DEF LEPPARD GUITARIST VIVIAN CAMPBELL DISCUSSES THE BAND’S FORTHCOMING NEW ALBUM, HIS “COMPLICATED” RELATIONSHIP WITH RONNIE JAMES DIO, AND MEETING HIS HEROES RORY GALLAGHER AND GARY MOORE
Greg Prato of Vintage Rock spoke with Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell, highlights from the interview appear below.
Vintage Rock: How much are you looking forward to the start of The Stadium Tour?
Vivian Campbell: You won’t believe how much I’m looking forward to it. And I’m pretty sure the rest of the guys feel the same way…We’re very anxious to get back to work…We are going to probably focus on the new album more than people may expect us to. And that wasn’t initially the plan, but I think we were very enthused by the response that the record has gotten…
…And the label is hot on the record — they were very enthusiastic about it, they’re very excited about it. And that’s genuine — that’s not just them blowing smoke up our ass. We can genuinely tell that…if you strategically put these songs in the set — in the right place and in the right way — they could actually come across. So, you never know. There’s just a general feeling that it’s appropriate to actually focus on some new music for this tour.
Vintage Rock: Let’s discuss the new album, Diamond Star Halos.
Vivian Campbell: It’s certainly different in the way we recorded it. We didn’t see each other at all — it was entirely remote…But I immediately started to panic, because I’m a Luddite — I have a hard time with technology, and I didn’t have any sort of home recording setup. So I had a very quick, very steep learning curve with regard to technology. I spent a lot of time on the phone talking about how this stuff worked and I had to buy some more gear. That was difficult, and I had a little anxiety at first but it got easier. And then I came to appreciate the other side of the equation — that it’s actually a lot better to work that way for me because there is no pressure of having anyone looking over my shoulder. And as a guitarist, I really appreciated that…I feel it’s probably some of my best playing, and I feel the same is true with [guitarist] Phil.[Collen] And I think we all really appreciated being able to work on that sort of schedule.
But having said that, I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that the band could have done on the first or second album…[to] make a record this way remotely. But we have so much road under our wheels. We’ve made so many records…I think kind of really set us up and enabled us to be able to deliver a record of this quality by doing it remotely.
Vintage Rock: What are some of your favorite tracks on the album?
Vivian Campbell: …[bassist Rick] Sav[age] has a couple of songs on the record that that bookend the album — the first song and the last song [Take What You Want (see lyric video below) and From Here to Eternity]. I really like those songs in particular. I like a lot of the record — there’s nothing on the record I don’t like. But the Sav songs, for whatever reason…I think it’s because he’s a mad Queen fan, and his songs may seem simple at times, but there’s parts in them that are very, very, very complicated. And as a musician, I think I appreciate that.
Vintage Rock: Is it true you used your black Les Paul from back in the Dio days on this album?
Vivian Campbell: Yeah, I did. Ever since I started doing the Last in Line…when I do Last in Line recordings and live shows, I use that guitar exclusively — because it just seems appropriate. Because that was the guitar I did Holy Diver with. So, I have sort of rekindled my relationship with it. And then for this record — recording at home — I essentially used four different guitars. But I did most of the solos…in fact, I think I did all of the solos maybe on that particular Les Paul — the Dio one. But the other guitars I used was another Les Paul — the custom shop Viv Campbell model that they made in 2018, and I have a ‘66 Fender Telecaster that I used, and I used my blue Tom Anderson 1988 Stratocaster on a few things. Those were the four guitars that I used.
Vintage Rock: Is there a story behind how and when you obtained that Les Paul?
Vivian Campbell: When I first started playing, Rory Gallagher was my first guitar hero, first album I had, first concert I saw. And Rory was famous for his old, beat up Stratocaster. So, at first I wanted a Stratocaster — but I couldn’t afford one. Because I was only twelve or thirteen at that time. But at that time, I worked every summer, every school holiday, every weekend — ’cause I was “a guitar kid,” I wanted to save up money to buy guitars, effects pedals and stuff and guitar strings. By the time I had saved enough money to buy a proper guitar, I had fallen under the influence of Thin Lizzy and their guitar players, Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham. And in particular, an Irish guitarist who had been through Thin Lizzy a bunch of times — Gary Moore. Gary I would say was my ultimate, ultimate guitar hero. He’s a guy that shaped my playing more than anyone else. He was famous for playing that Peter Green Les Paul [aka “Greeny,” now owned by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett] — the guitar that Peter Green had given him.
So, I wanted a Les Paul, and I had gone to my local mom and pop guitar shop. And this is Ireland in the late 1970s — you don’t have Guitar Center…So, I ordered a gold Les Paul Standard. And I waited for months and months and months and months and months to come and show up. And then one Friday afternoon, I went into the shop on my way back from school, and they said, “Well…good news and bad news. The good news is we finally got a Gibson Les Paul. The bad news is it’s not a Standard.” It was a wine red Deluxe . The Deluxe was a little bit cheaper than the Standard, so that was a good thing, too. But Scott Gorham from Thin Lizzy played a Les Paul Deluxe at that time, so I thought, “Well, if it’s good enough for someone of that caliber, it’s certainly good enough for me.” So, I ended up buying the guitar.
