Hard-hitting new rock band California Breed, comprised of legendary vocalist-bassist Glenn Hughes, drummer extraordinaire Jason Bonham and 23-year-old newcomer guitarist-singer-songwriter Andrew Watt, have just released their self-titled debut on Frontiers Records. Mixing massive riffs, gutsy vocals and gale force rhythms, California Breed was produced by Dave Cobb (Jamey Johnson, Rival Sons, Shooter Jennings), and was recorded at his Nashville studio and features equal co-writing credits among the three-man lineup.
The LA band will perform their first-ever U.S. show on Wednesday, May 28 at the Whisky A Go Go and their first New York City show will be Saturday, May 31 at Gramercy Theatre. The band will announce their U.K., European and U.S. tours soon.
Glenn Hughes, ‘The Voice Of Rock’, is a true original, a legendary icon whose credits include Deep Purple and guesting with everyone from Black Sabbath to Earth, Wind & Fire — up to his most recent collaboration in rock supergroup Black Country Communion. No other rock musician has carved such a distinctive style blending the finest elements of hard rock, soul and funk. That astonishing voice is Hughes’ calling card.
We caught up with Hughes just hours after news broke of his heart surgery last year – an emotional event he had previously been able to keep out of the news. The surgery is discussed, but true to his style, Hughes moves on to all things NOW and proudly talks about California Breed and his partners in rock, Jason Bonham and Andrew Watt.
Glenn, it’s great to catch up with you. How are things going?
I’m doing good, man! I’m really grateful to have made this album with these two guys. In a time where rock music is … where is rock going? Let’s be clear – where are bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, the Who, the Rolling Stones these days? I want to start this out by saying I’m 62 years old. Everyone knows the things I’ve done, the records I’ve sold. For me to make this kind of album … I’m not trying to be retro, I am. This music we’ve made is appropriate.
As notorious as your career is, we all know you don’t sit still very long, either.
God no. I’ve been very busy. I’m one of the people that’s very grateful to still have a career and still be alive.
As the news just broke of your heart surgery, does this project hold more weight emotionally than anything else you’ve done?
You’re the first person I’ve spoken to since this news broke and I want to address this. It was difficult for me last year when I knew I was going … it was a matter of hours before I was diagnosed with a really faltering aorta. Remember John Ritter? His aorta tore on set. Whenever anything happens like that to your aorta you’re just dead. When they pulled my aorta out, it was so overblown. I am possibly the most grateful man you’ll talk to this year. You know I’m a songwriter. I don’t really write about fictitional things. Now we know what I was writing about – it was a lot about my condition health-wise. Let me tell you, it was OK to sing in December and I was still kind of recovering. It took about six months and I’m in my ninth month of recovery now. What you’re hearing on this album is me being so grateful.
Situations as personal and complicated as your health can be not only influential in songwriting but are ultimately life-changing.
Forty years ago I would have been dead because they couldn’t have done this kind of surgery. I had an amazing team of doctors. If I hadn’t have gotten sober in ’91 to find out I had a bad aorta – was this caused by my heart attack? I don’t know. It’s not unheard of to read about a famous musician: “So-And-So died at the age of 57.” When people are clean and sober for a long time they get their health back in order. This is very sensitive for me to talk about. I didn’t go public with this last year because I didn’t want any sympathy. The reason I’m talking about it now is because someone leaked it out. A member of the press found out and he asked me. I don’t want it to seem like I announced this, it’s just something that came up.
If it was up to you it still wouldn’t be out.
Well, we kept it so in-house. Some people want to talk about their scars and surgeries. I almost died. It was not fun. It was a very tricky recovery. I found myself in Nashville with Dave Cobb and Andrew and Jason looking each other in the eyes going “Let’s tell the story.”
The thing that’s cool about California Breed is the band was born from basically a jam session with you and Andrew.
I’ve been friends with Julian Lennon for a long time. He’s an incredible photographer. He was having a party for his art exhibit the night before the Grammys last year. He kept telling me ‘You’ve gotta meet this kid,’ and introduced me to Andrew. I met him and we hit it off. I had him come to my home a week later and we wrote “Chemical Rain” and “Solo.” I knew from the drama of writing those two songs there was a great chance it would sound good when we got Jason to come to the studio – and it did. Before I went in for surgery last year, we’d get together once a month at my place in LA or down in Florida at Jason’s. We came up with a bunch of songs, man. I write all the fucking time and now I’ve got these other two guys. I tried to get Jason to write more in Black Country Communion and towards the end he did. Andrew is a tremendously gifted young writer. He brought something new to my world and that’s important. He had no fear. He was nervous but he had no fear rubbing shoulders with me. I’ve never shied away from having other singers step up to the microphone with me and Andrew’s got a lovely voice. People say, “You’re 62 and he’s 23.” Can you tell that when you listen to the album? If you didn’t know who was singing and who was playing you’d probably guess the guitar player is 62 and the singer is 23! I don’t think you can hear any generational gap. I didn’t set out to be adolescent here. That’s what rock is, man. You have to wear the hat. Being a rocker means you’ve also got to become an actor. We’re all actors, man. Don’t you think so, when you think of an artist that you admire?
