In The Listening Room with Steve Clark and Phil Collen of Def Leppard

SOURCE: Guitar For The Practicing Musician – Feb 1989

Combining crunch and pop with a politician’s finesse, Def Leppard’s guitar team of Steve Clark and Phil Collen have been able to satisfy both ends of their disparate constituencies amply enough to log an entire year at the top of the charts. Taking their populist view into account, we sat them for a spell among other such campaigners In the Listening Room.

1. “Bohemian Rhapsody” from Night at the Opera, by Queen/Elektra

PHIL: Brian May played with us in England last year. We’re real big Queen fans, not just of the guitar playing but the vocal sound and everything. We kind of based our vocal sound on them. They borrowed from bands like Uriah Heep.

STEVE: Nobody else in the world sounds like Brian May. It’s not just his sound but the way he plays, the orchestration and melody in his solos. He’s one of my favourite players.

PHIL: he gave us the distortion pedal we used on Hysteria.

STEVE: While we were making Hysteria we had a lot of problems, especially with guitars. We kept going back to England every weekend and going to the Marshall factory. We went into a little studio in London to try these amps out, rather than just take them to Holland. Queen were playing six nights at Wembley Arena and Brian said he’d help out. He took his entire rig down and set it up in the studio for us to try. Then he went to his gig that night. How many guitarists would break their system just to let us try it out? It sounded wonderful, but it sounded like him.

PHIL: He gave us the pedal that was actually on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” That song is one of their best. It was so unique and different it turned a lot of heads. For a start, the song was six or seven minutes long. How many people would release that for a single? It proved you didn’t have to write a three minute pop song. You could go a bit wild and go off in tangents. It was a thoroughly unique number vocally. It was obviously Queen, but it was the most amazing thing I’d heard to that point.

STEVE: I can remember it as clear as yesterday. I was watching Top of the Pops and it came on. My jaw dropped. It was probably the first rock video ever made. The whole package that Queen would present in the live show was entertainment from every aspect. If you were going to play one Queen song to represent their career, this would probably be the song I would pick.

2. “Speed King” from In Rock, by Deep purple/Warner Bros.

PHIL: I’ve got this album. The first concert I ever went to was Deep Purple. I saw Blackmore smash his guitar. After that show I said, I want to be a guitarist.

STEVE: To be quite honest, I never got into Deep Purple and I never bought any of their records or saw them play live. We supported Blackmore on a Rainbow tour. That was the first time I saw him play, and he blew me away.

PHIL: At the time it came out, the whole Deep Purple In Rock thing was really different. What I noticed about this, having heard it about two years ago, was that it was more energetic than I remembered it.

3. “Come Dancing” from Wired, by Jeff Beck/Epic

PHIL: I love Jeff Beck. He is one of the best players and one of the only players from the 60s who kept improving. He’s just got a feel. A lot of other guys flaked out. When I hear Eric Clapton these days, his guitar playing is nowhere near as good as it used to be, feelwise. It seems he’s lost that. Jeff Beck constantly improves.

STEVE: I love his playing, but I never got that into it, because I always like to hear a song. I agree with what Phil said about Beck improving and getting more things out of the guitar. He’s still got his chops together.

PHIL: I can listen to this now and again but I couldn’t put it on every day and listen to the whole album. It’s good fun for a guitarist and a musician, but it wouldn’t make much sense if you played it for anyone else.

STEVE: If anybody wanted to learn to play guitar from scratch, I would say definitely check out Beck. If you wanted to get into something that covers everything as a songwriter, listen to us or Prince or The Police – something more well-rounded.

4. “I Know a Little” from Street Survivor, by Lynyrd Skynyrd/MCA

PHIL: There’s three guitar players and one of them, the Strat player, is really good.

STEVE: If you’re going to play a Strat, that’s the way to solo. There’s not a lot of sustain, but he’s just squeezing the notes out.

PHIL: It sounds Southern. It’s a Southern feel. It actually sounds American.

STEVE: It’s hard to describe, but you know that was an American band. What sounds American to an Englishman is that Lynyrd Skynyrd can sing about drinking Southern Comfort and Jack Daniels and get away with it. An English band couldn’t.

PHIL: I don’t know who does the solo on this, but the guy who does “Sweet Home Alabama” is great.

Steve Clark

5. “Let It Rock” from Slippery When Wet, by Bon Jovi/Polygram

PHIL: Ritchie Sambora is real good. He’s a tight rhythm player and he’s tasteful. We talked about him in the car today. He’s another one who doesn’t play for the hell of it. He  plays for the song.

STEVE: They wrote some good songs. I like this one. It sounds like stuff we used to do, which is another reason for us doing something different. I don’t think there is as much depth on this album as on Pyromania but it sounds good. The production is good. It’s modern.

6. “E.L.N.” from Among the Living, by Anthrax/Island

PHIL: Metallica? Anthrax?

STEVE: A lot of these bands, especially Metallica, are really good. They’re really tight as a band.

PHIL: On record and live it’s amazing how tight everything is.

STEVE: I wouldn’t rush home and put this on the stereo. There are a lot of bands doing this now. There are going to be two or three that survive. We came out of a period and so did Iron Maiden. The good ones survive.

PHIL: I can see the appeal here, but it’s like the Sex Pistols. I can see kids relating to it because it’s fast and different and very anti stuff. Kids like that when they’re younger. The good thing about these bands is that at least the guitar players are good. You know this guy can play. We started as a heavy metal band. That’s different from thrash.

STEVE: We didn’t start off in a thrash direction. There is no way you can expect to start out and write the sort of things we did on Pyromania and Hysteria. It’s an experience thing. You develop and mature. If you have a solid foundation you can always build on it.