Guitar superstar, Vivian Campbell, has had quite an impressive, 30 plus year career. The 48 year old guitarist grew up in Belfest, North Ireland during a time of great political unrest and violence. However, unlike some of his friends and classmates, Vivian decided not to get involved in "the cause," and decided instead, to focus his life on music. He formed the band Sweet Savage in the late 70's and had moderate success in Ireland and the UK. In 1983, Vivian was recruited by Ronnie James Dio for his then new band, DIO. While with DIO, Vivian become one of the most admired guitarists in rock music. He played with DIO until 1986. Vivian then hooked up with Whitesnake in 1987, and played on the bands most successful world tour ever.
In 1991, Vivian was again recruited, this time, by one of the biggest bands in the world, Def Leppard. Vivian was brought on board to replace guitarist Steve Clark, who passed away in January of 1991. Since then, Campbell has recorded five studio CDs with the band, and has toured the world countless times.
Recently, this year, while on break from Def Leppard, Vivian has joined up with his childhood heroes - Thin Lizzy. Vivian just completed a tour of Europe with Thin Lizzy, and will be playing a handful of East Coast dates with them later this month. After that, Vivian will return to Def Leppard for a massive summer tour with Heart. And Def Leppard will also be releasing a live CD package this summer, with three new studio tracks, called "Mirrorball."
In addition, Vivian has also reunited with the Riverdogs. The Riverdogs plan on releasing a brand new CD during the first half of this year. The release will be on MelodicRock records, which is owned by Melodicrock.com
Vivian was kind enough to call us here at RockMusicStar and discuss his time in Thin Lizzy, Def Leppard, DIO and much more. Here's what Vivian had to say
RockMusicStar: As most people know you as a guitarist from Def Leppard, some may not be aware that you’ve been in Thin Lizzy for a few months now. How has the experience been so far?
Vivian Campbell: It’s been brilliant. Musically, it’s very exciting and it has kind of reignited my passion for playing guitar. I really haven’t had to play this much guitar since 1983. When I was a teenager, I learned their entire “Live & Dangerous” album. It’s been a really privilege to be given the opportunity to live out that fantasy.
RMS: You just returned from a Thin Lizzy tour of Europe. How was the audience reaction to the new version of the band?
VC: It was really, really good. The tour had sold well in advance. The band sounded really good, we sound like what Thin Lizzy should sound like. It was very authentic, so the response from the people was very strong. There was also a strong viral response on the internet as well, as from the live performance videos posted on youtube. Ticket sales really picked up because of that. It’s definitely better than we expected.
RMS: When you first joined the band, it was suggested that Thin Lizzy might add some deeper tracks to their live performances because of your vast knowledge of the catalog. Has that actually happened?
VC: I’ve tried, and I continue to try. When we got together in rehearsal, we had 25 songs. But we ended up bringing that down to about 18, and our normal set is 17 songs. But, I’m a huge fan and I’m very aware of the catalog. I really wanted to get the guys to play “Opium Trail,” and we almost did it. We dicked around with it in rehearsal for a day or two. In the end, it was deemed a little too obscure for most people. But, we did do “Anything You Want to Do,” from the "Black Rose" album. I don’t think that was played live too often, in the history of Thin Lizzy. We did “Killer on the Loose” from the "Chinatown" record. We did “Angel of Death” from the “Renegade” record. Occasionally, we did “Hollywood,” which was also from the "Renegade" album. I kept pushing for “The Rocker.” I kept annoying Brian and Scott, and they really didn’t want to play it, but we have thrown that one in for the occasional encore.
RMS: That’s a great song. Was there any hesitation on your part to join Thin Lizzy?
VC: No, it was a no brainer. But, it’s not a permanent situation. I’m going on tour with Def Leppard this summer, so I’m kind of a semi-permanent member. They are going to get someone else to fill in for me for this summer and fall. I still have a bunch of shows to do with Thin Lizzy before I go back to Def Leppard, however. I’ll be doing the shows on the U.S. east coast later this month. My last date with Thin Lizzy, for now, will be at the Slane Castle festival in Ireland, on May 28. That will probably be my last gig with Thin Lizzy for the foreseeable future.
