Glenn Hughes on Deep Purple, vintage gear and 'the ever-present groove'

"Early 'Purple was a pretty dangerous stage to be on"

Glenn Hughes interview
Glenn Hughes, photographed in Italy in 2011
(Image: © Henry Ruggeri/Corbis)

BASS EXPO 2013: Glenn Hughes is one of an increasingly rare breed of golden era rockstar. From his early career with funk-tinged rockers Trapeze in the late '60s, to his time in MK III Deep Purple, to his explosive tenure with super-group Black Country Communion, he has built a reputation as a prominent bassist and vocalist - not to mention, his gift for the gab.

Like any lifelong musician, he's taken some flack during his career - not least from some MKI/II 'Purple fans who blamed him for introducing 'funk' to the band's sound in later years (he would say it's groove) - but when it comes to playing the music that he loves, Hughes has stuck resolutely to his guns.

Tony Iommi, David Coverdale, Ritchie Blackmore, Joe Bonamassa, John Frusciante, Gary Moore and John Norum have all served alongside the Black Country-born bassist/singer, so when MusicRadar tasked itself with looking for bassists that weren't shrinking violets, we knew just where to turn.

Read on to find out how Hughes learned to find the holes in the groove, how he was scouted by 'Purple and why he picked up the instrument in the first place...

How did you come to play the bass guitar?

"I was at school with [ex-Trapeze and Whitesnake guitarist] Mel Galley - RIP - he was my hero, but he didn't even know I existed. I was in short pants - I must have been 12 and he was 15. Over the course of the next few years we befriended each other. He joined a band called Finders Keepers, so when their bassist left in '68, he asked me if I would be interested in switching from guitar - my first instrument. I really wanted to play with him, so I bought a bass from the bass player of that group and I started to play. So my first bass was a Salmon '62 Fender J bass."

"It was the American stuff for me - James Jamerson. He was amazing"

When did it all click for you, in terms of developing your style?

"It would have been in Trapeze, on the Medusa album, when we became a trio. Take away the keyboards and you're left with the sparseness - and that's when I started to find the holes in the grooves and by the second album, You Are The Music... We Are Just The Band, I'd firmly found myself. Especially spending a lot of time in Detroit and Memphis, where Trapeze were basically living in '71/'72, so I buried myself in American rhythms. It was the American stuff for me - James Jamerson. He was amazing."

What was it about your playing that made you a good fit for Deep Purple in the early 70s?

"It's a fine line to walk here, because Deep Purple were more traditional, in-the-box, white rock 'n' roll. Trapeze were really heavy funk/groove/American, but 'Purple was distinctly British. They had really, really iconic players, like Lord, Paice and Blackmore, who were virtuosos on their instruments, both as soloists and as components for writing those songs in MK II.

"Here come MK III with me and David [Coverdale, vocals] and everyone knows I'm not Roger Glover - A) I can sing and he doesn't sing and B) Roger is a completely different bass player to me. He basically follows the riffs, pretty much, whereas I found those 'holes' on the first album [Burn], like Sail Away and Mistreated. It wasn't funky in Deep Purple, it was more groove-orientated. The word 'funk' has been thrown around, so much but that's a word that really belongs in American music."

YouTube :

Deep Purple - Sail Away

"Deep Purple were not silly. They were courting me for a year."

But it was you bringing in those American influences, right?

"Yeah. But Deep Purple were not silly. They were courting me for a year. The story is that they came to see me in numerous places in America and England - and I had no idea they were doing that, I was so naïve - so they knew the kind of bass player I was, they knew Trapeze were a different band, but they wanted something different in 'Purple. They wanted more bluesy - not funky - style, which I brought into it, along with the more melodic stuff on bass."

Glenn Hughes (left) with MKIII Deep Purple in 1973, shortly before the release of Burn.© Armando Gallo/ Retna/Retna Ltd./Corbis

What were you offering that they weren't seeing in other bassists?

"I think they were looking for a second singer - almost like a partnership. They couldn't really ignore my voice. I would not have joined, I wanna make this clear - and they know this - if I couldn't have sang. Then when David came in, it was so easy to work those vocal parts out. I really enjoyed the camaraderie onstage with those guys. Early 'Purple was a pretty dangerous stage to be on. You never knew when something was going to be thrown up in the air, or when something was going to blow up, so the thing for me was to keep that groove going on all the time - regardless of all the shenanigans onstage, bottles being thrown or whatever."

YouTube :

Glenn Hughes - Space High

"There's so many songs that have got some kind of Hughes-ism, I guess, or Glenn-ism"

What recording represents your best work - that groove?

"I think from my first solo album in '77 Play Me Out, Space High. It's got a real sort of low-end and a sparseness in the bass. I also think Satellite from First Underground Nuclear Kitchen in 2008, has a got a sparseness in the bass and a groove and a low end. And We Shall Be Free, again from that album. It's got that swagger in there. I think Mistreated and Sail Away [from Deep Purple's Burn] has got that stomp in there that's defining of early Glenn Hughes. There's so many songs that have got some kind of Hughes-ism, I guess, or Glenn-ism."

What's your go-to tour rig nowadays?

"I'm with Orange now. I met up with them at NAMM last year. I took a P Bass off the wall and plugged it into this AD200 Bass MK III and within five seconds I had what I consider to be that Glenn Hughes sound I had in 1970. That would have been Hi-Watt, which I toured all through 'Purple and I still have them, but I can't use them because they're vintage and wrapped up in cotton wool now. They say you can't go back. You can't repeat - and that's my motto - but I was pining for this bass sound I had in the early Trapeze and it was such a comforting feeling to hear those tones coming out of this amp. They asked me if I wanted like a purple one, or something, but I really like the orange colour - especially if you're a [Wolverhampton] Wolves fan, like me!"

What are your main effects?

"I also love my effects. I have this DigiTech bass synth wah bass envelope filter. I used two of them - one for that left-handed Mini Moog sound, that low-end bass Moog - and then I use one that's more of a neutral wah, very sort of groovy. I used to use that kind of thing in 'Purple, like the California Jam [live album]. I like just a few effects like that."

"Seeing Free in 1969shifted the planet, it shifted my whole life"

What about your bass guitars?

"The ones I've been using in Black Country are Bill Nash '57 Ps. I've got a white one and the red one you've seen in all of the videos and stuff. I also use a Bill Nash purple J Bass, a blue 1979 Rickenbacker 4001 that I got in St. Louis and Geezer Butler wants to buy from me, but he's not going to have it. I already gave him my red one from 'Purple. I said to him last Christmas, 'Could I possibly buy that bass back?' It was in 1975 that I traded that thing. And he said this [adopts thick Brummie accent]: 'I don't sell me basses.' And that was it! He said, 'You can come and look at it, if you like.'

"And then on a lot of records, there's a '65 P Bass in sunburst. Those are the ones I will use. I've also got a '62 J Bass, price tag still on it, with all of the original hardware, so that one's never leaving the house!"

YouTube :

Free - I'll Be Creepin'

Finally, the big question - what's your favourite bassline of all time?

"I'm going to tell you the story behind it. It would have been 1969 and Trapeze were playing Wolverhampton Polytechnic College, our hometown and we were opening for a band called Free. This was before All Right Now and I hadn't got a clue who they were. So we did our set and then we went outside to watch the headliner - and what happened next shifted the planet, it shifted my whole life. They opened with this song I'll Be Creepin' and half-way through the second verse, is this 'dum dum dum' sort of James Jamerson line. Andy Fraser just pauses for a moment and he misses a beat and then goes on to the next one. I thought, 'That's what I'm going to do for the rest of my life: I'll be a bass player.'"