I didn’t like the color and I never liked shiny guitars. Because of my Rory Gallagher influences, I like guitars that have patina. So, I took it home that night and I took sandpaper to it, and I took off all the shine — all the varnish. And then within a month or two I took it to someone to put humbuckers in it and to repaint it black — the color that it is today. And I basically changed every facet on that guitar — all the hardware, changed everything. Y’know, the machine heads, the nut, the jack plate, the bridge, the frets, the pickups…every aspect of it. It’s all been “hot-rodded” over the years. So, that guitar meant a lot to me. It was the guitar I really learned how to play on. That’s when I really became a decent guitar player — was when I got that. I really invested in playing it and that was the guitar I used in Sweet Savage, that was the guitar I used for the Holy Diver album and tour. So, I consider it the most valuable instrument I have. And it’s also the only one I know this serial number to.
Vintage Rock: You just mentioned Dio — after you left, was there ever any possibility of you and Ronnie getting back together or talking?
Vivian Campbell: I’d like to clarify — I was fired from Dio. I did not leave Dio. And that’s a bit of an urban myth, because all these decades after, a lot of people are under that misconception thinking that I left the band. I never wanted to leave Dio. I was fired in the middle of a tour. But I was a squeaky wheel. I was the one who was trying to get Ronnie to uphold his promises and be true to his words, and it didn’t work out. So, I don’t think there was ever any chance that we were gonna work together again.
Ronnie’s wife, Wendy, right up until the day he died, she was his manager — and she never saw me as being of any value to Ronnie. She always thought I was just a guitar player and I was easily replaceable. I think Ronnie knew a little better. So, I think if Ronnie and I had met each other without Wendy, and we’d gone to the pub and we’d had a pint of beer and talked through our differences, yeah, I think we could have worked together again and it would have been great. But as long as Wendy was controlling his career, that was never going to happen.
Vintage Rock: Do you regret never getting the opportunity to make amends with Ronnie before his passing?
Vivian Campbell: Yeah. Y’know, we both said ugly things about each other in the media — which is never a good idea. But you get goaded into these things. And everyone makes these mistakes. That was unfortunate. But Ronnie was a complicated guy — like everyone. When people ask me, “What’s so-and-so like?”, it’s hard to summarize the human experience in a couple of sentences. I mean, we’re all complicated beings – we have good days and we have bad days. We have good attributes from our personalities and we have negative ones. And Ronnie was complicated. We had days when he and I got along really well, and there were days where I thought he was a total a-hole…and I’m sure he thought exactly the same about me. But the one thing that we did good together was we could make music together.
I always found it a very strained relationship because of…and I will own most of the responsibility for that, because I was very bashful around Ronnie. Because I was 20 years old and I’d been listening to Ronnie in Rainbow and Sabbath for years before I ended up being in a band with them, and finding myself in the studio in LA, and just in this whole surreal, very different environment that I’d known before. And being in a band with this guy whose albums I’d been listening to since I was about thirteen years old. So, I just had this strange sort of deference towards him — where he was a rock star, in my opinion. Plus, he was so much older than me. You almost wanted to call him “Mr. Dio.” I didn’t, but I kind of felt like it. Like, I probably should be more respectful in that regard. So, it was a little bit strange to have that sort of relationship. I never felt quite comfortable around him. The only time I did was when we were playing music.
Vintage Rock: Looking back, what are your favorite Dio tracks that you played on?
Vivian Campbell: Gosh…I was never particularly fond of the Sacred Heart album..But every time I do hear something, I think, “Wow. I did play pretty good on that.” The first two albums, the environment in which they were made was much more healthy. So, I’m definitely more familiar with those.
I mean, I like the solo in in The Last In Line — that the title track of that album — I think that’s a well-constructed solo. Obviously, I’m proud of the solo in Rainbow In The Dark, but I wouldn’t say that’s a well-constructed solo — because that was a first take and I didn’t know what I was doing. But I think I got really lucky with it. There’s different aspects of other solos on the early Dio records that were like pulling teeth…and others were really easy to do. Don’t Talk To Strangers I think is a particularly strong solo…
Vintage Rock: Before you mentioned Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore as influences. Did you ever get the opportunity to meet either of them?
Vivian Campbell: Yes, I did meet Rory…and I actually got to meet him as a fan backstage. He was one of those guys who would literally stand there and sign every last autograph ‘til whatever time in the morning. So, he was very, very gracious — he signed my concert stub.
So then, in later years, I actually got to meet Rory in the mid 1980s, a few years before his death. A guitar magazine asked me to interview him as a peer to peer sort of thing, so I got to meet him at LA, which was a real treat. I got to play the Strat — which was more difficult than I had anticipated, because he used heavier strings. But he was just a lovely, lovely really down to earth human being. And no pretense of being a star or celebrity — he was just like an old school blues musician. Just loved to play the music and loved the lifestyle.
