By Jeb Wright
California Breed is a band that came forth from the ashes of one of hard rock’s greatest bands that shudda/cudda/wudda been huge, Black Country Communion.
Guitarist Joe Bonamassa wanted to keep BCC to a sideshow while other members, Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian, wanted to rock the world…live and onstage. Joe was just too damn successful in his solo career to make time for Black Country Communion and the band, unable to play live, simply shriveled up and died.
Now, Hughes and Bonham have hooked up with a 23-year-old songwriter/guitarist named Andrew Watt and created a new batch of tunes with a new band, called California Breed.
This is more rocking and rolling, party time, crank it up rock and roll, but unlike BCC, Cali Breed is a trio, which means more room for vocals, more room for smash ‘em up rhythms and a more concerted effort as the band must work harder to musically work together.
The self-titled debut is more of Glenn’s vision of rock and where he wants to be. He has Jason playing drums freer and fiercer than ever before, and that young guitar-kid…he rocks the riffs, start to finish.
Glenn spoke to Classic Rock Revisited for the first time since Black Country Communion’s untimely demise. He was open, honest and passionate about his current situation and hopeful for his band’s future. Once again, Hughes has positioned himself in the driver’s seat and seems headed to make a big noise. This time, it appears, the world of rock, or at least the world of Classic Rock, is ready to hear him out. Read this interview and then buy the album.
Jeb: We meet again. It is wonderful to see you and Jason [Bonham] carry on after the demise of Black Country Communion and create this new band, California Breed.
Glenn: The band broke up around the time we last talked. I didn’t tell you we had broke up yet, but you knew we had broken up. We broke up because Joe [Bonamassa] didn’t want to tour. I went home after that to the UK, and Jason and I spoke about things, and we decided to just see what would happen. What happened was that I met this guitar player named Andrew Watt through my friend Julian Lennon.
Jeb: Was it as simple as Julian saying you should check out this guitar player?
Glenn: Yeah, it was. I’ve known Julian a long, long time. We were at a party and he brought it up two or three times that I should meet this young man. I met him before I went home, and he looked and sounded interesting to me. I asked him if he had anything I could listen to, and a few days later he sent me some music when I was in Minneapolis after the Grammys. I heard a really great songwriter and a really different kind of guitar player. He took it away from the Blackmore/Iommi and Bonamassa-ish type of playing. He was more Mel Galley, Angus Young, right handed Gibson SG type of playing, rather than the Eddie Van Halen style, which would not work for me in this band. It just so happens that Andrew is 23 years old. He could have been 43 or 53, but he sure sounded right.
Jeb: I think the age difference can be a good thing. True music transcends age, race and everything else. I think that is what you’ve got with Andrew.
Glenn: I do too. He has a very mature head on his young shoulders. He was born and raised in New York City and he has been raised listening to Led Zeppelin and the Who. Of course, you know, Andrew was born in ‘90s, so he grew up listening to Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains.
It would have been stupid for Jason and I to go after another bluesy player like Joe. We also didn’t want to have any keyboards. As much as I love Hammond organ, for this band, I just didn’t want it. Just listen to the record, man. This band was begging for no keyboards. We did a lot of layering of keyboards in Black Country Communion and it was a very ‘80s way of doing things, but it just didn’t work for Jason and I in this band.
Jeb: Anytime Jason is in a band, there is that Zeppelin thing going on. It’s in his DNA.
Glenn: Less is more, and in a trio when one person overplays, the others have to underplay. When I would overplay, then Andrew and Jason would bow out, and when Jason overplayed, we would do the same. That’s the great thing about being in a trio…that’s the beauty of it.
Jeb: How did Andrew do playing with you old guys?
Glenn: I’ve got to be honest with you; it’s been a while since we have spoken. We got this off the ground last spring and we wrote “Chemical Rain” and “Solo” upstairs in my studio. The following day we went to Burbank to record with Jason. We’ve been sitting on this for 15 months. Over the last nine months, I have been quiet on the internet, and I have not been talking about this during that time at all. We knew we were going to release this, you know. Everybody has their own thoughts and what they want to say and what they don’t want to say. I am not interested in reading people’s comments. I am just interested in making music.
Jeb: I heard “Midnight Oil” and “Sweet Tea” and they are solid songs. I thought these songs were good, but not great. They were interesting. However, the song “The Way” blew me away.
