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Members include Rick Allen (born on November 1, 1963, in Sheffield, England), drums; Vivian Campbell (born on August 25, 1962, in Belfast, Northern Ireland; joined group, 1992), guitar; Steve Clark (born on April 23, 1960, in Sheffield, England; died on January 8, 1991), guitar; Phil Collen (born on December 8, 1957; joined group, 1982), guitar; Joe Elliott (born on August 1, 1959, in Sheffield, England), vocals; Rick Savage (born on December 2, 1960, in Sheffield, England), bass; Pete Willis (born on February 16, 1960, in Sheffield, England; group member, 1977-82), guitar. Addresses: Record company--Island Def Jam Music Group, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019. Management--Q. Prime, 729 Seventh Ave., 16th Floor, New York, NY 10019. Website--Def Leppard Official Website: http://www.defleppard.com.
Despite an average age of only 18, Def Leppard burst onto the heavy metal scene in 1980 like a group of seasoned veterans. "This band frequently transcends the mundane through sheer musical energy and playing ability," wrote Jim Schwartz in Guitar Player. In a genre known for cliched riffs and monotonous beats, these heavy metalheads have created a sound of their own while becoming one of the top-selling groups in rock 'n' roll. Tragedy has plagued the group throughout its 20-plus year history, but the band continues to write and record, finding success with almost every release.
The group's five original members, Joe Elliott, Pete Willis, Steve Clark, Rick Savage, and Rick Allen, all lived in the steel-producing town of Sheffield, England. Before employment as a van driver, lead singer Elliott used to dream about forming a band in school, creating song lists, logos, and band names while others in his class were studying. "I figured out fairly early that I wasn't gonna be a brain surgeon or a nuclear physicist," he told Rolling Stone, "so I fantasized about rock and roll."
Guitarist Willis was studying engineering at college when he met fellow axeman Clark. Already playing with Savage on bass in the band Atomic Mass, Willis asked Clark to sit in, and he soon joined the group. With the addition of Elliott and drummer Allen, they changed their name to Deaf Leppard and later dropped the a. In July of 1978 they made their debut at Westfield School in Sheffield earning a grand total of $12.00. With a twin guitar assault reminiscent of Wishbone Ash, they began gigging in bars with a repertoire that included 50 percent of their own originals. "We always thought our songs would be good enough to get us by," Allen told John Swenson in Rolling Stone.
Britain experienced a new wave of heavy metal as the 1980s rolled in, and Def Leppard was in a prime position to cash in. They recorded a privately made EP, Getcha Rocks Off, which sold out its initial 24,000 copies. AC/DC manager Peter Mensch picked up the group and convinced Polygram to sign them to a deal. In 1980 the chartbreaking On Through the Night was released, climbing all the way to number 51 in the United States. "We actually wrote the first album nine months before ever playing a live concert," Willis told Guitar Player. "We wanted to do it right from the start and be polished." Songs like "Rock Brigade," "Hello America," "When the Walls Come Tumbling Down," "Overture," "Sorrow is a Woman," and "Wasted" were recorded in just 18 days and made for a remarkably strong outing. "Displaying a wisdom beyond their years, Def Leppard take the timeworn basics of heavy metal, give them a punky Eighties overhaul and come up with, uh, heavy melody," stated David Fricke in Rolling Stone. "On Through the Night is awfully impressive for a band making its vinyl debut." The band then toured the United Kingdom opening for Sammy Haggar and AC/DC before coming Stateside to warm up audiences for Ted Nugent.
Their follow-up LP, High 'n' Dry, was an even bigger seller breaking the top ten. Their sound also expanded as "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" stretched the metal boundaries even further. In 1982 Willis was replaced by ex-Girl guitarist Phil Collen who told Guitar World, "We offer a lot more melody than most heavy rock bands, vocally as well as musically." Def Leppard was now a headline act after only two albums, and Collen's style differed enough from Willis's to create a unique combination with Clark.
They employed the services of ace producer Mutt Lange for 1983's Pyromania, another top-ten LP which eventually sold more than two million copies. The album also included three hit singles: "Photograph," "Rock of Ages," and "Foolin'". By now the five members were being featured in teen magazines and ruling the MTV airwaves.
Tragedy struck the band on New Year's Eve 1984, when drummer Rick Allen severed his left arm in an auto accident. Refusing to accept the conventional wisdom that such an injury would certainly end his musical career, Allen determined to relearn to play with the aid of a special drum kit. In a show of loyalty, the band didn't replace Allen, deciding to remain on hiatus until he was able to return.
Lange was used again as producer on 1987's Hysteria LP, and more hits followed. "Animal," "Women," "Hysteria," "Pour Some Sugar on Me," "Armageddon It," and "Rocket" each received substantial airplay. In 1988 Def Leppard issued a 17-cut video entitled Historia providing an excellent summary of their musical career. "With its intriguing perspective and loads of superb, hard-driving solos, Historia will hopefully inspire other bands to release similar projects," wrote Jas Obrecht in Guitar Player.
Five years passed between the release of the multiplatinum Hysteria and its follow-up, Adrenalize, released in 1992. During the recording of Adrenalize, tragedy again struck the band. Founding guitarist Steve Clark was found dead in his apartment on January 8, 1991, from an apparent alcohol and prescription drug overdose. Clark had been an alcoholic for years, and his abuse problem left him nearly unable to function during the recording of Adrenalize. The drugs that he had taken before his death were painkillers prescribed to him after breaking three ribs earlier in the year.
