. He just looked at me strangely, used a screwdriver to play the part and left the room. I knew he'd never come back."

Ignoring Tommy Bolin's immense talent for a moment, when Purple recruited the young American to replace the Rainbow-bound Blackmore, it was to lead indirectly to their eventual demise. Prior to deciding upon the former James Gang/Billy Cobham guitarist, Purple had unsuccessfully auditioned ex-Humble Pie man Clem Clempson, and disillusionment was setting in. "At that point I was partying a lot with David Bowie," remembers Glenn. "Bowie was doing his 'Station To Station' album, and we talked about doing a record together, with him producing. But them Tommy arrived and Purple started happening again."

While Lord, Paice and Coverdale all enjoyed a drink or twenty, in heroin addict Bolin, Hughes found a social partner. The partying pair wasted little time in finding an apartment to share. "Tommy and I were abusing together and it began to get out of control. The band sent me in for treatment while we made 'Come Taste The Band'(1975), and I never got to play on the first track, 'Coming Home', because I freaked out in Munich."

The world tour to promote the next album ultimately proved fatal to one of the band's inner circle, and Bolin too was living on borrowed time. Purple had been offered a huge fee to play in Jakarta, Indonesia. After the first show the promoter sent a few prostitutes up to my room, and a couple of roadies began to fight over one of these girls," recalled Glenn in 1989. "One , who we called Paddy The Plank, hit the other one, Patsy Collins, and Patsy stormed out of the room only to be found dead. He'd fallen down a liftshaft."

Hughes, Paddy and another crew member were arrested for murder, and the bassist was only allowed to leave jail for the second show at gunpoint. "They wouldn't let us out of the country until we'd paid back all the money from the shows. I smelt a set-up. Afterwards, our lawyer flew in to sort it out, but he was met at the airport by a bunch of officials wielding machetes and guns. We had to forget it."

Worse still, Bolin had taken some dodgy morphine in indonesia, lain awkwardly on his arm during the night and cut off the blood supply to his hand. In Tokyo, where they would record a performance for the 'Last Concert in Japan' album, the guitarist playing had become, to quote Hughes, "diabolical." He adds: "We were so drunk on pina coladas!"

Although Hughes recalls a "barnstorming" gig in Leicester on that tour's British leg, by the time it concluded at Liverpool Empire in March '76, things were at an all-time low. Hughes hadn't sleep a wink for five days, and Bolin was furious that fans were calling out for Blackmore.

"In Glasgow I thought I was dying, I couldn't get my breath onstage," he recalls. "I refused to do the encore of "This Time Around' and Jon Lord had to literally drag me back on. At that infamous Liverpool show I was on my last legs - I couldn't even stand. I was making farmyard noises. The band was over and we all knew it. I didn't particularly want to be there anymore anyway, I wasn't even happy to be in my own skin." Shortly afterwards, Bolin, by then also a solo artist, perished from a drug overdose in Miami. Hughes still regards the death as suspicious, believing his best friend was wiped out for insurance money. To this day he still claims to spiritually converse with Tommy. In 1977, Glenn resurfaced with is 'Play Me Out' solo album, a funk-flavoured oddity that was all but ignored. Although he followed it two years later with 'Four on the Floor', Hughes admits that a good five years were wasted holed up in his Beverly Hills mansion "eating, drinking, tooting coke and being a lazy bastard".

Several efforts to kick-start his career followed, including joining Gary Moore in the prototype G-Force (until he got wasted at his birthday party in Los Angeles and fell into the cake trolley, dislocating his arm - "I resigned from the band on the spot""). In '82, he formed Hughes/Thrall with former Pat Travers Band guitarist Pat Thrall. The resulting self-titled album deserved to be massive, but the pair's drug-addled state and record company indifference intervened ("the president of the label said, 'This albums's so good we don't need to promote it' -- so they didn't".)

Putting the cake trolley incident behind him, Moore invited Glenn to join him for his 'Run for Cover' album. Fox six years Moore had been suggesting they work together, but the association was quickly absolved, Gary claiming to have sacked the singer and Hughes purporting to have resigned in protest over not being able to promote his other project, Phenomena. In the mid-80's, Hughes was in awful shape - mentally and physically. The pipes were intact, but the years of over-indulgence had taken their toll. "The guy's got fabulous voice, but a lot of personal problems," Moore told journalist Dante Bonutto. "He weighs 17 stone or whatever and was pretending he was dieting. We'd come down for breakfast and find he'd eaten half the food out of the fridge during the night. He'd have breakfast and have another breakfast and then you'd catch him sneaking into a sweet shop to buy six Mars bars. It was a great opportunity for him, but he totally fucking blew it." "Gary knew what he was getting when he took me on at that time," theorizes Glenn in 1999. "I was overweight and untogether. I let the team down."

