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The Sheffield (South Yorkshire, U.K.) based quintet began their musical career as Def Leppard in 1977 when Joe Elliot teamed up with bassist Rick Savage, drummer Tony Kenning and lead guitarist Pete Willis.
Despite an initial change in line-up and producers and music style, Def Leppard have over the years forged a stellar career that has spanned across 3 decades and they have cemented themselves as one of the globally definitive hard-rock musical acts.
Since at least 1982, Def Leppard has also been one of the few mainstream rock bands which has more less remained in tact and are still actively touring. Their latest outing in 2013 being on the big-screen in the form of a limited-release concert-movie, Viva! Hysteria which premiered at select cinemas across the world (including down here in Australia).
Despite their success, Def Leppard has also earned some unwanted nicknames like 'cursed' and 'jinxed' due to the car accident which cost drummer Rick Allen his left arm and the tragic death of guitarist Steve Clark.
Nevertheless, the group solidiered on and released timeless classic albums like Hysteria and Adrenalize, proving that any obstacle can be surpassed through will and dedication.
From a personal standpoint, I'm particularly choosing to write about Def Leppard as this is the band (along with Europe and Motley Crue) which exposed me to rock music and glam metal towards the end of the 1980s and early 1990s - As one of the first Gen-Y babies I don't remember much from 80's rock but was still old enough to appreciate the musical styles from that era and thankfully, my addiction has stayed since ;)
THE EARLY YEARS (1977 to 1982)
From A Deaf Leopard to 'Def Leppard'
Lead singer Joe Elliott (born August 1 1959) initially coined the name 'Deaf Leopard' while still in school back in 1975.
Between 1975 and 1977, bassist Rick 'Sav' Savage, drummer Tony Kenning and guitarist Pete Willis joined the duo and decided to form a rock-band. To add some uniqueness, they changed the name to 'Def Leppard' from Deaf Leopard and began jamming some songs.
(To this date, Joe Elliot and Rick Savage are the only two people from Def Leppard who've been with the band right since its inception).
While the band managed to rehearse and do mostly covers of other rock songs (including those by Thin Lizzy and David Bowie), they managed to compose their first original song named 'Misty Dreamer'.
The group, except for their instruments and basic sound-gear, was still battling without a producer and proper sound-equipment and were only able to rehearse inside a factory in Sheffield and 'performed' their first gig in front of six friends.
Steve Clark and Rick Allen join the group, fulltime
As the youngsters began realizing that their band has potential to crack it into the mainstream, they began rehearsing more often (albeit not enough to really get noticed).
In 1978, Steve Clark (April 23 1960 - January 8 1991) (who joined as the 2nd lead guitarist to go with Pete Willis) pressured the other people to get out and play if they wanted some limelight and threatened to quit if they didn't.
Realizing that the band cannot afford to lose a talented axeman like Clarke, the group played their first public gig at Westfield School in Sheffield and earned 5 Pounds for their effort at a teacher's expense.
At around the same time, the group fired the original drummer Tony Kenning (apparently due to his lack of commitment) and replaced him with another drummer, Frank Noon who recorded with the drumming parts for the group's first official album, 'The Def Leppard EP'. While marketing and exposure was sill low, the group did begin getting some limited exposure.Upon the release of the first EP, Frank Noon left the band and was replaced by a still very young Rick Allen (born November 1 1963).
By the onset of 1979, Rick Allen dropped out of school at the age of 16 to commit full-time to Def Leppard and the the band's direction began to take shape - they managed to score an opening spot for Sammy Hagar and AC/DC, while the first album began enjoying some steady airplay on the BBC. Def Leppard also managed to play at Hammersmith Odeon, London's Rock-hub for the first time in their career in front of a sizeable audience.
Still in 1979, the single 'Wasted' (produced by Nick Lauber and the group's first official single), managed to garner some further attention from critics and helped the group secure recording deals with Phonogram (UK) and Mercury (USA).
'On Through The Night' (Success in America)
With the success and exposure gained from touring in 1979, the future began looking bright for the young lads.
At the beginning of the 80's and in the wake of the success of their live shows and 'Wasted', Def Leppard managed to change producers - signing up Tom Allom to take the helm at production for their next album (and their first proper LP), "On Through The Night".
A single, "Hello America" was included on the album and released as a single in 1980. To further promote the group, they embarked on a lengthy tour of the United States to support major groups like Judas Priest and AC/DC and received positive feedback from the American audience.
Despite that America had opened its doors to them, Def Leppard needed to convince their home country more to gather fanfare as audience at UK gigs began getting the impression that the group had become a Yankee sell-out - For instance at the Reading festival, a drunk and aggressive crowd threw beer cans at the band during their concert.
