Def Leppard Biography

This perennially popular UK hard rock band was formed in 1977 in Sheffield, Yorkshire by Pete Willis (16 February 1960, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England; guitar), Rick Savage (b. 2 December 1960, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England; bass) and Tony Kenning (drums), as Atomic Mass. They assumed their current name when Joe Elliott (b. 1 August 1959, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England; vocals) joined the band. The quartet initially hired a tiny room in a spoon factory, which served as a rehearsal area, for £5 per week. Early in 1978, Willis met another young guitarist, Steve Clark (b. 23 April 1960, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, d. 8 January 1991, London, England), and invited him to join. Clark agreed only on condition that they would play some ‘proper’ shows, and in July that year Def Leppard debuted at Westfield School before an audience of 150 children. After several gigs, the band voted to dismiss their drummer, replacing him with Frank Noon, who was working with another Sheffield group, the Next Band. In 1979 they recorded a debut EP for Bludgeon Riffola Records, which included ‘Ride Into The Sun’, ‘Getcha Rocks Off’ and ‘The Overture’. Shortly after its release, Noon returned to the Next Band, and Rick Allen (b. 1 November 1963, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England) became Def Leppard’s permanent drummer.

Later that year, the band supported Sammy Hagar and AC/DC on short UK tours. This generated considerable interest and they were then offered a contract by Vertigo Records. Their Tom Allom-produced debut, On Through The Night, was issued in 1980, climbing to number 15 in the UK album charts. The band subsequently staged their first headlining tour of Britain and also visited America for the first time - a move that prompted fans to accuse them of ‘selling out’, making their displeasure known by throwing cans at the band during their appearance at the Reading Festival that summer. The following year’s High ‘N’ Dry was recorded with producer Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange, and reached number 26 in the UK and number 38 in the USA. Pyromania in 1983 saw the first change in the band’s line-up since 1979. After missing many pre-production meetings and arriving drunk for a recording session, Pete Willis was sacked and replaced by ex-Girl guitarist Phil Collen (b. 8 December 1957, Hackney, London, England). The album was Def Leppard’s most successful to date, climbing to number 2 in the US album charts, but they were unable to build on that momentum. On New Year’s Eve 1984, tragedy struck when drummer Rick Allen was involved in a car crash in which he lost his left arm.

The band maintained faith in their percussionist, and did not resume work until Allen had perfected a specially designed kit that made it possible for him to play most of the drums with his feet. His recovery severely delayed the recording of Hysteria, which was finally released in 1987 and eventually sold a staggering 15 million copies worldwide. It topped both the British and American charts, and produced two Top 5 US singles, ‘Armageddon It’ and the anthemic ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, and the October 1988 number 1 ‘Love Bites’. To promote the album, the band embarked on a 14-month world tour, which ended at the Memorial Arena, Seattle, in October 1988. This was destined to be Steve Clark’s last show with the band. As they began work on their belated follow-up to Hysteria, Clark was found dead in his London flat after consuming a lethal mixture of drugs and alcohol. The rest of the band subsequently revealed that they had spent years trying to divert Clark from his self-abusive lifestyle. Faced once again by tragedy, Def Leppard soldiered manfully through the recording sessions for their fifth album, Adrenalize, which was released in March 1992 and immediately scaled the charts, topping the UK and US lists on release (unlike Hysteria, which had taken 49 weeks to crawl to the top in the USA).

Greeted with the usual mixture of critical disdain and public delight (the group’s fans had chosen the title), Def Leppard celebrated by performing at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert at Wembley Stadium. This event also introduced replacement guitarist Vivian Campbell (b. 25 August 1962, Belfast, Northern Ireland; ex-Dio; Trinity; Whitesnake; and Shadow King), who had made his debut at a low-key Dublin gig. In 1995 Rick Allen faced the possibility of two years in jail after he was arrested for assaulting his wife in America. In the meantime, a greatest hits package and a new studio collection, Slang, were released. In 1996 Joe Elliott appeared in the soccer-inspired film, When Saturday Comes. Championed as a return to the classic Def Leppard sound, 1999’s Euphoria sounded a little tired and cliché-ridden although it leapt into the bestselling charts in the UK and USA. ‘Demolition Man’ featured UK racing driver Damon Hill on guitar.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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