By Charlie Steffens (charliesteffens.com)
“This is about making fans, one at a time.”
California Breed is a hard-rocking band that’s bringing everything rock and roll to the world with its self-titled debut album. Combining the best elements of classic rock with arresting hooks, catchy melodies, and an undercurrent of funk, the Los Angeles-based trio has a pedigree that includes the much-respected Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath) on vocals and bass, and power drummer Jason Bonham (Bonham, Foreigner, UFO). Newcomer Andrew Watt, whose style evokes the forefathers of guitar including Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, as well as later-generation Jerry Cantrell and John Frusciante, is equal to the challenge by joining with his better-known bandmates on guitars and vocals.
Hughes has had a long and successful career as a singer and bassist for a variety of bands such as Trapeze, the aforementioned Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, and with the recently-defunct Black Country Communion. A much-respected and sought-after musician, he has played on numerous projects with the biggest names in the business, including Tony Iommi and Gary Moore.
Hughes and Bonham, both members of Black Country Communion (along with guitarist Joe Bonamassa and keyboardist Derek Sherinian), began to write new material together almost immediately after the band split. Rather than do a Black Country Communion II, he and Bonham collaborated for several weeks, and then decided it was time to bring a guitarist into the group.
Hughes had been introduced to Andrew Watt by longtime friend Julian Lennon. “He had a party last year, and he kept telling me, ‘You gotta meet this guy.’ So I met Andrew. And Julian really is the reason that we’re together,” Hughes admits, “because without Julian I never would have met Andrew. It’s a big thing and I want to thank Julian because he’s really been a big part of this. Very cool story.”
Not long after their introduction, Hughes and Watt wrote two songs, marking the beginning of what would become California Breed, the self-titled album: “We wrote those songs in my studio within four or five hours, from tip to toe. Music, lyrics, melodies, everything.” Hughes played the songs for Bonham and the band booked studio time right away.
Hughes calls California Breed “…a very live-sounding, dangerously groovy album. We’ve got a powerhouse rhythm section with a new guitar player that nobody knows, yet, but they will. He’s got it all. I’m just kind of tripping out.”
Hughes’ friendship with Bonham goes back long before the two became one of the best rhythm sections in rock. Bonham comes by his talent naturally. His father, the late John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), had little Jason behind the drum kit not long after he began to walk. “I’ve known Jason for 46 years,” says Hughes. “I’ve known him before he could speak. So I’ve grown up with him. I love Jason like a family member and we just have to play together. And the bond I have with him because I was best friends with his dad is quite unique. This is not to spook anybody, but I really do believe John Bonham’s got a part to play in this as well.”
At just 23 years old, Watt’s playing draws influence from a range of guitarists. “It took me a minute to get used to his way of playing because I’ve been playing with name dudes, regardless of their names or not, they have such pedigree”, says Hughes. “For instance, even Joe Bonamossa has been playing onstage since he was like six. Andrew’s such a young dude. I was thinking, ‘When I was 23 I was in Deep Purple.’ It can happen.”
“The kid’s ambitious. He’s very smart. I’ve always liked right-handed guitar players. The left-handed thing is something that doesn’t really interest me so much. A good right hand; that’s what Andrew’s got. And a great voice.” Despite having one of the great voices in rock (just listen to Deep Purple’s “Burn”), Hughes says “I’ve never shied away from having another guy sing with me. In fact, I love it. And Jason sings really well, too. I’m just kind of tripping out.”
Hughes describes himself musically as a hybrid of funk, rock and soul: “With California Breed I wanted to get back to the roots of rock, which, for me, is recording on the tape and recording, really, with no keyboards. I mean, rhythm sections are so important. And I think what we’ve got here is we’ve got a powerhouse rhythm section with a new guitar player that nobody knows yet. But they will. I wanted a collaborative band. I wanted everyone to get involved arranging. I wanted everybody to have a voice in this band. That’s the way bands stay together.” Emphasizing the importance of making great music and getting in front of people, Hughes adds: “This is about making fans, one at a time.”
“I firmly believe in the serenity of my life as I get older”, Hughes says with undeniable gratitude. “I can handle things that I couldn’t have handled when I was a young man. And now all these years later I’m in a good, good place spiritually. Never felt so healthy. And I’m writing songs that, for me, are probably some of the best songs I’ve ever written. So long may that continue.”