Best known for his work with seminal rock teams Trapeze and Deep Purple, bassist and singer GLENN HUGHES is now a Christian. He spoke to Mike Rimmer.
I first discovered Glenn Hughes when he was bassist in Deep Purple. As a 70s heavy rock fan, it was hard to ignore Purple. When they split in 1976 I followed the various members' solo careers. Richie Blackmore had Rainbow, David Coverdale and Ian Gillan formed Whitesnake and Gillan. And bass player Glenn Hughes? Well, he was always different! This boy had soul!
His 1977 debut solo album was a feast of spaced out funk and soul and quite a surprise to a heavy metal fan like myself. It was enough to make me hunt down more of his music. To be a Glenn Hughes fan was a frustration. You could either delve around the racks of second hand shops in the hope of digging up one of his long deleted albums as a member of Trapeze, or you could keep hoping that one day he would release a new album. In 1982 he teamed up with Pat Thrall for the Hughes/Thrall project which spawned one album and then rumours of drug addiction and musical silence.
That all changed in 1993. A new Glenn Hughes album! I was shocked. The shock didn't end there: on returning home and devouring the sleeve notes, Glenn Hughes was giving glory to Jesus for "shining divine light into my life". Time to investigate...
A few months later. I am sitting in the reception area of Walsall's Practice Pad where Trapeze are getting ready for some local warm up dates and a six week American tour. Roadies, musicians and management types wander around taking care of business. In the middle of the hubbub, Glenn Hughes enters, greets me with an outstretched hand and I am ushered into their rehearsal area for a chat.
Trapeze have had their early 70s albums re-released and Hughes is confident about the band. "It's better now than it was," said Glenn, "although back in the 70s it was very, very good. I can honestly say that playing now, these songs are just as vibrant as they were and I don't consider them to be dated whatsoever. This is Trapeze and this is the way it is and this is the way we sound."
Originally Hughes left Trapeze to join Deep Purple in 1973. This move catapulted him to the premier league of rock bands. "I left Trapeze for all the wrong reasons," said Hughes. "I left for money, I left for a quick fix of a lot of money. Whereas in Trapeze I was basically the leader of the band and the heart and soul of it, with Purple I was just another member. I missed playing with Trapeze."
As a member of Deep Purple, Glenn recorded three albums, 'Burn', 'Stormbringer' and 'Come Taste The Band'. His influence was to give the group a funkier edge taking them away from the solid heavy rock for which they were famous. Commented Hughes, "I did tell the band when they hired me that they were hiring a different type of bass player and singer. I told them I would be changing the sound of the band."
The final line up of Deep Purple split in 1976 and he made a solo record, "Play Me Out", which could not have been further away from the sound of Deep Purple. "I was listening to a lot of black music and I was also going through a period where I had just broken up with a girl who'd done some damage to my brain. Hence a lot of the songs are blue and very sad. But it's a great record. I like all the album but I choose not to play it live because I was in a pretty weird state of mind back then and a lot of that stuff was played under the influence and although I love hearing it, I don't care to play it."
The 80s were not a prolific time for Hughes. The Hughes/Thrall project was probably his best effort, but recordings were scarce and live appearances were rare. Hughes' intake of drugs and alcohol increasingly dampened his creative ability and the downward slide continued for more than a decade. "I could still perform in the studio but I wasn't really capable of doing it live. I never came out and played live because I didn't want to bring my fans out to see this tired sick man."
Hughes' drugs problems seem even more incredible when you consider that one of his best friends, rock guitarist Tommy Bolin, died from heroin addiction in 1977. Didn't he learn any lessons from that tragedy? "I can only tell you this, if you're very heavily into drugs you can actually be sitting next to somebody who is dying and not realise it. I've actually been in a room where someone overdosed and people were still passing drugs to each other over this guy's dying body. So it's an awful sickness, a disease that creeps up on you and I label it demonic possession because when you first get sober and clean, you have this voice in your head that says, 'maybe just one drink won't be so bad' and that's the Devil. I have learnt that you just have to ignore that voice. It goes away as you get cleaner."
Hughes' recovery from drugs coincided with chart success. In 1991, his unlikely pairing with rave band KLF won him a new set of fans. "They were looking for the 'Voice Of Rock!' and I guess they were looking for Roger Daltry or Robert Plant and they had me come down," said Glenn. "I asked them how many tracks of vocal they had left and they said five and I used all five and said pick which one you want." KLF were very enthusiastic and asked Hughes to appear in the video which he did. "America, What Time Is Love?" was a huge hit.
