Def Leppard History
Rick Savage (bass), Pete Willis (guitar), and Tony Kenning (drums), all students at Tapton School in Sheffield, formed a band called Atomic Mass in 1977. Following a chance meeting with Willis after missing a bus, 18-year old Joe Elliott tried out for the band as a guitarist. During his audition, however, it was decided that he was better suited to be the lead singer.
Soon afterward they adopted a name proposed by Elliott, “Deaf Leopard”, which was originally a band name he thought up while writing reviews for imaginary rock bands in his English class At Kenning’s suggestion, the spelling was slightly modified in order to make the name seem less like that of a punk band. In January of 1978, Steve Clark joined the band. According to Joe Elliott, he successfully auditioned for the band by playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” in its entirety.
In November, just prior to recording sessions for what would be a three-song release known as the Def Leppard EP, Kenning abruptly left the band. He was replaced for those sessions by Frank Noon. By the end of the month Rick Allen, then only 15 years old, had joined the band as its full-time drummer.
Sales of the EP soared after the track “Getcha Rocks Off” was given extensive airtime by renowned BBC Radio DJ John Peel, considered at the time to be a champion of punk rock and new wave music.
Throughout 1979, the band developed a loyal following among British hard rock/heavy metal fans and were even initially considered the leaders of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (a status eventually claimed by Iron Maiden). Their growing popularity led to a record deal with the major label Phonogram/Vertigo (Mercury Records in the US).
Def Leppard’s debut album, On Through the Night, was released on March 14, 1980. Although the album hit the Top 15 in the UK, many early fans were turned off by the perception that the band was trying too hard to appeal to American audiences by recording songs like “Hello America” and touring more in the US (supporting Pat Travers, AC/DC, and Ted Nugent). A performance at the Reading Festival in August (Iron Maiden also appeared) was marred when audience members expressed their displeasure by pelting the band with rubbish.
The band had by then caught the attention of AC/DC producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who agreed to work on their second album, High ‘n’ Dry, released on July 11, 1981. Lange’s meticulous approach in the studio helped them realize their potential.
Despite the album’s unimpressive sales figures, the “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” promo clip became one of the first metal videos played on MTV in 1982, bringing the band increased visibility in the States. By the time the album was out, a European tour followed. The band opened for Ozzy Osbourne and Blackfoot.
Phil Collen, former guitarist with the glam band Girl, replaced Pete Willis, who was fired on July 11, 1982, due to excessive alcohol consumption on the job. (Willis would later resurface with the bands Gogmagog and Roadhouse.) This personnel change took place during the recording of their third album, Pyromania, which was released on January 20, 1983 and also produced by Lange.
The lead single, “Photograph,” turned Def Leppard into a household name, supplanting Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” as the most requested video clip on MTV and becoming a staple of rock radio (dominating the US Album Rock Charts for six weeks). It also hit #12 on the pop charts.
Fueled by “Photograph” and subsequent singles “Rock of Ages” and “Foolin’,” Pyromania went on to sell six million copies in 1983 (more than 100,000 copies every week in that year) and was held off the top of the US album charts only by Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The album has since been certified Diamond by the RIAA in the US.
Def Leppard’s US tour in support of Pyromania began by opening for Billy Squier in March and ended with a headlining performance before an audience of 55,000 at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, CA in September.
As a testament to the band’s popularity at the time, a US Gallup poll in 1984 saw Def Leppard voted as favourite rock band over peers such as The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, and Journey. However, this popularity was not matched in their native England, a fact that greatly bothered them.
Following their breakthrough, the band moved to Dublin in February 1984 for tax purposes to begin writing the follow-up to Pyromania. Mutt Lange initially joined in on the songwriting sessions but then suddenly declined to return as producer due to exhaustion. Instead, Jim Steinman (of Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell fame) was brought in.
On December 31, 1984, drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash on the A57 in the hills outside Sheffield when his speeding Corvette swerved off the road on a sharp bend and went through a drystone wall. Despite the severity of the accident, Rick was committed to continuing his role as Def Leppard’s drummer. He practiced drumming with pillows and realized that he could use his legs to do some of the drumming work previously done with his arms. He then worked with Simmons to design a custom electronic drum kit.
The other members of the band supported Allen’s recovery and never sought a replacement. During this period, Mutt Lange eventually returned to the fold as producer, and Allen’s triumphant comeback was sealed at the 1986 Donington Monsters of Rock festival with an emotionally charged ovation after his introduction by Joe Elliott.
Def Leppard’s fourth album, Hysteria, was finally released on August 3, 1987. The second single from the album, “Animal,” reached #6 in the UK and finally turned the band into stars in their home country. Hysteria immediately topped the charts in its first week of release.
