DEF LEPPARD Guitarist Vivian Campbell On New THIN LIZZY Album - "That’s What We’re Talking About, But It’s Kind Of A Grey Area As To What The Future Holds"

February 20, 2011, 11 years ago

By Mitch Lafon

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Vivian Campbell has meant many things to many people over his long musical career. For many, he is the guitarist of the classic DIO line-up while others might dismissively know him as the guy who replaced Steve Clark in DEF LEPPARD. Regardless of how you might know the name, Campbell is arguably one of the best guitarists in rock and these days (while still occupying one of the guitarist slots in Def Leppard), he is out touring with one of his childhood favorites, THIN LIZZY. After a recent gig in Warsaw Poland, Vivian came off stage and called to discuss all things rock. What did GARY MOORE mean to you?

Vivian Campbell: “Frankly, his passing didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t know the guy personally, but at one stage in my life he was a huge guitar influence. I probably ripped off Gary Moore more than any other guitar player. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So, I was a fan… certainly in my teenage years. Somebody asked me a couple of days ago who my guitar hero was and it’s sad to think that I don’t have any guitar heroes anymore (and this was before Gary died). Gary was a huge influence on me in my teenage years and early twenties, but I lost touch with was he was doing. To be honest, I was really really impressed with the roads he was forging in the blues world. I came across a YouTube video several months ago where he was playing the blues with B.B. KING and before it even started I thought, ‘I know where this is going. He’s going to be all heavy handed. He’s going to play all over him. He’s not going to get it’. I remember, after having watched the video, to being very very impressed. He out Blues-ed B.B. King and I don’t mean as a player. He played authentically. He played the Blues with B.B. King and he out-played him. It was amazing. B.B. does what he does, but Gary… had a real authenticity to his blues playing and ultimately that’s what he excelled at. He was well known in other genres like rock, hard rock, metal and jazz-rock. Gary Moore, first time he came to my attention, was with Colosseum II. A friend of mine, who was a real record fan, first turned me on to that. I was impressed with Gary’s technical ability. It’s amazing how the longer you play the instrument the more you tend to go back to the essential elements of it.” You’ve recently joined Thin Lizzy. What does that mean for your involvement with Def Leppard?

Campbell: "This was actually suggested to Scott Gorham by Joe Elliott. I’m still very much a member of Def Leppard. Leppard has taken the last year and a half off and this has been a labour of love for me. It’s not like I’m leaving Def Leppard.” You said in past interviews that the music of Thin Lizzy speaks to you. What does the band mean to you?

Campbell: "All the guitar players in Thin Lizzy were a huge huge influence on me with the exception of Eric Bell. That’s no disrespect to Eric. It’s just a timeline thing. I got into Thin Lizzy after Eric Bell although I do remember seeing Thin Lizzy on Top Of The Pops with Eric doing ‘Whiskey In A Jar’, but it was really the classic Lizzy line-up of Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham that got me into Thin Lizzy. The albums Jailbreak, Johnny The Fox and Live And Dangerous were really really big records for me. Those are the records I learned how to play guitar with along with RORY GALLAGHER. Rory Gallagher’s albums are from the same era. The Calling Card album and Against The Grain… Those are my guitar heroes. Marc Bolan is the first guy that made me want to pick up and guitar and it’s not to say that Marc was a guitar hero per se, but it’s just that everything about him was so cool. Rory’s Live In Europe was the first album I had and he was the first concert I saw. From there, I was into Thin Lizzy and primarily Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. It was through that that I learned about Gary Moore and that he had played with them. The Black Rose album was a tremendous record. I loved Gary in Thin Lizzy, but I also loved him as a guitar player. All the guitar players in Lizzy had a huge influence on me, but primarily Gorham, Robertson and Moore.” The criticism of the current Thin Lizzy is that it’s nothing more than a glorified tribute band. What is the current line-up bringing to the legacy of Thin Lizzy?

