Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion

They were a su­pergroup with the world at their feet, but they let their world im­plode. Af­ter a “long hia­tus”, Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion are back, with a new al­bum and a new per­spec­tive, hav­ing been re­minded that “we make a re­ally good racket when we don’t g

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Joe Bosso Por­traits: Neil Zlozower

They had the world at their feet, but they let their own world im­plode. Af­ter a “long hia­tus” they’re back, with a new al­bum and the re­al­i­sa­tion that they’ve got some­thing spe­cial.

It seems no­body told Glenn Hughes that lead singers are sup­posed to be fash­ion­ably late – for every­thing. On a re­cent Sun­day af­ter­noon in Los An­ge­les, the vet­eran vo­cal­ist/bassist ar­rives at pho­tog­ra­pher Neil Zlozower’s stu­dio be­fore any of the other mem­bers of his band, Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion. “I never went in for the prima donna shit,” he says with an el­e­gant yet dis­mis­sive wave of his hand. “Be­lieve me, I’ve seen enough of that be­hav­iour over the years. I could give lessons if I wanted to. No good can come from it. Be a pro, I say.”

Gui­tar ace Joe Bona­massa is next in the door, and he quickly in­forms Zlozower that he’s on the clock. Bona­massa keeps to a tight sched­ule most of the time, and to­mor­row morn­ing he’s fly­ing to Ha­vana to shoot a doc­u­men­tary. “We’re go­ing to do a re­verse Buena Vista So­cial Club thing,” he says. “I’m gonna grab a bunch of Cubans and try to play the blues with them. We’ll see what hap­pens. If it works, that’ll be great. If it doesn’t, well, it’ll be a dif­fer­ent kind of film.”

Hughes and Bona­massa greet each other with warm hugs and spend a few minutes catch­ing up on their re­cent ac­tiv­i­ties. Their ca­ma­raderie is nat­u­ral and un­forced – and some­what sur­pris­ing, given the way the two mu­si­cians sniped at each other on so­cial me­dia back in 2012, a bit­ter pub­lic ex­change that re­sulted in the fast im­plo­sion of Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion fol­low­ing the re­lease of their third al­bum, After­glow. “We were like vi­sion­ar­ies,” Bona­massa says. “Glenn and I in­vented mean tweets be­fore they be­came pres­i­den­tial.”

Hughes lets out a good-na­tured laugh, per­haps hop­ing to down­play the ex­pe­ri­ence. But Bona­massa is se­ri­ous – he seems to re­gard the mat­ter with a sense of pride: “Well, we did in­vent mean tweets. We should get ahead of that and own it.”

Own­ing their past is some­thing the mem­bers of Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion are slowly com­ing to terms with. And they have good rea­son to, as it now seems as if they’re buck­ing for a fu­ture. They’ve got a right­eous and ro­bust new al­bum, BCC IV, out this month, and they don’t mind if you re­fer to it as a come­back.

“It’s our first record in five years – I guess that’s what you call it,” Hughes says. “But here’s the thing: it’s re­ally a great record. When you hear it, you’re hear­ing me go­ing back to my roots.”

He beams a high-wattage smile and adds: “I can’t be mod­est about this. I just have to crow. I’m such fan of this band. If I weren’t in this band, I would want to be in this band.”

With­out prompt­ing, he’s quick to stress that the dishar­mony be­tween him and Bona­massa wasn’t as deep-seated and ex­plo­sive as had been re­ported when the whole thing col­lapsed. “It was more like mis­un­der­stand­ings,” he says. “Joe and I had never fallen off the rails. That’s a big mis­con­cep­tion. Oh, sure, there were some mo­ments we went: ‘Oh, God. What now?’ But we were al­ways friends. It wasn’t like other bands that have these re­ally hor­ri­ble break-ups.”

He pauses, search­ing for the right words. “And ours wasn’t so much a break-up as it was a long hia­tus.”

“It’s true,” Bona­massa in­ter­jects. “We never ac­tu­ally lost con­tact. We just stopped play­ing. And that was a shame, be­cause Glenn is the whole rea­son why I got into this thing.

I was a huge Glenn Hughes fan.

I was hon­oured to be in a band with him.” He throws the singer a smile. “And I still am.”

Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion be­gan as the brain­child of pro­ducer Kevin Shirley, who has worked as Bona­massa’s reg­u­lar sonic ar­chi­tect and chief con­fi­dant since the two first worked to­gether on the gui­tarist’s You & Me al­bum in 2007. Af­ter wit­ness­ing an im­promptu jam be­tween Bona­massa and Hughes, Shirley brought in drum­mer Ja­son Bon­ham and for­mer Dream The­ater key­board player Derek Sherinian with the idea of putting a fresh coat of paint on 70s-era clas­sic rock.

“I thought they could be a hark back to the glory days of great bands like Free, Bad Com­pany, Led Zep­pelin and Deep Pur­ple,” Shirley re­calls. “And boy, did we have the right per­son­nel! Those

“Glenn and I were like vi­sion­ar­ies. We in­vented mean tweets be­fore

they be­came pres­i­den­tial.”

Joe Bona­massa

were my ex­act thoughts when putting these guys to­gether. The rea­son why I thought Derek Sherinian was a good idea was, af­ter work­ing with him on a Dream The­ater al­bum, I thought that the pro­gres­sive rock el­e­ment he could bring could in­tro­duce an in­ter­est­ing new dy­namic to the group.”

Sherinian ar­rives at the stu­dio next, and he too greets his band­mates af­fec­tion­ately. He looks fit and healthy, ra­di­at­ing a cool con­fi­dence – a swag­ger, re­ally – to go along with his newly toned-up physique. “I got di­vorced and then I hit fifty,” he says. “You get to a point where you wanna look good, you know?”

He says he had few ex­pec­ta­tions when he was first brought into the project. “I got a call from Kevin, who asked if I wanted to record a few songs in Mal­ibu for a cou­ple of days. I knew of Glenn and Ja­son, but I didn’t know Joe at all. We weren’t even think­ing of do­ing a whole al­bum at that point, much less any­thing else.”

Those cou­ple of days got ex­tended to a full week, by which time the quar­tet’s song frag­ments and jams had mor­phed into an en­tire al­bum of hard-hit­ting blues-based hard rock. “It came to­gether so quickly,” says Bona­massa. “What started out as this ex­per­i­ment be­came some­thing big­ger. I don’t think any­body gave any­thing much thought un­til we heard the first mixes, and then we went: ‘Wow! This is pretty damn good.’ It was clas­sic rock but with new songs. It had that old seven­ties feel but it didn’t sound dated in any way. Once ev­ery­body heard it, we all thought: ‘I think we might have some­thing here.’”

Pat­ting Bona­massa on the knees, Hughes says: “It was pretty ob­vi­ous that these four tal­ents to­gether were the right guys at the right time. It was like, okay, now here’s a band.’

“Right. But it was never mi­cro-man­aged,” Bona­massa stresses, “like we were in a board­room or some­thing. So we all de­cided, okay, we’ve got some­thing here, let’s make it work.”

Orig­i­nally the group had chris­tened them­selves Black Coun­try (a ref­er­ence to the part of the West Mid­lands where Hughes and Bon­ham both grew up), but af­ter the threat of le­gal ac­tion from a band based in Bal­ti­more, Mary­land, with the same name, they de­cided to add ‘Com­mu­nion’.

BCC’s self-ti­tled de­but al­bum was re­leased in the au­tumn of 2010 to rave re­views and im­me­di­ately picked up brisk sales. “We were all pretty sur­prised,” Sherinian says. “I don’t think any of us ex­pected such strong and im­me­di­ate ac­cep­tance. How many bands can make a record and do busi­ness right away? We were all pretty ex­cited, and so we wanted to get out there and play.”

From the be­gin­ning, the ques­tion re­mained about whether BCC could ever man­age to be a big gig­ging band. Al­though three of the mem­bers had var­i­ous com­mit­ments – Hughes toured be­hind solo al­bums; Bon­ham di­vided his time be­tween For­eigner, Sammy Ha­gar’s The Cir­cle and his own Ja­son Bon­ham’s Led Zep­pelin Ex­pe­ri­ence; Sherinian, since leav­ing Dream The­ater in 1999, has per­formed with a va­ri­ety of acts – all were gung-ho on tour­ing as much as pos­si­ble. Bona­massa was the stum­bling block when it came to ex­tended road work.

“I can’t be mod­est about this. I’m such a fan of this band. If I weren’t in this band, I would want to be in this band.” Glenn Hughes

Even be­fore the group recorded their de­but al­bum, his solo ca­reer as a mod­ern blues mas­ter was on the rise. “I’d been mak­ing my records since 1999,” he says. “I was hav­ing suc­cess and things were build­ing nicely. In 2008 or 2009, that’s when it started to get in­ter­est­ing – the shows were get­ting big­ger. I was like: ‘Wow. Looks like this thing I’ve worked for is fi­nally hap­pen­ing.’”