US album sales were relatively slow (compared to Pyromania) until the fourth single, “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” The song hit Number 2, and Hysteria finally reached the top of the US Album Charts in July 1988. The “Pour Some Sugar on Me” video was #1 on Dial MTV for a record 73 days (from May 26-September 5, 1988). In October, the power ballad “Love Bites” would become Def Leppard’s first (and only) Number One single on the Billboard Hot 100, and in January 1989, the band scored another US Top 5 hit with “Armageddon It.”
Hysteria is one of only a handful of albums (and the third in rock history) that has charted seven singles or more on the US Hot 100: “Women” (#80), “Animal” (#19), “Hysteria” (#10), “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (#2), “Love Bites” (#1), “Armageddon It” (#3), and “Rocket” (#12). It remained on the charts for three years and has sold 18 million copies worldwide.
Equally as successful was the accompanying Hysteria World Tour, which ran for 15 months and saw Def Leppard perform “In The Round.” The concept proved wildly popular with fans, as evidenced in the videos for “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Armageddon It” (and was later used again for the Adrenalize tour).
In 1989, Def Leppard won Favorite Heavy Metal Artist, as well as Favorite Heavy Metal Album (for “Hysteria”) during the American Music Awards. It was the first time that a heavy metal category was added to the awards show. (The category has since been deleted.)
By the end of the decade, although Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, and Bon Jovi had garnered more mainstream exposure, Def Leppard had sold more records than any rock band in the US during the ’80s.
Following Hysteria, the band quickly set out to work on their fifth album, hoping to avoid another lengthy gap. However, Steve Clark’s alcoholism worsened to the point that he was constantly in and out of rehab. Recording sessions suffered from this distraction, and in mid-1990, Steve was granted a six-month leave of absence from the band.
Clark never reached the end of his leave, dying from an accidental mix of prescription drugs and alcohol on January 8, 1991 in his London home. The remaining band members decided to carry on and recorded the album as a four-piece, with Collen mimicking Clark’s style on his intended guitar parts.
Def Leppard’s fifth album, Adrenalize, was finally released on March 31, 1992. The album simultaneously entered at Number One on both the UK and US album charts, staying on the latter for 5 weeks. The first single, “Let’s Get Rocked,” was an instant smash hit, and its video was later nominated for Best Video of the Year at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.
In April 1992, guitarist Vivian Campbell, formerly of Dio and Whitesnake, joined Def Leppard, making his “official” live debut with his band at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert (although they had done a short “warm-up” tour of the UK and Europe to work out any kinks of playing to a live audience with a new member and new material after almost 3 years off). Adrenalize yielded six hit singles and sold 7 million copies worldwide. Another world tour followed, but the band’s fortunes began to be affected by the rise of grunge and alternative rock.
A collection of b-sides and unreleased tracks recorded between 1984 and 1993, called Retro Active, was released in October 1993, preceded by the success of “Two Steps Behind” (from the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Last Action Hero). Another single, “Miss You In A Heartbeat”, hit the Top 5 in Canada, becoming one of their biggest hits there. Retro Active has sold 3 million copies worldwide to date.
Two years later, Def Leppard issued their first greatest hits collection, Vault: Def Leppard Greatest Hits (1980–1995), which has sold 8 million copies worldwide. Alternate track listings of the album were issued for North America, the UK, and Japan.
The compilation included a new track, the ballad “When Love & Hate Collide,” which became their biggest ever hit in the UK, hitting #2. It peaked at #58 in the U.S. On October 23, 1995, the band entered the Guinness Book of World Records by performing three concerts in three continents in one day (Tangiers, Morocco; London, England; and Vancouver, Canada).
Slang, released in May 1996, marked a drastic musical departure for the band by featuring darker lyrics and a stripped-down alternative rock edge. The US audience reception for Slang and its subsequent tour was a major dropoff from a decade earlier, but Q Magazine would nonetheless list Slang as one of the Top Ten Albums of 1996. This album was the first recorded performance of Rick Allen playing a semi-acoustic drum kit since his accident, and not his electronic set as was first used with Hysteria.
VH1 revived the band’s fortunes in the US in 1998 by featuring them on one of the first episodes of Behind The Music. Reruns of the episode yielded some of the series’ highest ratings and brought the band’s music back into the public consciousness (following years of burial by the alternative rock climate). The episode was even parodied on Saturday Night Live.
In an effort to capitalise on this new momentum, Def Leppard returned to its classic sound with the 1999 album Euphoria. The first single, “Promises”, reunited the band with Mutt Lange and hit the US Mainstream Rock charts at #1 for 3 weeks. The album was certified gold in the US and Canada.
On September 5, 2000, Def Leppard were inducted into the Rock Walk of Fame on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard by their friend Brian May of Queen.
In 2001, VH1 produced and aired Hysteria – The Def Leppard Story, a biopic that included Anthony Michael Hall as Mutt Lange and Amber Valletta as Lorelei Shellist (Steve Clark’s girlfriend). The docudrama covered the band’s history between 1977 through 1986, recounting the trials and triumphs of Rick Allen and Steve Clark. The July 18 broadcast still produced some of the channel’s highest-ever ratings and is available on DVD.
