“Our hair was no bigger than Zeppelin or Sabbath,” declares Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott



By Steve Newton

A lot of bands that were big in the ’80s are now having trouble getting booked into bowling alleys, but Def Leppard’s not one of them. The British melodic-rock quintet—which hit its commercial peak in 1987 with Hysteria, which has sold 16 million units worldwide—is still on the arena circuit, with a gig lined up for Tuesday (September 23) at the Pacific Coliseum.

As lead vocalist Joe Elliott explains over the phone from a midtour break in Phoenix, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“There is the odd person who it’s always nice to see in an intimate setting,” relates the 44-year-old singer. “I don’t think Tom Waits would work too well in Madison Square Garden; you’d rather see him in Carnegie Hall. But there’s a novelty factor about a band like us in an intimate setting. Other than sittin’ down on a stool doin’ like the VH-1 Unplugged–type stuff, Aerosmith, Zeppelin, us, Bon Jovi—whoever you wanna name—kinda gravitate to the larger-than-life persona. I think if you aim big and think big you actually end up just being big.

“Some people like that intimacy of stayin’ small,” continues the talkative rocker. “Maybe Norah Jones is going through a bit of a headfuck at the moment. She probably always wanted to just be Billie Holiday, but now she’s Alanis Morissette, you know. And she’s gonna be wanting to do intimate stuff, but 10,000 people per town are gonna want to see her do it, which means holding up in a residency for a month or just biting your lip and going with a big gig.

“For us, when we got offered the big gigs, that’s what we were looking for. And as long as you put a value-of-the-money show on, the fans would rather see you in a bigger venue most of the time, anyway.”

Maybe. Maybe not. But when those fans are coughing up more than 50 bucks for a “big gig”, do they also appreciate an intimate performance by a solo artist they’ve never heard of? Leppard’s current North American tour includes an acoustic warm-up set by singer-songwriter Ricky Warwick, whose Elliott-produced solo debut hits stores this month.

“Of course we looked around to see what was available,” says Elliott of the opening-act options, “but to be quite honest, nothing really appealed. If we wanted them they didn’t want us, or we didn’t want to be paying the kinda money that they were looking for. I mean, some of the artists that wanted to come out with us were looking for as much money as we were getting, and it’s like, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me!’

“So then we all sat down and said, ‘Well look: everybody likes Ricky, everybody likes his record, why don’t we take Ricky out?’ So we’re giving somebody who’s a new solo artist an opportunity to play in front of a lot of people when he’s just about to release an album, and it make us feel good, because we’re like a launching pad—maybe. It’s up to him how well his record sells; it’s up to the stars and the alignment of the climate and all this kinda stuff.”

Astrology and weather patterns notwithstanding, Def Leppard itself hasn’t managed to sustain the immense popularity of its late-’80s heyday. The quintet’s latest CD, last year’s X, was a commercial flop, although only by Leppard standards.

“To be quite honest, I’ve never looked at [sales] figures,” contends Elliott. “It went in [the charts] at No. 11—which is not seven weeks at No. 1, we’d be the first to accept that—but I know it’s [sold] over a million worldwide, and it’s pushing two. It’s not bad in this day and age, 23 years into a career.”

It’s a known fact that critics have never been kind to Def Leppard, and after listening to X, this scribbler’s not about to try and change that. But the resolute Elliott contends that the ballad-heavy disc was “well-received” by the music press.

“Believe me, Hysteria had worse reviews than X,” he claims, “and look what that album did! From an artistic point of view it’s gratifying that people actually believe that we don’t belong in the Winger/Warrant/Ratt category.

“We were never anything to do with that, and we never wanted to be anything to do with that. For starters we weren’t from L.A. We weren’t a big-hair band, we were a longhair band. Our hair was no bigger than Zeppelin or Sabbath, and nobody ever called them big hair.”

To hear the audio of my interviews with Def Leppard guitarists Steve Clark and Vivian Campbell subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 200 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
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….with hundreds more to come

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