Glenn: Radio chose those songs, “Sweet Tea” and “Midnight Oil” and they are good songs. “The Way” is great and we have made a video for that song. You know me well, Jeb, and you know that you just can’t put a finger on Glenn Hughes. I knew that I was not going to make an R&B album. I knew Jason and I would make a rock band together. When we were putting it together we had to ask, “Would this be with Slash? Or Steve Vai? Or Zakk Wylde?” The answer is ‘no.’ It never even crossed my mind because they were not available and also because I wanted something aggressive and something new. I needed somebody new to come in.
Jeb: What pushed you in that direction?
Glenn: I won’t say too much, but after Black Country broke up, it was kind of private, but some of my friends said that they could do some shows with Jason and me. It was really nice of them to say that, but I knew it would only lead to me wanting to do more with these guys, who were very famous guitar players. I knew if they sat in with Black Country that I would want to do more with them and they would not be able to do it, and it would be just like the scenario with Joe.
I met Andrew through my dear friend Julian and I really let my guard down and listened to what he was bringing to the table. When we wrote “Chemical Rain,” that is the first song he and I wrote in my studio, I knew then there was a good possibility that he could be in a band with me and Jason. We didn’t set it in stone, but the next day, when we jammed with Jason, we built upon that. I wanted to get together with the guys a few more times because, you know, after Black Country disbanded, I was really upset—I wasn’t angry, but I was very upset. I had to think, “Is this what I want to do? Is this what I want to put my life into?” By the middle of last summer, I knew it was what I wanted to do.
Jeb: How do you know Julian?
Glenn: I’ve known him since the ‘80s, but four years ago I met him at a party we played at. Julian and I reformed our friendship at that show. Since then, he’s seen me on tour and he’s done some things with me and we’ve had dinner and we’ve met each other in London and we’ve become good mates.
Jeb: When he said to ‘check the new guy out’, that is a pretty good referral?
Glenn: You know me more than a lot of other reporters, or friends, in the industry. You know that Afterglow was a very important album for me. The trials and tribulations with Joe were difficult. When the band disbanded I still wanted to be in a band. Frontiers Records came to me and offered me a solo deal and I said that I appreciated it, but I wanted to make a new band. I thought that Jason would be the drummer in that band. They said, “If you’re singing and Jason is playing drums, who will play guitar?” I said, “Leave that to me.”
A few more months down the line we met Andrew. I wanted to make a specific type of rock album. It was difficult for me think who would play guitar, if it was not going to be one of my famous friends, or Jason’s famous friends. It was not going to be Jimmy Page. It was not going to be Steve Vai. I would have loved to play with these guys…like Slash. I love to play with Slash, but they would all be available to play sporadically, but not all the time, and I wanted a band. We got the opportunity to have this young man cast into our lives. I really believe in fate. I am old enough and wise enough to know to get out of my own way and to let something greater than me—I am not talking about God- but rather the greater universal thing of getting out of my own way and letting things flow. I am ambitious. I am a workaholic, but I am not the type of person who can do 100 things at once. I like to do one thing and I like to do it 100%.
Jeb: Jason and you are playing very naturally together. The bass player/drummer relationship you have is very tight.
Glenn: It is none of my business what people say, or write about me, but I think John Bonham and Jason Bonham and I have this triangle thing here. You know, Jason knows his dad was a friend to me back in 1971. I was bouncing Jason on my lap as a child. I have a very private relationship with Jason. I am one of only a few people to have played with both Bonham’s.
Jason and I have an unstoppable rhythm section. I just had to get out of my way in 2012 and early 2013 and wait—not wait, but be ready to meet somebody. I got lucky in seeing my buddy Julian, and he kept on me to meet this guy before I went home, until I said, “Well, okay.” When I heard the music Andrew sent me, I heard a wonderfully talented New Yorker.
When I was in Deep Purple playing the California Jam I was his age, so I knew it was possible to have success at age 23. He is a wonderful right-handed guitar player like Paul Kossoff was. He has the Townshend type of right hand thing going on. He’s a great songwriter as well. I have a definitive idea with Jason, and while we didn’t know who it was going to be, we were looking.
Jeb: You said earlier that Andrew reminded you of Mel.
Glenn: I’ve got Mel’s Les Paul that he played in Trapeze. When Andrew saw that guitar in my studio he fell in love with it and he played it a lot. Andrew comes into town from New York and we spend a lot of time together.
The one thing about this band that is not Black Country -as you know Black Country was never a band- it was Joe coming to us when he had a moment to do something, which wasn’t very often. I want the rest of my career to be solo, with an orchestra, or with a band that is collaborative. It will be like Zeppelin in terms of collaboration. Even though Townsend wrote the music for the Who, he was very collaborative with the other members of the band and that is what I want. It is not my band, or Jason’s band or Andrew’s band…this is our band.