RMS: When you were growing up in Belfast, did you ever see Thin Lizzy perform live?
VC: Not only did I see them, but I also performed with them. My very first band was called Sweet Savage, which I formed when I was 16. We opened for Lizzy a bunch of times. We opened for their “Renegade” tour. We opened for them a few times in Belfast as well. Occasionally, when we would play clubs in Dublin, Phil Lynott would jump on stage and do a song with us. So, we had a close history with them.
The Slane Castle festival that I mentioned, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The very first Slane Castle festival was headlined by Thin Lizzy. And the very first band on the bill was Sweet Savage, and an upcoming band, named U2, was somewhere in the middle of the bill. So it’s kind of significant for me, to be able to do that show with them.
RMS: Wow, that’s pretty incredible. What was it like growing up in Belfast during that time period, with all of the violence and political unrest?
VC: I could think of many other places that would have been better places to grow up. ….It wasn’t that ideal, but when you are a kid, you don’t realize what is going on. You kind of accept it. Children are very adaptable. But, you don’t know any different, so you just kind of deal with it. There certainly wasn’t much social life; Belfast was a ghost town after 6pm. There was nothing going on at night, and if there was, it probably wasn’t a good thing. A lot of the people that I went to school with got sucked up into that. And some of them died as a result. But for me, I kept my head down. I was really into music, and music kept me away from all that shit. I was really into the guitar, ever since I was 8 or 9. I knew I was going to want to make a living playing guitar, as soon as I got my hands on one.
The same thing was true with the other members of Sweet Savage. We weren’t involved in politics in any way. We were a four piece band, two of us were catholic, and the other two were protestants. When we played across Ireland, a lot of the bars had particular political leanings, one way or another. So we would cover for one another. If we were in a protestant club, the other two guys would talk on my behalf. And vice-versa, if we were in a catholic club. It was a little strange that way. People would pick up on your accent and ask you were you went to school, and then they would kind of make the distinction if you were on one side or the other. It was a strange place, at a strange time. Northern Ireland is still a bit like that now, but it’s a lot more peaceful. However, there is still a bit of an undercurrent, and it will most likely take a generation or two, to wipe that out.
RMS: I remember at the time thinking that North Ireland must be the most dangerous place to live on earth. Luckily for you, you had an outlet with music. Was playing the guitar.….
VC: I was obsessed with the guitar. Absolutely obsessed, and pretty much to the exclusion of everything else including my school work and my family. In hindsight, I was very anti-social. But I was very focused, very driven, very motivated. I knew what I wanted to do, and I really enjoyed doing it. That’s the great thing about the Lizzy gig, because it really has reconnected me to the passion of playing guitar. It’s like anything else that you do for a living; it’s hard to maintain that passion that you have for something that you do, when you do it, just for the love of it. That kind of sums it up for me, and the Lizzy gig. I just spent seven weeks in Europe - for not very much money and being away from my kids, and traveling under different circumstances that I’m used to, traveling with Def Leppard. The only reason that I was doing it was for the music, that hour and 45 that I was onstage. That time was brilliant.
RMS: When you joined DIO in 1983, did you have any second thoughts about leaving your mates in Sweet Savage?
VC: At that stage no, because we already run the course with Sweet Savage. We knocked on all of doors that needed to be knocked on. We had our opportunities. We released a couple independent singles; we did national tours, the biggest one being the “Renegade” tour, with Lizzy in the UK. We played everywhere there was to play in Ireland. We had radio broadcasts and interviews. We had record companies come over to see us. I really feel that we did everything that we could, but forever what reason, it just wasn’t happening. We were kind of close, but no cigar.
A few months before I got the call to go audition for DIO, I was actively keeping my ears open for others opportunities. Not necessarily to move to the states, that never occurred to me. I was looking in London, and in the UK, to see if I could get something going. But I really, really do wish that Sweet Savage would have made it. Why didn’t we? Maybe, we weren’t good enough? I really don’t know. It would have been brilliant to have a career that consisted of being in just one band. (Laughs) It is kind of ironic that after all the years, that Metallica confessed that Sweet Savage was an influence. To the extent that they actually did a cover of one of our songs. So sometimes I think, maybe we should have hung in there. But, maybe it was just the wrong place, at the wrong time.