“Joe was very clear early on that he had a solo ca­reer go­ing and that things would need to work around that,” Kevin Shirley re­mem­bers of Bona­massa’s avail­abil­ity to tour. “It was gen­er­ally un­der­stood that his own tour­ing would be a pri­or­ity – al­though once things got un­der way with the band it was all kind of for­got­ten.”

Bona­massa likens his ca­reer tra­jec­tory at that point to a freight train speed­ing down the tracks. “You spend your whole life try­ing to get the train go­ing,” he ex­plains. “You try as hard as you can and push as hard as you can, and then sud­denly it starts mov­ing. Then it moves faster and faster. The next thing you know, you’re fly­ing. I was booked for tours a year or two in ad­vance. What do you do, put the brakes on it? It was a prob­lem.”

The de­mand for BCC dates was grow­ing, and Bona­massa was caught in a bind. “I was like: ‘How do I fi­nesse this with them?’” he re­calls. “Here I was, this one thing, my solo ca­reer, was mov­ing faster and faster, and then this other thing, the band, started tak­ing off in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. What was I to do? I can’t fran­chise this thing out.”

Given Bona­massa’s com­mit­ments, BCC man­aged to play live just four times dur­ing their first year to­gether: as an en­core dur­ing one of Bona­massa’s own shows in River­side, Cal­i­for­nia; for an al­bum re­lease gig in front of a se­lect au­di­ence at John Henry’s re­hearsal stu­dios in Lon­don; and two per­for­mances in the UK in De­cem­ber 2010, at Wolver­hamp­ton Civic Hall and Lon­don’s Shep­herd’s Bush Em­pire.

“Those were some of my favourite gigs I’ve ever been in­volved in,” Bona­massa en­thuses. “That gig at the Wolves was so fuck­ing loud and ex­hil­a­rat­ing – I’ll never for­get that mo­ment. It was one of those times when I thought: ‘This is what it’s re­ally like when some­thing is new and fresh and peo­ple are see­ing it for the first time.’ You don’t get that kind of thing too of­ten.”

Hughes cuts in. “I just want to address this once and only once,” he says, “be­cause I don’t want to hash it through a mil­lion times. There were never any prob­lems with us at all. We knew Joe was very busy and we were tread­ing wa­ter, so we thought, ‘ Al­right, we’ll just have to move for­ward.’ It was as sim­ple as that.”

Mov­ing for­ward meant record­ing an­other al­bum, which the group knocked out with Shirley in an­other week-long blast in early 2011. Al­though Hughes had a big­ger hand in the writ­ing than on their first al­bum, the gen­eral con­sen­sus was that Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion 2 was a stronger com­mu­nal ef­fort: Bona­massa’s are­na­sized riffs, Hughes’s throaty roar, Sherinian’s ma­jes­tic key­board flour­ishes and Bon­ham’s ter­rific drum­ming had uni­fied into a sum greater than its parts.

Even­tu­ally there was a space on Bona­massa’s list of com­mit­ments that was big enough to al­low for a proper BCC tour. They played just a quick se­ries of dates in the US, but spent con­sid­er­able time per­form­ing in Europe, which was doc­u­mented on the CD/DVD and Blu-ray re­lease Live Over Europe. The shows were greeted rap­tur­ously by fans, but as Shirley re­mem­bers it, “Things were go­ing off the rails early on. Dur­ing that Euro­pean tour there were rubs be­tween Glenn and Joe that were ev­i­dent. The truth is, Joe was build­ing a very ded­i­cated fan base with his blues records, and was at­tract­ing enough peo­ple to jus­tify be­ing out solo – play­ing the kind of venues BCC were play­ing, but sell­ing them out.”

By the end of the run, Hughes had the feel­ing that the band had over­played its hand. This sus­pi­cion was con­firmed when the guys landed at Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port and were wait­ing for their bags. “Joe looked at me and said: ‘I think next time we should just go out for a cou­ple of weeks,’ Hughes re­calls. “I could see it in his eye. I knew what he was go­ing for, what he meant: we did thir­teen weeks, it was too long.”

Bona­massa nods, draws a deep breath and says: “Yeah, it was a long tour. Bru­tal.”