Hughes did not capitalise on the success of the single because he was going through a recovery programme at the Betty Ford clinic. He had checked in after receiving guidance from God. "Christmas Day 1991, I was praying as I always do every day and I asked God to take away the obsession of using drugs and alcohol because I was very, very ill and I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. A clear message came to me and I checked into the Betty Ford clinic and started a real heavy programme of recovery."
Recovering from drugs is a day-to-day recovery for the rest of his life. For that first year, Glenn stayed close to the Betty Ford Centre and did as much work as he could with the new patients. He continues to help and sponsor addicts to come off drugs. "I want people to know that this disease called alcoholism and drug addiction is not fun. For me, it was killing me and I chose to live."
God saved Glenn's life by delivering him from drugs and alcohol. "It's not the music that keeps me alive, it's the inner breath of God which saved my life. It really is, it's very deep." His experience of God is reflected in the lyrics to his newer songs. The 'Blues' album contains "A Right To Live" which is about the time when Hughes was using a lot of drugs. "In the song I was closing the door on a chapter of my life and saying, 'That's enough of this, I have a right to live and I am a human being who has a right to say no.' You know 'No' isn't really in my vocabulary, that's the addict inside of me. I've had a problem with food, with sex, drugs, now I am very proud to say that I am recovering and I am going to be recovering for ever but the thing is I am now a very focussed human being."
Time is split between helping other people, what he calls "service work" and his musical career. He belongs to a church in America which he describes as "a regular Christian church, a very up and happy church with lots of young people." He attends church when he is at home and on the road he tries to maintain a regular prayer life. "You can find me on my knees in any given moment, at any time of day."
The title track of his new album 'From Now On' is a statement of faith. "It's not a musical statement, it's about how from now on my love will be stronger, my faith will be stronger, my soul will be stronger. It's a healing song of sorts, it's another chapter of my life. Every day of my life is a gift from God, it's the gravy now for me."
One of the most beautiful songs on the album, "If You Don't Want Me To", was inspired by Hughes' contact with a fan from Plymouth. Alysson Hambly was dying from cancer and her last wish was to meet Hughes. "I called her and started to write to her but she was dying rapidly. Immediately I began writing the song which is about facing God and being brave in the face of death. And I asked her if she wouldn't mind if I could hold her and of course she loved it. I demo'd the song and sent it to her but she had gone into a coma. When they played her the demo she would smile. They played the song at her funeral. I didn't do it for any other reason than to help this poor girl and she really did appreciate it. It's my favourite song on the album. It's my service work again, I do believe that God put me on this earth to help people, maybe I helped this lady in a special way."
Hughes always believed in God but I wondered whether his prayers had changed since becoming a Christian. "I am rejoicing in the fact that I am alive today. I used to ask God for all material things but since I got saved the only thing I ask for is the prolonged life and happiness of my family and how I can help my friends who are suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction. I have made some sort of agreement with God that as long as I am living and breathing I will do his work, whatever that is."
Working in rock music, there are still pressures. "A guy said to me in New York two weeks ago, 'Why don't you just have one smoke on my joint?'. I said, 'One smoke will lead me to having many drinks and sniffing cocaine and I'll end up dead in a tube station.'" In times of pressure Hughes calls on God. "I talk to God all the time, all day long. I say to him every day, 'Thank you God for dying on the cross to save me,' because he saved me, I was this far away from mental insanity. People look at me and say, 'You've lost five stone, you look 10 years younger than you did. You're vibrant. You're happy.' All these things weren't around before, I was very sick."
Glen Hughes will be touring Europe in the summer playing solo shows that will feature music from all eras of his recording career. A couple of days after I met him, I had the opportunity to see Hughes in concert with Trapeze. The gig took place on home territory in a Midlands club and Hughes was glad to be back and in excellent voice. He is not in the habit of making statements of faith from the stage but just occasionally he will slip in an aside during a song and even closed the show by introducing himself as "born again Glenn Hughes". Hughes doesn't want to ram the message down anyone's throat but even such low-key comments have their place. As I left the gig I heard fans in the car park discussing the radical change faith in Christ has made to his life. From now on...Glenn Hughes is getting stronger.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.