Campbell: "As far as I’m concerned, it’s authentic as long as the remaining members are still there (Scott Gorham and Brian Downey). To be honest, I don’t really care what people think. I know why I’m here and I can tell you one thing – it’s not for the money. I’m here because I’m really excited to be playing these songs with these people. To be on stage with Scott Gorham and Brian Downey is a huge fucking thrill and I’d like to think that I bring a certain amount of authenticity to it. I’m not trying to outplay Brian Robertson or Scott Gorham. I’m simply paying homage to the legacy. To be honest, I can’t think of anyone else better qualified to be standing on stage and that’s not being egotistical… at one stage in my life I could play every guitar lick on the Live And Dangerous album. I’m just up there trying to do it justice and trying to bring some sort of reverence to it.” In terms of your participation, are you just doing this tour or would you like to continue with the band year after year as long as it doesn’t interfere with Def Leppard’s schedule? Would you like to record with Thin Lizzy?

Campbell: "That’s what we’re talking about, but it’s kind of a grey area as to what the future holds and what the schedules are going to permit. I’d like to be able to continue with the band, tour as much as possible and get into the studio in the future, but it’s really difficult to predict. Obviously, I have an allegiance to Def Leppard and that is my priority and Leppard is going to tour the US this summer. We’re trying to book dates around the availability, but obviously Thin Lizzy has to continue as an entity without me, so at some stage somebody else is going to have to step in, but I don’t know just who that’s going to be yet. I have to say that as a fan, I’d love for it to be Brian Robertson.” You could just get Thin Lizzy to open for Def Leppard this summer and do double duty…

Campbell: "Ah… NO! Maybe a show or two. I’m not adverse to it, but logistically, I don’t see it happening.” When you return to Def Leppard are you going to take any thing you’ve learned from playing with Thin Lizzy…

Campbell: "Perhaps, but the original Def Leppard line-up was very inspired by that also… The guitar harmonies in 'Bringing On The Heartbreak' were very inspired by that. I know that Steve Clark was a big big fan of Brian Robertson also. I’ve always maintained that as a band that’s where Def Leppard need to get back to… get back to that High ‘N' Dry album kind of era. Where we write simple riffs and where the guitar dominated and where we proudly display our influences. I’ve always said that if Rick Rubin produced a Def Leppard album, he’d have us try and copy High ‘N' Dry. He’d bring us back to the original essence of what the Def Leppard band was all about. It’s easier said then done. Many many years have passed and it’s difficult to go back. If it happens it happens, but it’s wrong to force it. It’ll be nice when I go back if I start writing guitar riffs again that Joe can turn into songs. If that happens it’ll be brilliant, but if not I’m not going to force it.” Funny you should mention High ‘N' Dry, to me, that is the best Def Leppard album. It is the ‘classic’ sound. It would be nice to see the band return to those roots. Any chance it might happen or because of the limitations (and I don’t mean this in an offensive way) of Rick Allen that he can’t play an acoustic drum set and you are forced to stay with an electronic drum set…

Campbell: "That’s very astute. That is a real disconnect within the band. When we play it live – Rick really learns the parts and he does a very authentic job of replicating them, but it’s very difficult for him to sit down and jam. That has been a stumbling block in the past with Def Leppard you know. Rick really has to sit a long long time with the material before he can play it live. So, that rules out the ease with which we can get into a rehearsals room and just start kicking riffs around. He did play acoustically on the Slang record and that’s the last time we tried that sort of thing in the studio, but even then we’d have to go back and over-dub the top kick… Rick would have to go back and do a ‘high hat track’ or a track of crash cymbals… We’ve learnt to accommodate the situation with Rick. It’s not impossible for us to that, but it’s not really the nature of how the band has come to work… For the last twenty-five years, Def Leppard has worked in a very (I want to say) backwards way in terms of the drums are the very last thing we put on a track. We tend to work with MIDI to allow flexibility. A song is always in a state of flux with Def Leppard. Sometimes, we spend weeks and months writing and re-writing a song in the studio until we feel the song is the best that it can be.” I recently interviewed Vinny Appice and he went on about how he thought you were a great guitarist, a great person and that if the chance ever came up that he’d like to play with you again. Personalities aside, what did you think musically of the original DIO band?

