Starting his career with Sweet Savage before being invited to join Ronnie James Dio in the original Dio band, Vivian Campbell has played with some of rock's biggest groups, including tenures with Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, and three decades plus with Def Leppard. Fresh from wrapping up a tour with his own Last In Line, we caught up with the guitarist for an exclusive chat about his illustrious history. Here, in the final part of our EXCLUSIVE two-part interview, Viv chats about the passing of Jimmy Bain, Def Leppard’s difficult navigation of the grunge era, and his influences. Working it out; Eamon O’Neill.
First up Vivian, I wanted to ask you about Last In Line / Dio bassist Jimmy Bain’s passing, during Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria On The High’ seas cruise in January.
Jimmy, bless him, we lost him earlier this year, which was really, really, really sad. It was a real blow to us. Jimmy was so into this project. He actually went out and got a tattoo - it was the only tattoo that he had on his body, and it was the ‘Last In Line’ logo.
His death came as you were learning to live with life with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
I found out I had cancer early, and to be honest, I would have found out I had it a year or more earlier if my doctors had listened to me. Nobody knows more than yourself about your own body, and I knew something was very wrong with me, and my doctors told me I was fine for a year and a half. I was still fortunate enough to catch it relatively early, and I was also fortunate enough that I can afford good health insurance. Jimmy wasn’t that fortunate; he didn’t have that much - Jimmy didn’t have a pot to piss in. He was never good with money and he never got paid what he should have along the way, and even when he did, he’d just squander it. He’s also the kind of guy that would bury his head in the sand. I think Jimmy must have known there was something seriously wrong with him, but he’d be the kind of guy to just light up another Marlborough, and just go on about his way.
It still must have been a massive shock when he passed.
We had a show in Miami the night before the ship sailed. That was Jimmy’s last gig, and he was seriously weak. We knew he was suffering from pneumonia – he was taking medication for it, but in hindsight now, we know that the pneumonia was a bi-product of the lung cancer. So he wasn’t diagnosed, but he must have known that something was going on with himself.
The ‘Hysteria On The High Seas’ cruise turned into quite the nightmare for Def Leppard too, with Joe Elliot being unable to perform.
Joe completely lost his voice on the cruise, so it was the cruise from hell. It didn’t go well. It was certainly the most interesting Def Leppard show ever; I sang, Phil Collin sang a bit, Kip Winger and Eric Martin were also on the cruise doing separate shows, and they got up and sang a couple of songs. But the real saviour of the day was the guy next door, Andrew Freeman, who knows every song; he’s such a chameleon, he knocked it out of the park. He came on and he sang, and I think Joe, he worried, actually! *laughing* He did a great job, and it was an interesting show. It’s a lot of pressure ever since for Joe; he’s really had to work hard on recuperation and getting his voice back, but he’s doing good.
Going back to your joining Def Leppard, and the first album you recorded with the band was ‘Slang’ in 1995; it’s a very under-rated record.
It is. It’s an interesting record, and sonically, that’s one of the best sounding Def Leppard records ever, because of the nature of it. There is less on it, and we recorded it in ‘real time’. We actually played live together; Rick Allen played an acoustic kit, and then went back in and overdubbed the cymbals and whatnot. So there’s more of a vibe to it, it’s more of an organic record. I love the way it sounds, and I absolutely love the sonics of the record. You know, I think it’s kind of hit or miss with some of the songs, but I realise why we as a band were doing that; it was 1995 when we were recording that, it was the middle of the grunge era.
Would you agree that ‘Slang’ is the grunge Def Leppard album?
It is. We went in to the recording and writing process for that record knowing only one thing; we could not make a classic sounding Def Leppard record. Other than that, we were clueless, so we were kind of making it up as we went along, and we were taking on board a lot of what was going on in the current music genre. One album that we listened to more than any other when we were making that record, which I think is the best record of the grunge era was ‘Superunknown’ by Soundgarden; I love the songs, I love the sound of that record, so that was a very influential record for us when we were making ‘Slang’.
Were you surprised when your song ‘Work It Out’ wasn’t a big hit?
No, it didn’t surprise me at all. *laughing* One of our managers at the time, Cliff Burnstein, was talking to me about that, and he said that certain radio stations were picking it up, but a lot of the rock stations were becoming alternative rock stations, and there were a couple of stations in particular in Florida that got back to him and they said they loved the track, they could totally play it and playlist it, but they can’t say it was Def Leppard, because that doesn’t fit their vibe. So it was bittersweet, because on one hand it was totally being accepted musically, but the fact that it was Def Leppard meant they weren’t going to play it.
