Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard Is No Longer The New Guy (INTERVIEW)

Vivian Campbell is not the new kid on the block. In fact, he hasn’t been “the kid” for almost twenty-one years now. Yet Def Leppard fans still lovingly consider him the new guy in the band. The guitar player, who had a good career going even before he joined the British hit-making band, having played with Dio and Whitesnake, is revving up for several new projects on his musical horizon. First, he will be joining his bandmates for a rock & roll residency in Las Vegas, called Viva Hysteria, from March 22 to April 10. Playing the entire Hysteria album in it’s entirety is only part of the show. For their other set of the night, they will pull out more hits as well as some obscure goodies for the fans who make the pilgrimage out to Sin City. The band is looking forward to this, for more reasons than you may suspect.

Campbell is also embarking on a journey with The Last In Line, which reunites him with former Dio colleagues Vinny Appice, Jimmy Bain and Claude Schnell, as they play some of the band’s biggest hits throughout a small tour in Europe later this year. It is something that Campbell is extremely excited about.

A few weeks ago, I talked to the tall Irishman, who is more pleasant and jovial than he is ever given credit for, about all his upcoming endeavors, growing up in Belfast, his admiration of Rory Gallagher and the likelihood of him recording another solo album.

Def Leppard is about to start a residency in Vegas at the end of the month. What do you have planned and what special treats do you think you’re going to throw in for all your fans who are traveling to Vegas just to see you?

Well, aside from doing the Hysteria record in sequence, we are actually doing two sets. The first set will be obviously nothing from Hysteria but we’re going to try to make every night different, even if it’s only by one song. During that first set of the evening we will be getting obscure. If we follow through on what we’ve talked about, we’ll actually play songs that we’ve never played before, like real obscure stuff, like from the first album and whatnot. So that’ll be interesting, that’ll be exciting. You know, most of the songs from the Hysteria record were played for decades, they’ve been staples of our live show through the years, but there’re three songs we’ve never performed before. So that will be exciting to do those for the first time.

Can you tell us what the three songs are?

Yeah, a song called “Don’t Shoot Shotgun,” a song called “Run Riot” and the third song is called “Love & Affection,” which actually has been played before but very briefly and many, many, many years ago. So long ago that we can’t remember how to play it.

So you actually have to relearn some of these songs.

Yeah, we’ve had to. I’ve already gotten together with Phil Collen and Rick Allen, cause the three of us live in southern California – Joe Elliott and Rick Savage live over in Europe so it’s a bit more of a commute for them – but we got together and we actually had to spend three or four days figuring out the parts. Hysteria is a very complex album. It’s a lot of guitar parts and a lot of vocal parts and we physically need to decipher what they are and then decide which parts are the key parts that Phil and I play and then go about figuring out how to play them and then go about figuring out how to do the required vocal parts while playing the guitar parts, which is probably the more difficult thing about it. I mean, it’s one thing to learn the vocal part you’re going to sing; it’s another thing to learn the guitar part you’re going to play. But sometimes they kind of clash with each other in terms of rhythm so it’s a bit like rubbing your belly and scratching your head at the same time in different directions (laughs). It just takes practice.

Do you like the idea of staying in Vegas for a month?

I’m not a fan of Vegas. I mean, I don’t mind going there for a couple of days and doing a show. I’ve never spent more than a couple of days there so I wouldn’t say it’s my kind of city (laughs) but I, as indeed the other guys, are most excited about the fact that we’re going to get to be in the one place and we have time off, cause we’re only doing three shows a week. So with the other four days, even though we do have other commitments around those four days, our plan is to actually try and write one or two or three new songs on those days off and that’s probably the most exciting thing about it. As I mentioned before, we live on different sides of the world so it’s very difficult for us to get together and trade ideas. When we do get together to work, to go on tour, you do a show, you get on a bus, you travel five hundred miles, you get off the bus, you do it again. It’s not the kind of environment that’s conducive to creativity; at least not for this band. Maybe it is for some people but it doesn’t work for Def Leppard. So here, we’re going to be doing these shows, we’re going to have Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday where we’re free so hopefully we’ll be able to bring in a little pro tools rig and set up in some part of the Hard Rock Hotel and try to map out a few ideas. So that will be big for us. Plus it’ll keep us out of trouble (laughs)

Will you continue to do the acoustic segment in your show?

I’m not sure but that’s a good point. We’ve kind of debated back and forth on that and I don’t think we’ve done any real resolution either. I think there’s a good chance, yeah.