The record­ing of third al­bum After­glow, in 2012, pro­ceeded much like the band’s sec­ond – Hughes brought in most of the ma­te­rial and the band ham­mered out the rest from the var­i­ous riffs and ideas that were float­ing around. Bona­massa was by now a bona fide solo sen­sa­tion, and the de­mands on his time were pil­ing up. He was also be­com­ing, by his own ad­mis­sion, a bit unglued. “It was over­whelm­ing me,” the gui­tarist states. “I was go­ing from solo al­bum to tour­ing to Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion

“That 2010 gig at Wolves was so f**king loud and ex­hil­a­rat­ing. I’ll never for­get that mo­ment.” Joe Bona­massa

al­bum to more tour­ing. I was do­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions. I was do­ing every­thing that came at me. I re­ally felt like I was on the verge of men­tally and phys­i­cally burn­ing out.”

“I was con­cerned for him,” Hughes says softly. “I saw what was hap­pen­ing, and I’d seen it be­fore. I’d seen it take down many peo­ple. That suc­cess you wish for turns around and bites you.”

“There was a six-month pe­riod that was re­ally bad,” Bona­massa says. “I was at the point where I wanted to say: ‘You know what? Gar­den­ing is go­ing to be my new ca­reer. Fuck this.’”

Dur­ing the mak­ing of After­glow, it was again un­der­stood that the op­por­tu­ni­ties to play live were go­ing to be lim­ited. Hughes claims he was fine with this ar­range­ment, but once he saw that the only post-al­bum re­lease gig on the books was a one-off in Wolver­hamp­ton for 2013, he lost it. In an in­ter­view just prior to the record’s re­lease, he ex­pressed his frus­tra­tion and even hinted that the al­bum might be the band’s swan­song due to Bona­massa’s heavy road sched­ule.

“I hate to break it to you, but it just may be,” he said at the time, “be­cause I need to be in a band that tours on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. If I had a magic wand, I would wave it over ev­ery­body’s head and go: ‘Hey, you guys, we’re gonna go and do two hun­dred shows and we’re gonna be a huge rock’n’roll band glob­ally.’ It’s not gonna hap­pen.”

Hughes claims that he wasn’t try­ing to use the press to force Bona­massa’s hand into tour­ing more: “I was just be­ing hon­est. I was dis­grun­tled.” But when he later com­plained on Twit­ter about the high ticket prices for Wolver­hamp­ton, things went south, and the mean tweets be­tween him and Bona­massa started. “I’m ready to move on,” the gui­tarist posted. To which Hughes replied: “Me too.” The gig at Wolver­hamp­ton was can­celled, and for all in­tents and pur­poses, Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion were fin­ished.

Ja­son Bon­ham is the last mem­ber of the band to ar­rive at Zlozower’s stu­dio to­day – at last. In the midst of his own Led Zep­pelin Ex­pe­ri­ence tour, he got caught up in a flight de­lay in Cleve­land. He takes the travel has­sle in stride – “What are ya gonna do?” – and is quickly hus­tled into a small dress­ing room where a make-up artist at­tends to him and Sherinian. Like his leg­endary fa­ther, Bon­ham is a burly bear of a man. Not­ing Sherinian’s studly ca­lan­der-man ap­pear­ance, he chuck­les and says: “I tried that work­out stuff once. I went run­ning – hated it.”

Asked about the cy­cle of events that led to BCC’s im­plo­sion in 2012, he lets out an even big­ger laugh and says: “Oh, we’re go­ing to talk about that stuff? I wasn’t in­volved in it. I was just watch­ing the emails and go­ing: ‘Oh, no…’ You know, you see this hap­pen­ing, and you’re just like, ‘C’mon, guys. Re­ally?’”

Sherinian elab­o­rates: “I was do­ing a per­for­mance with Glenn in Ar­me­nia when the con­flict first started. I didn’t think any­thing much, and I told

Glenn: ‘Don’t worry. It’s gonna work out.’ I got on a plane and flew back to Cal­i­for­nia, and when I checked my emails I was like: ‘Uh-oh…’ There were about a hun­dred of them. When I saw one of them said, ‘Fuck you,’ I thought, ‘Okay, well, I guess it’s over.’”

For Bon­ham, he’d lived through this sce­nario be­fore fol­low­ing Led Zep­pelin’s tri­umphant one-night-only re­union show, with him on drums, at Lon­don’s O2 Arena in 2007. “Peo­ple would al­ways say: ‘Why is Robert be­ing a dick?’ They wanted the band to tour.

