Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard) Interview

Def Leppard

Are you looking forward to the tour?

I am very much. It’s been a really busy year for us and the tour so far has been going great. There seems to be a genuine excitement about Def Leppard again and that’s got nothing to do with the new record. It’s always great to come back home for us as we’ve been away for so long. We actually have so many homes between us. Sheffield will always be our spiritual home as that’s the birthplace of Def Leppard. The band has also spent so many years in Dublin and that’s like a home town and Belfast is my actual home town. London is also a home town for us too. We can’t wait to come back for this tour.

Most of the shows are sold out. That must be great to hear?

Indeed. I don’t know why there’s such a surge in interest at the moment. We’re not even dead or anything so who knows why there’s so much interest again. The band is playing better than ever which you would hope as a musician where you can grow into it unlike an athlete who has such a short shelf life. It’s fun and we’re enjoying our work right now.

You have a great line up including Whitesnake and Black Star Riders. Were you involved in suggesting the bands for the tour?

I had nothing to do with that but Joe Elliott was talking with the promoters all the time so it’s probably their scheming that brought us all together. Black Star Riders were a no brainer. When they said they wanted a third act on the bill we are very close with those guys especially after my role as a stunt guitarist with Thin Lizzy. So they make up a great package with us and Whitesnake. It’s going to be a great show for the fans. Technically I’m eligible to play with all three acts. We just need to have Sweet Savage on there too and I could play with them as well.

Will you or Whitesnake be closing the show or will you be rotating?

As far as I know, Def Leppard are closing the show but it’s a co-headlining show and we have equal billing, an equal show and equal time but I understand we will close the show.

Playing with Lizzy must have been amazing for you. How did you end up playing with them?

It was absolutely a dream come true for me. In 2010 Def Leppard took the whole year off. I personally hated that. Joe was talking to Scott Gorham and I’m not sure if it was Scott who asked if it was alright to borrow me for a while or if it was Joe who suggested it but Scott got in touch with me and asked me and of course I jumped at the chance. I would consider that, even though it was only 4 or 5 months, as one of the highlights of my career.

What did Thin Lizzy mean to you as a kid growing up in Belfast?

Thin Lizzy were such an influential band to me and to be on stage with Scott Gorham and Brian Downey playing Emerald and Black Rose was so inspiring to me. I think it’s fair to say, even though I’ve been in Def Leppard around 24 years now, the guitar playing is not really a challenge to me, the singing is the hard part. To be on stage playing those songs with Lizzy it really brought me back to being 16 years old again sitting in my bedroom listening to Live and Dangerous trying to figure out how to play those songs. I came off that tour really, really energised and reconnected with my guitar again.

Will you be tempted to join them for a song or two every now and then?

I’m not planning on it and I don’t think they’ll be asking to be honest. It’s just a funny coincidence that I could lay claim to play in all of the bands on the bill.

Talking of old friends, you were also in Whitesnake for a while in the 1980s. Will you be catching up for a beer or two with David Coverdale and Tommy Aldridge after the shows?

It will be good to see those guys again. I didn’t realise Tommy was back with Whitesnake again. I can’t keep track of who’s where these days but yes I’m looking forward to seeing them on the tour.

You only toured with Whitesnake but didn’t make an album with them. Do you regret not getting the chance to make a record with the band?

Not really. I don’t really think of Whitesnake as being part of my career because I never got to write any new songs with them. I was with them just under two years for one very, very long tour. We went in to start making a new record but things didn’t work out for one reason or another. David basically said he just wanted to write with Adrian Vandenberg as they had a good partnership going and that was fair enough, it was his band and his prerogative. At the same time Adrian didn’t want me in the band. It was nothing personal. He didn’t want any other guitar player there, he wanted to be a solo guitar player in Whitesnake. It was a very uncomfortable situation along with the fact that my ex-wife and Tawny Kitaen, David’s wife at the time, just didn’t get on at all so that added to the drama. David and I just decided to part ways. I also don’t think we were that great a band compared to some of the great bands I’ve been in.

Why did that line up of Whitesnake not work for you?

That lineup of Whitesnake never really gelled musically and I think that’s because we met on the set of a video and the first thing we did was the Still Of The Night video. The second thing we did was the Here I Go Again video and then we did the Is This Love video and then we went into rehearsal. We literally rehearsed for 48 hours and went out on tour. For me it was just an image based band because of MTV and none of us had played on the record so there was no chemistry unlike in Dio where the chemistry was unmistakable. When I played with Jimmy and Vinny in Dio we were really tight together but in Whitesnake it felt like 5 guys each doing their own thing. On paper the pedigree was amazing with Tommy Aldridge, Adrian Vandenberg and Rudy Sarzo. We were all great individually but that line up with those musicians never really gelled. It was fun at the time and I was flattered to have been invited to be a part of the band but it doesn’t mean an awful lot to me from a musical point of view.

You have a new album out simply entitled Def Leppard. It must be difficult to make way for new songs and keep all the hits that people want to hear?

It’s always difficult to choose a setlist as we have such a big catalogue and also such a big selection of genuine hit songs that people want to hear. The setlist kind of picks itself. It’s difficult for us to change it too much even though many would love for us to go out and play obscure album tracks but most people come and want and expect to hear the hits and we are beholden to them. It’s a bit of a double edged sword especially when you’re on the bill with two other bands where you have time constraints. It’s not like An Evening With Def Leppard type of show where we can play for 3 hours. We have to cram as much as we can and we are expected to play Pour Some Sugar on Me, Photograph, Animal, Hysteria and Rock Of Ages. All of those songs are part of Leppard’s show.