Everybody talks to you about your electric guitars but I wanted to ask you about that beautiful red acoustic you play on stage.

It’s a Gibson J-200. It was originally a natural wood finish and I got it in the mid-1990’s from the lovely people in Bozeman, Montana, who make my acoustic guitars. We were touring, we were somewhere in the mid-west in the middle of winter back in like 1998 or 1999 or something like that. The guitar, like all the equipment, is parked in the truck overnight and it was so cold that after several nights like this, the finish on the guitar started to crack. So the people at Gibson said that they’d take it back and refinish it for me and I decided to ask them about giving it some color. So we decided on this particular red and it’s the only one I’ve ever seen – ever, ever, ever, ever – until a couple years ago when that country band came along, Lady something or whatever you call it. They’re a three piece but one of them plays guitar and he plays a red J-200 Gibson acoustic guitar exactly like mine and I’m so pissed (laughs) cause everyone probably thinks, “Oh look, Viv Campbell’s got one just like the guy in that band.” But I had it way, way before that.

What was it like when you first came into Def Leppard?

It was obviously very exciting for me. It was a big time for the band. Adrenalize had just been released and gone to number one here and in England and many countries around the world. There was a lot of press, there was a lot of excitement about the band and about the record. It was high times. I didn’t feel nervous but I felt real comfortable; I’ve always felt very comfortable being in Def Leppard and the guys in the band have always made me feel that way. It wasn’t something that I came to lightly or that they decided upon lightly. We had a long courtship of a couple of months to make sure the situation was going to work long term. You know, being in a couple other bands, and I’d been fired from a couple of other bands, I had a bit of a reputation as being difficult to work with. I don’t believe the reputation was warranted but regardless, it was one I had in the industry. But Joe Elliott knew me personally cause Joe was a resident in Dublin then still. I’m from Ireland and we had a lot of mutual friends so I knew Joe socially and it was his idea to bring me into the band and he vouched for me with the rest of the guys. He said, “Guys, he’s not like the person you think he is. He’s not the guy who goes from one band to another to another, and this would work out.”

You know, I actually had to think long and hard about it too, you know. A lot of people might find that strange, but I didn’t want to just be part of another band for another couple of years and then have it not work out. I’d had a lot of bad experiences so I wanted to make sure that it was the right fit for me too. So we literally got together and we played a couple of times but it really wasn’t about the music. They knew that I could play. What they didn’t know was that I could sing too so that was a big bonus for the band. It was also a big bonus for me because I like to sing and not just play guitar. It’s a part of who I am. But mostly in those couple of months where we had this courtship we literally went to the movies together, we went to dinner together, we watched football games. It was kind of social more than anything else because when you’re in a band like Def Leppard and you’re touring for months and months and months – and that Adrenalize tour was pretty close to sixteen months. That was a really, really long tour, around the globe a couple of times – you kind of live in each other’s pockets. You’ve got to be able to get along. I wouldn’t say anyone in the band is best friends. It’s not like we’re The Monkees and we wear matching pajamas and live in the same house or anything like that (laughs) but we do have a healthy respect for each other and we learn to listen to each other and creatively to work together and I’m glad it worked out. But I kind of knew it would. I knew that it was going to be a good fit. So it was an exciting time, you know. I can’t believe it was twenty years ago.

What was it like growing up in Ireland?

It was shit (laughs). Yeah, for the most part it was. I mean, I grew up in the north of Ireland and in the 1970’s is when I went to school and it was a pretty dismal place. I have to say it’s a lot better now. The north of Ireland, Belfast in particular has changed an awful lot as a city. There is still an undercurrent of tension there that is very evident to me but like when I was going to school there it was troops on the street and barbed wire and just dark, dismal. It wasn’t a great place but I guess it helped me towards music. Music was a great diversion. Ireland is a charming country, there is a lot of plus points about it, but at that particular time in the north of Ireland it was not a great place.

Who was your first love in music?

Marc Bolan and T-Rex was the first thing that really turned me on to music. That’s the first one that really grabbed my attention. I was probably about nine at the time and I knew right then that I wanted to play guitar and I wanted to wear my sister’s clothing (laughs) and the clothing was a lot easier cause I have a sister who is a year older so it was a lot easier to get my hand on women’s clothing than it was on a guitar. Eventually I got a guitar and I’m self-taught. That’s another thing about Belfast back then, it’s not like you could walk into a Guitar Center here and buy or rent a guitar and find a teacher or whatever. I had to decipher records on my own.