Campbell: "I thought it was incredible. I really enjoyed my time playing with the band. I was very sorry to be fired. I have no issues whatsoever on the musical level with Dio. I had some personal issues between Ronnie and his wife in terms of how they managed the business and in terms of how they treated people, but I absolutely loved the musical aspect. I enjoyed playing with Jimmy, Ronnie and Vinny. I thought it was a fucking amazing band.” Dio never seemed to be able to recapture the chemistry you had after you left the band. What was it about the four original guys that just made it such a tight unit?

Campbell: "Obviously, musically we work well together and maybe it was because there was so much tension in the band that it made us sound so good.” Would you work with Vinny again if the chance came up?

Campbell: "ABSOLUTELY! Vinny Appice is one of the greatest drummers I’ve ever played with. He’s certainly the most unique drummer I’ve ever played with. No one plays like Vinny and I’ve said before that of all the songs I wrote with Dio, when I had an idea for a riff and would go into a rehearsal room, it would usually start with Jimmy Bain, Vinny and myself. The three of us would bang out a riff idea and Vinny would always play the beat totally inverted to how I heard it. If I had an idea for a guitar riff and I heard the snare to be in one place and the kick to be in another, Vinny would always put them in the wrong place and that was the charm of it. He added his own unique beat to it that was very unexpected even to those who were writing it. I have nothing, but good things to say about Vinny.” As for the future of Thin Lizzy, you mentioned that you would like to record a new album with them. Have you thought of any songs ideas?

Campbell: "No, that’s way off from here. Right now, we’re just trying to work out the schedule to see if we can keep the touring entity going. It has been discussed, but we’ll see. That’s way down the road yet.” It’s been about five years since your last solo album. Have you thought about making another one?

Campbell: "No, not per se. I’ve been working the last year or so on some songs (with a friend of mine) out in Los Angeles. I was hoping to have something ready, to release, by the end of last year, but I had such a bad personal year that I got side tracked. I lost both my parents and I got divorced. I had all these ‘life things’ that threw themselves in the way.” I had heard about those ‘events’ in your life and I didn’t want to bring them up out of respect, but now that you’ve mentioned them. How are you feeling? Are you feeling more positive these days?

Campbell: "Yeah, you kind of have to you know. Life goes on. Either you keep on keeping on or you roll over and you die. It’s part of the life process and it’s unfortunate when it all comes down the pike at once, but that’s the challenge, so you keep on going. I have two very wonderful children and I have a new relationship going on and I’m excited about playing guitar again… That’s one thing I have to say about Lizzy, that’s the biggest reward I have for being here. I haven’t been this excited about playing my instrument since I was in my teens. It’s re-energized that passion for me, so you find reasons to keep going.” Have you become such a ‘master’ of the guitar that it’s not challenging or is the music you’re playing with other bands too complacent? Why have you not been thrilled to be playing the instrument more than that?

Campbell: "The decline started in Dio. I was very frustrated by Ronnie’s tunnel vision… The way that Ronnie was only into a certain very classical sounding heavy metal. I was so much younger than him and I was very influenced by the newer generation of hard rock and heavy metal bands… primarily VAN HALEN. There was a lot more fun to those bands. They weren’t serious about what they were doing and they were willing to take chances on things, but with Dio, I felt, that Ronnie was going down a very very narrow path. There were so many restrictions set up like we had to do songs in a certain way… in a certain style and I found it frustrating. That, in itself, is what first turned me off to playing guitar. We were being pigeon-holed and I was being pigeon-holed as a guitar player. The adage of what you do for your passion should never be your career because it’s difficult to have the same passion for something when you do it professionally… when you have to do it day in and day out as opposed to when it’s something you pick up and just do it for the joy of it. I’m in Warsaw, Poland tonight and it’s shit. I’m a vegetarian and there’s no vegetarian food. I haven’t eaten in twelve hours, but I had a fucking good time playing guitar with Thin Lizzy and I’m doing it for the love of it. It’s a different motivation and it’s also true to say that as good as it is to be in Def Leppard and as much as I enjoy the band – it doesn’t challenge me much as a guitar player, but that’s just the nature of the music of Def Leppard. It challenges me in other ways. It challenges me as a singer. It challenges me as a performer and as a songwriter, but not so much as a guitar player. I don’t get to exercise that muscle much with Def Leppard.” Would you like to take a more leading role on the next Def Leppard album in terms of maybe doing your own singing on a song and more guitar solos?

