Interview with Joe Elliott (Def Leppard/Down ‘n’ Outz)

Joe Elliott
Photo credit: Maryanne Bilham-Knight

He’s played the biggest venues in the world for over 30 years but now Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott is heading back to the clubs with his Mott The Hoople tribute band the Down ‘n’ Outz. Mick Burgess chatted to Joe aboout his love of Mott the Hoople.

You’re just about to start a 10 date tour with the Down ‘n’ Outz. Are you looking forward to getting started?

Very much so. It’s going to be a chalk and cheese moment for me as we’ve just done a huge tour of the States with Kiss in 25,000 seater stadiums and with the Down ‘n Outz we’ll be playing tiny little clubs with the crowd right in our faces and I can’t wait for it to start.

Does it feel strange playing in these smaller venues this time?

Def Leppard never really played the clubs even in our early days although we did do a special warm up show at the Academy in Islington just before the Sparkle Lounge Tour. The Down ‘n’ Outz have done a few up to now. In many respects it works to your advantage being in such a small venue so close to the crowd as you really get to work off the energy of the audience. It’ll be a lot of fun.

On the 14th December you’ll be playing at the Riverside in Newcastle. Do you remember the early days of your career when you played at The Mayfair?

I can tell you a funny story about Mayfair. Paul Guerin, our guitarist, said “You know that we’d met before. Remember when you opened for AC/DC at the Mayfair and it nearly didn’t happen as there was a fire? Well I was stood out in the auditorium during sound check and I was standing next to you talking to you.” He was a 16 year old kid at the time and little did I know that one day we’d be working together. These gigs we’re doing soon aren’t even as big as The Mayfair.

You’ve got a pretty hectic schedule with Def Leppard. Was there a temptation just to take a few weeks off and put your feet up?

I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I think the older I get the more I want to do as the time that’s gone never comes back and the time in front is getting less so I want to do as much with my time as possible. I’m 55 now and I look at McCartney and Jagger and think they have given us a yardstick to aim at. I have put my feet up many times but I get restless after a day or two. There’s too many cogs in my head going round and I’m always looking for the next thing to do. There was no way I was going to say “let’s not bother.” I’ve got the new record out and it’s a duty to go out and play it live.

What sort of people come to your shows? Do you get Def Leppard fans coming to check you out or do you get a bunch of Mott fans wanting some nostalgia?

We get a lot of Def Leppard fans coming along who are curious and want to check us out. We also get a lot of Quireboys fans coming along too because of Paul, Guy and Keith. We also get a lot of people who love Mott The Hoople who are very happy that a bunch of guys like us are keeping the music alive. We get a mixture of everything really.

Down ‘n’ Outz basically covers Mott The Hoople and related bands material. This must be a real labour of love for you as you have been a huge fan of Mott from back in the ’70’s?

To go out and play these songs live is no effort at all as they are fantastic songs and it’s such a pleasure to be able to go out and play them. I can brag all night long about how great these songs are as they are not mine.

Ian Hunter himself has endorsed the band and you have appeared with him numerous times including at the City Hall last year when Mott the Hoople played one of their few reunion shows. How would Joe Elliott the teenager in the ’70’s have reacted to being told that one day he’d play alongside his hero?

I just wouldn’t have believed it and I would have laughed at anyone who’d said that one day I’d be on stage with Mott The Hoople or up there on stage at Wembley Stadium at the Freddie Mercury Tribute show singing backing vocals to All The Young Dudes with Mick Ronson, Ian Hunter and David Bowie. It was a dream come true for me as a huge fan of the band.

How did you first come to put the Down ‘n’ Outz together?

I didn’t put the band together to be a tribute to Mott the Hoople, in fact I didn’t put the band together. It just grew from one request by Mott The Hoople for me to be involved in their reunion show. It was supposed to be a 45 minute live performance opening for them on their last night at Hammersmith. That was all it was meant to be. It never occurred to me until after the show and we were in the foyer and people were coming up to us asking us to make a record and that planted the seeds for doing something more. I never planned to do this, I wasn’t bored in Def Leppard thinking “I must do a Mott The Hoople tribute project.” It wasn’t contrived in any way, it just grew organically and that’s what makes it work so well. We’re just running with it and having fun but we’re all in agreement that we’ll do a 3rd album.

