Steve Clark was born in the northern part of Sheffield known as Hillsborough on Saturday 23rd April 1960 and grew up there. He had two younger brothers called Kevin and Chris.
Steve became interested in music at a young age and his mother took him to Sheffield City Hall to see Cliff Richard and The Shadows at the tender age of six. “I thought it was great; it took my breath away.” Steve recalled. “It was about a 3,000 seater, and I didn’t exactly understand what was happening. But I was quite blown away.”
When Steve was eleven he got his first guitar on the condition that he took lessons to play it properly. And so Steve took lessons and spent every spare moment of his time playing guitar and practicing. He studied classical guitar for a year, one of the most disciplined and skilled areas of guitar.
When Steve was about fourteen he heard the coolest guitar sound on the radio. “I used to listen to the radio, watch TV and hear groups all the time, and I knew that I wanted to make music, but I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of music, until I heard Jimmy Page.” remembered Steve. “I heard the first Led Zeppelin album at a friend’s house… and that was it! I had to have an electric. That was what I wanted to do. It all just dawned on me straight away.”
With the classical training Steve had studied, this helped him to pick up songs by ear and after he had heard the Led Zeppelin album his playing style changed towards the Zeppelinesque. Steve would learn these songs until he could play them all note for note and soon formed his first band, which was believed to have been called Electric Chicken.
When Steve finished school he got a job as a lathe operator at a factory in Sheffield, and out of working hours he spent his time playing his guitar. “I had this old guitar that my dad gave me. That was my favourite thing”. He remembered.
Later, at Stannington College he got talking to a young boy around his age about guitars as it turned out that they both played, and the boy, named Pete Willis, explained to Steve about his band and that they were considering adding a second guitarist so he invited Steve to come to a rehearsal. However, Steve never showed up. Shortly after, he bumped into Pete again at a Judas Priest concert. Pete was there with Joe Elliott, the singer in his band. Pete once again offered Steve an invitation to come for a rehearsal and this time Steve fulfilled his promise.
Pete and his band mates Joe Elliott (vocals), Rick Savage (bass) and Tony Kenning – who would later be replaced by Rick Allen – (drums) had called their band Def Leppard and were rehearsing in an old spoon factory building on Bramall Lane. Steve turned up at the spoon factory on January 29th 1978 and wasn’t overly impressed with the “real grotty shithole” that was their rehearsal room. They started out playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic, Freebird, and Steve then proceeded to dazzle the others with his ability not only to play the song itself but also the lengthy solo at the end as well perfectly. It was at that moment that Steve became the second guitarist that Def Leppard was seeking. Steve was impressed that Def Leppard was a band that wrote their own songs because all the previous bands he had been with had never even attempted to write their own material before.
It wasn’t long before the other four Leppard’s realised how invaluable Steve had become to their band.
In the first six months that Steve had been with the band over half of the songs that would appear on the band’s independent E.P. and debut album On Through the Night had been written.
Steve had a terrific talent for writing music and progress began to pick up some momentum. However in June of 1978 Steve was becoming extremely frustrated with rehearsing all the time and he wanted to get out there and play live. He had threatened to quit – quite a few times – if they weren’t going to do a gig soon. And on one particular evening Steve issued a serious threat to Joe that if they didn’t do a gig shortly then he was off to find another band.
This time Joe panicked, because he and the other members knew that if Steve left Def Leppard then that would be the end of the band. So Joe started talking to some people to arrange their first gig, which would be at Westfield School. The gig went quite well and they earned the princely sum of £5. After that first gig, Def Leppard began to play a few more gigs until they were playing a number of pubs and clubs all around Sheffield and the country. And Def Leppard wanted to be noticed, so they scraped some money together (with the help of Joe’s dad) to record their E.P.
The band managed to get airplay on BBC Radio One and it wasn’t too long before people were asking about this young group. A deal with a record company and management soon followed. Their E.P. had sold out of its three different pressings and things were going from strength to strength. The fact that Steve and his band mates took their music career so seriously paid off in the end. They had strict routines for rehearsals and only after the rehearsing would they go for a drink.
