November 18, 2018

From the Vaults: Trapeze


    Near the end of my time with the band Knockdown, Lee the bass player loaned me a copy of an album called Medusa by an English band called Trapeze.  He mentioned something about wanting to learn some of their songs, but a few months later, we played our last gigs before Ray the guitar player (and human jukebox) exited the Air Force and returned to his native Illinois.  I absolutely loved this album but I didn’t know much about the band even though I spent a good deal of time listening to this one album over and over again. In April of 1974, the newest edition of Deep Purple (the Mark III version) made their debut in front of a crowd of 400,000 at California Jam.  When the band was introduced, newest members Dave Coverdale (vocals) and Glenn Hughes (bass/vocals) made me sit up and take notice. I had no idea who Coverdale was, but Glenn Hughes was the bass player and lead singer in Trapeze leaving me to wonder exactly what was going on with my new favorite band.  Like many rock and roll stories, it was complicated.

    Glenn Hughes’ teen years in England’s West Midlands were dominated by his three guitar heroes.  Of course it comes as no surprise that two were George Harrison and Eric Clapton. The third was a slightly older player from his school who inspired him to give up trombone and take up guitar.  When Mel Galley asked Hughes to switch to bass so he could join Galley’s band Finders Keeper he did so without a second thought. Like many fledgling bands in the late 1960s, they made a respectable go at it.  When their manager Tony Perry paired them (Galley, Hughes and drummer Dave Holland) with some older musicians from a covers band called The Montanas, it seemed like their fortunes were on the upswing. Joining up with vocalist/trumpeter John Jones and keyboardist Terry Rowley also brought a new name:  they were the first version of Trapeze.

    Rowley had penned a ballad called Send Me No More Letters that was good enough to get the attention of Apple Corps director Neil Aspinwall and the Fab Four’s roadie turned personal assistant Mal Evans.  Aspinwall and Evans brought the band into Apple’s studio on Savile Row to have a go at recording the band, but it was a disastrous session. The substance addled studio crew couldn’t figure out the new recording board they had imported from America.  As Hughes recalled the incident for Classic Rock Magazine, “We were surrounded by greatness, all these drums and guitars that The Beatles had used and no one was capable of recording us.  After two days of hanging around the place, we left.”

    They eventually found a home at Threshold Records, the imprint of the Moody Blues (which accounts for the MB’s bassist John Lodge taking the producer’s chair for the first Trapeze album).  The flowery psychedelia they laid down on vinyl convinced manager Perry that Hughes was a better singer than Jones. Jones and Rowley decided to return to The Montanas, leaving Trapeze as a trio.  Hughes hadn’t really known he could sing but as long as everyone else thought he could, he resolved to give that a go as well. Figuring they were now in a configuration similar to Cream (the other power trio of that day with a singing bassist), Trapeze set about recording their second album, the aforementioned Medusa.  Without the normal bed of four part harmonies Hughes was used to singing in the middle of, the band began writing riffier songs which required Hughes to step up his vocals a notch.  Hughes admired the soul-rock singers like Steve Marriott (Small Faces, Humble Pie) so Trapeze began fashioning music that fit Marriott’s soul belter template but was still powerful enough to fill out the sound of the trio.  Together they forged a new sound that was both heavy and melodic.

    Medusa was not released until November of 1970, but by then they had been on tour opening for the Moodies in America.  When they hit Texas in December, they found the Texas audiences liked them a lot and according to Hughes, “That’s when the rocket ship lifted off.”  Four subsequent tours across America in support of Medusa built pockets of support but never the big break through that would have made them a household name.  Spending the majority of their time touring and recording in America also began to influence the music Galley and Hughes were writing.  The third album (You Are The Music…We’re Just the Band) came out in 1972 and the nineteen year old Hughes felt he was progressing as a songwriter.  You Are The Music was a great album and it caught the attention of Ritchie Blackmore who wanted to part ways with two of his fellow founding members of Deep Purple, vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover.

    Nine months after Blackmore, Jon Lord and Ian Paice caught Trapeze at L.A.’s Whiskey A Go Go, they flew Hughes to New York to see Purple play at Madison Square Garden.  They told him they wanted him in the band to replace Glover. Hughes pointed out that he was a singer, but was told Purple planned on bringing in Free’s Paul Rogers on vocals.  That was all it took for Hughes to depart Trapeze and join DP MKIII as their new bass player.