The band dedicated Adrenalizeto Clark, and released it a year after his death. They brought on a new guitarist for the subsequent tours to support the album, Whitesnake axeman Vivian Campbell, who became a permanent member of the group. David Hildebrand, a reviewer for People, deemed the album "superior to Def Leppard's last release, 1987's Hysteria," although he acknowledged that shifting tides of public taste meant the album wouldn't be nearly as successful as it would have been five years earlier.
Def Leppard's next two releases were greatest hits collections: Retro Active, released in 1993, and Vault, released in 1995. In support of Vault, Def Leppard accomplished something no band ever had: playing three shows on the same day on three different continents. They began October 23, 1995, in Tangiers, Morocco, hopped a plane to play a show in London, England, and closed out the day in Vancouver, Canada. That same year, drummer Rick Allen was arrested for beating his wife in an airport. He was later sentenced to community service and made public service announcements denouncing domestic abuse for MTV.
An album of new material, Slang, was released in 1996. By this time, heavy metal had waned considerably in popularity. Pop and grunge ruled the radio, and Def Leppard tried to modify their sound to fit the current climate. The band cited such varied influences as female rappers Salt-N-Pepa, R&B crooners Boyz II Men, and alternative rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers in a People interview. "[W]hat we've always tried to do is take a bit from everything," Collen said. "Just mix it all up." But in trying to mold their music to current pop tastes, the band came up with a lackluster, poorly received album.
It was no surprise, then, that Def Leppard decided to return to its roots with 1999's Euphoria. The band also reunited with Mutt Lange for this album, the producer who helmed the controls for some of Def Leppard's greatest hits. "When a certain kind of music is successful," Allen remarked on CNN.com, "there's going to be a backlash. We took a good, hard listen to our past stuff, and knew we wanted to make a really classic Def Leppard album." Billboard writer Larry Flick called the album "unabashedly bombastic" and noted that Euphoria "picks up where Hysteria left off."
Def Leppard's next album, X, released in 2002, more than two decades after their debut album, met with surprisingly positive critical praise. "There isn't a dog on this album," according to the Knight Ridder/Tribune New Service. The "elements boil down to classic Def Leppard, which stands for sugar-sweet pop-metal with occasional displays of flashy liquid guitar and high-pitched vocals that create good, thick harmonies." The varied elements work to the band's advantage: "We're on classic rock radio, and modern rock radio and pop radio, and that's what we wanted, that cross-the-board appeal," Elliott said to the Asia Africa Intelligence Wire.
Perhaps what is most surprising about Def Leppard is the longevity of the band. Early 1980s contemporaries like Ratt and pop-metal posterboys Poison have long since disbanded, but Def Leppard remains relevant and as committed as ever to making music. "We could have retired in 1988 if this was about money," Elliott told the Asia Africa Intelligence Wire. The secret behind their continued success, as revealed to CNN.com, "We actually really like each other and that's the biggest reason why [we've stayed together]. Every person has talked about leaving at one time or another, but we never did because we couldn't think of anything else we'd like to do. And besides, it would be like leaving your family."
by Calen D. Stone
Def Leppard's Career
Willis and Savage formed Atomic Mass after completing schooling; Clark, Elliott and Allen joined, changed name to Def Leppard; released EP, 1979; signed with Polygram, released debut On Through the Night, 1980; following three albums went multiplatinum: High 'n' Dry, 1981, Pyromania, 1983, and Hysteria, 1987; Steve Clark died of alcohol and drug overdose, 1991; released Adrenalize, hired new guitarist Vivian Campbell, 1992; released two greatest hits albums, Retro Active, 1993, and Vault, 1995; released Slang, 1996; Euphoria, 1999; and X, 2002.
- Selected discography
- On Through the Night Mercury, 1980.
- High 'n' Dry Mercury, 1981.
- Pyromania Mercury, 1983.
- Hysteria Mercury, 1987.
- Adrenalize Mercury, 1992.
- Retro Active (compilation), Mercury, 1993.
- Vault (compilation), Mercury, 1995.
- Slang Mercury, 1996.
- Euphoria Mercury, 1999.
- X Universal, 2002.
September 27, 2005: Group member Vivian Campbell's solo album, Two Sides of If, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_2/index.jsp, September 30, 2005.
- Clifford, Mike, consultant, The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Salamander, 1988.
- Lazell, Barry with Dafydd Rees and Luke Crampton, editors, Rock Movers & Shakers, Banson, 1989.
- Nite, Norm N., with Charles Crespo, Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Volume 3, Harper, 1985.
- Pareles, Jon and Patricia Romanowski, editors, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press/Summit, 1983.
- Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, September 21, 2002.
- Billboard, January 19, 1991; May 15, 1999.
- Business Wire, October 19, 1995.
- Entertainment Weekly, April 10, 1992; January 12, 2001; July 20, 2001.
- Guitar Player, March 1982; November 1988.
- Guitar World, September 1983.
- Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, July 31, 2002.
- People, May 11, 1992; May 20, 1996.
- Rolling Stone, June 26, 1980; October 2, 1980.
- "Def Leppard," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 24, 2002).
- "Def Leppard," VH1.com, http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/def_leppard/bio.jhtml (September 26, 2002).
- Def Leppard Official Website, http://www.defleppard.com (September 24, 2002).
- "For Those About to Rock, Def Leppard Salutes You," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Music/9906/03/defleppard/index.html (September 26, 2002).
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