The next big things in Def Leppards early career were a debut album (On Through The Night) and touring with some rock giants such as AC/DC after they had changed to new management.
Def Leppard got their first taste of being a band on the road and it was a taste that they liked! Next up was their second album “High ‘n’ Dry” for which they had managed to employ the talents of producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. And the Leppard’s were about to find out just how hard it was to make a good record. Once High ‘n’ Dry was released the band toured again around the world.
The next problem for the band was Pete Willis. He was becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol and on numerous occasions he had to be practically carried off stage after gigs. He apparently suffered from stage fright at times and was in general a pretty shy guy and the fact that he was not the tallest person didn’t help his confidence, but relationships within the band were becoming strained.
During the High ‘n’ Dry tour Steve and Pete didn’t always get on too well while rooming together which caused more conflict. During live performances Pete would walk off to the side of the stage to have a drink, leaving all the guitar duties up to Steve.
During the recording of their third album Pyromania, Pete Willis was fired. He’d been given warning after warning but Pete’s condition was getting worse. He even turned up to the studio one morning very drunk and couldn’t play his guitar. So the band all got together and fired him, which was not an easy decision, given the fact that Pete was one of the founding members of the band. But it was something that needed to be done.
Phil Collen, a Londoner, was brought in to replace Pete as the band and he had met before and they knew each other. Phil was a breath of fresh air. He brought a different dimension to the band and Steve got on very well with Phil. Phil was good for Steve. The other band members had said that Pete had been a bad influence on Steve at times, as he [Steve] tended to drink heavily a lot as well. Phil had brought Steve out of his shell and was a much better influence on Steve. The two guitarists became very close and did everything together.
Phil had to learn the guitar parts for the new songs that were going to feature on Pyromania. And he was a very good guitarist. Phil and Steve’s styles were so different that they complimented each other beautifully on the tracks. They managed to have the two guitarists play their individual parts on songs so that they intertwined with each other and the music flowed harmoniously and the lead and rhythm parts blended together almost as one. This helped to create the new unique Def Leppard sound.
When Pyromania was released it sold by the truck load, shifting 6 million albums off the shelves in America alone! This was the album that put Def Leppard into the Superstar bracket!
Pyromania spent something like 72 weeks non-stop in the US charts. The only other record that prevented it from clinching the number one slot on the chart was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. Steve was now, at the young age of just 23, in a big, successful, hard rock band, headlining huge arenas, playing to sell-out crowds and had an army of female fans after his blood. This was like a dream come true and success beyond Steve’s expectations. The hard work and scraping together in the early days of the spoon factory had paid off making them very wealthy young lads. And Def Leppard, at the time, were the rock kings of America. Their success was growing in other countries too, but the USA was where they hit the big time first.
The Pyromania tour was a blast for Def Leppard. Steve and Phil also had the honour of being dubbed “The Terror Twins” by one of the band’s roadies. This was due to their pranks and nonsense that they would create together. Phil and Steve were practically inseparable during this tour. They would always get drunk together and end up doing something completely stupid or get into some bar brawl.
However, Phil received his wake up call one day, after he had discovered that he had spent thousands of pounds on a jewellery store’s most expensive Rolex watch while drunk. Steve had also bought an expensive watch and an earring that night. After that incident Phil Collen gave up drinking for three months solid and eventually kicked the booze completely. But Steve carried on drinking.
Steve Clark was a lovely, gentle man. He was quite shy and didn’t always enjoy being in the media spotlight. He liked to keep himself to himself. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was down-to-earth and unlike the stereotypical rock star he was a gentleman and a well-spoken, well brought up young man. And he was a real fun guy too with his crazy sense of humour.
But Steve had something else within him that seemed to bother him. It seemed that he held a deep sadness and constantly battled against some inner demons all through his life. Steve was happiest when he was live on stage with his guitar slung perpetually around his knees. When he was not on tour or had no routine to stick to he found life hard at times. Studio work was tedious and with his private problems to deal with amidst the pressures of his new-found success, he felt that his only release from his troubles was to drink. Steve met a young lady in 1983/84 through band manager Peter Mensch. Her name was Lorelei and they were together for a number of years. Steve and Lorelei got engaged but never married.