'High N' Dry' and the entry of Phil Collen as new lead guitarist
Despite local setbacks, Def Leppard's positive American tour and encouragement from their recording labels became their driving force to pursue working on their next album.
In 1981, Tom Allom was replaced by a then up and coming producer Robert 'Mutt' Lange (who'll later become a more or less permanent but unofficial '6th Lep') and produced Def Leppard's next album 'High N' Dry'.
With production being more slick as compared to 'On Through The Night' and the release of videos for 'Let It Go' and 'Bringin' On The Heartbreak' (the latter played heavily by the then new American cable channel MTV), album sales began taking off and Def Leppard finally secured some much-needed success on the charts.
The title track of the album also caught some unwanted attention in the mid-80's when it was included by the PMRC into their list of the 'Filthy Fifteen'. (It was the only Def Leppard track to attract controversy).
By 1982 and towards the end of a European tour in support of Ozzy Osborne, Pete Willis quit (or was fired due to his alcoholism, depending on who you believe) and was replaced by lead guitarist Phil Collen (born December 8 1957). With Phil's entry into Def Leppard and Robert Lange at production, the group's direction and destiny were about to be set for at least the next 10 years.
Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981, High N' Dry)
INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS DURING THE 1980s
Pyromania and Rick Allen's Car Crash
With Phil Collen joining in, the partnership between Collen and Steve Clark became a force to be reckoned with (both on stage and in the studio).
Steve Clark's trademark riffs (which earned him the nick name 'white lightning') complemented Collen's lead and aided in the success of the group throughout the 1980s.
Released in February 1983 and produced from start to finish by 'Mutt' Lange, Pyromania rocketed up the charts almost immediately upon release, selling around 100,000 copies during the first week alone.
Aided by catchy MTV-friendly videos for 'Photograph' (dedicated to Marilyn Monroe) and 'Rock of Ages' (which is now considered Def Leppard's signature song), the album eventually sold over seven million copies globally and the supporting tour lasted exactly a year (culminating in a concert at Bangkok on February 4, 1984).
The band almost immediately began working on their 4th album but Lange initially refused to take charge of production, citing exhaustion after producing The Cars' album 'Heartbeat City' in 1984.
While work did begin on the fourth album, Def Leppard faced their first bout of misfortune when on December 31 '84, Rick Allen crashed his car outside Sheffield and lost his left arm, permanently.
With Rick being almost incapacitated as a drummer, electronic drum kit manufacturer Simmons built a custom-set for Rick (armed with at least 8-foot pedals to supplement the left-arm) - Rick soon adapted to the new drumming technique and when Robert Lange returned to produce Def Leppard's next album, he ordered the quintet to abandon all unfinished demos and to start over from scratch.
Rick Allen eventually mastered one-handed drumming on his Simmons kit - the other band members being so amazed and impressed that Joe Elliott even said later that Rick actually became a better drummer one-handed than he ever was with both arms.
Rock Of Ages (1983, Pyromania)
After almost 4 years of painful slogging (especially on part of Rick Allen who was getting used to drumming one-handed), the group finally released their 4th album, 'Hysteria' in the middle of 1987.
Considered by many fans and critics alike as the group's 'make or break' album, nobody in the industry really expected the album to match the success of Pyromania, largely due to lack of hopes about Rick Allen's output on a fully electronic drum-kit.
The first single and the album's opening track, 'Women', despite setting the tone of the album and having a decent setup of chords, tempo and a video to go with it, didn't really make its mark on the charts and album sales initially seemed dismal.
But upon the release of 'Animal' as the album's second single and a decently executed music video, the group began climbing back into the rankings and the album began to sell.
Eventually, Hysteria became Def Leppard's most well-known and signature album (though it didn't occupy #1 on album-charts) and has now been ranked among the top 20 greatest rock albums ever produced - Seven songs out of the 12 (Women, Animal, Love Bites, Pour Some Sugar On Me, Armageddon It, Hysteria, Rocket) were released as singles, all accompanied by music videos.
The song 'Pour Some Sugar On Me' became the group's only other signature song (apart from 'Rock of Ages') and the success of the album spawned a lengthy global tour which lasted at least until 1989.
'Hysteria' also became the last album to feature active contributions from Steve Clark (both in the studio and during the live tours) - he never played live with the group after 1989 due to his growing substance abuse.
Pour Some Sugar On Me (1987, Hysteria)
'In The Round, In Your Face!' (Full Concert at Denver, CO, USA on February 3 and 4, 1988)
The Death of Steve Clark
As they say, success is usually marred by personal excess and demons, and Def Leppard were no strangers to this adage.
