A tragic tale of excess that could have done with some musical accompaniment
Autobiographies seem all the rage these days, with almost everyone with any measure of fame seemingly in a hurry to get their story down on paper before the public tire of the trend. While there have been plenty of tell-all tomes I’ve been interested in and duly purchased in the last few years, the one book I’ve been really looking forward to is the long in the works effort from Glenn Hughes.
First mentioned some four years ago, Hughes’ long overdue literary effort The Autobiography - From Deep Purple to Black Country Communion has been a long time coming, and only now finally seeing the light of day. Naturally enough, I couldn’t wait to absorb myself in Hughes’ story, so much so that I abandoned all the books I was currently reading at the time to focus my attention solely on Hughes’ effort.
I’m a huge fan of Hughes, and have been for many years, whether it be his work in Trapeze, Deep Purple (both Mk. III and Mk. IV line-up’s), Black Sabbath (or Tony Iommi), Black Country Communion or his long list of solo work and collaborations he’s involved in throughout his extraordinary 40 years as a singer/songwriter. So, with The Autobiography - From Deep Purple to Black Country Communion finally making its way into my hands, I was eagerly looking forward to Hughes and co-writer McIver (who’s penned some 20 books over the years, and who recently helped co-write ex-Sepultura/Soulfly front man Max Cavalera’s authorised autobiography) finally shedding light on Hughes’ much publicized rise to stardom with Deep Purple, his fall from grace through drug addiction and his eventual return to the music scene and limelight, as a true rock ‘n’ roll survivor.
Well for the most part, Hughes’ autobiography does provide some answers to many questions some have of his life. The book recalls in detail Hughes’ meteoric rise to fame and fortune, and his slow downward spiral into addiction. The only problem is what’s missing from the book, and that’s everything else.
After a brief foreword piece from Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich (who considered Hughes a rock god, and saw him play with Deep Purple twice), the book takes a detour to Christmas 1991, when an overweight, spiritually bankrupt and drug addled Hughes was once again indulging in one of his frequent drug binges, only to feel that after the high, something was wrong. That feeling eventually turned out to be a heart attack. After a dramatic start to the book, Hughes and McIver take the story right back to the very start, with Hughes discussing his early family life, his first love, his first band (Finders Keepers) and the influence soul music had on him at an early age. The pace of the writing is fast, and McIver’s interviews with Hughes parents and others help give the story a little more colour to Hughes’ own personal story. From here, the story moves fast, with Hughes’ time with Trapeze told by all those involved (band members, their manager and friends), before eventually settling into Hughes’ eventual recruitment into the legendary Deep Purple.
The history surrounding the Mk. III and Mk. IV line-up of Deep Purple has been told countless times and, not surprisingly, given that the band helped establish David Coverdale (Whitesnake), Hughes and Tommy Bolin as living legends. As expected, Hughes goes into great detail about the music the band made at the time, the drugs that constantly surrounded the band and Hughes’ introduction to the big time. Much of the story is known, but Hughes’ recounting of his time in Deep Purple is quite insightful, not to mention brutally honest in terms of his increasing drug dependency, and the band’s growing dysfunctional state as a working unit (which would eventually lead to Ritchie Blackmore’s departure, and the recruitment of The James Gang’s Tommy Bolin). There are plenty of great stories from Hughes, some of which are quite amusing (Bringing Stevie Wonder into the studio during the recording of Stormbringer is one that comes to mind), but the underlying story that emerges throughout his time in Deep Purple is one of drug use that went from recreational use, to inevitably reach a point of addiction – in a major way. Hughes speaks of his addiction with candid honesty, detailing in vivid detail the damage it did to his personal relationships, his health and ultimately his career in Deep Purple.
From the moment Deep Purple broke up, little is known about the hell that Hughes was going through in his personal life but over the course of several chapters, Hughes goes to great lengths to explain how powerful the hold his addiction would have on him, without pulling any punches or sugar-coating the truth one bit. There’s detailed accounts of the making of his debut solo effort Play Me Out from 1977 (an album that was essentially written and recorded on speed), his ill-fated reunion with Trapeze and his tumultuous relationships with friends and lovers (who amongst others, included actress Linda Blair and Cherie Currie of The Runaways).
It’s around this point (two thirds of the way through the book) that the story takes on a greater emphasis on Hughes’ drug additions rather than keeping it tied in with his musical output. The doomed Hughes/Thrall project is given some coverage, as too is Hughes’ short-lived stint with Gary Moore (which aside from discussing his work on Moore’s 1985’s album Run for Cover, Hughes finally settles the infamous Mars Bar story once and for all) Black Sabbath (1986’s Seventh Star) and John Norum (1992’s Face the Truth), but for the most part, music is passed over for a more in-depth look at Hughes’ continued downward spiral into madness and self destruction through drugs.
The last third of the book is no less compelling than the first two-thirds, but disappointing nonetheless.
The heart attack that Hughes and McIver opened the book proved to be the catalyst Hughes needed to get clean and sober, and so begins Hughes’ story of his rocky road to sobriety. In amongst the various chapters, Hughes admits to moments where he’s relapsed (something he had never admitted to anyone before the book), and the lengths he’s gone to in order to make amends to those he has done wrong by and let down while in the grip of addiction (and by all accounts, it’s been quite a few people over the years). McIver also takes the opportunity towards the end of the book to introduce Gabi (Hughes’ wife) into Hughes’ life story, before dedicating the last chapter to Hughes’ latest and most successful project in some time – Black Country Communion.
Like a lot of autobiographies, Hughes’ The Autobiography - From Deep Purple to Black Country Communion focuses a lot on his personal life rather than his professional endeavours. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, it has to be said that the emphasis on his drug addiction is at times a little overbearing, to the point where you sometimes forget that throughout those dark and desperate years, Hughes was still actively writing and recording for a variety of artists. I was particularly disappointed with the lack of details surrounding such obscure recordings as 4 on the Floor’s self-titled effort (1979), the aborted second Hughes/Thrall release and his collaboration with Robin George (the lost 1989 album Sweet Revenge, which eventually surfaced in 2008).
Even more disappointing is the lack of coverage on Hughes’ own solo work in the book. Play Me Out is talked about a lot, but everything thereafter is given a fleeting mention at best.
Finding the right balance between the subject’s personal life and their musical life is never an easy job, and few have succeeded (I consider Stephen Davis’ Aerosmith effort Walk This Way from 1997 and Mötley Crüe/Neil Strauss 2001 classic The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band two of the best examples at finding the perfect balance). Unfortunately, McIver fails to find enough middle ground to satisfy those purely interested in Hughes’ musical output.
Despite its flaws, The Autobiography - From Deep Purple to Black Country Communion does provide a fascinating insight into Hughes’ heady rise to the top, his self-inflected fall into addiction, and his eventual resurrection and return to life and music, leaving no question that Hughes has lived the life of a rock star, both in terms of its highs and its lows, and survived to tell the tale.
The real shame is that in amongst the book’s core story, Hughes’ reputation as a formidable singer, songwriter and musician is barely touched upon.