Vivian CampbellVivian Campbell still rocks with Def Leppard
By Naughty Mickie

The rock band Def Leppard formed in 1977 in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. It a little over five years and the release of the album, “Pyromania,” made it a household name. Its 1987 effort, “Hysteria,” topped the United States and United Kingdom charts and, as of 2009, had 12x platinum sales in the U.S. Def Leppard is one of the world’s best-selling music artists with more than 100 million records sold worldwide.

Def Leppard’s lineup currently includes vocalist Joe Elliot, guitarists Vivian Campbell and Phil Cohen, bassist Rick “Sav” Savage and drummer Rick Allen. That the band has been touring recently with KISS is well known, but not everyone catching the concerts may realize the depth of Campbell’s passion for music, as he is actively fighting cancer.

Campbell grew up in Northern Ireland and has played in bands such as Sweet Savage, Riverdogs, Dio, Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy. He has been in Def Leppard since 1992. In June 2013 he announced that he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but continued to play all of his band’s tour dates. In November 2013, Campbell said he was in remission from the disease, but now he is back undergoing treatment at City of Hope in Duarte to fight the cancer and plans to schedule his treatments so as not to interfere with the tour.

We begin by chatting about why Campbell, who could easily place players around him to bevy his own talent, decided to join Def Leppard.

“I’d always been a Def Leppard fan for years and years, like from their very early beginning because we sort of grew up in parallel,” Campbell explains. “The band grew up in Sheffield in the north of England and if you look at Sheffield on the map and put your finger on it and move over a couple inches it’s directly in line with Belfast in Northern Ireland where I was. We grew up with the same music references and the same cultural references.

“Back when Leppard was first starting and getting national attention in the UK, I  had a band called Sweet Savage and we were very like Def Leppard, we were doing original hard rock music. So I had a professional interest from day one.I was always a fan. I actually bought ‘Hysteria’ twice, I wore out the cassette I played it so often and then I bought one of those new fangled compact discs.

“I met the band, specifically Joe.” Campbell continues, “Joe had moved to Dublin and we ended up having a lot of mutual friends. And then when Joe was in L.A., being a soccer fan, a football fan, he called me looking for game so I said I would play football with him. About a year after Steve (Clark) had died and the band decided that they were going to continue, they started thinking about who and Joe called me and said, ‘I think you’d be perfect for Def Leppard.’ Now the other guys in the band didn’t know me on a personal level, they knew me professionally and that I had a reputation for not being able to keep a job because I’d been in Dio and been fired, I’d been in Whitesnake and been fired, so it was Joe who knew me personally and said ‘No, trust me, this is the right guy.’

“It wasn’t so much an audition as a courtship. It lasted over several weeks and we played. We knew the musical thing would take care of itself and it did. I think what Def Leppard didn’t know about me was that I can actually sing, as well as play guitar and that was an added bonus for them because it’s such a vocal intensive band,” Campbell goes on. “We went to dinner, we’d go kick a football around a park, we went to the movies and then we’d go back and play a little more. The whole process was just getting to know each other.”

So to what does Campbell credit Def Leppard’s phenomenal success?

“First of all why I think we’re successful is the depth and quality of the work. There’s real attention to detail in their style,” replies Campbell.  “The songs endured because they were very well written and the bottom line is that it’s a winning combination. The work that went into making those records, ‘Pyromania’ and ‘Hysteria’ in particular, the two huge, huge records, still stands today.”

Campbell explains the band’s writing process, “Sometimes we bring in songs individually, but when we’re creating from scratch it’s very much a group effort then becomes about who has the energy to keep it going. There are more dominant personalities in the band.

“Even after 22 years I’m not comfortable with how the band works. I wasn’t there when the band created its mountains of work. I still don’t feel entirely comfortable with it because I grew up that when you cut the track you do a couple of takes, you decide the best one to keep, you start overdubbing guitars, you’d fix it how you wanted it to work. It took weeks as opposed to months and years. The thing is with Def Leppard that it has to be trying to reinvent the wheel every time and I’m always the one who says, ‘Guys, please, that was a great take, can we go on to the next thing?’”

Touring with KISS seems like both a winning and a weird combination.

“I do think it’s a good combination and it’s not necessarily that we’re that musically compatible, but it’s the show.” Campbell clarifies, “Concerts this day and age in America are about the event, they’re not so much about putting really compatable musical acts together, we’re about appealing to Def Leppard fans, appealing to KISS fans and, most importantly, appealing to marginal fans of both acts. You see it as a value package to come and view this spectacle and it is a spectacle, any time KISS is on stage it’s a spectacle and Def Leppard has always had a production element itself. If you told me this even 10 years ago, I’d say, no I can’t believe it, but American has become about packaging and putting an event on as opposed to how the two acts correlate to each other. We’re both hard rock, that right there is enough.

“It’s an interesting tour because we don’t try to compete on the production level KISS has, you can’t compete with KISS, their show is so over the top,” Campbell says. “We’ve always had a pretty high energy rock show ourselves, but it’s nothing compared to that show, so the tour for us is about focusing on our strengths, which our musicality and the fact that we really do play and sing live, which in this day and age unfortunately is not a common occurrance, and the fact that we genuinely do have all these really big hit songs.”

KISS vocalist and guitarist Paul Stanley spoke in a press conference before the tour launched.

“I believe this is the greatest and really the best stage that we’ve ever had,” Stanley said. “We took it to Europe and it was a huge success. We call it the Spider Stage because the lights are actually in the shape of a spider and the legs are actually dangling down onto the stage and move. I designed this and I wanted a stage where the lights and the stage were one instead of having lights hanging from the ceiling, so the lighting and the stage is by far the best thing we’ve done. The band is firing on all cylinders so between that and the fact that we’re psyched up for this and we’re celebrating our fourtieth year, we are out there to do a victory lap even though the race isn’t over yet, there’ll be more races, this is a celebration of everything we’ve done to today.”

With our interview nearing its end, I ask Campbell about how he first came to music, as I know he began playing guitar at age 12.

“When I was about nine or ten years old I saw Marc Bolan of T.Rex, it was on a show called ‘The Top of the Pops’ on a Thursday night,” Campbell shares. “I saw T.Rex play and I saw Marc Bolan with the hair and the Les Paul and I said immediately that’s what I want to do. It wasn’t until a couple years later when I heard Rory Gallagher, another Irish guitar player, that’s when I really got serious about playing the instrument. I sit and listen to Rory Gallagher records and teach myself to play.”

In 2013, Campbell reformed the orginal Dio band that wrote and recorded the first three Dio albums with Jimmy Bain on bass and Vinnie Apice on drums and played shows as The Last in Line. The group has written new material and have recorded half an album so far. Def Leppard is working on a new album to release in 2015 and Campbell is also working on a solo effort.

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