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Black Country Communion: Rituals of Life

Black Country Communion: Rituals of Life

Joe, what was it like to go from fronting your own blues-based band to playing in a rock super group?

Bonamassa: If someone had told me just a few years ago that I’d be in a huge rock band, I’d have said, “You’re crazy.” But that’s the way life goes—there’s no telling where it will take you. It’s such an honor to be playing in a great group with such high-caliber musicians, some of whom I grew up listening to. And it’s a very comfortable position, too, just being the guitar player—kind of a relief from fronting my own band, which I do 160 nights a year.

On the other hand, being in a band like this can occasionally be kind of like a rugby scrum. It gets kind of rough and tumble, with everyone jockeying for position and all going for it at once, as opposed to having other players take on more supportive roles in a solo context. But I think we all have a great chemistry together on account of our shared affinity for British blues-rock, and everything comes together so quickly in the studio for us, kind of like what it must have been like back in the day for bands like the Faces.

Glenn, what was it like to play with Joe—did you feel any sort of generational divide?

Hughes: Absolutely not. Joe plays with maturity beyond his years and has such a deep knowledge of, and respect for, the blues tradition. It’s very pure. But Joe’s not just a great bluesman, he’s one of those rare lads who can cross effortlessly between blues and rock, not unlike a Jimmy Page or an Eric Clapton or a Gary Moore. Most rock guitarists can’t really play the blues—it’s not in their DNA—and vice versa. And Joe’s also a consummate professional— he recorded everything mostly on one take and never more than two. I especially liked his signature sound on “Cold”—so painful, like a dying bird, but exquisitely beautiful.

Bonamassa and one of his many Gibson Les Pauls basking in the spotlight at a BCC show.
Do you see yourself more as a blues or rock guitarist, Joe?

Bonamassa: Neither, really. I like to think of myself as the Line 6 Pod of guitar players: You can set me to “Blues Breakers Clapton” and I’ll pull it off, you can set me to “British Blues-Rock 1974” and I’ll pull it off, you can set me to “Vintage Muddy Waters” and I’ll pull it off. Whatever the situation calls for, I like to think I can deliver in an authentic way.

Glenn, your bass lines on 2 are so soulful and melodic— even in such a hard-rock context. Who are your influences, and how do you go about writing bass lines?

Hughes: It all goes back to when I was a boy in short trousers living in the north of England and getting into the Beatles and, later, the Stones as a sort of rebellious thing. Then, in my late teens, I started getting excited about sounds from black America—some blues, but mostly Motown and Tamla soul records . . . players like James Jamerson and Carol Kaye. All of these sounds came together to inform my sound, and I obviously wear my influences upon my sleeve.

I’m a singer, and the bass is an extension of my voice, so what I write on the bass tends to be highly melodic. I also tend to bend the strings a lot to get a vocal-like sound. Because of that, I’ve used light-gauge strings since the 1960s, and I’ve never had a problem with them going out of tune. I’m not a hammer-on bass player—I don’t come from the ’80s school of thought, where more notes are better. In a nutshell, I write simple bass lines where what I don’t play is as important as what I do—tuneful bass lines that have a nice, old-school groove and anchor the song rather than busy it up.

What is your songwriting process like?

Hughes: It’s very natural—the cornerstone of my life, really. What I mainly do is hatch an idea for a song and watch it develop. It often begins for me late at night when my wife and I go into the bedroom, where four dogs are usually hanging out on the bed and an acoustic guitar is sitting next to it on a stand—a very relaxed environment for writing, unlike sitting at a desk and forcing myself to write. I believe, by the way, that all of the greatest songs were written on acoustic—take, for example, “Satisfaction” and “A Day in the Life.” In any case, as my wife and I wind down from the day, I’ll just pick up the guitar and play for a while, recording it onto a Dictaphone. The next morning, I’ll have a listen to the tape and see if I captured anything worth expanding into a complete song with lyrics.

For this particular album, even though I was working with brilliant improvisers, I didn’t want to just go into the studio and jam. It’s nothing against jam music—in fact we’ll probably morph into jamming a bit when we take these new songs on the road. Luckily, I had the luxury of spending about four months on writing the songs, rather than rushing something together at the last minute. I brought about a half-dozen barebones sketches, with melodies, chord progressions, and lyrics, into the studio and gave my mates permission to kick my babies around the room. That’s the way I look at it—songs are like children. It was hard to let go of them at first, but in the end I trusted everyone to add and subtract little bits and pieces. That’s the best way to do it in a band, democratically. In this case, it made my music better to share it with a group of strong individuals— which is something I hadn’t done in a long time until BCC got together.

Bonamassa: I think one of my biggest models, in terms of songwriting, is Jimmy Page. I try to take old blues music and make it my own like he did. In terms of the process, a lot of guitarists start out with licks or riffs, but I usually come up with the lyrics first—or, at the very least, the title. When it comes time to write the music, I use whatever guitar I have close by—I have about 100 in my collection—and try to come up with things that are as much about the song as the solo.
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