You know, there’s al­ways go­ing to be some­body at fault for a band not work­ing. But when you know what’s in­side the sit­u­a­tion, you can un­der­stand things a lit­tle bet­ter. With Joe, I kind of get

“I was at the point where I wanted to say: ‘Gar­den­ing is go­ing to be my new ca­reer. F**k this.’” Joe Bona­massa

it. He’s a very suc­cess­ful artist in his own right, so it’s hard for him to be ex­pected to take time away from it.”

He pauses, then adds, “Of course, it would have been nice to do more… “

For a brief time, Hughes, Sherinian and Bon­ham con­sid­ered con­tin­u­ing with­out Bona­massa. “There was talk of that, yes,” Bon­ham says. “We felt very strongly about this band.”

Sherinian says the idea went be­yond mere talk, and ad­mits that the trio even au­di­tioned an­other gui­tarist – al­though he won’t men­tion whom. “Look, there was a lot of in­ter­est in peo­ple see­ing this band, with or with­out Joe,” he says. “But it didn’t feel right with this other guy.” He adds quickly: “Joe knows about this, I told him. For a sec­ond, he was like: ‘I can’t be­lieve you guys would do that.’ And I said: ‘Why wouldn’t we?’”

Soon af­ter the bot­tom fell out from un­der BCC, Sherinian hooked up with Bona­massa when he joined the gui­tarist’s tour­ing band from July 2013 un­til the end of 2014. Mean­while, Hughes and Bon­ham gave the band thing an­other go with Cal­i­for­nia Breed, a bluesy hard rock trio that also in­cluded gui­tarist Andrew Watt. They recorded an al­bum with pro­ducer Dave Cobb, known for his work with Chris Sta­ple­ton, Ja­son Is­bell and Ri­val Sons, and made their live de­but at the Whisky A Go Go in Hol­ly­wood in 2014.

Iron­i­cally, it was Bon­ham who pulled out of Cal­i­for­nia Breed when the sub­ject of proper tour­ing came up. “I dis­agreed with what we were go­ing to do live,” he says. “The sit­u­a­tion we were look­ing at was much dif­fer­ent than it was for BCC, and I just said: ‘Look, I can’t tour for noth­ing.’ I’d got­ten to a point where that just wasn’t pos­si­ble.”

Hughes and Watt tried to keep Cal­i­for­nia Breed alive by bring­ing in for­mer Queens Of The Stone Age and Eagles Of Death Metal drum­mer Joey Castillo in place of Bon­ham, but the band came to an end in early 2015.

Back out in the main room of the photo stu­dio, Hughes shakes his head and sighs when asked about this pe­riod. “It was a hard, dif­fi­cult time, for sure,” he says. “Cal­i­for­nia Breed made a great record with Dave Cobb, and we felt re­ally good about it. But it was just im­pos­si­ble to tour, al­though we did a bit of that. It was tough. You don’t like let­ting these things go.”

Bona­massa didn’t like be­ing tagged as ‘the guy who broke up Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion’, and over the next few years he put the band’s past in the rear-view mir­ror and gained some per­spec­tive on what had gone wrong.

“I was prob­a­bly the chief rug puller back then,” he says. “But even if you’re the rug puller, you don’t want to be told that. When things had built up be­fore, I was think­ing: ‘My hair­line and my abil­ity to have cog­nizant thoughts are both in jeop­ardy at this point.’ So I just dis­en­gaged. I dis­en­gaged in the only way Ital­ians know how – to throw a cherry bomb into one’s life. That’s kind of what I did, and I can now cop to it in the most hon­est fash­ion.

“I was a lit­tle hot-headed and im­ma­ture,” he con­tin­ues. “It’s some­thing that I’m still guilty of. I spin out over stupid shit. You work on it, es­pe­cially as you grow older and you see forty com­ing up. So yeah, one of my lim­i­ta­tions is, I get spun out over lit­tle shit when I should prob­a­bly think it through.”

He laughs, then adds: “That’s an­other rea­son why I shouldn’t have any­thing to do with po­lit­i­cal of­fice. I’d be ter­ri­ble at it.”

One of the is­sues Bona­massa pro­cessed over the years was

Hughes’s dis­gruntle­ment over BCC’s tour­ing predica­ment, and he now says he’s able to cut Hughes some slack for his out­bursts in the press.