    Here the story of Trapeze hits a fork in the road.  Holland and Galley carried on recording a fourth Trapeze album (Hot Wire – 1974) with Galley assuming the lead vocals.  With interest in the Hughes-less band waning, they broke up.  Galley joined Coverdale’s Whitesnake for a while and Holland joined Judas Priest.  There were two attempts to reform Trapeze which we will discuss when we get to the fork in the road taken by Hughes.  In the end, Holland served time in prison for the alleged 2004 assault of a learning disabled lad he was giving drum lessons to.  He served his time from until his release in 2012 but repeatedly maintained that he was innocent up to his death in early 2018. Galley was taken by cancer at age 60 in 2008.   Trapeze had began as a band with great promise, but this branch fizzled not unlike one of the branches of the human family tree whose members didn’t evolve far enough to survive.

    Hughes was eager to join the revamped Deep Purple, but Paul Rodgers was not.  Rodgers was in the process of forming Bad Company so the new Purple lead singer turned out to be a young unknown named Dave Coverdale (David came latter).  It was this MKIII version that debuted to the hundreds of thousands gathered at the Ontario Speedway for California Jam. Of course, the Glenn Hughes story line of “join a major band and live happily ever after” wouldn’t quite work out even though the MKIII and MKIV (which included guitarist Tommy Bolin after Blackmore’s departure) put out a couple of good albums during this period.  Unfortunately Hughes set out on the tried and true path of rock ‘n roll excess and developed a whalloping case of drug addiction. He could have become just another entry on the list of rock stars felled by the three headed dragon of fame, money, and drugs. It took some years for him to get sober and regain his balance, but he managed to do both while still living his rock and roll dream.  

    For his first post-Deep Purple venture,  he teamed up with guitarist Pat Thrall in a short lived but highly acclaimed pairing dubbed the Hughes -Thrall Band.  He also continued to release solo works that were solid even if they didn’t sell mountains of albums. One of the first Hughes solo works I recall seeing was on Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records imprint.  The cover photo showed Hughes with shorter swept back hair that made one think he had gone disco, but the self named album leaned more to the melodic pop side of the ledger. There were a couple of failed Trapeze reunions.  They found they could still make great music together and the audiences and promoters in their former hotspots were still interested. According to Hughes, he was sober by that time and others in the band were not, thus spelling an early end to both reunion efforts.  With Holland and Galley both in the great beyond, there won’t be a third attempt.

    With the new millennium well underway, Hughes connected with rising guitar prodigy Joe Bonamassa, drummer Jason Bonham (son of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham), and former Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian to form a hard rocking band called Black Country Communion.  The name is a nod to the shared Black Country origins of Hughes and Bonham. They put out three well received records but then the band imploded. It was a typical clash of egos that lead to a “he said, I said” feud that broke the band just as they were gaining a wider audience.  Their live album and clips from YouTube show a band that rocked hard but also was in touch with both their bluesier and prog rock sides. In later interviews, both Hughes and Bonamassa professed to A) not really know what happened, B) take their share of the blame for the dust up, and C) to leave the door open a crack for possible future collaboration.  In this case, A + B did indeed equal C. The band, no longer harboring any ill will, reconvened to produce yet a fourth highly touted album in 2017 (BBC IV).  

    The first couple of times listening through BBC IV, I kept thinking that Hughes’ well of songs had finally dried up.  He could always write memorable hooks (as can Bonamassa) and he has always had a way with words, but some of the tracks here were not what one could call memorable.  The music and production were great, but it took a reworking of an older Hughes’ tune to start turning my thinking around. BBC IV features a faithful rendition of the song that first caught my attention those many years ago:  Medusa from the Trapeze album of the same name.  It was a great song then and the more I listened to the BCC IV version, the more glimpses I began to get of the old Glenn Hughes songwriting prowess spread across the rest of the album.  It took a while, but BBC IV now sits comfortably in line with the previous Trapeze and Black Country Communion albums in my current playlist.

    I am not sure what plans BCC has for future tours.  Sherinian is currently at work with his new band Sons of Apollo (including his former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy and Portnoy  bassist in The Winery Dogs, Billy Sheehan). Bonham has been touring with his Led Zep tribute tour honoring his late father, and of course, Bonamassa’s plate is always full with various album/touring projects too numerous to mention here.  Revisiting Medusa may signal that Hughes has now come full circle in his career.  Spending the summer and fall of 2018 touring with a bill stating “Glenn Hughes performs classic Deep Purple LIVE” may mean he has now gone a circle and a quarter through his career.

    The music of Trapeze is still out there and I kind of hope that Hughes will revisit more of those songs from the past by either doing a Trapeze tribute tour of some sort (ala his current Deep Purple gig) or perhaps by resurrecting  more of them with BCC. Whether or not I get my wish, it gives me just as great a pleasure just to say that Glenn Hughes is alive and well and still living his dream. WOAS-FM 88.5 will soon be hosting a mini-Hughes festival featuring music from throughout his career.

Top Piece Video:  Glenn Hughes and Black Country Communion do a live take of Medusa