I met Gary Moore under very strange circumstances one time — and it didn’t go well. That certainly would be one to file under the headline of “never meet your heroes.” I had been asked about four or five months before Phil Lynott passed away…Jimmy Bain — the bass player in Dio — was really close with Phil Lynott. They were good friends. But I’d known Phil also…I didn’t know him terribly well — I wouldn’t consider him a peer — but he was very supportive of Sweet Savage, and got on stage with us a few times and jammed with us.
But anyway, long story short, Jimmy had said that Phil was looking for a guitar player to record some demos with for a solo album. This wasn’t Thin Lizzy, this was to be a Phil Lynott solo album. So, I went to London for about a week in 1985. I remember the original Live Aid was on — I remember watching it on TV at Phil’s house. So I went there, and like I said, this was several months before he passed away from basically a heroin overdose. So, Phil was just very, very distant. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying — he was mumbling, he was in cold sweats. His wife and kids had left him and he was living in this house. He had this minder guy — a driver guy — who was looking after him, and a couple of Swedish au pairs. I mean, it was really bizarre, kind of strange, surreal rock star stuff. And I was just like, “What the hell is going on?”
So anyway, I was in Phil’s house, and then one morning I came down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and I walked into the kitchen and Gary Moore was in the kitchen…in Phil’s house. It was totally unexpected. I don’t know if he had a key or if the door just wasn’t locked or whatever. So I walk into Phil Lynott’s kitchen and everyone else is still sleeping, and Gary Moore is standing there. And he had come round to check up on Phil. And he obviously felt that I was part of this whole…y’know, I was enabling him to be doing what he was doing. He thought that I was complicit in Phil’s drug addiction — which, obviously, I wasn’t. I mean, I’ve never done heroin in my life nor would I want to. I knew nothing about it. But Gary was not friendly. I was like, “Oh Gary, what kind of strings do you use? Blah blah blah.” And he wasn’t having any of it. He was like, “Where’s Phil?” “I think he’s still asleep. I haven’t seen him.” “Well, tell him I was here. Tell him to call me.” But it was definitely cold. He was not friendly towards me. But I don’t blame him — Phil was his friend and he thought that I was one of those people that was enabling Phil’s demise just because I happened to be there. So, that was unfortunate.
Vintage Rock: How are you doing health-wise? (Campbell revealed in 2013 that he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma)
Vivian Campbell: Good, thank you. It’s ongoing. I still have to do maintenance, but I’ve been very fortunate — I have good doctors and I live in an era when there is a lot of options, good options, and a lot of new things coming along. So, I’m hoping to get on another trial for CART (a type of cell therapy), so I’m just waiting for a trial to open. And hopefully after this summer’s tour I’ll get a chance to do something like that. But it’s good. I mean, it’s not something I’ve ever spent a lot of time fretting over. It’s all part and parcel of the process.
Read more at Vintage Rock.
Def Leppard’s forthcoming new album, Diamond Star Halos, will be released on May 27th and can be pre-ordered here.
The band will be hitting the road, starting June 16th in Atlanta, with the rescheduled The Stadium Tour, along with Mötley Crüe, Poison and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, see the entire schedule below.
16 Atlanta, GA Truist Park
18 Miami, FL Hard Rock Stadium
19 Orlando, FL Camping World Stadium
22 Washington, DC Nationals Park
24 Queens, NY Citi Field
25 Philadelphia, PA Citizens Bank Park
28 Charlotte, NC Bank of America Stadium
30 Nashville, TN Nissan Stadium
2 Jacksonville, FL TIAA Bank Field
5 St. Louis, MO Busch Stadium
8 Chicago, IL Wrigley Field
10 Detroit, MI Comerica Park
12 Hershey, PA Hersheypark Stadium
14 Cleveland, OH First Energy Stadium, Home of the Cleveland Browns
15 Cincinnati, OH Great American Ball Park
17 Milwaukee, WI American Family
19 Kansas City, MO Kauffman Stadium
21 Denver, CO Coors Field
5 Boston, MA Fenway Park
6 Boston, MA Fenway Park
8 Toronto, ON Rogers Centre
10 Orchard Park, NY Highmark Stadium
12 Pittsburgh, PA PNC Park
14 Minneapolis, MN U.S. Bank Stadium
16 Indianapolis, IN Lucas Oil Stadium
19 Houston, TX Minute Maid Park
21 San Antonio, TX Alamodome
22 Arlington, TX Globe Life Field
25 Glendale, AZ State Farm Stadium
27 Inglewood, CA SoFi Stadium
28 San Diego, CA Petco Park
31 Seattle, WA T-Mobile Park
2 Vancouver, BC BC PlaceSunday
4 Edmonton, AB Commonwealth Stadium /Stade du Commonwealth
7 San Francisco, CA Oracle Park
9 Las Vegas, NV Allegiant Stadium