Glenn Hughes and Pat Thrall are not living the life of degenerate ex-rock stars. Not yet anyway, "we've still got to play Britain," says Glenn...
Down on Sunset Boulevard, opposite the notorious rock and roll Rainbow Bar, there's a man slouched in the gutter. Nothing strange in Hollywood, city of lost dreams and all that. He's got long hair; could have been in some big rock band in the seventies. You know these people disappear off the face of the earth and wind up on the Strip, stonedly making 'V' signs at Mercedes rolling by. Just past him there's a Sushi Bar, place of raw fish and sake and obliging Japanese waitresses.
That's where I'm heading. Can't stand raw fish personally, unless they're swimming around in goldfish bowls, but I'm here to meet some rock stars. You know the sort, big in the seventies, who disappeared off the face of the earth and wound up on the Strip. The comfortable bit. Glenn Hughes and Pat Thrall, Deep Purple and Pat Travers refugees - are doing very nicely; looking very nice too - at last, the respectable-looking HM heroes! All dressed up and smiling like Hare Krishnaites who've just flogged a dozen carnations.
So what about these reports that, after leaving Purple, Glenn was keeping the bloke outside in the gutter company, shooting up and generally being a degenerate ex-star?
"This is disgusting!" protests Glenn. "What is it about the English that they think that when somebody disappears for a bit they're hitting junk?! It's great, because number one I've never done any of that in my life. And number two, there's so many jealous musicians over there who can't play; and because I can play better and sing better than any of them assholes - basically this is the best band that's ever come out of Deep Purple."
"It's the best" Pat interrupts, "thing I've ever done that's come out of Deep Purple."
"It pisses me off," continues Glenn, "because everybody thinks that. I should have done it, man. I've got so much press on it!"
"No, no, that's okay," Pat tries to dissuade him from a future life of degeneracy. "Don't give him any ideas, he's clean folks, honest. But I can understand. People think that if you disappear, you obviously must be down and out somewhere. You equate Rock God Disappears In Recluse as meaning totally out of his brains and not capable of doing anything. You can see how that would leave a lot of things OPEN."
So what did happen to Glenn?
"I sat in the fridge for four years! All I did was eat...I was the only one in Deep Purple who wanted to leave the company. I wanted totally out of everything - there were so many little companies in Deep Purple. So I had to sit around for three or four years wait for this to happen. Consequently I didn't go to any shows. I didn't want to see anybody play, because I was freaking out. I missed being in the music business so much that I just had to stay totally away from it
because I couldn't work in it until I was out of all these contracts."
Pat: "You played a lot though." Glenn: "I did some sessions with black people - Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, but nothing visible. I was signed to Deep Purple for 10 years, from 73-83, so it took me four years to get out. This really is the first I've done since Deep Purple."
Pat's been nodding like one of those dogs on the back seat of the car all through this sorry tale. Did he know Glenn at this time then?
"He and Pat Travers were friends. We talked about putting a band together in the seventies. But we've been together 18 months, so I've heard the story a few times."
His own is far less dramatic. "The opposite. See, I've always been free. I've pretty much kept myself freelance and gone and done whatever I've wanted to. This is really the first time I've tied myself to something. So the idea of a contract for 10 years..."
"Well," Glenn defends himself, "they're waving all this money in front of you, so I just said yes." Buys a lots of drugs. "Yes, really!" he chuckles. Glenn's none too favourable about his former Purple pals' current projects, not that they seem to have been too favourable about his, though "from what I've heard," says Glenn. "Ritchie (Blackmore)'s favourite album is our album." "Oh go on!" reckons Pat. "Which freaks me out," Glenn continues, "because I haven't spoken to Ritchie in a long time. But it's really nice to hear."
What did he think about all these Purple reunion stories.
"I meant to ask him about that," says Pat.
"There's supposed to be a reunion in the Summer." Glenn says. "Blackmore's Rainbow's broken up again, Gillan's supposedly breaking up, so I guess it'll be Mark Two Purple with Gillan and Glover." "Would he be involved? "No. That's like saying my last farewell to the music business, doing that. What can you do after that again? Come back? That's like pimping to me. I want to continue with what Pat and I are doing. Although the days of the big money are over,
I'm really content to just do what we're doing and live comfortably rather than having all that money and buying drugs with it!"
"If it happens," asks Pat, "could I jam?"
Glenn: "This is more honest to me, doing what I'm doing now. Although the money would be great. But let's see if we could do the same.
"You know, I kind of dig this starting over again stuff. It keeps you on your toes. One thing we did in the Deep Purple thing, we'd go onstage and play really badly and people would go nuts, and it was like insulting them all. I just used to go up there and yawn. It's pretty bad for people to pay all that money just to see all that long hair and snake skin boots and stuff. The money was fabulous but the playing was boring."
Talking of boring, what brought him to laid-back California, a veteran HM man?
"I left England for taxes in '73 and I just liked it here. I couldn't live in England anymore. I've been spoilt by this California stuff."
"I mean," explains Pat, "they don't have a Disneyland in England, do they?