“Glenn was out there try­ing to pro­mote a record, and he’s asked all the time: ‘When are you tour­ing?’” he says. “He’s do­ing this press jun­ket over a week or seven­teen days, and that’s what he gets all day long. That’s gotta rat­tle your nerves af­ter a while. I prob­a­bly would’ve said the same things that he did.”

It was early one morn­ing in 2016, while on tour in Europe, that Bona­massa had some­thing of an epiphany. Af­ter ar­riv­ing at his ho­tel in Düs­sel­dorf in the af­ter­noon of the day be­fore a con­cert, he went to his ho­tel room and made the mis­take of go­ing straight to bed. “I was all jet-lagged and fucked up,” he re­mem­bers. When he awoke it was four a.m. and he was full of en­ergy. The prob­lem was that there was noth­ing to do. “Noth­ing was open, and the ho­tel didn’t serve break­fast till six. I had all this time on my hands. So I put on some mu­sic.”

For a lark he pulled up the BCC cat­a­logue. Start­ing with the first al­bum, he went through every­thing the band had recorded, even live ma­te­rial. It was some­thing he hadn’t done in years – and he was riv­eted.

“It was re­mark­able,” he re­calls. “As

I lis­tened to it, I started to think: ‘You know what? You’re an id­iot, Joe. Most peo­ple search their en­tire life to find a group of mu­si­cians this spe­cial, and here we are, five years af­ter play­ing our last gig and we haven’t done any­thing.’ It just seemed so ab­surd to me. Like, what a waste, you know?” Bona­massa sent his for­mer band­mates an email ex­press­ing this very sen­ti­ment. “I said: ‘You know what, guys? We make a re­ally good racket when we don’t get in our own way. It would be a shame if we never got an op­por­tu­nity to play again, when ev­ery­body is in their prime and is able to do it.’” To his sur­prise, he re­ceived re­sponses from ev­ery­body within minutes. “Ev­ery­body was like: ‘Let’s boo­gie.’

‘Let’s rock.’ ‘I’m in.’ I was re­ally happy that we were all on the same page at ex­actly the same time.”

Kevin Shirley says he and Bona­massa had never re­ally tossed around the idea of BCC work­ing to­gether again, and he was sur­prised when the gui­tarist sent his mes­sage to the band.

“We just said: ‘If we’re gonna do a record, let’s do it.’ There was no man­date for tour­ing.” Derek Sherinian

“He ex­cluded me on that email, ini­tially,” he points out. “I mean, I’m only the pro­ducer. I was aware that the band had cost Joe in­di­vid­u­ally a lot of money, and I know that Roy [Weis­man], his busi­ness part­ner, would have pre­ferred to keep that cur­tailed. But Joe is a per­son who op­er­ates on emo­tion, and he wanted to put the band back to­gether again. He didn’t feel they had fin­ished what they had started.”

Bona­massa and Hughes met for din­ner in New York City around the time that Hughes, with Deep Pur­ple, was be­ing in­ducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and the two men discussed plans for record­ing a fourth BCC al­bum. Both agreed that the key to mak­ing a strong record was that the writ­ing should be shared equally be­tween them. “I was like: ‘Glenn, I’m com­ing to you this time,’” says Bona­massa. “‘I’ll get my gui­tar, I’ll get on the free­way and let’s get this thing go­ing. Let’s get back to the very be­gin­ning of this when it was just in­spired and fo­cused.’”

“On the first three records – and I counted, too – Joe had only writ­ten at my house six times,” Hughes says. “That’s six times on three records. For this new record he was at my house ten times. That’s re­ally speaks to what a true partnership this was.”

Both men al­low that their writ­ing ses­sions got off to a shaky start (“We had noth­ing at first,” says Hughes, “and we didn’t pull out old riffs from five years ago”), but af­ter a cou­ple of days they felt the spark of their old chem­istry and got on a roll. Sit­ting side by side with gui­tars, they soon found that they were writ­ing a song a day. “The best part was how we would fin­ish each other’s sen­tences,” Bona­massa re­calls. “If I came in with a bridge, Glenn would be right there with a cho­rus, and vice versa.”