Mere months later, the tale repeated itself when Hughes replaced former male model David Donato as Black Sabbath frontman. Although the album 'The Seventh Star was respectable enough, things fell apart acrimoniously on the road. Hughes made his live debut with Sabbath in Cleveland on March 21, but, although a bodyguard had been hired to keep him on the straight and narrow, he was sacked by the end of the month. "Glenn's screwed up again, " explained guitarist Tony Iommi afterwards, "his voice just went. We got doctors in every day and sent him everywhere to sort things out, but we couldn't stop him doing whatever he wanted."

Hughes insists that he was drug-free during the Sabbath debacle, blaming his vocal incapacitation upon a blood clot at the back of his throat sustained after a punch-up at the Cat & Fiddle pub in LA. It says much, though, that Sabbath had replacement Ray Gillen waiting in the wings.

"I didn't know Ray was around, but it was not my time to be in Black Sabbath," maintains Glenn today. "I wasn't playing bass and I was unprepared for their back catalogue, but things are fab between Tony and myself now. I've recorded a track for his solo album and there's unfinished business."

There were just too many blots in Hughes' copy book, so in May 1989, he went to the press to claim he had undergone " nine months of abstinence." His pleas for forgiveness appeared in RAW magazine in what would be the first of several 'boy cried wolf ' style interviews. "I never thought I had a drug problem, then last summer I woke up," he told writer Mark Putterford. "It took me 16 years - 16 stupid years !!-to realize what an asshole I'd been and to see that my career was going down the toilet." But he was fooling himself, and nobody else believed it either.. In subsequent years, at Coverdale's invitation, Glenn sang backing vocals on Whitesnake's 'Slip of the Tongue' album, and there were at least two other aborted projects, one with Asia's Geoff Downes. But to the eyes of the world, the career of Glenn Hughes was finished. The turning point finally came on Christmas Day, 1991. "I was coked out of my brains - couldn't breathe, walk or talk," Glenn recalls with a sign. "I had a moment of clarity and said to my girlfriend, I'd better go to the hospital. The doctor told me that oxygen wasn't getting through to my brain and if I'd stayed home, I'd have died. For the past three years I'd been asking for God's help so I took it as a sign."

In 1992, two fascinating yet unlikely opportunities were to present themselves. Funk legends Earth Wind And Fire asked him to play with them ("they said they'd never heard anyone sing with the power and soul of this English bloke, but I was newly sober and being pulled in many directions."). The catalyst turned out to be British dance band the KLF, with whom he guested on hit single 'America: What Time is Love?'. The band - who first christened him The Voice of Rock - approached Hughes as he checked out of the Betty Ford Clinic. Their intervention proved timely. "In that viking outfit on that fucking longboat in the video down at Pinewood Studios I knew it was gonna be Top Ten," he told me shortly afterwards. "I could feel the success starting to happen. And I knew if the KLF thing happened I'd either go out on a crazy drug binge after it and die, or I'd get off my arse and do something with my life."

Fortunately, It was the latter, Gradually, with a diverse selection of albums like Blues(92), 'From Now On..'(94), 'Feel'(95) and 'Addiction'(96), Hughes has managed to claw back some credibility. His latest release, 'The Way It Is' (reviewed in issue Four), is another fine effort, yet it offers little in the way of continuity. "I know that confuses some people, but others like the variety" he shrugs. "It's not deliberate, and I'd love to make the album that people expect from me - taking the hard funk of Trapeze into the late 90's - but I was under the misapprehension that my label(SPV) didn't want that from me. I now know better, so next time, who knows?"

Now seven years clean and sober, Hughes even made his peace with Gary Moore a year ago after a chance meeting in a Stockholm bar. "Gary said some horrid things about me like I'd broken the scales at his house, and even though some of it was bullshit I never retaliated. Now I'm eleven and a half stone again. Gary was drunk off his arse, we'd not seen each other for over ten years and he didn't even recognize me, the former chubby, greasy, sweaty guy. I was groovin' on the role reversal! But we hugged, I apologized and he started to cry. If he asked me nicely I'd sing with him again."

"But it's taken me a long time to get some dignity back in my life, and for people to want to be around me again," he concludes. "With cocaine, you'll destroy your life, your career and your family. Believe me, it's the truth."