During their long and tiring tour to support 'Hysteria', the band became more submerged in typical rock-star excess of the time including alcohol and drugs.
The stress of touring and performing especially began taking its toll on guitarist Steve Clark, who had already begun showing signs of excessive alcoholism. Steve's battle with alcohol became so severe that not only did it begin affecting his daily personal life, it also began affecting his recording sessions during production of the 5th album, leaving Phil Collen to manage almost all the guitar-parts for most of the album. The band even granted Steve a temporary leave of absence for 6 months to get himself together.
During an interview from the early 90's, Joe Elliot said that while the rest of the band-members had other past-times like family engagements or golf and soccer, Steve only reached out for the bottle when he wasn't playing and that "he was killing himself".
It all came to a head on January 8th, 1991, when, at the age of 30, Steve fatally overdosed on painkillers and whiskey and died alone in his London apartment.
To this date, the rest of the group still say that they miss him and did try to warn him about what he was doing to himself but while the battle between him and alcohol was over, Steve unfortunately lost the war.
'Adrenalize' and the entry of Vivian Campbell as Steve Clark's replacement
After the death of Clark and a brief period of mourning, the remaining 4 band-members returned to the studio to continue recording material for their 5th album.
Despite recording most of the album as a quartet with Phil Collen solely in charge of guitars, the release of the new album in 1992 was met with acclaim.
The new album named 'Adrenalize' featured the same slick production trademark of Robert 'Mutt' Lange (as executive producer) and the late Mike Shipley (co-producer).
As the band was still officially without a much needed second lead guitarist, the music video for 'Let's Get Rocked' featured the group as a quartet (the only music video of Def Leppard to do so).
Eventually, a replacement was found in the form of Northern-Irish guitarist Vivian Campbell, who'd gained fame after a brief stint with David Coverdale's Whitesnake (along with Adje 'Adrian' Vandenburg) in the late 80's.
The recruitment of Vivian Campbell sealed the 4th and current lineup for the band (which has existed for over 20 years).
'Adrenalize' eventually became the first Def Leppard album to reach #1 on British album charts and spawned 5 singles - 'Let's Get Rocked', 'Tonight', 'Make Love Like A Man', 'Heaven Is..' and one of the group's most famous ballads, 'Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad' and also became the group's biggest selling album in Europe and Asia - the supporting tour lasting well into 1993/94.
Let's Get Rocked! (1992, Adrenalize)
1992 TO 2000: CHANGE IN MUSICAL DIRECTION
With the emergence of Grunge (led by Pearl Jam and Nirvana) during the 90's, Def Leppard, despite enjoying mammoth success well into the mid-90's, were forced to change musical focus by switching from a hard-rock edge to a more 'Adult Contemporary' theme.
1993's 'Retro Active' featured a slow-tempo-ed and softly paced ballad 'Two Steps Behind' which eventually became a permanent staple on the band's live set-lists (and the only song which does not feature Rick Allen when played live as the song was originally recorded almost entirely without percussion).
By 1995, Def Leppard released their first 'Greatest Hits' compilation called 'Vault' - The album also contained a brand new single 'When Love and Hate Collide' which became the biggest Def Leppard hit in the UK (peaking at #2 on British charts upon its release).
The years spanning from 1995 to 1999 saw the band embark on another lengthy tour (this time including more countries in Southeast Asia) and the release of the band's 8th album, 'Slang' which featured the singles 'Action', 'Work It Out' and the title track.
The album reported disappointing sales overall, signalling that Def Leppard's time under the spotlight was beginning to wane.
By 1999, Def Leppard released their 9th album, Euphoria which featured one major hit, 'Promises'. Despite tough competition from newer rock genres and outfits (such Korn and Slipknot), the track performed well on the charts and received significant rotation on major music video networks.
Promises (1999, Euphoria)
BEYOND 2000 and CURRENT STATUS
n the 21st century, Def Leppard eventually decided to take a break from actively focusing on producing new material and embarked on promoting their older albums and engaged more in touring than spending time in the studio.
Since 2000, Def Leppard has released two original albums ('X' in 2002 and 'Undefeated' in 2011) two updated versions of their 'Greatest Hits' albums (one for the British market and one for the North American market) and also two albums featuring covers of songs which they listened to during their youth.
As of now, Def Leppard remains heavily active within the rock-scene and tours across the world including major headline tours with other global acts like Whitesnake, Europe, Poison and Heart (with whom they toured Australia and New Zealand in 2011).
To close, Def Leppard remains as one of the defining and permanent staples within the hard-rock scene and their legacy, despite their major setbacks will never be forgotten!