The band was put through another test when drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash. This only brought more strength to the band as a unit and Rick incredibly pulled through to get back to playing the drums again within six months of his accident. He learned to use his left foot where he’d previously used his left arm.
The band entered the studio again with the tough task of making a record to top Pyromania. With Mutt Lange not readily available at the time, the band went to work in the studio with Jim Steinman as producer. But things did not work out at all with Jim so he was shown the door and the work they had done with him was subsequently scrapped. Steve and co. started from scratch again when Mutt was finally available. Def Leppard were asked if they would like to take part in the Live Aid concert for Africa in 1985 by Bob Geldof, but at the time they had to decline due to Rick’s accident. It was just a little bit too soon. But in 1986 they were listed as one of the bands to appear at the Monster’s Of Rock festival in Europe. This was a welcome break from the grind of the studio and was also the time for Rick to make his comeback on stage after his accident. And Rick did it in style. And he received an enormous welcome from the crowd in Donnington Park, England. It was an emotional time for Rick and the band.
As Hysteria, their fourth album had taken around four years to complete, due to numerous mishaps, delays and setbacks the world had almost forgotten who Def Leppard were. And during the time Def Leppard had taken to create this album, they had managed to get into serious financial debt. This album had to sell at least four million copies for them to break even. And given the success of Pyromania and the amount of time that Def Leppard had been out of the limelight, this would prove to be a formidable task.
Hysteria was released in August of 1987. The first US single released was “Women” and it didn’t fare too well. “Animal” was the first single in the UK and this track was much more of a success doing well on both sides of the Atlantic. It soared into the UK top 10 and Def Leppard embarked on their 17 month-long Hysteria World Tour. But sales were slow. Hysteria had been released for almost a year before it suddenly took off. When “Pour some Sugar on Me” was released as a single it rocketed to the top of the American charts and the album sales soared.
Thanks to “Sugar” being released this sparked off the “hysteria” about Hysteria and the album went on to sell over 12,000,000 copies worldwide in the next two years. Steve and Def Leppard did more than break even. The “Hysteria” tour was a major success and again tickets for gigs were sold out. Def Leppard had finally achieved major success in their own country as well as abroad and would go down in the history books as the biggest Heavy Metal/Hard Rock band of the 1980s.
Towards the end of the 80s, however, Steve’s drinking worsened. He had entered various rehabilitation clinics. One night in Minneapolis Steve was found unconscious with a blood/alcohol level of .59, which is almost double the amount that had killed John Bonham. But Steve had cheated death on this occasion.
His insecurities and his inner demons were getting the better of him. He tried to fight it for so long, but it seemed nothing could save him from himself and his personal issues. Eventually, when Steve was not coping too well at all, the band agreed to give him a six month leave of absence to go home and live a normal life for a while and to try to get himself better. Steve’s relationship with Lorelei had deteriorated and he had met another girl in a rehab centre named Janie. They got together and lived together in Steve’s home that he’d bought himself in London’s posh Chelsea area. Sadly Steve continued drinking. The sadness and inner pain he carried ate away at him. Lorelei had once said about Steve that all he ever wanted was a pat on the back from his dad and to hear him say “Well done son”. Whether this is something that played on the guitarist’s mind regularly is something that only Steve himself can confirm.
On January 8th 1991 Steve was found dead in his Chelsea home by his girlfriend Janie. The cause of his death was respiratory failure due to a compression of the brain stem caused by a mixture of alcohol, painkillers and anti – depressants.
Speaking for myself, this news rocked me to the core and I’ve never felt such a loss in all my life, because of what Steve Clark meant and still means to me to this day. And it signalled the end of Def Leppard for me too. I was deeply saddened and heartbroken. Steve Clark was a special man and a special part of my life. His music brought so much joy to my life and as a person he was a truly wonderful man. When Steve Clark passed away, he took my heart with him. I love Steve Clark. I always will.
Rest In Peace Angel Eyes.
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