Jeb: Are all 13 songs on the album new? Were any left over from Black Country Communion?
Glenn: Oh no, oh God no. I will tell you the truth, bro. After I wrote the song “Afterglow” Kevin [Shirley] said to me, “Do you really want to title the album after that song? It’s very ominous.” I went, “Yeah.” By the way, after we released Afterglow I had a feeling that the album would never be toured. I had a feeling, and I thought that the song “Afterglow” would be the last song I did with Black Country.
I was the last person that wanted that band to go up in smoke. You know that. Let me tell you the truth, come June of 2012 to the end of the year, I didn’t write a lot of stuff. I was coming down from the demise. The end of 2012 was the demise of Black Country and I was not in the mood to do any writing. When Andrew came to my house the following March, that’s when I started writing. I wrote several songs the next week and I sent them to Andrew. He wrote back and said, “Can I help you finish these songs?” It took me one second to say, “Absolutely.”
Everybody thought that Black Country Communion was a band, but it really was not a band as Joe was gone for 360 days a year. California Breed is a band, and it is 100% what I want to be doing at this point in my life. Will this be what I do the rest of my career? I don’t know, but I can say, as a band, it is everything that I need right now.
Jeb: Why are you so passionate to be in a band setting, collaborating, instead of being in a Glenn-solo setting?
Glenn: Listen bro, I have never, ever minded sharing a microphone with anyone who can sing. I have tried to have Jason sing more. I loved having Joe sing with me. In Purple, I loved singing with David Coverdale. A band, for all intents and purposes, for the way I am right now…It is important for me to establish myself in band right now.
There are only a few in my peer group that have ever done really well as solo artists after being in a successful band. Sting did well after leaving The Police, but very few branch off from a band and have a successful career solo. I want to be in a great band with a great texture. It means more to the rock fans, you know. It is great to also share the love with other people. Look man, Zeppelin were really collaborative. My honor goes to the collaboration of musicians.
Jeb: You have music pouring out of you. If you look back to where you were in the ‘80s and then you look where you are now, it is a miracle.
Glenn: Look Jeb, as I look back on my life it is none of my business what people say or write about me, as long as I am being honest, relentless in the art form that I love, and having a great love for making music. I am not hidden behind a bottle, or crack, or fucking eating cake. All I want to do for the rest of my life is to be honorable and be a great husband and a good friend and a great band mate. I want to be a servant to the music that I really enjoy. I want to be a servant to collaborating with my friends. I love Jason Bonham, you know that.
Jeb: I have to say Jason is playing insanely good on this new album.
Glenn: I am talking to all the people out there right now at Classic Rock Revisited. I am talking to you out there…when you hear this album you will realize that Jason is playing the greatest he has ever done, and his father would be very proud of him. Would you say that’s correct Jeb?
Jeb: I will say there are times on California Breed like “The Way” and “Days That Come” where Jason is mind-blowingly good.
Glenn: “Days That Come” is our favorite track. You are one of only a couple who has mentioned that track in the 150 interviews I have done. That track is strong. When I wrote that song, I knew it would have that aggressive push and pull. It just came fucking out of me, man.
Jeb: You can’t say Jason copies John because that is his dad…
Glenn: I told Jason to split his drumming approach between Moon and Bonham. I wanted him to put some Keith in there. Jason, by the way, as good as he is, is also good at listening to people he respects. I’ve known him all his life. Jason and I are really big fans of each other. He knows the soul Glenn, the bluesy Glenn and the rock Glenn, and I am a big fan of his.
Dave Cobb (producer) captured it all perfectly. I really wanted Dave Cobb on this album. You put Dave in my life and all is well, man. You put Dave Cobb working with Kevin, who is a great producer…but he hated minor ninths and major sevenths. Minor ninths and major sevenths are all over Stone Temple Pilots, but they are played in a rock style. If you take them and put them in another style it can become very schmaltzy.
In Black Country there is only one major seventh and Kevin hated it, but I kept it in there. This album is begging and delivering major sevenths and minor ninths. Dave Cobb fucking loves these chords. These are Trapeze chords. Kevin took every one of those chords and took them out. Joe wouldn’t play them. I love Joe to pieces, and I have nothing but love for Joe, but he didn’t want to play those chords. Dave Cobb loved them. When you play them aggressively…this is good because I have never spoke of this in an interview. When they put these chords in STP and Scott [Weiland] sang them it was fucking great. I love them.
Jeb: The seventh is not unheard of in rock but the ninth is hard rock is not often heard.