Def Leppard’s tenth album, simply titled X, was released in July 2002. It saw the band’s musical direction moving more towards pop and further away from the band’s hard rock roots.
Although greeted with generally positive reviews, X quickly disappeared from the charts, ultimately becoming the band’s least successful release. However, the accompanying tour played to the band’s strongest audiences since Adrenalize.
An expanded and updated best-of collection, Best Of, was released internationally in October 2004. The North America-only version, Rock Of Ages – The Definitive Collection, was released the following May. Def Leppard would participate at the Live 8 show in Philadelphia and toured in the summer with Bryan Adams. 2005 also saw the band leave their longtime management team, Q-Prime, and sign with HK Management.
On May 23, 2006, Def Leppard released an all-covers album titled Yeah!. The disc pays homage to classic rock songs of their childhood, originally recorded by ELO, Sweet, The Kinks, Blondie, and Badfinger among others. It debuted at #16 in the US, their tenth consecutive Top 20 album, and has scanned more than 140,000 copies to date.
The band, along with Queen, Kiss, and Judas Priest, were the inaugural inductees of “VH1 Rock Honors” on May 31, 2006. During the show, The All-American Rejects paid homage to the band with a cover of “Photograph”. Soon afterwards, they embarked on a successful US tour with Journey. That October, Hysteria was re-released in a two-disc deluxe edition format, which combined the original album, remastered for the first time, with b-sides, remixes, and bonus tracks from single releases.
Def Leppard began their “Downstage Thrust Tour”, on June 29, which took them across the US and into Canada. Support bands were Foreigner and Styx.
The band’s new album, entitled Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, was released worldwide on April 28, 2008 and on April 30, 2008 in Japan. The album debuted at #5 on The Billboard 200 in America. The first single is entitled “Nine Lives” and features country singer Tim McGraw, who co-wrote the song with Joe Elliott, Phil Collen, and Rick Savage.
A tour in support of the album began on March 27, 2008 in Greensboro, NC, with Styx and REO Speedwagon joining the band on US dates. The band also played several European rock festivals. An arena tour of the UK took place in June in which the band co-headlined with Whitesnake and it was supported by US southern rockers Black Stone Cherry. The band then returned to Europe before coming back for a second leg of the UK tour in June. The first of these dates was at the Glasgow SECC on the 17th.
Again they were be joined by Whitesnake; however hard rock band Thunder supported at some of these shows. Black Stone Cherry continued to support most of the dates, including some of the Thunder ones. Several Canadian dates were postponed due to an upper respiratory tract infection affecting lead singer Joe Elliott. Two more American shows were also cancelled due to a viral infection affecting Phil Collen.
Def Leppard announced that the six shows which were cancelled during the USA/Canada leg of their world tour due to illnesses affecting Joe Elliott and Phil Collen would be rescheduled and played in August this year along with other locations.
On June 11th, Def Leppard announced further dates for their 2008 World Tour. The extension would see them visit India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Whitesnake will continue to support Def Leppard for their Indian and Japanese dates. Australian tour dates featured Cheap Trick as support and local Australian, Melbourne based band The Galvatrons as second support. The AUS/NZ dates include eight dates in major capital cities as well as a few unlikely ones. Def Leppard, Cheap Trick and The Galvatrons visited Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane, Wollongong and Canberra. Def Leppard are supported by The Galvatrons and Auckland band Jealous Itch in Auckland (NZ).
On October 6, 2008 Def Leppard again were in Nashville, Tennessee, for the filming of CMT Crossroads with rising country star Taylor Swift. The pair switched playing and singing each other’s songs in front of a small audience at the Acuff Theatre.
Def Leppard toured 41 US cities plus Toronto during Summer 2009 with Cheap Trick as the opening act and Poison in the second slot.
On 14 June 2009 Def Leppard headlined Download Festival 2009, with Whitesnake and ZZ Top supporting them. During their performance Joe Elliott dedicated their entire show to drummer Rick Allen, and they had told the audience that their appearance at Donington Park’s Monsters of Rock Festival in 1986 was Rick’s first major show since he lost his arm and that day marked Def Leppard’s re-birth as a result of the support they received from their audience. Their subsequent return to Donington Park for 2009’s Download Festival marked a return to where the band had considered their spiritual home. What followed was yet another emotionally charged ovation from the 80,000 strong crowd as they threw their support for Rick Allen, lasting well over five minutes of their headlining performance.
On June 16, Def Leppard performed on the CMT Music Awards with Taylor Swift.
On September 24 it was announced that Def Leppard would be extending their 2009 North American tour for 23 more shows, this time with support coming from Cheap Trick and Man Raze. On October 16, 2009 it was announced that “due to unforeseen personal matters,” the third leg of Def Leppard’s North American tour, set to begin on October 22, had been cancelled.