Campbell: "I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to be singing a song on a Def Leppard album because then it’s not a Def Leppard record. Def Leppard is the sum of the parts and Joe Elliott is the lead singer in Def Leppard. That’s the way it should always be. So no, I have no desire to sing lead vocals on a Def Leppard record. I would like to play a bit more guitar. When we do go into the studio to make a new record, there’s plenty of opportunity to play, but when we play live we’re beholden to the band’s success of the past. Unfortunately, it means that the majority of any show that we play live is 90% classic material that pre-dates my involvement in the band and therefore it’s Phil playing the guitar solo and any solos that I play are Steve Clark’s parts. Clark-y was a great guitar player, but he was very thematic and melodic. His guitar solos were not very challenging, but that’s the beauty of them. They really were an integral part of the song and therefore it would be wrong of me to deviate from that and to try and put my own stamp on them. When I play the solo from 'Armageddon It', I pretty much play it 98% like Steve played it because it’s such an important part of the song and that’s what made him such an important part of Def Leppard. So, it is what it is and you accept it.” Which is why I think, you’d be more excited to record with Thin Lizzy because it would be your chance to put your stamp on the band.

Campbell: "Yeah, it would, but there’s no reason why Def Leppard shouldn’t be either. We talked earlier about the High ‘N' Dry album, there’s absolutely no reason why Def Leppard couldn’t go back to that place, but it needs to happen in a natural way and it can’t be forced. It’s something that I’m cognitive of and Phil Collen is very aware of it. He and I have discussed this many times. We need to get back to that simplicity of writing a great guitar riff that features two guitar parts and just having Joe yell over the top, but there are certain practical obstacles to overcome to get to that point and as you astutely pointed out the first and foremost is the fact that Rick has lost a limb. So, it’s very difficult for him to play along to those parts. There’s no reason why it can’t happen, but there just needs to be a general consensus to make that happen.” Speaking as a Def Leppard fan (as far back as 1984), High ‘N' Dry is the best Def Leppard album and it would be great to hear music like that again.

Campbell: "I’m glad you think so. I’d like to get back there too.” I know you just stepped off stage in Warsaw, so I don’t want to keep you on the phone any longer. Is there anything you need to plug?

Campbell: "I activated a website -, but it’s been dormant for years. It’s been like four-and-a-half years since it’s been updated. This year I’ll be on the road so much between Def Leppard and Thin Lizzy that I doubt I’ll get a chance to do much this year. The only activate thing I have going is the Official Vivian Campbell page on Facebook. That’s what I would steer people towards.” Thank you for your time and I’d also encourage fans to visit Lizzy’s official site at Good luck with Thin Lizzy and continue doing what your doing. Speaking as a fan, it’s nice to see someone keeping the music alive and to those that say Think Lizzy is nothing more than a tribute band now – well, I say ‘screw you!’

Campbell: "I agree. You can’t please all of the people. I wish Phil Lynott was still alive, but he’s not and in lieu of that - this is as good as it gets.” It’s a solid line-up and fans should check you out.

Campbell: "Yes, but beyond the musical abilities of the people in the band. There’s a genuine-ness. We’re all here for the right reasons. Nobody is trying to re-invent the wheel. We’re just trying to play with the original members of Thin Lizzy and make it as good and as authentic as possible. The buzz is growing on the band and for the most part the response is very very positive.” I can see that you’re doing this for the love of the music…

Campbell: "Well, I’m certainly not here for the food (laughs), but at least the beer and the audiences have been great.”

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