Glenn: There is a major seventh in “Breathe” right before the chorus. I sing it, and even if there is not a ninth chord there, then I am going to sing a fucking ninth chord. That song screamed for me to put a ninth chord in that vocal.
I am a rock singer who embraces soul. Some people that you know who are famous have said, “Glenn, you can do it all. You don’t have to just be a rock singer because you’re a soul fucking guy.” My friend Myles Kennedy is a great guy, a real sweetheart and a great fucking singer. He played me a couple of things he has worked on and he put these minor ninths in there. He said, “Do you think I can do that?” I was like, “Of course you can.” If I believe so deeply in my heart in that chord sequence, that it is important for me, then I think I should do it. It is not like I am making a soul or R&B album, but it is what it is.
Jeb: A combination of putting this band together, with Andrew being the final piece of the puzzle, and the fact that you wrote your book—are these forces giving you a new freedom and passion?
Glenn: Here is what you need to know, and this is important for you to know as you were really special to me at the end of Black Country. When I left the band on September 17, 2012, because the band was not going to tour, I was really hurt. When management told me there was to be no tour, then I knew I could not stay. If you don’t tour in this day and age then you have no life.
My Mrs. and I went away to go on a trip and halfway through the trip I told her I needed to go home. I called Jason and we kept the flame alive. We didn’t know what to do and then we found Andrew. I wasn’t wise at age 23, but I am wise now, and I knew to get out of my own way. I know it’s going be dark soon and I know it is going to be light in the morning, and I know I am going to have a breath to breathe tomorrow, if I am still here.
All I am trying to say to you is that I live in the fucking moment. It broke my heart when Black Country Communion broke up, but when I was told by their manager that there would be no tour, was I supposed to wait around again and do another album? Are you out of your mind? Kevin said to me, “Maybe we can get together in 2014.” I said, “I don’t think so. I’ve done enough.” I was 60 years old when the band broke up. For all intents and purposes, we know how long a career can last in rock… Jimmy Page is 70 now. As long as my peer group, like Keith and Mick, are still going then I’ve got the right to be here as well. I am a very youthful 62-year-old dude, you know that. I have a voice that, for all I’ve done to myself, for all of the cocaine I’ve snorted and the booze and the chicks…I‘ve still got it. You will not, I repeat, you will not interview a more grateful man this year than me.
Jeb: I hear it in your voice.
Glenn: Left to my own devices, I was the spokesperson for Black Country. Joe was always really nice and kind to me and he was not a confrontationist, and I am not one either, but when I can’t speak to you for months and months at a time…I could not tell the press that. We can talk about it now. I knew the end was coming, and when I was told there was no tour... I was in London walking through Soho and I got the call. I called my manager and told him it was over. It wasn’t anger. It was like, “Finally, it’s done.”
Jeb: You sound as excited now about this band as you did when I interviewed you when you put Black Country Communion together for the first time. I hear that passion again.
Glenn: I ‘m going to be honest with you, when I was a solo artist and I was employing people to play with me everything was run by me. I always would reach out to my guitar player and keyboard player to bring them out front. I have never been the typical solo artist where it was all about me. I was not like that. Now I am in a band where I have chosen to be in that band like I am now with Andrew and Jason, then I feel that same way. Listen man, happiness is a perception. I say, “Choose fucking happiness.” A lot of people choose to be miserable. I chose to be happy.
I am very grateful to be able to make a living as a musician. I know how hard it is for people that can’t afford to do that and they have to work another job. I am very humbled that God has given me that gift to do what I can do. When I was doing crack, I wasn’t writing fucking songs, let’s be clear. When I got sober and clean, it took a couple of years, but I started to write like a bastard. I would say that for the last fifteen years of my sobriety I have attempted to write something every single day. I had songs coming out of my yin-yang with Black Country and with Cali Breed I think I came up with fifty ideas. Andrew came up with about the same, and Jason came up with a few, and we ended up with this album.
Jeb: Will Cali Breed tour?
Glenn: We are doing the Whiskey and we are doing a show in New York. Jason has some commitments. Before we started the touring schedule of this band, Jason signed up to do some stuff with Sammy Hagar and with Heart. I said to Jason, “You go do that and when you’re done with that in September we will see what we can do.”
We are planning Europe in September and we want America to follow. The great thing is that if we would have chosen the guy behind door number four, which would have been one of the famous people, we would have played four or five shows. They would have been great shows, but that is all there would be. As I said, people offered to do that. We almost thought about following through with that and then I met Andrew. When Andrew came to my house, as nervous as he was…let’s talk about people from New York City, born in Manhattan… they have a certain element of fucking attitude. Andrew is a really fucking great young man. He is smart, musical and he is a great singer. This kid can sing and he can fucking write some music.
