June 3, 2024

From the Vaults: Trapeze


     In the last few months I was still playing in a band with three airmen from KI Sawyer Air Force Base, our bass player loaned me an album by a band called Trapeze.  Lee said, “There is a song called Black Cloud on it I really want us to learn.  As was my custom, I made a cassette tape of the whole album to listen to in my vehicle as I motored around town (or back and forth to my summer job at the Huron Mountain Club).  I found if I sang along with a song when traveling, it made it much easier to learn with the band.  We never did get the chance to work it up, however.  A couple of weeks later, our guitar player Ray ‘The Human Jukebox’ announced he was mustering out just before summer.  Ray had an incredible backlog of songs he could recall on a moment’s notice, but he was also always on the lookout for new material.  We were able to use his ‘jukebox like’ memory to play songs requested at gigs and to quickly work up new songs.  I am sure he would not have had trouble doing an arrangement of Black Cloud.

      Knockdown disbanding worked out for the best as my summer employment changed the next  summer.  I would no longer be working at the HMC (which I had done in 1971, 1972 and 1973).  My kitchen manager there had been gracious enough to let me off work early two or three evening shifts a week in ‘72 and ‘73 so I could keep playing band jobs during the lucrative wedding reception season.  The summer of ‘74, I was hired to work at Northern Michigan University’s Field Station located just south of Pictured Rocks National Shoreline, not quite halfway between Munising and Grand Marais.  My job there included being the resident manager on the weekends.  Someone had to be there to keep the electric generator running, mow the lawn, and cook for any students who stayed over the weekend.  Playing band jobs would have been out of the question.  None-the-less, I kept playing that album (Medusa) over and over again.  I added their greatest hits album called The Final Swing (released in 1974) to my own collection and it also traveled well.  As much as I loved Trapeze, none of my bands ever got around to learning one of their songs.

     Unfortunately, I got into Trapeze just as they were making a second big change in personnel.  Bassist /vocalist/songwriter Glenn Hughes had been summoned to join Deep Purple upon the departure of their original members Roger Glover and Ian Gillan.  Hughes and singer David Coverdale joined Purple in time to record the album Burn (1973), thus bringing an end to the classic version of Trapeze and Deep Purple at the same time.  When Deep Purple broke up for the first time, Hughes returned to Trapeze a couple of times before heading out on his own.  Trapeze eventually went the ‘nine or ten new members’ route before calling it a day.  Perhaps it would be best to go back to the very beginning and ponder what might have been had Deep Purple not lured Glenn Hughes away just as Trapeze was gaining a solid footing across the United States.

     Glenn Hughes grew up in the West Midlands town of Cannock idolizing three guitarists:  George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and a local lad from his school by the name of Mel Galley.  Galley was a bit older but he influenced Hughes enough that Glenn ditched trombone in favor of playing guitar.  At 17, he was offered a chance to join Galley in a local cover band called Finders Keepers as a bass player.  Near the end of the 60s, their manager decided to put Galley, Hughes, and drummer Dave Holland in a new band with a couple of older members of another local band, The Montanas.  With singer/trumpeter John Jones and keyboardist Terry Rowley, this new group became the first incarnation of Trapeze..

     The band recorded and released an eponymous album in 1970.  One song, the ballad Send Me No More Letters caught the ear of two of the Beatles’ inside guys, Neil Aspinall, the head of Apple Corps, and one time roadie Mal Evans.  After seeing a couple of their early shows in London, the duo recruited them to record for the Fab Four’s label, Apple.  It didn’t exactly work out as Hughes recalled, “We went down to the Apple studio at 3 Savile Row.  They had just had this new sound board flown over from America, but the engineers were so stoned on pot they couldn’t figure how to operate it.  We were surrounded by greatness, all these drums and guitars that The Beatles had used, but no one was capable of recording us.  After two days of hanging around the place we just left.”

     They landed on The Moody Blues newly created label, Threshold Records, and Moody bassist John Lodge produced their first album.  The band’s manager concluded that the young  Hughes was the better singer (news to Glenn who says he didn’t even know he could sing, let alone play bass and sing ala Jack Bruce of Cream) so he was featured on the first album.  Soon after the album was released, Jones and Rowley returned to The Montanas leaving the former quintet as a power trio.  Power trios were very much in vogue at the time (think Cream, The Who, Blue Cheer, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience) so it was the right time for them to carry on with that lineup.  In the five months after their first album came out, the band cranked out Medusa which hit the market in November of 1970 (a good two and a half years before I was introduced to them).

     Hughes was still adapting to the new situation.   He told Classic Rock Magazine’s Paul Rees, “[Medusa] is a beautiful piece of music.  I was still getting used to coming out of a band that was four-part harmony based and my voice was a little thinner then, but I was very influenced by Steve Marriott (from Humble Pie) and the great soul-rock singers.  When you cross rock and soul, that’s what I am all about.  I wrote the closing title track in two parts.  The intro is very melodic and American West Coast-sounding, and the second part is riffy and heavy.  Ever since, I’ve carried that kind of crossover with me.”  Hughes certainly has continued on this track when one listens to his most recent work with both The Dead Daisies, The California Breed, and the supergroup Black Country Communion.  His collaborations with BCC bandmates Joe Bonamassa (guitar), Derek Sherinian (keyboards), and drummer Jason Bonham contain signature moments that display both Hughes’ melodic and heavy riffing styles.

