PHIL COLLEN Explains Why ADRIAN SMITH Didn't Land DEF LEPPARD Guitarist Gig After 1991 Audition

June 17, 2023

DEF LEPPARD guitarist Phil Collen has confirmed that IRON MAIDEN's Adrian Smith and ex-WHITESNAKE/THIN LIZZY guitarist John Sykes were among a handful of musicians who tried out for DEF LEPPARD following the passing of Steve Clarke. Another WHITESNAKE alumnus, Vivian Campbell, ended up landing the gig.

Speaking to Eonmusic at a pre-show press conference at Hellfest in Clisson, France on Friday (June 16),Collen recalled the audition process to find a new second guitarist for DEF LEPPARD after Clarke's January 1991 death of a drug overdose.

"We invited five people we knew, five friends," Phil said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET). "And Vivian just fit in straight away; it was just like [it was] meant to be. [But] Adrian is great — he's a great singer. That was one of the other things [we were looking for], if you can sing. And there was some other people. We played with John Sykes — also an amazing player, amazing singer.

"Vivian's voice [was] unbelievable. And more than that, he just fit in the style of what we're doing.

"With Adrian, he played in context with what we were doing when we were rehearsing," he continued. "I mean, we were doing DEF LEPPARD songs — we weren't doing IRON MAIDEN songs, we weren't doing DIO songs; we were doing DEF LEPPARD. So, whoever comes into our house has to kind of play by the same rules.

"So that was the thing," Phil added. "And Viv fit straight in. And like I said, there was only five people. We didn't do, like, cattle calls or anything like that, because it was still a bit painful after losing Steve, to be quite honest. So we wanted someone who emotionally would work with us as a family member. And Viv did straight off the bat. It was just wonderful."

Adrian auditioned for DEF LEPPARD a year after he left IRON MAIDEN during the making of the latter band's "No Prayer For The Dying" album.

In a 2021 interview with Eonmusic, DEF LEPPARD drummer Rick Allen also confirmed that Smith had been on the LEPPARD radar for the role that was eventually landed by Campbell. The drummer then went on to name some of the other players who were under consideration, including an unknown Birmingham guitarist and the man who provided the licks on WHITESNAKE's colossal self-titled 1987 release. "There was a kid called Huwey Lucas that was a contender; there was John Sykes; there were all these people kind of lined up," he said.

However, it was Smith who impressed the drummer, with Rick praising Adrian for his ability to adapt.

"I loved the idea," Allen said. "It's interesting — you put somebody in a slightly different situation and new things are revealed about them, and it was cool. It was a compliment that he was so into it."

Concluding, however, Allen added: "But I think, ultimately, Vivian was the absolutely perfect choice."

In a 2020 interview with Eonmusic, Smith, who was promoting his memoir, "Monsters Of River & Rock", at the time, was asked if it was true that he was in contention to join the Sheffield rockers, to which he replied, "I was, yeah. I'm not sure… I want to write more books; that might be in my next one. [Laughs] There's a whole story about that, there's a whole story about that."

A year after he joined DEF LEPPARD, Campbell spoke to Steve Newton of Georgia Straight about how he ended up securing the spot. He said: "I've known [LEPPARD singer] Joe Elliott for a few years. He lives in Ireland, where I'm originally from, so I would see him every time I'd go there — we have a lot of mutual friends and stuff. And a couple of months after Steve had died, he had said that they were gonna continue, that they were gonna finish the record as a four-piece, but that they were eventually going to look for a new guitar player — and that he would like it to be me. Obviously, I didn't know the other people in the band very well, and they all had their own opinions. So about a year passed, and they made the record, and they had a short list of three or four people that they wanted to play with. So they came to L.A. and played with some folks, and that was that."

Elaborating on the audition process, Campbell said: "Well, it was weird. It was strange for a number of reasons. I've never played with a drummer with electronic drums before, and that's a different thing, 'cause normally when you're in a small room and you play with an acoustic drum kit, you hear it because of the proximity — you're standing next to it and it's loud. With an electronic drum kit, you don't hear it from the source, you hear it comin' through monitors, so that was a little strange from a musical point of view. The other thing was, most of my 'audition', so to speak, was them asking me questions as opposed to me playing guitar. I mean, it was more a personality test than it was to see whether the guy can sing or play."

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