Talking Shredders, Leppards And Slang With Vivian Campbell
Def Leppard made headlines recently with their decision to take back control of their catalog by re-recording ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ and ‘Rock Of Ages.’ It was a bold move, especially with ‘Sugar’ regularly topping lists of great 80s rock songs and karaoke jams the world over. But Def Leppard are no strangers to the odd bold move, and neither is guitarist Vivian Campbell. There are the high-profile stints in Dio, Whitesnake and of course Def Leppard (and let’s not forget pioneering metal band Sweet Savage), as well as more recent endeavours such as Thin Lizzy and his cover band, Sir Sodoff and the Train Wrecks. Campbell has also recently been working with original Dio band members Vinny Appice, Jimmy Bain and Claude Schnell, along with vocalist Andy Freeman, to revisit the material they made together. We caught up with Campbell to see what’s up in his world, and to chat about his new Buddy Blaze 25h Anniversary VC Shredder guitar.
So Def Leppard is re-recording more old material. Why?
It’s a long and complicated story as to why we’ve decided to re-record, but basically it involves our not being able to come to a financial agreement with our former record company as regards digital releases. We are continuing to re-record the biggest hits of the band’s catalogue as, frankly, we see no signs that the label will come to an acceptable arrangement with us anytime soon and in the meantime we wish our music to be available to those who want to buy it in a digital format. Personally, I think they’re pretty impressive versions! As we now live in an à la carte world when it comes to music purchases, we’re concentrating on the most popular songs first. We have no plans to re-record entire albums at this stage.
How are you and Phil Collen dividing up the guitar work on the new versions of the tracks, given that the band is recreating them rather than just going in and playing stripped down live versions? Are you doing backing vocals?
Although I am playing guitar on the re-records, Phil is covering most of it as, having participated in the original recordings, he is more familiar. Vocally, I am doing a lot of the backing vocals.
What’s it like for you to revisit the Dio material? The crowd seemed to go insane when you played ‘Rainbow In The Dark’ with Steel Panther recently!
I’m very excited about revisiting the Dio songs again, as are the other guys from the original band. It’s been a long time since I was able to address that time in my life as there were a lot of bad memories that went along with all the great music. However, now I can focus on the positive again and I feel it’s time to revisit the songs I wrote and the way that I played guitar back then. They were great records and we were all very much a part of making them.
I always had mixed feelings about Slang, even while we were recording it. I do very, very much like the sonics of it as we used real drums for the first time in many years and the guitar sounds are also much less processed and more direct. However, the issue I always had with the record was that I personally don’t believe that we did ourselves justice in terms of the songwriting – I feel we could’ve fine-tuned them a lot more and that we were pandering too much to the then current trends in music. To me Def Leppard was always synonymous with well-crafted songs and big choruses and harmonies, and whilst there was an obvious shift in musical tastes going on at the time, I still felt that we could have remained more true to the principles that had shaped the band’s success.
What do you play for your own leisure? Do you have any particular musical styles that you like to mess around with but which you’ve never really played for anybody?
To me music is like food; certain foods we love to eat on occasion, but in reality, we would burn out on them if we ate them three times a day, every day of the week. Therefore, I’ve always loved to dabble in different genres of music and not just stick to the kind of thing that I’m known for. Aside from making a blues record several years ago, I have a covers band that I play with frequently when I’m at home in L.A. and we have a pretty diverse repertoire. I also frequently record and perform with various friends, too. I believe it’s important to keep exercising the musical muscles as often as possible.
You recently announced the 25th Anniversary limited edition model of the Buddy Blaze Shredder, the guitar which eventually became the Kramer Nightswan. How did you first meet Buddy?
Buddy and I met in Dallas, Texas in early ’87. I was there for a guitar clinic for LaBella strings. Buddy had some of his guitars on display in the store and we got to talking about them. One thing led to another and Buddy offered to make me a guitar to my specs. The original blue polka dot guitar was the result.
At the time, there must have been millions of guitar companies chasing you. What was it about Blaze guitars that stood out?
I had actually just ended a disastrous relationship with B.C. Rich guitars – one that I was talked into by a slimy A+R rep with whom I had previously worked with at Charvel/Jackson. Having the fresh but bitter taste of ‘big-guitar-company-politics-gone-bad’ in my mouth, I was quite drawn to the idea of working one-on-one with a guy who simply wanted to build guitars as opposed to a bigger company that was more concerned with marketing.
What were the main design features you requested?
I liked the idea of a short scale guitar of 24 3/4 inches. I had been playing Charvel/Jackson strats for a year or two before that, and whilst I certainly appreciated those instruments there were certain features that were unnatural to me, one of which was the wide, flat and unfinished fretboard. Another, as mentioned, was the 25 1/2 inch scale; although I have big hands, I liked the idea of a smaller instrument with a smaller neck as I tend to use my left hand thumb over the top of the neck when playing bar chords and that was difficult to do with larger, wider necks.
Did you test many different pickups before settling on the final ones?
It was so long ago that I don’t recall the specifics of how many different pickups we may have tried. I vaguely remember going back and forth with Seymour Duncan about the Full Shred and tweaking that.
Where’s the original Shredder today?
Buddy has been the custodian of the original guitar.
We see you with Les Pauls a lot (and a nice gold top Yamaha) – do you ever pick up the old Superstrat-type guitars and reminisce? Think they’d ever make an appearance at a Def Leppard show?
As a teenager, I started out on a Les Paul with my first band, Sweet Savage. It seems fitting to have come full-circle after all these years and having played so many different instruments. Nowadays I feel a lot more comfortable playing a fixed-bridge guitar and I could never see myself going back to playing a strat style tremolo guitar other than as a one-off experience. With Def Leppard, Phil plays Strats [Superstrat-style Jacksons], so the Les Paul or Yamaha is a good contrast – as indeed is our differing styles of playing.
Do you have hobbies or interests outside of music? Steve Vai has his bees, David Lee Roth trains sheepdogs, Brian May has astronomy. Do you feel you need a non-musical pursuit to wind down?
I don’t have many hobbies, per se, although I do have the usual guy interests of cars and football (soccer, for those of you who are American). I do have two wonderful children, however, and as I travel so much for my work, being with them when I’m home is very much my primary focus. That said, it’s amazing the things you learn when you’re looking at the world through the eyes of a child.