But from Bolan my next musical hero was Rory Gallagher, who was also Irish, and that was mostly because, well, there’s a couple of reasons: I have a cousin who is a few years older and he bought me Rory Gallagher Live In Europe 1972. I was ten at that time and that was the first album I had and because of the situation in Northern Ireland at the time, very, very few acts would come and play there and Rory Gallagher would play there every December or January, play at the Ulster Hall in Belfast. So that was the first live show that I saw and I saw him many times in Belfast over the following years. He was a big influence on me; great, great guitar player, great live performer.

From there it kind of went on to just basically anything guitar driven. I had a very good friend who had a great record collection, which I never had a great record collection, I was never an audiophile or anything like that. I just loved to play guitar. But my best friend, he’s still my best friend to this day, and he had a great collection of albums and he turned me on to so much music. Thin Lizzy were an early discovery because they were not only a great rock band but they were also on the charts. They kind of crossed that line between being an album act and a touring act to being a pop act as well and they’d appear on shows like Top Of The Pops and Old Grey Whistle Test. They were very guitar driven, very guitar-centered, Scott Gorham, Brian Robertson, and then in later years through Thin Lizzy I discovered Gary Moore, who is probably my ultimate guitar hero of that era. I ripped him off seriously (laughs). And that was it. Basically in my teens I was very motivated by guitar music and guitarists and it was only in later years when I was in my early twenties, when I was with Ronnie James Dio, that I kind of became more interested in music in general. I became very fascinated by singers and I was compelled to take singing lessons. I was more interested in song structure and it wasn’t just about guitar.

Tell us about Last In Line. That sounds really exciting.

Yeah, that is. That’s been a great thrill for me to play with those guys again and to challenge myself to play those guitar parts because they are not easy to play. We’re super excited about that and it sounds fucking incredible when we play. I mean, we’ve got a great singer who doesn’t sound anything like Ronnie Dio but he has a similar power in his voice and a real passion and he can certainly hit the notes. I didn’t want a Dio clone, I didn’t want to draw comparisons to the singer, I didn’t want it to be about that. I wanted it to be about the original songs and the original band and just have a singer who could do it justice and it sounds pretty incredible. So we’re pretty excited about that and we’re going on tour in Europe this summer and it’ll be a lot of fun.

Any chance for some American dates?

In due course I’m sure we will. We were actually going to do some warm-up shows, we will do some warm-up shows, maybe by May or possibly later in June or early July. We will do warm-up shows in the States but for reasons of economics they’re going to be on the west coast. We don’t have a lot of money to play with. We don’t have a record label behind us, for instance, so initially it’s just better to stay closer to home, so California, maybe Nevada. But beyond that we certainly have plans to tour if Leppard’s not working, we definitely intend to do something.

Vivian, you did a solo album a couple of years ago, a blues album called Two Sides Of If, and you brought your vocals way up to the front. How comfortable were you with doing that and do you plan on doing that again?

I actually don’t like listening to that record because of the vocals (laughs) But the thing was it was a blues album, albeit an electric blues album, and I wanted to keep it as authentic as possible and because of that we cut those tracks live, including the vocals, so that’s my excuse as to why the vocals are so ropey. I do think I’m a better singer now than I was when I did that record. I’m not sure I would do it exactly the same way again. I’m not sure I would try and sing and play and cut those tracks all live all at once. I think I’d probably do the tracking and then do the vocal and then just lie to people that it was authentic (laughs). That would be a lot easier. I think it’s what everyone else does too. But it was fun to do. It was basically a lot more Rory Gallagher influenced than anyone else, even though I only covered one Rory Gallagher song on it. But he was a very big influence on my playing and I remember reading about Rory Gallagher and he’d talk about people like Muddy Waters so Muddy Waters was a name that I was kind of familiar with. I spent about a year to ten months prior to making that record where I just submersed myself in the blues and I spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars on iTunes downloading songs by people called Snooky Pryor, Jimmy Rogers and Son House and whatnot. I really listened to my heroes’ heroes, to check out the lineage of where it all came from. It was very interesting. I don’t think I will do it again, to be honest. I don’t think I’m an authentic blues player. I have one foot in either camp but I’d say I’m leaning more towards the rock thing. Blues is probably a lot more subtle than I can really do justice to it. So I don’t think I’ll be making a blues record.

I do have tentative plans actually to do another solo record of my own later this year, which I’m writing songs for, and that’s going to be more guitar-centered. It’s going to feature vocals cause I’m not a fan of instrumental music very much. But it’s definitely a rock album and it’ll feature a lot of guitar cause I’m really excited about playing guitar again for the first time in many years.

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