Af­ter a few weeks, the bulk of the al­bum was laid out in front of them. There was the grandiose, thun­der­ing rock of The Last Song For My Place, the sweep­ing, yearn­ing, widescreen pop of Won­der­lust and the riff-mon­ster be­he­moth Col­lide. For the gal­lop­ing, ur­gent siz­zler Awake, Bona­massa worked up a dizzy­ing, curlicue gui­tar line that’s about as far away from Howlin’ Wolf as you can get. “A funny thing hap­pens when I write with Glenn,” Bona­massa says. “I take off my blues hat and I put on my clas­sic rock hat. I don’t even have to think about it. Dif­fer­ent riffs start fly­ing out.”

One riff in par­tic­u­lar gave the gui­tarist a mo­ment of concern, how­ever, on the stomp­ing power rocker The Crow, built on a mas­sive gui­tar fig­ure that’s equal parts Jimmy Page and Rage Against The Ma­chine’s Tom Morello. Be­fore record­ing, Bona­massa no­ticed that it bore too much of a re­sem­blance to RATM’s Bulls On Pa­rade, so it was amended slightly. “The sim­i­lar­ity wasn’t lost on us,” he notes.

In Jan­uary this year, the band and Shirley con­vened at East West Stu­dios in Los An­ge­les and laid down every­thing Bona­massa and Hughes had writ­ten in a record four days. They had planned on spend­ing a solid week in the stu­dio, but Hughes had to cut his time short to fly to Eng­land to see his ail­ing mother (she passed away soon af­ter­wards). “To tell you the truth, we could have spent two or three weeks in the stu­dio and wound up with the same record,” he says. “You don’t al­ways get bet­ter re­sults ham­mer­ing away at some­thing once it’s fin­ished. We knew what we were do­ing and we were ready.”

Some songs, how­ever, did change sig­nif­i­cantly once the band be­gan jam­ming on them. Hughes and Bona­massa both point to Sway as an ex­am­ple. In its recorded form, the track has a mys­ti­cal and un­mis­tak­able Kash­mir-like qual­ity to it. “That’s not the way it started at all,” Hughes ex­plains. “I wrote it as more of an up­tempo thing, kind of like Michael Jack­son’s Smooth Crim­i­nal. We showed it to Ja­son and he went: ‘How about just chang­ing that a lit­tle bit?’ It took on more of a Zep­pelin vibe, but it’s still got a bit of Michael to it as well.” Bona­massa laughs. “That stuff just hap­pens,” he says, “but it’s not like we say to Ja­son: ‘Hey, can you do a Zep­pelin thing here?’ But, you know, the guy can’t help it. He’s got a thing in his DNA that no one else has. Ev­ery drum­mer in the world who has mas­tered the John Bon­ham style of drum­ming will never have that el­e­ment of blood. I mean, you could bring in an Eastern Lat­vian folk polka and he’ll fig­ure out a way to make it sound like When The Levee Breaks.”

If it was up to Bon­ham, he would have put more of a Zep­pelin spin on the al­bum. “Oh yeah, I do a cou­ple of those things,” he says, “and I’m quite proud of them. You know, I play the way I play, and so

I’ll throw a Black Dog lick in here and there or what­ever. The hard­est thing about record­ing with Kevin is I never get to redo my drums. He has his way of do­ing it, and it’s like drum tracks are made by an edi­tor some­times. It pisses me off.” When asked how record­ing the new al­bum dif­fered from pre­vi­ous BCC al­bums, Sherinian braces for a mo­ment, then re­sponds snark­ily: “The big­gest dif­fer­ence was that Ja­son and I were ex­cluded from the writ­ing process.” As an aside, he adds: “I’m just happy that you can fi­nally hear me in the mix.”

Bona­massa later seems sur­prised that the issue of group song­writ­ing came up. “I didn’t think it was so big a deal,” he says. “It’s not like Glenn and I go in there and

“I play the way I play, and so I’ll throw a Black Dog lick in here and there or what­ever.” Ja­son Bon­ham

say: ‘Here’s our songs, they have to go this way.’ It’s not like that at all. Songs change and peo­ple con­trib­ute. If you’re that married to a song, save it for your solo ca­reer, you know?”

Shirley sees the mat­ter this way: “I feel Ja­son and Derek should have been in­cluded more, but in my opin­ion they some­times cut off their noses to spite the face. Derek and Ja­son, and even me on the odd oc­ca­sion, of­fer re­ally in­ter­est­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions and in­sights to the ma­te­rial, but Glenn is def­i­nitely the key writer in the band. And he’s very, very tal­ented and good at it, too. Joe writes en­tirely dif­fer­ently for BCC than he does for him­self – it’s kind of al­most sto­ry­telling, an Iron Maiden-like thing.

