Def Leppard’s Rick Savage on new guitarist Phil Collen, producer Mutt Lange, and the stunning success of Pyromania

Def-Leppard-BW-pic-1983

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 18, 1983

By Steve Newton

While it is true that Def Leppard‘s lyrical messages most often deal with the time-worn teenage pastimes of partying and getting it on, it’s not so much what they’re saying as how they’re saying it–with all the conviction and drive young hands can channel through a steaming stack of amplifiers. And there must be a lot of record-buyers out there who like the hard-edged sound of Def Leppard, for the band’s latest album, Pyromania, is nudging Michael Jackson’s Thriller at the top of the North American record charts.

In support of that platinum-selling LP, the boys in Def Leppard (their average age is around 21) will be performing with legendary rockers Uriah Heep next Wednesday, July 21. Singer Joe Elliot, guitarists Steve “Steamin” Clark and Phil Collen, drummer Rick Allen and bassist Rick Savage will be dishing out their youthful brand of British boogie and, believe me, the only “pop” available will be the stuff you drink.

I spoke to Savage over the phone from Augusta, Georgia last week and asked him about the new album, its producer Mutt Lange (AC/DC, Foreigner), and the group’s hometown of Sheffield, England.

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Why did the guitarist on your first two albums, Pete Willis, leave the band?

It just got to a point where he wanted to be in a band where he had complete control. He wasn’t 100 percent happy with the way that we were actually doing the songs, etc.

What didn’t he like about them?

I don’t know, it was just a personal thing with him. But it was an amicable split, really. It was probably best for us and best for him. He’s back in England now, getting his own band together and doing it exactly the way he wants to. I think the band is called Venture.

How does your new guitarist Phil Collen’s guitar-playing style differ from Pete’s?

Phil is more jazz/rock-oriented than Pete ever was. He’s what we call a speed freak; occasionally he tries to see how many notes he can put in a five-second solo. And with him being more jazz/rock-oriented he does have a stronger background of chords and what have you. He and Steve complement each other really well because they have contrasting styles.

Would you call Def Leppard a heavy metal band?

It just depends. I wouldn’t, no. Then again, I’m struggling to find another term that actually suits the band. A melodic hard rock band is what I’d call it. We get called heavy metal, but I don’t think we’re quite the same as Iron Maiden.

Def Leppard doesn’t have all the satanic imagery and leather of bands like that. They seem to be a little more stylish as far as appearance goes.

Yeah, we try to keep quite away from that. I mean we’re good friends with Iron Maiden, and we know that they don’t take any of it seriously whatsoever. It’s just one way that people pick up on you. We’d rather dress up like Duran Duran than Motorhead.

Where are the members of Def Leppard from?

Everybody is from Sheffield apart from Phil; he’s from London.

What is the musical atmosphere like in Sheffield. Are there a lot of hard-rock bands there?

Yeah, and there’s also a lot of new-music type bands. ABC are from Sheffield, and so are Human League and Heaven 17. At the moment there’s a hell of a lot of bands that actually originated in Sheffield.

Did the members of Def Leppard grow up together?

Well we all knew at least one other member in the band without actually knowing everybody. I knew Pete, Pete knew Joe, and Joe knew Steve. We decided to get together after we finished school. It was just something to keep us off the streets, and it got a little bit out of hand. It just took off.

Was the band weaned on the music of groups like Thin Lizzy and Mott the Hoople?

Pretty much so. And also the early Queen and mid-period of Zeppelin.

Your latest album, Pyromania, was produced by Mutt Lange, whose name is on the credits for every son on the album. is he like a sixth member of Def Leppard?

Well he is in the same way that George Martin was with the Beatles. He didn’t actually write any of the songs on Pyromania, but we spent such a long time arranging them–ten months–that we thought it only fair to give him the credit. He spent a hell of a lot of time piecing things together, but it was all the band’s material.

Were you happier with his work than with Judas Priest producer Tom Allom’s on the first album?

What happened on the first album was that Tom let us put all our own ideas forward–there wasn’t much discipline around. It was good fun actually doing the album, but it showed in the long run whereas the last two albums, which Mutt produced, have been a lot harder work and less fun, but the overall effect has been better.

What is your personal favourite song on Pyromania?

It’s difficult to say now because I’ve played all the songs so often, but I remember when we just finished the album my favourite song was “Billy’s Got a Gun”.

What do you like that song especially?

It was nice to write a song that was just slightly longer than your average three, four-minute single-type song. I just felt the material on the song and the ideas and the keyboard textures were the best.

How did Def Leppard get its name?

The actual name came about four years before the band was actually formed–it was an idea of Joe’s back in about 1975. All he used to do was sit at the back of the classrooms at school and invent names for imaginary bands and draw posters of them. When we got the band together he just suggested Def Leppard and we thought it sounded okay.

Are you surprised at the success Def Leppard have acquired of late?

We’re really surprised. I mean we expected the album to do well, but in all honestly we’d never expected it to do this well. I don’t think any band has the right to expect their album to do as well as ours is doing. It’s something that you always hope for but never actually think is going to happen.

To hear the full audio of my interviews with Def Leppard’s Steve Clark from 1988, Vivian Campbell from 1992, and Joe Elliott from 2003 subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 250 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty, 1997
Jason Newsted from Newsted (and Metallica), 2013
Dan Hartman, 1984
Sean Costello, 2006
Roger Hodgson from Supertramp, 1998
Tommy Stinson from the Replacements, 1993
Brian Blush of the Refreshments, 1997
Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, 2003
Craig Northey of Strippers Union, 2021
Melissa Etheridge, 1990
Joe Jackson, 2003
Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, 2001
David Ellefson of Megadeth, 1992
David Lee Roth, 2003
Grant Walmsley of the Screaming Jets, 1991
John Popper of Blues Traveler, 1991
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 2012
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1993
Ellen McIlwaine, 2001
Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks, 2012
J.D. Fortune of INXS, 2006
Fernando von Arb of Krokus, 1984
Gary Holt of Exodus, 1985
Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, 1992
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Gary Lee Conner of Screaming Trees, 1992
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Mike Smith of Sandbox (and Trailer Park Boys), 1996
Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Robbin Crosby of Ratt, 1989
Tommy Shannon of SRV & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
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
Dickey Betts, 2001

….with hundreds more to come

 

One thought on “Def Leppard’s Rick Savage on new guitarist Phil Collen, producer Mutt Lange, and the stunning success of Pyromania

  1. Nice! Luv the classic interviews, having not read or heard many of them. It’s interesting to look back on and think back to what you were doing as well when you first heard something that just came out which was so awesome. Many times those moments set an awesome tone around myself and my friends, which will be etched in the memories forever.

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