The recipient of this years’ Oh Yeah Legend award in his home town of Belfast, Vivian Campbell has had a career more than worthy of the title. A former member of Dio, Whitesnake and a host of others, with four decades in rock Viv has made a remarkable impact on the musical landscape. Showing no signs of slowing down, 2017 has seen Viv complete a lengthy tour with Def Leppard, record a new album with Riverdogs, and hit the road with Last In Line. We sat down with Viv at Ramblin’ Man Fair festival, to discuss life, music and why the next Last In Line album won’t be a prog rock affair. Heavy Crown; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Vivian, how are you today?
I am splendidly well, thank you very much.
You’ve just come off stage at Ramblin’ Man Fair; how was it?
It was a little nerve wracking for us. It’s the first date of the tour, so it’s rented gear; throw and go! I’m out there adjusting the amp as they’re saying; “Ladies and gentlemen - Last In Line”, and I’m going; “Wow, wow wow! Give me a minute!” But we got through it, consummate professionals that we are!
There was one piece of gear that definitely wasn’t rented, and that was your favourite Gibson Les Paul.
No, [quoting the guitar’s serial number] 72987537; I brought that over from L.A. yesterday. It flew over with me too in the cabin. I don’t shack it or anything.
That’s the guitar you played on all those early Dio album, and on the recent Riverdogs release; has it ever appeared on a Def Leppard album?
No, it never did. I have a lot of guitars now, and I’ve got a lot of Les Pauls, and I’ve many Les Pauls that are actually much better instruments than that, but that one means a lot to me, and it feels very appropriate to be playing it with this band. With Riverdogs, I used a bunch of other guitars as well, but with this band I just use that guitar.
So that guitar is integral to the Last In Line sound?
If I broke a string I’d have to use another, but that [guitar] was ‘Rainbow In The Dark’, that was ‘Holy Diver’, that was ‘Straight Through The Heart’, ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’; all those songs and solos were played on that guitar.
Do you get many guitar nerds coming up to you who know about that?
No! Nobody seems to know or care; it’s just me I think that cares about it!
You and Vinnie are literally the last in line of the original Dio band; is it strange to find yourselves in that position?
Well, we all have a shelf life. When you’re younger you don’t think about it, so it’s kind of sobering as we get a little older to be reminded of that a bit too frequently. It was really sad to loose Jimmy [Bain, Dio and Last In Line bassist who passed away in January 2016]. This band really meant a lot to him; he was really, really excited about it and very inspired, and he went out and got a tattoo; it was his only tattoo he had ‘Last In Line’, and he didn’t quite see the finish line. That really knocked us back, and we didn’t know what we were going to do, but we decided we owed it to him and ourselves, and we’d come this far, so we were very fortunate to get Phil Soussan in the band. Phil was also a friend of Jimmy’s, and definitely cut from the same cloth in terms of the playing style, so it’s a good fit. We all miss him, and before we play ‘Starmaker’, we always pay tribute to Jimmy. I know that we’re a nascent band and it’s early days yet, but it’s become an early tradition with us.
Is it nice to be playing together with Vinnie again, after years apart?
I love playing with Vinnie. I’ve been fortunate to play with so many great musicians through the years in various bands, but Vinnie is just such a unique drummer, and such a powerful drummer, as well as being a great person to be around. He’s a very positive person, and that’s always a good energy to be next to. But he constantly moves the goal posts. Vinnie never plays the same thing twice, and I love that. It keeps me on my toes, and I like to think that when I go out on stage with anyone – with Def Leppard or Last In Line of whoever – I always go with 100% commitment. I take great pride in my work and what I do, and I want to do it as well as I can, so I go out on stage aiming to play 100%, but when I play with Vinnie, I play 110%, because he inspires me that much. I love writing with Vinnie too, because even when we’ve gone in to write songs for Last In Line, or Dio, when no one’s had an idea sometimes Vinnie just plays a groove, and it’s so monstrous and so inspiring that something comes out of it, and you start playing and you find something. So it’s great, I really do love playing with him, and you’re right; he and I are the last in line, we’re the last two standing.
Have you heard that it’s recently been announced that Dio will be touring using a Ronne James Dio hologram?
Well, I don’t actually know anything about that except that Vinnie [Appice, drummer] pointed it out to me yesterday. He showed me an ad for it that said that it was coming. I’ve never seen the hologram. To each his own; the way I look at it is, if that goes on tour, that will raise awareness of Dio and the catalogue, and by virtue of that, we will benefit because we’re associated in some way, and they will benefit from what we’re doing, so it’s a very reciprocal kind of thing, and it’s all good. Like I say, I haven’t seen it, so I’m not going to pass judgement on it.
Moving on, and it’s coming up to a real milestone for Def Leppard; celebrating 30 years of the ‘Hysteria’ album, which was released before you joined the band.
25 years I’ve been in Def Leppard. I wasn’t part of the original record, other than the fact that I bought it twice; on cassette and CD! It was that good I played the cassette so much that I wore it out and I had to buy the CD. If ever there was a record to hear on CD, it was that because there was so much depth to it. The band has been thoroughly successful, and very deserving of that success.
The mood must be buoyant in Def Leppard right now.
We’re playing better than ever. I think this tour that we’ve just concluded in the States, I don’t think Def Leppard’s ever played better, and Joe has never sung better. The band is really firing on all cylinders, so to be able to celebrate this milestone of the thirty year anniversary of what is one of rock’s greatest albums, it’s a good time to be in Def Leppard, and I think everyone recognises and appreciates that too, and we’re very thankful for that. We’re not blasé about it by any means.