Did you notice attitudes towards Def Leppard’s music changing for the better after the grunge era?
That was what we were fighting against in the mid-1990’s; we were very, very unpopular. It wasn’t until 1999, when we went to do a festival, and the band Hole - Courtney Love’s band - were on the bill, and the guitar player in the band was wearing a ‘Pyromania’ shirt, and we thought; “okay, so maybe it’s okay to be Def Leppard again!”, and that was when the tide started to turn for us. And that was right around the time we released the ‘Euphoria’, album. That was a classic sounding album, I mean, even the title of the record, an ‘IA’-titled record like ‘Hysteria’, ‘Pyromania’, it was a very deliberate thing; “Okay, we’re back! We can come out of our hiding place now!”
Going back to ‘Work It Out’, and the demo version of the track is very different to the finished product; would you have preferred to release it as it was?
No, no, I much prefer what we did with it with Leppard, it’s much more edgy. The demo doesn’t necessarily represent the way I heard the song, it was only my limitations as an inept recorder. I’m not very technical. I think of my demos as the audio equivalent of a stick drawing, like a five year old kid does.
So the demo recording that appeared on the CD single of ‘Work It Out’ was your demo, and not Def Leppard?
It was my own demo. I’d just gotten an ADAT studio together, and my demos did get better. By the ‘Songs From The Sparkle Lounge’ record in 2008, I had a few songs on that record, and the basis of those songs are actually built off my original demos, because I had a ProTools studio by then, and I was becoming more adept. But still, I’m not a technical guy, I’m not the kind of guy that can go into the studio and whip up a track. I’d always much, much rather play with real musicians. I’d much rather play with a drummer and cut a song with a drummer than with a drum machine. There’s no substitute for the idiosyncrasies of the human brain, and no two people play alike; we all bring something unique to the sound.
Finally, you’re in a very exclusive club of guitar players from Ireland that have made a mark internationally; that must be something that you’re proud of.
I am. I mean, my guitar heroes were Irish, and that’s nothing to do with me being proud of my heritage - it just happened to be that way. Rory Gallagher was my first guitar hero. The first album that I owned was ‘Live In Europe’, and the first concert I saw was Rory at The Ulster Hall [in Belfast]. He came every Christmas, and I went every Christmas afterwards. Rory was such an exciting live guitarist and a very spontaneous player, and he was the first player that I actually dropped the needle on the twelve inch album and tried to work out what he was doing. I’m self-taught, so I learned a lot of my bad habits from him; maybe they’re good habits, but I learned a lot of my habits from him.
The Rory Gallagher connection is one I’ve never made before, but you can clearly hear it on the ‘Holy Diver’ album.
I’ve got a very heavy right hand when I play, and I do a lot of split, pinch harmonics as they call it, and I got that from Rory. A lot of the phrasing I do comes from Rory Gallagher too, but then, the other guitar player who influenced me heavily, and probably even more so, was Gary Moore. When I first heard Gary Moore play, I was blown away. The thing about Gary that really excited me was, not only was he so technically good, but he played with such total conviction. He never went; “oh, I’m just going to play a guitar part”, he played his guitar like he wanted to fucking kill it. He wanted to murder it, he was full on and there was such commitment. I learned a lot from Gary, and when I say that, I mean I basically ripped him off! Anything Gary did, I tried to learn how to play. They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and I’d like to think that Gary would have been flattered that I was so, so into it.
Obviously, went on to play Gary Moore’s parts when you were with Thin Lizzy.
Playing ‘Black Rose’; that’s what excited me more than anything else when I played with Thin Lizzy. But even, going back to [original Thin Lizzy guitarist] Eric Bell, playing ‘The Rocker’; I love ‘The Rocker’, ‘The Rocker’ is such a great, great song. I tried to get Scott [Gorham, Thin Lizzy guitarist] and Brian [Downey, Thin Lizzy drummer] to play it every night, and they really didn’t want to.
So did you manage to persuade them otherwise in the end?
Well, Brian didn’t want to because it was the end of the show and he was tired, and it’s such an upbeat, aggressive song, and Scott didn’t want to do it because it was pre-his era. But there were a couple of nights where I’d say; “guys, can we do ‘The Rocker’ for the encore?”, and they’d go; “nah, I don’t really feel it”, and I go out and just start playing it anyway! And I’d look at them, and they were just giving me daggers, but what can you do, I’ve started it, so you’ve got to follow! But it was a bit of craic, it was great fun.
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Click HERE for part one of eonmusic’s interview with Vivan Campbell.