     The Moody Blues took their new charges on tour in America even before the release of their sophomore album.  Playing to tens of thousands of Moody Blues fans was certainly a good introduction to the States but for some reason, Texas really loved the band.  Glenn told Rees, “By the time we got to Texas in December of 1970, they took to us like we were Texans.  That’s when the rocket ship lifted off.”  Trapeze would criss-cross the United States four times supporting Medusa and even though they didn’t break big nationwide, they built solid pockets of support across the south and on both coasts. 

      Spending so much time in the States also started to have an effect on Hughes and Galley as the songs they were writing began taking on a more ‘American’ sound.  As an avid collector of vinyl records, Glenn explained, “At that time, Crosty, Stills and Nash, Stevie Wonder, and Sly and the Family Stone were all going through my head.  The third album (You Are the Music…We’re Just the Band (1972)) was a very progressive record and entirely different to Medusa.  I was still just nineteen, twenty and growing as a songwriter.”

     Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore caught one of the four shows Trapeze played at LA’s legendary Whisky a Go Go in the fall of 1972.  Purple drummer Ian Paice and keyboardist Jon Lord caught another.  Blackmore was at odds with Purple’s singer Ian Gillan and was already contemplating booting him and bassist Roger Glover from the band.  Blackmore kept in touch for nine months and finally flew Hughes to New York City to see DP at Madison Square Garden.  After that show, Purple popped the question:  “Would you like to play bass in our band?”  Glenn protested that he was also a singer and their reply, “We are going to ask Paul Rodger’s to sing,” was good enough for him.  “I’m in!” Hughes told them, “Where do I sign?”

     It turned out Rodgers declined joining as he was in the process of forming Bad Company.  When they commenced recording the Burn album (and later Stormbringer), Hughes found himself sharing the stage and some vocals with a young unknown singer named David Coverdale.  If joining a mega band like Deep Purple wasn’t enough pressure, they made their live debut in front of 400,000 people at California Jam in April of 1974.  Things again went south and not long after, Blackmore himself quit the band.  Purple ground to a halt, disbanding in March of 1976.  Hughes tried to cope with the situation by binging on cocaine and booze.  He was a mess and no doubt this dive toward the bottom was (eventually) instrumental in him becoming a tee-totalling advocate against those two rockstar killing substances.  Luckily he survived, but it would take a while for him to right the ship.

     Hughes retreated to his beloved Black Country and began working on a solo record (1977’s Play Me Out) with the help of his old bandmates, Galley and Holland.  They felt good working together again and one thing led to another.  Trapeze was reborn as a touring unit when Glenn called his American agent and asked him how it looked for them to tour there again.  They rehearsed and started the tour but it didn’t take long for the good vibes to disappear.  Hughes had taken up with Linda Blair (yes, she of Exorcist fame) and she was on a self-destructive path that made them a mess, couple-wise.  Hughes bailed out of the tour:  “It was a difficult time for me,“ he recalled, “I wasn’t in the greatest head space and was doing what I was doing.  You know the story.  Let’s just say I was over-serviced at the bar.  It was the wrong time for me to do a tour.”

     Mel Galley and Dave Holland would try to regroup Trapeze but they never regained their mojo.  Galley eventually joined Coverdale’s Whitesnake for a short spell and Holland went on to drum for Judas Priest.  Hughes sobered up and pursued a solo career before he started band hopping between various superstar projects.  Eighteen years after the first disastrous attempts at a reunion, they tried again.  It lasted twenty dates but this time, the now sober Hughes bailed for another reason:  “The shows were great, but I was a sober man now and other people weren’t.   I love my friends, but I couldn’t be around people who were not.”  Those 1994 shows would be their last except for the occasional one-off reunion.  There are a couple of albums out there from two of these reunion tours, one featuring former Yes (and future Asia) keyboardist Geoff Downes but they have been a little difficult to lay hands on.

     Sadly, Mel Galley died from cancer in 2008 at the too young age of 60.  Holland departed this mortal coil in January 2018 (one of the reasons for Rees’s interview with Hughes) due to lung cancer.  There was a darker chapter in Holland’s story.  The drummer was convicted of indecent assault of a 17-year old who had been taking drum lessons from Holland.  He went to his grave still protesting his innocence but the courts didn’t see it that way at the time.  Holland spent eight years in prison.  In 2006, while working on an autobiography, Holland wrote to author Neil Daniels, “I was convicted of a crime that I didn’t commit, and like so many others in similar situations to the one in which I find myself, [I paid for] an offense that never even existed in the first place.”  Holland’s career was a dumpster fire from that point on.  Before his conviction, he had been recording with Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi but after his conviction, those tracks were scrubbed and re-recorded with a different drummer.

     In an interesting pop music twist, Holland had actually been the drummer for a  group called Pinkerton’s Assorted Colors back in 1965.  After he left to join Finders Keepers (where he met up with Glenn Hughes and Mel Galley, who would later take him along when they formed Trapeze), Pinkerton’s morphed into a band called The Flying Machine.  The Flying Machine  scored a one-off pop hit with the song Smile A Little Smile For Me in 1969.

     At the time of Holland’s death, Hughes mused about how things turned out in the end:  “At one time, I couldn’t have put bets on me being the only one left.  We were just kids in Trapeze and obviously there was all that stuff with Dave that happened afterwards, and that I wasn’t privy to.  But the memories of that band are ones that will stay with me forever.”  Rees concurs and cites their early album’s as the band’s true legacy.  Had Deep Purple not knocked on Glenn Hughes’ door, one can only speculate how far Trapeze could have gone up the ladder.


Top Piece Video:  You Are The Music fr0m the reunion tour that would be aborted because Glenn Hughes was entangled with actress Linda Blair and they both were having substance abuse problems – a wreck of a couple that wrecked the reunion – good thing Hughes would get sober soon after!