Do you have any plans to write original material but in that style?

We’ve already started work on the album and as well as covers we’ll be writing new, original material in the spirit of Mott The Hoople. Having The Quireboys in the band that’s not too difficult as that’s where they come from. If there ever was a band who has the spirit of The Stones, The Faces and Mott then it’s the Quireboys. They are the perfect band to be doing this with me. It’s very relaxed, there’s absolutely no pressure doing this and if we can get one or two songs done at a time when we meet up then that’s great.

How was it recording your Down ‘n’ Outz debut album compared to your first with Def Leppard?

We have brought over 30 years of experience to the Down ‘n’ Outz debut album. When we did the first Def Leppard album we didn’t know anything. We were just like a headless chicken. With the Down ‘n’ Outz we had so much experience between us, we couldn’t really get it wrong. We have the advantage of having the experience so that we don’t mess up too much.

Ian Hunter’s style is very different to yours. How have you had to change your delivery to sing his songs?

If someone can sing they can pretty much pull off everything from Kylie Minogue to Muse. If you sing the right melody and lyrics, it normally works. I don’t sound like Ian Hunter but I can sing those songs and all I wanted to do was shine a fresh light on them as they’ve been criminally overlooked for so long and never get played on the radio. I thought if I recorded something like Rock and Roll Queen then they might get played for the novelty factor. I don’t claim any credit for that. All I’m doing is saying that it’s a great song and now they are playing my version. I can hope they will play the original.

Share Pederson from Vixen has just hopped aboard for the forthcoming tour. How did she become involved?

Originally we had Snake from Thunder on bass but he wasn’t really in the band. Share played with The Quireboys a while back on a Rock Cruise when their bass player couldn’t get a visa and they borrowed her from Vixen who were also on the cruise. Griff said that she laid down the best groove he’d ever played with so we thought we’d get her in. She can sing too, she’s great.

How does an American lady fit in with a bunch of Northern lads from England?

Well, she’s married to Bam Bam from the Dogs D’Amour and she played bass with them for a while so I don’t think she’ll have any problems with us. We are very protective of her.

You last played with the Down ‘n’ Outz up in Newcastle at the Metro Arena with Paul Rodgers from Bad Company a couple of years back and went down really well. How did you enjoy that tour?

That was a great tour and I really enjoyed the whole experience. I was extremely proud of the fact that he asked us to do that tour. He just gets it and relates to it. Mick Ralphs left Mott The Hoople to form Bad Company so there’s a link there and he knew the crowd would get it too. He knew we’d be a good warm up for his audience.

The value of music has been in the press recently with U2 giving their new album away on iTunes. Why did you give a version of your debut album away with Classic Rock magazine?

Most of the big music magazines have been giving CD’s away for years and it’s no big deal. The Sunday papers were giving CD’s away a while back and artists would be getting paid a royalty on 2 million copies so it’s a great way for artists to make money. U2 didn’t give Apple their music for free, they actually got an enormous amount of money for it. What U2 have done from a business perspective was phenomenal. They made a record and made 2000% profit the second it came out. I think they made a mistake putting it into people’s accounts automatically though. They should have given it away by inviting you to come and get it. I think U2 have set a precedent that we won’t know whether it’s good or bad for some time to come.

Do you think what you might have lost with sales was made up by increased coverage and more people at gigs?

It was the best thing I could have done. I didn’t think people would go out and buy it and to give it away to over 100,000 people exposed us to a big market. When we played at the High Voltage Festival in London there were hundreds of people down the front singing along and I remember turning around to Griff and saying that it had worked as they wouldn’t have known the songs if we hadn’t given it away and actually giving that record away with Classic Rock magazine actually got us onto that festival so I think it worked out really well.

Just to finish off how is Vivian Campbell doing at the moment and what are your plans for next year with Def Leppard?

Vivian is doing well at the moment. He’s back home now after having stem cell therapy and he’s really positive. We’re all right behind him and can’t wait for him to return to Def Leppard. At the moment we have Steve Brown from Trixter standing in for a few shows while Vivian recuperates but we hope to have a new album out and a huge tour next year once Vivian is back with us so we are all looking forward to that.

The Down ‘n Outz are on tour now. See for details.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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