Would 2018 be a good time for some ‘Hysteria’ shows in the UK and Europe?
It will be. We haven’t forgotten about Europe. We’re definitely hoping to get here by the end of next year, so that’s sort of where we’re looking.
Would that be an option, to play the whole of ‘Hysteria’?
Well, I don’t know. Some people say; “Yeah, that would be a great idea”, and others say; “No, it wouldn’t be a good idea”, so who knows? But having done it in Las Vegas a few years ago, at least we have one foot in that direction. We could pull it together pretty quickly if we needed to. But then again, the ‘Hysteria’ album, like any album, it’s not enough to constitute an entire show, so you’ve got to think about how to present it; you’re going to have to buffer it, whether before, or after with something else.
The ‘Ded Flatbird’ set where you opened for yourselves playing rare Def Leppard tracks in Las Vegas was something special.
That was the most fun part of the whole thing for me. I actually enjoyed that more than playing the ‘Hysteria’ album. Because we were playing a lot of deep cuts, it was a lot more ‘rock’ focused, and I maybe got to play a bit more guitar, so those were all good things for me. But I don’t think you’ll be seeing a travelling version of that – you’ve got to fly to Vegas for that one!
So you enjoy playing those deeper tracks?
It’s great to play something different, regardless of what album it’s off. It’s always nice to break the routine and do something that requires a bit more thought. Its keeps it fresh. Leppard is one of those bands with a huge catalogue, I mean, there’s so many great songs that we could be playing, but you’ve got to play the big hits. The majority of people that come to a Def Leppard show want and expect to hear those hits, so you’ve got to cater to the majority. But every now and again we do get to go a little bit more leftfield and do something obscure - like the Ded Flatbird thing in Vegas, and as a musician, it’s nice to have a little bit of a challenge.
You joined Def Leppard in time for ‘Retro Active’ in 1993; did you play on much of that album?
A lot of it was already done. I didn’t do a lot on that record, just a few smatterings of guitar and vocal here and there. ‘Slang’ was the first full album that I was involved with [click here to read more about the recording of ‘Slang’] start to finish. The ‘Retro Active’ thing was a work in progress. It was mostly historical stuff that was being repackaged while we were on the road for ‘Adrenalize’. We were recording stuff in a little makeshift, backstage studio as we went, so I dipped my toes into that one, but ‘Slang’ was my first full on one.
It’s recently been announced that you’re the recipient of this years’ Oh Yeah Legend award; how does it feel to be receiving that?
I’m very flattered, I’ve got to say. I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like that. It’s lovely to be recognised for what you do and something that you’re passionate about, and I’ve always been very passionate about my work. It’s especially flattering when you’re recognised by your kinsmen at home, as opposed to getting it in Alaska, or Saskatchewan, Canada or somewhere like that! The fact that it’s from Northern Ireland is very, very flattering.
What are your plans for the evening?
They asked me if I wanted to perform, so I said; “Well, I’ve got to perform with a band”, so I managed to eek a few dollars out of them for bringing over Last In Line! I’m guessing it’s a ‘let’s give him an award before he dies!’ kind of thing. “He’s been around long enough” – it’s one of those, so we don’t have to do it posthumously! *Laughing*
It must feel like you’re coming full circle; brining Last In Line with you to receive that award in Belfast?
Well, my entire musical journey has been quite colourful. I sometimes think would it have been more rewarding to have been in one band. It’s always occurred to me; what if Sweet Savage had gotten a record deal and made that debut album? Maybe Metallica wouldn’t have existed, because we sounded so much like Metallica, you know?! But you can’t change history. I guess it would have been nice to have had a career in one band, but on the other hand, I’ve had a very, very colourful journey with all these different bands, and like I said before, I’ve been fortunate I’ve gotten to experience playing with so many A-list musicians and A-list bands; it’s been frankly, the sort of education that you could never replicate. I’d like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two from all of that.
If you had to pick an album from your career to be remembered by, which one would it be?
I’ve been very fortunate again, and I’ve been involved in some milestone records, but you know, I’ve also made some albums that I really believed in that totally fell off the cliff, like the Riverdogs. The first Riverdogs album was a great record, and it just fell into obscurity. In years gone by it’s gone on to be a bit of a cult hit, which I suppose is rewarding in its own way. The people that did hear it actually said; “Oh! That’s pretty good!” So, we’ve kind of come full circle that now. We just put out a record on July 7th called ‘California’, which is a follow-up to the original Riverdogs album. I’m very pleased with that, and if half as many people get to hear that one, then that will be a reward in itself.
Finally, where are things at with the follow-up to Last In Line’s ‘Heavy Crown’ album?
I was very pleased with how ‘Heavy Crown’ came out, and we’ve got six songs written for the next record. When we go back to L.A. after this tour, we’ll work on getting the rest of the record done. I do have a lot of ideas for it, and I’m excited about it; I would actually say it’s more riffy than the ‘Heavy Crown’ record; it’s a bit more intricate, a bit more involved. I’m not talking prog rock or any of that stuff (!), but it’s a little bit more complex, a little bit more upbeat, tempo-wise, and I am certainly intending to make it a lot more guitar-focused than even ‘Heavy Crown’ was. Between doing ‘Heavy Crown’ and the Riverdogs’ ‘California’ album, I think I’ve got my groove back, so I’m feeling ready. There’s going to be a lot of notes on this next record!
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