Def Leppard's Viv Campbell on achieving Oh Yeah Legend status & rocking out with Last in Line
Belfast-born rocker Vivian Campbell is to receive this year's Oh Yeah Legend Award. David Roy quizzed the Def Leppard guitarist about this local recognition for a lifetime of licks from NI proto-thrashers Sweet Savage through Dio and Def Leppard to current Dio-centric project Last In Line
HI VIV, congratulations on becoming an Oh Yeah Legend. Do you feel any different?
[Laughs] You know, I've never gotten an award in my life. The last time I got an award I was 12 years old playing football for Hillsborough Boys – so I've got a lot of room on the mantelpiece!
I've received a lot of Gold and Platinum record awards over my career for Dio, Whitesnake and Def Leppard and I've never once hung one on my wall, to be honest. It's not been my kind of thing.
I've lived in LA for so many years – unfortunately – and people kind of walk around here patting themselves on the back 24-7.
Also, I've been with Def Leppard for over 25 years. Before I was in the band they made two seminal records, Pyromania and Hysteria, that each sold over 10 million copies in the US alone and were groundbreaking albums in the rock genre – yet Def Leppard have never won a Grammy.
Not only that, they've never even been nominated for one. So that kind of speaks volumes and puts it all in perspective. I don't even pay attention to that s*** any more – and I didn't even really back in the 80s.
But there is something very warm and fuzzy about getting recognition in your home country from your kin-folk. That's kind of different.
It's very heart-warming to be recognised in my home city and home country in a general way. It's like a 'good on ya' for still being around and still doing it.
I'll take that!
Did being born in Northern Ireland affect your early career trajectory?
It was a bit of a struggle. I remember when I started playing guitar, I had no-one to teach me. I wanted to learn and was thirsty for knowledge – anyone who owned a guitar or knew a chord, I'd be bugging them to show me.
Back when I was 12 or 13 I had a crush on a girl from school. I went round to her house one Saturday afternoon and discovered that her mother had a guitar – so I spent the afternoon bugging the mother to show me what she knew. She showed me the lick to Daytripper by The Beatles!
It used to be quite hard to even get decent guitars here in the north, right?
Exactly. Whereas, here in LA you have Guitar Centre where you can walk in and choose from 1,000 guitars.
I still use my first Gibson Les Paul with Last In Line [featuring fellow ex-Dio men Vinny Appice and the late Jimmy Bain] for historical and sentimental reasons.
It's the only guitar I know the serial number for – #72987537 – because it's the original Sweet Savage, Dio Holy Diver-era guitar.
I bought that when I was 15 or 16 and I remember having to wait for about seven or eight months: I ordered a gold Les Paul standard and I ended up getting a wine-red Les Paul Deluxe!
So it's always been a bit of a challenge. Forming Sweet Savage with Raymie (Haller) and Big Trev (Fleming) and Davy Bates, struggling to get out and do gigs: back in Ireland in the late 1970s there were no record companies. Terri Hooley (Good Vibrations) was on the up but they weren't signing metal bands!
So, we'd go across the water and open for Lizzy and whoever else, kind of knock on the door and record demos and try to get record and publishing deals.
I'm not saying its any easier now, but it's certainly different with the internet and so on. So, I like the Oh Yeah award in that it kind of recognises that I'm a self-made man – because I didn't have a choice.
There was only one way I could do it and that was to just f***ing claw at it. And it kind of worked!
I've been very very fortunate though and I do consider that there's been a really really large element of luck in my career. They say that good luck is the intersection of good fortune and preparation – so I guess I was prepared when the opportunities came, y'know? So it's all good.
Last In Line were dealt a big blow last year when bassist Jimmy Bain died suddenly from undiagnosed lung cancer shortly before the release of the Heavy Crown LP. It must have been a huge shock – was it hard to carry on?
It was shocking because we had no idea. I mean, we knew he was ill – we thought he had pneumonia. Jimmy must have known that something was going on too, but he would never have been the kind to go to the doctor.
Not that he could have afforded a doctor anyway, Jimmy didn't have two pennies to rub together.
But he definitely went out on a strong note – Heavy Crown is a good legacy for him. Jimmy was really invested in the band and in the Heavy Crown album, it really mattered to him.
Y'know, he only had one tattoo – and that was Last In Line tattooed on his arm.
We cancelled a major tour for the record as soon as Jimmy passed away, but the response to [the album] was still really strong. Vinnie and Andy (Freeman) and I decided that we owed it to Jimmy and ourselves to do something.
We'd come so far together and made a great record, and especially nowadays more than ever, you need to work records – otherwise they just wither on the vine.
Eventually, we regrouped and got Phil Soussan in, who used to play with Ozzy and Billy Idol and was a friend of Jimmy's too. He actually plays a lot like Jimmy and the band is still going strong.
And you're currently working on another new album?
Yep, in fact we're in the recording studio right now. It's going really good and Jimmy will get a strong dedication on it.
Last In Line is about fun and camaraderie – none of us are really doing this for a living. There's not that sort of remuneration in it – it's more for the craic, y'know?
:: Last In Line play as part of the Oh Yeah Legend Award and NI Music Prize evening on November 11 at Mandela Hall, Belfast. Tickets £15 via Nimp.eventbrite.com