Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rockin' On With Def Leppard

When Def Leppard formed in 1977 it was the brainchild of 3 young men who were students at Tapton School in Sheffield, England. Rick Savage (bass) Pete Williams (lead) and Tony Kenning (drums). Lead singer Joe Elliot auditioned for lead guitar and it was decided that he was better suited to vocals. Ummm, yeah, never having heard him play guitar, I can't say he was, but I also can't feature what they'd have sounded like with someone else providing the vocals for the songs. Besides, it was Joe that provided the name of the band.

None of the research I did turned up the name of the school he attended, nor why he did what he did, but he wrote reviews for imaginary rock bands for his English class. One of the imaginary bands he named Deaf Leopard. They always wanted to be hard rock rather than punk, so the spelling was altered by drummer Tony Kenning to fit the harder style of a hard rock band.

What was thought to be the last addition to the original line up was Steve Clark. Singer Joe Elliot says Steve played in it's entirety Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" as his audition piece. For reasons unknown, Tony Kenning quit the band just as the recording of a 3 song extended play 45 was to begin. For those sessions the drummer was Frank Noon. I couldn't find out why their first record was an EP. I wasn't familiar with that type of record until I happened to find one in the 80's at a local record store. It wasn't a Def Leppard EP. I don't remember ever seeing another one and I'm assuming that was because music sales in the U.S. were all about the singles at the time. The song "Getcha Rocks Off" from that EP soared in the UK largely to a BBC DJ who was all about punk, hard rock and new wave.

By the end of the month of November in 1978 they had found a replacement drummer for their band. A 15 year old named Rick Allen. It took them a year to build a loyal following and get a recording contract, and once their first album came out, it charted well, but they were beginning to lose their British fans. Many of their early fans were turned off by what they viewed as Def Leppard trying too hard to appeal to American audiences. I don't know they were intending to appeal to Amerians specifically but they did appeal to AC/DC producer Mutt Lange. The first album he produced for them didn't chart as well as their first album did, but it brought them to the attention of Ozzy Osbourne and Blackfoot who hired them in 1982 to open for them. Also in 1982 Pete Willis was fired for excessive cinsumption of alcohol during performances and Phil Collen replaced him.

Their third album, Pyromania was released in 1983 and on the strength of "Photograph" "Rock of Ages" and "Foolin" went on to sell 6 million copies placing them right behind Michael Jackson and "Thriller". They were popular in the United States, but not in their native England. It was something that bothered them greatly and may have contributed in part to Steve Clarks problem with alcohol and drugs.

In 1984 Rick Allen was involved in an accident that eventually cost him his arm. Speed and not being belted in were contributing factors. His arm was originally reattached, but infection set in and it had to be removed in order to save his life. Once released from the hospital he thought he couldn't continue to drum for the band. Joe Elliot stopped to see him and between them they started designing a drum kit that would allow Rick to play with his feet. He returned in 1986 barefoot and one armed behind the drums. Rick Allen played on.

There have been many changes in the line up over time. Steve Clark was given a 6 month hiatus from the band to see if he could get his addictions under control. Unfortunately he wouldn't stay long enough in rehab and died from the combination of drugs and alcohol. They last released a record in 2002 and are still touring in the US and Canada. I've spoken to people who attended their current tour with Poison and they say that Def Leppard can still rock on!


  1. Very informative as usual. Of the three here, I like "Love Bites" best....S

  2. My choice as well. I was never a big fan of Def Lepperd. More a fan of "Love Bites" and "Photograph".