Jeb: Isn’t some of his stuff more singer/songwriter than rock band?
Glenn: Let me tell you, that kid is fucking talented. His dream was to play in a rock band. Now he is playing with two of his fucking heroes. He is believable in this band. His first love is this kind of music. On the other hand, he has a great Americana Jeff Buckley way of writing. We may get into some of that on the next record, we may change it up a little bit. You know I am very musical and that I can write all kinds of stuff. We write all the time. We are writing some really fucking ‘out there’ songs.
With radio, so many people have their own idea and that we can have one or two singles. They know what they want and we are like, “Okay, here… choose.” What is going to propel this band is not radio, it is the tour. That is the difference between yin and yang. It is like, “Is Glenn finally going to get his wish?” I am not watching the clock tick away, but I am a very realistic man. I am a mover and shaker and I am going to be seen whether it’s with an orchestra, solo or in a band. That band right now is California Breed. If you have not heard this record by Cali Breed then you won’t know what I’m talking about. You’ve all got to hear it.
Jeb: Is there a plan for the USA? We are the toughest place to get a tour…
Glenn: We know that. The reality is that we could go play some shows, or we could get on a tour and open for somebody. Now, we don’t know at this point which way it will be. It will have to be the right act. It is being worked on as I speak to you. The right act has come to us, but we have to see if it will work. Will Jason and I open for a band? Are you kidding me? We will as long as they are a great band and are nice people. We need to play to as many people as possible. This band live is fucking shit-hot. And these songs---oh by the way, we plan on playing every fucking song live. What are we going to do?’ Play a Zeppelin set? I will tell you what we are going to do…we’re rehearsing every fucking song.
Jeb: It would be cool to throw a Trapeze or a Zep or something.
Glenn: We are talking about all of that as we speak. I was with Jason and Andrew a while ago, and we were just going over the songs, because we decided not to have a fourth guy and to keep it a trio. A trio is the shit.
I have this great new pedal called Black Cat that has this insane thing... When I throw that pedal on, it gets huge, like when we do “Chemical Rain,” it sounds like ten guitars. Listen man, the Who, even when they were playing Tommy, there were three people on stage. On the album, there were all kinds of overdubs, but ‘live’, it had holes. Guess what? I want to hear holes in the music. I love sparseness. I don’t always want to hear a million notes. I want to hear something raw, and I want to hear something unique.
I am telling you that Jason has a great fucking voice, and I will get him to sing more. Andrew is going to overwhelm people when they hear him sing. I am the singer of this band and that’s the way I want it to be, but he’s got a great voice and I want to feature him live.
Jeb: Last one: You and Jason have a special relationship. He has really come out of his shell. After he did the Zeppelin gig, he seems to have gained a lot of confidence.
Glenn: You should be talking to Jason about this, but when I saw him play at The Greek in L.A., he did a real homage to his dad with his Zeppelin show. It is not a career for him, but it is him paying respect to his dad. He does it well, and he does it appropriately.
Jason has had to live all through his life with being a Bonham, and it is a heavy weight to carry. His dad, away from all the drinking, was a lovely man.
Jeb: Did he change after he played with Robert and Jimmy at the Led Zeppelin gig for Ahmet Ertegun?
Glenn: Look, look, I’ve known Jason a long time. When he got sober 13 years ago…listen man, there are people like Jason, Steven Tyler and me…when we were drinking and we went nuts and we were on the roof naked, there was nothing we could do musically to make you pick your ears up. When people get some sobriety under their belt, and they get real again, then shit happens.
I saw Jason play drums when he was four years old, and he played like he was a fifteen-year-old. He’s a gifted player and he has his dad in him. This is the first time Jason Bonham has been himself. Nobody is happier about it than me. Dave Cobb gave that gift to all of us. We really pushed Jason. With Kevin, I think Jason underplayed a lot. We pushed Jason, we fucking pushed the shit out of him on this album and it was great. It was really, truly wonderful.
Jeb: Really one more…you are known for being outspoken and the people on the internet have lashed back at you. Are you more gun shy now?
Glenn: The Internet is a fierce place. You have to be a strong dude to be on the Internet. The stuff they write about us…not just me but the others like Jimmy and Robert, others from our generation, it’s brutal. They are talking about my hair now because I have this point in my hair now. So what? Maybe I will shave my head. Love us or hate us, but spell our name right.
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