Former Deep Purple singer Glenn Hughes: 'It was sex, drugs and rock and roll'

Former Deep Purple rocker Glenn Hughes.
Former Deep Purple rocker Glenn Hughes.

Deep Purple's Glenn Hughes has seen the sights. He's lived the rock and roll high life, with private jets, mountains of cocaine, six-figure audiences.

But he's also seen the lows. He's lived them, too.

"Being a rock star is not everything you think it is," he says. "You get older, you get wiser, and you become really humbled by what you've done."

Glenn Hughes is a regular funeral goer.
Glenn Hughes is a regular funeral goer.

For Hughes, that humbling started one morning in 1991. Dragging himself to his bathroom, he glanced at a mirror and saw an unfamiliar face staring back at him.

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"I saw an image of a person who was not me," he recalls. "Of course I was paranoid and stuff, but I saw someone who was definitely not who I was. I think it was a premonition of sorts."

Hours later, he suffered a near-fatal heart attack. Taking it as a wake-up call, he hasn't gone near booze or drugs since.

The road to rock bottom was a wild one. Hughes' rise to stardom was rapid; by 20 he was the lead singer and bassist for rapidly rising rock and roll band Trapeze, a group whose audience went from a handful of people in a pub in 1969 to filling out 10,000 seat arenas three years later.

The talented young Englishman caught the ears of some powerful people. By 1973, Deep Purple, one of the biggest bands on the planet, was on the lookout for a couple of new members with singer Ian Gillian and bassist Roger Glover about to abandon ship. Desperately searching for a replacement, the band's remaining eyes trained themselves on Hughes.  

Deep Purple members began turning up individually at Trapeze gigs, but it took Hughes a while to figure out why.  "I had no idea these guys were courting me," he recalls.

"I thought 'oh, they really love my band' ... and the next thing I know they're asking me to join. I said, 'excuse me?' 

"It was kind of unreal, but it got real real quick."

His days with Trapeze had prepared him fairly well - unlike fellow new recruit David Coverdale, who was effectively plucked from obscurity - and he hit the ground running. Playing bass and swapping vocals with Coverdale, his time with the band was brief but eventful, playing sellout tours and recording several albums; Burn, in particular, has gone on to become one of the band's most highly regarded.

But the problems that led to Gillian and Glover leaving reared their heads again. In 1975 guitarist Ritchie Blackmore quit, replaced by a drug-addled Tommy Bolin, and a year later everything finally collapsed in a heap.

"I'll make a bold statement for you," Hughes says. "What killed the band was sex, drugs and rock and roll. There was some wife swapping going on, there was some drug behaviour, there was some lying, there was some cheating.

"There was all kinds of cavorting. When you have these kinds of things happening, there's no way the band could survive."

Though Deep Purple later picked itself back up, Hughes' time in the band was over. He still didn't slow up, continuing to snort and rock his way through the rest of the '70s and into the '80s. A brief stint with Black Sabbath ensued in 1986 - "I wasn't really the man for the job," he admits - and the 1980s are now little more than a blur. 

In the end, it was only his 1991 heart attack that slowed him down and, ironically, saved his life. It gave him a new, philosophical outlook on life, and a renewed passion for music.

Unlike Hughes, many of his fellow rockers never slowed down. Though he normally talks a mile a minute, when he mentions the friends he's lost he goes quiet. 

"It's difficult," he says. "I've lost a ton of people, 20 people in the last five years, who have died ... because of drugs. I've tried to talk sense into them, like my good friend Lemmy [of Motorhead], but they were so far gone. They just went.

"That's my lot, to attend one more funeral and another one, and another one, and another. They keep coming. In the past year there have been nine people I've known that have died, and it breaks my heart because I know the families of these people and it's very, very sad."

He's turned to music, his original love, to see him through. "I've had a very difficult last 12 months because of grief, if you will," he says. "But I'm doing this one day at a time. Now I know my purpose in life and it's the gift of music, of my voice. My purpose is to give that back."

"I'm one of the lucky ones."

Glenn Hughes plays Horncastle Arena, Christchurch, September 26, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, September 27, ASB Theatre, Auckland, October 3.

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