Is there any space for a new song or two?

We have been playing our new single Let’s Go and we’ve been sound checking a second song from the new album so I think it’s almost certain that we’ll be playing at least 2 new songs.

You seem to cover so many different aspects of Leppard’s career on the albums from Let Go which has a Poppy Pour Some Sugar On me feel to it, Dangerous could be from Pyromania and Sea of Love and All Time High harks back to your heavier, early days. Were you looking at rolling all of your past styles into one album when you set out to make the album?

It’s a very comprehensive record with 14 tracks which is more than most albums. It goes through all the different styles. The very first thing we did was All Time High. We just wanted to knock out some easy Rock songs. We set up live in the studio and we all played at once in real time in the same room so we could make eye contact and that’s not the way that we normally record. We usually do it one guy at a time and it’s difficult to capture the dynamics and this band is very dynamic when we play live. When we do one guy at a time in the studio it tends to sterilise it and we can never capture that magic so we wanted to do the Rock thing and the best way to do that was to set up live and the first 3 or 4 songs we did were straight up Rock tunes. Then we sat down to think about what else we needed to balance out the record. I think we have a comprehensive record of our career from the Rock element to the more polished and produced Pop songs. It has all the different sounds that Leppard has been known for through the decades and there’s a unifying sound throughout the album that’s linked to our vocals. We are known as a Rock band where everyone sings. The last song on the album has a real Psychedelic feel but it still sounds like us because of the collective vocal thing that we have and that is the identifying sound of Def Leppard and that’s why we simply called the album Def Leppard.

You all sing lead vocals on We Belong. Whose idea was it do that?

Joe wrote that song and he had the idea for all of us to sing a lead vocal on it. He wanted everyone to step up and take a couple of lines. It gives us all a chance to show what we can do individually.

Man Enough has a real Funk feel to it. That has smash hit single stamped right through it.

That was the brief for that, to write something along the lines of Another One Bites The Dust and bring something a little bit different for us to the record.

You were a teenager in your first band Sweet Savage. How did you end up getting the guitarists slot in Dio which featured big names from Rainbow and Black Sabbath?

It was through Jimmy Bain. He was in a band called Wild Horses after he left Rainbow. Wild Horses came over to Ireland and played a few shows. Sweet Savage opened for them and that was where I met Jimmy. When Ronnie and Vinny quit Sabbath, Ronnie called Jimmy saying that they were looking for a guitar player and a bass player for a new band. Jimmy offered himself as the bass player and Jimmy recommended me. Ronnie had been playing with a couple of LA based guitar players including Jake E. Lee who went on to join Ozzy’s band. Ronnie didn’t want an American style guitar player as they all seemed to be junior Eddie Van Halen’s or junior Randy Rhodes type of players. He wanted a European sounding player and Jimmy remembered me and put my name forward.

How did he approach you to join the band?

My dear departed father was also called Vivian and he was in the phone book. They actually just looked in the phone book and found Vivian Campbell and Jimmy called and woke my Dad up at two o’clock in the morning. I was asleep at the time and my Dad came in and woke me up saying there was a drunken Scotsman on the phone for me. They wanted me to fly over to London to audition the next day and I didn’t have the money. My father, despite being woken up by a drunken Scotsman, bought me the plane ticket to do it. Sometimes you need a bit of luck to get that break.

You’ve recently reunited with your former bandmates in Dio. How did that come about?

After I had toured with Thin Lizzy for a few months I was really excited about playing guitar in a way I hadn’t been in a long time. That’s what led me to reunite the original Dio band. When I got back to LA where I live, I called Vinny Appice and Jimmy Bain and asked if we could just go into a rehearsal room and play. When we started playing the chemistry was instantaneous. It’d been 27 years since we’d last played together but it could have been 27 minutes. One thing led to another and now we have an album recorded and ready for release and we’re calling the band Last In Line after the Dio album that we did. We were offered a deal with Frontiers and the album sounds absolutely amazing. I’m super excited about it. It’s like a modern day Holy Diver. We have a great, great singer called Andrew Freeman. He sounds nothing like Ronnie James Dio but he’s equally as powerful and passionate. He’s a great writer and lyricist and the fact that he doesn’t sound like Ronnie has made this possible. The band sounds like the original band. It’s an unmistakable sound that we had but the singer is entirely different so it puts a whole different slant on it.

Have you any live shows planned?

I’m going to be really busy next year because as soon as Def Leppard finishes I’ll be on the road with Last In Line. The Leppard tour finishes on February 17th in America and three days later the Last In Line album comes out and the following week we start the tour and that will last for three months where we’ll do some American and European shows. I’m excited about that and like to keep working.

Talking of Sweet Savage, you had a song, Killing Time covered by Metallica on their Unforgiven single and Garage Inc. album. You joined them as a 15 year old. That must have been incredible that one of your songs you wrote at such a young age had such an influence on a band like Metallica?

It was very flattering that they covered it and it’s so ironic that we made money from that as we never made a penny while we were together as a band. All these years later Metallica covered our song and we started getting royalty cheques.

After your tour in the UK is over, where do you head next?

After the UK tour we have a couple of weeks off then we’re doing a cruise off Miami for 4 or 5 days and we haven’t done that before. Actually the Last In Line is playing too so I’ll be doing double duty on that cruise. Next year it’ll be more touring with Leppard and the new Last In Line album will be out followed by a tour with them so it’s going to be a busy year.

Def Leppard are on tour in the UK with Whitesnake and Black Star Riders right now. 


  • 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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