DEF LEPPARD's JOE ELLIOTT On Seeing RICK ALLEN Play Drums With One Arm For The First Time: 'It Was Astonishing'
October 20, 2018
DEF LEPPARD vocalist Joe Elliott was recently interviewed by "All Things Considered" host Dave Lawrence of HPR/Hawaii Public Radio. The full conversation can be streamed below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On the band's rapid rise during their 1983 in support of "Pyromania":
Joe: "It was all a bit of a whirlwind, that whole tour, because you have to remember that it started off for us at The Marquee in London, which was Phil Collen's first-ever show with the band, in front of about 800 people in February. Then by September, a mere [eight] months later, we were doing 55,000 in San Diego. It was like what we used to read about for bands like LED ZEPPELIN — it was just ridiculous."
On his lifelong passion for music:
Joe: "I think you are born with a vocation, and if you're lucky and born in the right place at the right time, you can maybe fulfill that thing. For people to get to be that one guy that lands on the moon or the guy that can fix your brain if it's broken, it's something you're born with an ability to do should you get the opportunity. I think for me, music's always been that thing."
On naming DEF LEPPARD:
Joe: "I came up with it in '75 when I was still in school. It was in an art class... the great thing about art is it's subjective, so you can talk to the teacher and go, 'Look, I don't want to do this bowl of fruit. Can I do a rock poster?' I'd do that, and I spent the whole term just making up posters for bands that I'd like to see or wish I've seen. Eventually, I just started making names up because I got bored, and one of them just happened to be DEF LEPPARD. It was spelled correctly at the time. I just thought it sounded good — it had a nice phonetic sound to it, like LED ZEPPELIN or THE BEATLES. It rolled off the tongue well. It was Tony [Kenning], our original drummer, who suggested we change the spelling... It wasn't simply done to copy ZEPPELIN. When we first had it written out on the wall of our rehearsal room, it was spelled correctly. Tony just drew a line through the A and stuck a line down the O so we could still see the original spelling, but he had graffiti on top. It wasn't until maybe a month later when somebody wrote it out again that we noticed, 'Well, it looks like LED ZEPPELIN,' but at the time, we all went, 'We'd rather look like them than THE FLYING LIZARDS, so stick with it.' Silly name, really, but look at racehorses — I don't think I've ever seen one that doesn't have a silly name. They all seem to work. I was probably 14 years old. It was just two words — it could have been anything. It's become iconic now, but at the time, it was like, 'Whatever.' It just grew into itself. Happy accidents are always the best way."
On the car accident that cost drummer Rick Allen his arm:
Joe: "We were never going to fire him because of an accident. That's just not the British way of doing things... It wasn't a business. It was a cliquey little club that was ours and ours alone, and when one of us gets kind of lost by the wayside, it's a hard thing to bring somebody else in. Even back in the early days, when Tony decided — God bless him — he'd rather go to the movies with his girlfriend than rehearse, we had to get another drummer, because the four of us didn't want to stop just because he did. It was incredibly difficult to get rid Pete Willis, and it was hard to make a choice to replace Steve [Clark], because we all saw a unit in that respect. Obviously, we're not quite as solid as a band like U2 because they've never had to deal with that kind of thing. When you think about they had the same four guys that started about nine months after we did, it's quite an astonishing achievement that they are still as big and as popular as they are. With us, when Steve was struggling with his drinking, we rallied around him. With Pete, when he was struggling with his, we rallied around him as long as we possibly could until he got impossible, which is why we got Phil in. When Rick lost his arm, there was no way we were going to say, 'Okay, you're done, so we're just going to put an advert out for someone else.' I'd be lying if we didn't think as human beings that, gone through what he'd just gone through, he probably wouldn't play the drums again. We all thought that for maybe two or three days until he came out of the coma he was in. Once he was upright, he actually said, 'I think I figured a way around it.' I remember me and Phil kind of looking at each other and [thinking], 'Yeah, that's the drugs talking.' We went back to work on the album, because he'd already played a load of drums on what was the first draft of 'Hysteria', so we had lots of work to be getting on with overdubs and stuff like that where he didn't need to be there. We did all that and let him get on with it, and he was there in the background just chiseling away in his mind about move everything he did with that one limb into his leg. Then he had to put into practice, and he locked himself away with an electronic drum kit. We never went anywhere near him. It would have been wrong to hover over his shoulder, watching him re-learn how to play, so we left him alone until he decided he wanted us to hear it. After about four or five months, I remember he came into the control room in the studio in Holland and said, 'I want you to come and listen to something.' We all went in there not knowing what to expect, and it was quite simple, but he just started playing the beginning of 'When The Levee Breaks' by LED ZEPPELIN, and it was astonishing. It was, like, 'My God — if you shut your eyes, it sounds like a drummer.' That was the beginning. He didn't play his first gig until the summer of '86, so he had a good 18 months to get his head wrapped around it all. The first two or three shows, we took out a second drummer just to give him that confidence, and like most things, another happy accident — the drummer gets fogged in. We were borrowing him from another band and he was flying into Ireland where we were playing some clubs, and he got fogged in in the U.K. and he couldn't make the gig, so Rick had no choice but to play on his own. Because he got three under his belt, he was actually confident to play on his own, and he was brilliant. From that moment on, we were pretty much back to being self-sufficient again. We never had any pressure from the label or the management, because they knew the kind of band we were. We were never going to have any of it. It's a family — we don't necessarily always agree on everything, and we've had a few rough times and fights and disagreements like most marriages do. But for the most part, it's been an astonishing ride. It still is. The fact that Rick is still around all these years later, and he's not just managing — he's actually a much better musician now than he ever was before. He has to think harder, because he doesn't have that natural swing of two arms. He has to plan how he's going to do things with a bit more thought, which suits the songs better. It made everybody reevaluate the way that we arrange songs and play them for the benefit. I'm not suggesting that people lop off an arm to improve their musicianship, but with Rick, it was another happy accident. The actual accident wasn't happy, but the resulting improvement of the band as a structural unit was the happy accident after the very unhappy accident."
DEF LEPPARD's American co-headlining tour with JOURNEY wrapped up on October 7 in Inglewood, California.
On November 30, the band will release a new greatest-hits compilation, "The Story So Far - The Best Of", as well as "Hysteria: The Singles", a new limited-edition, 10-disc vinyl box set featuring all of the seven-inch singles from the band's multi-platinum 1987 album "Hysteria".