That’s what makes a rock star appear larger than life. Most have an on-stage personality that is completely different from their real-world personality.
A perfect example of that is a good friend of mine, Rob Halford – the Metal God. I’ve known Rob since before Priest. Rob is that character on stage – more so in the eighties than now, but still a character. That’s what you have to be in you want to have longevity. When I’m on stage or in the studio I’m this persona that people either love or hate. It’s their choice and it’s none of my business what people think of me. My thing is to make good music and that’s why I’m here. I really think that music runs through the center of my life. Thank God I got sober in ’91 or otherwise I’d be dead now. This album will show you that if you really want something then don’t be afraid to go for it.
I can imagine that having Andrew in California Breed instead of a well-known guitarist has got to allow more room to grow as a band.
I’ll tell you the truth, Jesse. When Black Country Communion broke up, two or three famous guitar players that you know came into the conversation. I thought it would be really cool but I thought about it and we wouldn’t be able to build on that because those guys already have massive careers. I knew there had to be another solution. This was around the time that Andrew fatefully came into my life. Making a record used to be about selling 10 million copies in the eighties. Not any more. You don’t sell records anymore. Records are great and I love making albums – vinyl, CDs, bonus tracks, downloads. I love it and embrace it all. But you have to be a touring entity. Joe (Bonamassa, guitar) did not want to play live with Black Country Communion. That was the end of the band.
I could only imagine the frustration of wanting to perform those songs live.
The gift that has been given to me is to go into my studio with a clean, empty canvas to write a new song, to record that song, to mix and master that song and three or four months later go and play it for people. That is the gift. It’s a fucking gift, man.
I heard before the band situation presented itself that you had a couple of other options: One, do a solo record or two, you were working on a collaboration with a couple of known musicians from LA. What can you tell me about that?
I don’t talk about it, but you asked me about it! The album deal we signed with Frontiers was designed for me to do a solo album. The owner of the company asked me. I worked with them 10 years ago on three albums. As soon as Black Country broke up he came to me with that offer. I told him to give me a couple of months and I’d get back to him. Around Christmas of 2012 I told them label I was thinking of doing a new band and asked if they were interested. They said they were interested if only I was singing in the band. I told them I was working with Jason and we didn’t have a guitar player yet. They said to let them know when we had a guitar player. We paid for the album with our own money. We so believe in this band. Sometimes artists have to pay for their record and thank God I had the money to pay. We had enough money to build and the label heard it and loved it. My solo career is now on a big lovely bucket of ice. The whole idea of a band – a brand – speaks to me at the moment. The other two artists you mentioned are Robert and Dean DeLeo, my dear friends. Robert lives around the corner from me. We live in Palos Verdes and Dean lives in Malibu. Robert and I did a gig at NAMM two year ago honoring James Jamerson. I sang and he played bass. The three of us started to privately, secretly make music. STP was still going with Scott (Weiland, vocals) but the guys were looking to do something new and exciting. Then last year Chester (Bennington, vocals) came in and they did some stuff with him and I was working on California Breed. I love the DeLeos so much and the music we made was great. Maybe one day we’ll finish it. California Breed is the air I breathe and it’s exactly where I need to be.
The record has a killer live feel to it.
It is live. Here’s the thing. Cobb said to us the morning we went into his studio (Glenn speaks in his best country ‘from the South’ accent), “You guys wanna cut live and go into two inch tape or digital?” Fuck me! Let’s go into two inch tape motherfucker! It was on right away. I haven’t done a two inch tape since The Seventh Star with Iommi. It’s been 30 fucking years! Then he said, “How do you fell about Andrew and Jason cutting it live and Glenn why don’t you go sing?” Sing before I play bass? He told me to play bass later. So I sang, thinking he was probably recording it and just decided to go for it. When it was all done we recorded the bass. The next morning I wanted to sing and he said, “Sing? You fuckin’ sung it!” He played me every word I sang and what I heard is what you hear now. You hear the full-on aggressiveness of Glenn Hughes. There’s a lot of fucking passion on that record. I’m not being grandiose here, but that don’t sound like a 62-year-old guy does it? This record is the best Jason has ever played. An amazing new kid on the block on the guitar. And people are saying this is the best they’ve ever heard from me.
When will we get to see California Breed live?
We’re doing LA and New York. This album was supposed to have been recorded in September to come out in January. I was in recovery from August through November. We didn’t know if I was going to recover enough to actually tour. Consequently everyone had other things to do this summer. We start the tour mid-September and the great news is we have America and Europe penciled in. I don’t want to make another album this year. I want to go out and promote this one. This is an album that’s worthy of playing live.
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