“I don’t think Glenn en­joys be­ing con­fronta­tional,” he con­tin­ues, “and there’s also some pretty bad writ­ing that gets sub­mit­ted. Ev­ery bone in his body is say­ing: ‘This is shit,’ but he doesn’t want to of­fend peo­ple. Glenn is ac­tu­ally pretty funny. He doesn’t love all the pro­gres­sive rock stuff, and when­ever those so­los come around, he likens it to trolls and lep­rechauns danc­ing. Ja­son is one of the most amaz­ing mu­si­cians you could meet. He has so many ideas that it’s tough to rein him in, and I think it’s a mis­take to have ex­cluded him. But he does it to him­self by be­ing very dif­fi­cult to get a hold of some­times.”

The af­ter­noon is draw­ing to a close as the four band mem­bers gather to­gether for group and in­di­vid­ual pho­tos. Af­ter a se­ries of in­door ones are snapped, the guys head out­side and hang out on Sun­set Boule­vard as pho­tog­ra­pher Neil Zlozower con­tin­ues to click away. Hughes keeps ev­ery­body gig­gling with a steady stream of rib­ald jokes, all of which seem to end with the same punch­line: “Well, it isn’t gonna suck it­self!”

So far there are no BCC gigs on the books for 2017, al­though the band ares sched­uled to play three shows in the early part of next year – two UK dates and one aboard an ocean liner as part of Bona­massa’s an­nual Blues At Sea Cruise. Some­what sur­pris­ingly, the mat­ter of tour­ing wasn’t a deal-breaker when Bona­massa first pro­posed the idea of re-form­ing. “We didn’t set any con­di­tions of any kind,” Sherinian says. “We just said: ‘If we’re gonna do a record, let’s do it.’ There was no man­date for tour­ing.”

Hughes, in the past the most keen mem­ber to tour, now says he’s adopted a ‘what­ever hap­pens hap­pens’ credo re­gard­ing the fu­ture of Black Coun­try Com­mu­nion.

“The key to my life these days is that I have no ex­pec­ta­tions,” he ex­plains. “I bear no re­sent­ments. I do this one day at a time, know­ing full well that what we did on al­bum num­ber four made me a bet­ter hu­man be­ing. I’m go­ing to keep do­ing things the same way. I’m so glad we did this one be­cause it’s brought us closer to­gether. I just feel blessed to play with these guys.”

So that means no more mean tweets? Hughes laughs. “No,” he says, “there will be none of that go­ing on.”

“Here’s the deal,” says Bona­massa. “You can’t erase the past, but I don’t want to be one of those guys who takes shit to the grave. Fuck that.

This goes back to that morn­ing

I sent the email to ev­ery­body. It’s like I woke up and said to my­self: ‘Self, life is way too short to keep this bur­den­some shit go­ing. We had fun in 2010. We had fun in 2011 and 2012, and we had a blast mak­ing the new al­bum. So as long as that lasts, let’s keep do­ing this.’

“The world doesn’t need a bunch of bit­ter old coots mak­ing mu­sic by obli­ga­tion,” he con­cludes. “You have that with other bands, but who needs it? There’s too much con­tent out there al­ready. But if a band wants to make mu­sic and they come out of the gate with the right record? Hey, the world can use that.

I’m re­ally proud that we’ve all got­ten to this place to­gether.”

“You can’t erase the past, but I don’t want to be one of those guys who takes shit to the grave.” Joe Bona­massa

IV is out now via Mas­cot Records and is re­viewed on p90.

Ready to give it an­other go: (l-r) Joe Bona­massa,

Glenn Hughes, Ja­son Bon­ham and

Derek Sherinian, shot ex­clu­sively for

Clas­sic Rock, Los An­ge­les, July 2017.

Above: play­ing at John Henry’s re­hearsal stu­dios

in Lon­don on Septem­ber 20,

2010 for the launch of BCC’s

de­but al­bum. Op­po­site page:

killer gigs at Wolver­hamp­ton

Civic Hall on De­cem­ber 29,

2010 (left) and Lon­don’s

Shep­herd’s Bush Em­pire the fol­low­ing night.

Left: out­side John Henry’s in Septem­ber 2010.

The sky’s the limit: BCC play­ing the High Volt­age Fes­ti­val at Vic­to­ria Park, Lon­don on

July 24, 2011.

Does the world

need an­other su­pergroup? When it’s as good as this

one, yes.

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