Pat Thrall is a great guitar player. If you don't believe me, "Pat's a great guitar player." That from no less an authority on the matter of great guitar players than Pat Travers. Thrall edged him out of his job as lead guitarist in his band for a few years, so he should know. "He's probably my favourite guitar player. Have you heard that album he's done with Glenn Hughes? I like it a lot."
Hughes, doesn't think too badly of him either. "I think he's the best guitar player on the scene right now. He's one of the warmest guitarists I've ever heard, and his use of echo and digital stuff is the best I've worked with." All this praise for a guitarist who used to be a drummer and has a thing about synthesisers...
"I was 16 when I started playing guitar." Pat Thrall recalls, his memory jogged by the odd shot of Japanese beer, "and before that I'd been a drummer for four years. I wasn't really succeeding as a drummer, and I always fooled around with whatever band I was playing in with the guitar, and I always liked it, but because I'd started as a drummer, I put the blinkers on about it - like, 'I'm a drummer so that's what I do'.
"So I was playing with a band and noodling around on the guitar one day, and one of the people in the band came up and said, 'you're better than our
guitarist'. So I started playing guitar. It usually takes somebody else to say what I'm doing to make me aware of it!"
After that, the guitar came "real easy" to Pat. "I locked myself in my basement for about a year and just studied guitar." He had no formal training. "I play by ear, and I think I have an advantage playing by ear for spontaneity. I know people who have studied music and know classical and all, but have a hard time getting away from sheet music - fly doo-doo as they say in the sessions - so I think it's actually an advantage that I taught myself. And I study enough of what I do to keep within the bounds of what I'm trying to accomplish."
His first real guitar was an electric one. "A Vox Bobcat. I rented it for a year, and after playing it for five months, never changed a string on it. I broke an E string. I continued to play it with five strings for another five months! That's the kind of guy I was, living in the San Francisco Bay Area, you know." A laid-back bunch of musicians, one and all. "But I put that sixth string on and a whole new world opened up to me!"
"Actually, my parents had bought me an acoustic guitar, and I fiddled around with that for a bit, but I'd already been playing electric guitar when I was a drummer."
"I was more fascinated by the sounds on an electric guitar than the actual playing. I started fooling around with the guitar, turning up all the reverb and tremelo. I've got a rack now that's got enough equipment to do well in the studio. I've had sound guys come up to me and say, 'I'd give anything to have all that stuff'. And now I'm using guitar synthesiser and all - I love sounds. I love experimenting with the possibilities of the guitar."
So there was never any urge to creep back behind the drum kit?
"Not really, I still play them, and I think it helps my music. It's a good idea for every guitarist, every musician, to learn something about the drums or percussion and have a rhythmic understanding. I think that gives you a stronger basis in music."
Was it Jimi Hendrix or John Bonham that he impersonated in front of the mirror back in his early days, then?
"When I did go through that phase - and all performers do that, you stand in front of the mirror pretending you're out in front of people - actually it was Robert Plant I used to do that to! A singer, oddly enough. Because when I started playing guitar and seriously got into it, I stopped all that, because at that point I was thinking mainly about playing. My main influence at that time was a gentleman by the name of Terry Haggerty, who played in a band called The Sons Of Champlin (a progressive and somewhat eccentric San Francisco sixties band, Haggerty had been known to spend an entire show sitting on a stool with his guitar, Val Doonican-style). And he was actually the first true jazz rock guitarist. He had an extensive knowledge of Bebop guitar, but applied it to rock format with sustain and distortion.
"A lot of musicians in the Bay Area at that time had that purist attitude towards music, so my aim then was just to be a good player. I didn't have as much of the performer in me at the time.
"And then later on, Hendrix had an effect on me - I lived in England, that's when Hendrix really kicked in for me, because I was around some of the
people who had actually hung out with Jimi. And seeing how some of those people were still living, having those same kinds of beliefs spiritually, kind of rubbed off on me. The influence that Hendrix had wasn't so much his playing, as the way he lived and the way he thought and saw things and interpreted them and then brought them back out again in his music."
Pat's first major group had something of that spiritual aura about it: the supergroup of sorts, Stomu Yamashta's Go, which included Stevie Winwood and Santana's original drummer, Michael Shrieve. While playing with Go and building a reputation as a guitarist, Pat and Shrieve put together a band which had two albums of its own out on Island Records.
That's when he started finding his own instinctive style, he reckons. "It probably took me until '76. The first time I played in a band when I was afforded the opportunity to play my own ideas was actually when I found my style. That's why that band is so important to me. I really did find what I wanted to do with the guitar - and it took me from the time when I was 16 to 22 years old to find it, and about a year after that, it just kind of came to me. I was living in England at the time."
After some time as a session guitarist, getting a lot of jobs with fusion musicians, Pat got the lead guitarist job with Pat Travers, and spent the
next couple of years almost permanently on the road, a situation he liked very much, thank you. During that time he introduced Travers to the music of Bob Marley, co-wrote the HM hit 'Snortin' Whisky And Drinkin' Cocaine' and met Glenn Hughes. They took a shine to one another, started writing songs together, officially formed the Hughes Thrall Band in 1981 and put out their first album on Boulevard Epic Records. It's really the first time Pat's stepped into the spotlight, with his name up there for everyone to see.
"There's pressure that comes along with that, but in our case it's pressure that's good. It gives us a creative edge actually because we have to be
there. When I was working with Travers or Go it's like I did whatever was required, but then I could lay back if I wanted to. It was harder to
motivate. Now it's a must."
Pat doesn't collect guitars. "I prefer building them. Most of the guitars I own - he has a total of six - four of them are all custom-made. I made one myself and some I just fiddle around on them a bit and send them to guys to re-do them.
So he's not a purist?
"No, I'm terrible in that way! There's one Strat I have, a '60 Stratocaster, and I had a pre-amp for it which requires that a hole be cut in the back of it to put a battery in. So for all the guitar purists out there, sorry! But it made the instrument sound a lot better. I'm much more into how an instrument sounds and performs to my needs than what the instrument is, a work of art. Maybe when I get older and become a domesticated person that'll change!"
His chief interest now is guitar synthesisers. The one he's using, from a Berkeley company, has a "a pitch to voltage control, and what that does is, the signal that a guitar puts out is an electromagnetic signal from the pick-ups, and that changes the electromagnetic signal into voltage, so I can run an oscillator... which is what a synthesiser is based on - send it through the filters, and that's how you synthesise strings or foghorns or cows or whatever. What they built for me - instead of using a Roland system - I use an OBX, which is a keyboard synthesiser, which has six voices in it, which means I have a separate voice or oscillator for each string. So I have all the capability that any keyboard synthesiser has - I can split up each voice to stereo and send it wherever I want and have independent control of each string - as opposed to right now with guitar sysnthesisers, the state of the art - which is Roland, commercially speaking - is about 15 years, maybe 20, behind keyboard synthesisers, where now there's digital synthesisers.
"I don't have that capability yet, but I have the full programming possibilities of an Oberheim, and all the filtering and everything that's available...I can play against it, solo against it, throught my guitar system, so I can accompany myself, which is great. The only problem I have with it, because it's prototype and they still require a great amount of funds to bring it into being. It's still not really practial for me to take it out on the road, which is a killer."
His aim in life as a guitarist - wouldn't you know it - is to "eventually incorporate synthesising with my guitar playing. Because that's the kind of music I'm listening to now" - Peter Gabriel is a current favourite - "is so synthesiser oriented that it's really influencing me. And there's only so much that you can simulate with just the guitar alone."
"With the guitar I'd like to be able to play bass parts, horn parts, string parts. It'll open up all the possibilities of the guitar for me. I'm as
intrigued with the sounds and rhythms as I am with the actual playing of the guitar."
"Actually, what I want to do is take the Oberheim - the Oberheim people aren't going to like this too much! - out on the road, set it up so people can see I'm using it, and have all the keys torn out and hanging out in defiance."
"Kind of up yours to all the keyboard synthesiser snobs that are out there!"
Both Pat and Glenn agree this is the perfect partnership, better even than Sonny and Cher. "I've never," says Glenn, "felt more happy than in this business than I have with Pat. It's a very stable relationship. We're very good for each other, personally and musically. I took a shine to him when he was with Travers - I always liked him - and I needed some strength to come back into the business after five years. It's not the same. But when we went into the studio it was like I'd never left. Every other person I've worked with in the past, I've had to show them what the guitar part to a song would be, but I've never done that with him because he just knows what I hear, he makes the sound perfect to what I want. And his use of echo and digital stuff is the best. He's just a perfect partner for me. Perfect!"
"God," says Pat, "this sounds like my retirement banquet or something!". What he likes about Glenn is his "ability to jam a song and be a spontaneous
lyricist. Like 'Muscle And Blood' was a jam, and that was formed probably in about half an hour. I'd say that is the biggest advantage of working with him than anybody I've ever worked with. And the chemistry, I would say, was immediate."
And what they think they've got as a team, they agree, is "staying power and ability. I think the combination of Pat and myself," says Glenn, "is the strongest combination of a guitar player and bass player on the scene right now. I feel real good about us."
So why then is there a rumour going around England that they're about to break up?
"Oh my God!" says Glenn. "We can't! That's impossible. No, me and my wife are breaking up, not Pat and me." "It's news to me, " adds Pat. "We have our differences, like any relationship you have with somebody, you walk out or pull moodies, but that isn't the case!"
Glenn: "We haven't played England yet. We can't break up before we play there."
Pat: "We've been sitting here making plans for the next six months, so if that sounds like a break-up - wow!"
Glenn: "The break-up was probably that Tommy Aldridge went back to Ozzy Osbourne - we're still trying to figure out which is the best for the road.
Pat: Maybe he's spreading it..."
Glenn: "This is at least a five year commitment for us." They called it Hughes-Thrall to make sure no-one sneaked out the back-door. No escape.
"You got it," says Pat. "We're not breaking up. We're just beginning!"