RMS: Yeah, I think many feel that Sweet Savage was simply before their time. You were very young when you joined DIO. How much pressure did you feel being thrown into the spotlight and with all expectations that come along with being a guitar star?
VC: It wasn’t pressure so much. I was happy with my playing. But the situation was very alien to me in many ways. Number one, coming to the states, which I never was before, it was an extremely different culture being in Los Angeles (where DIO was based), as opposed to being in Belfast. So that was strange. But even stranger, was the fact that, I was in a band with three guys, that were a lot older than me. Being in a band with DIO, at that time, was almost like being in a band with your dad. They were quite a bit older than me, and I felt it was very difficult to talk to Ronnie. We really didn’t have a lot in common. In fact, outside of the music, I don’t think that we had anything in common. So it was a bit of a strained relationship for both of us. But I wasn’t nervous, the situation was just bizarre. It was kind of surreal. It was particularly surreal, because I was a fan of the early Rainbow records. I wasn’t a Black Sabbath fan as a kid, but I was a fan of the Ronnie era Black Sabbath. I really liked the "Heaven and Hell" album. I remember listening to that a lot - in the months leading up to playing with DIO. It’s kind of ironic that it all came around. So yeah, it was strange.
RMS: Have you heard the recent DIO release "Live at Donnington?" The 1983 live disc is amazing, your guitar tone and playing is absolutely incredible.
VC: I haven’t heard it. I didn’t even know that it was coming out. I know nothing about it. But thank you for the compliment.
RMS: You’re welcome. Shortly after DIO, you joined Whitesnake, but were only with the band for a short period of time. What led to your departure from Whitesnake?
VC: You look at the line-up for Whitesnake and there are always changes. And there is a reason for that. For me, I didn’t stay with the band because there was no future for me in the band. I didn’t enjoy the politics of the situation, and it was made abundantly clear to me, that there were no writing opportunities to be had in the band. So that was short lived. But we did have a very successful tour when I was in the band. And I did enjoy my time with them. But it wasn’t something that I was content with, musically. And it didn’t seem like it was going to get any better.
RMS: A couple years ago you released your first solo record. This recording was very blues/rock oriented and you also did the lead vocals. In retrospect, how do you feel about that release, and do you have any plans to do another solo record?
VC: Well, I never wanted to be a singer; I just really enjoy playing guitar. I enjoy singing, but I never wanted to be the focal point of the band. But it was something that I wanted to do. I really got into the blues. I went back through the history of my guitar heroes, and their heroes, and all the way back - the whole history of the electric guitar, and acoustic blues guitar, before that. I had some time off from Def Leppard, and I figured it was an opportunity to do that.
I don’t really consider it a solo record per se. Yeah, it was a record that I made, and had my name on it, and I was singing. But it was all basically just blues covers. Rory Gallagher was a huge influence on me growing up. And that record I made, was homage to that era.
RMS: Your solo record was also a bit similar to what Gary Moore did as well.
VC: Yeah, but Gary took it a lot further. Gary was a great, great blues player. I don’t enjoy listening to my blues record too much. It was a little too heavy handed. But, I think that I can be forgiven for that, because it was my first foray into that genre. The blues have to be played subtly. I wasn’t too subtle. (Laughs) Gary, for the last 15 years or so, really got playing the blues right.
RMS: Yeah, Gary was an awesome blues guitarist. ... I would like to ask a few questions regarding Def Leppard. It was just announced that Def Leppard and Heart are doing a major tour in North America this summer. How do you feel about Heart being on the bill?
VC: I have actually never since Heart perform live. I’m really not that familiar with them, but I’m sure that they will be great. I know that they have a big catalog of hits and that’s basically what people want. These double bill and triple bill amphitheater shows are all about catalog. You get people that just want to hear the hits. That’s the nature of the business now. I’m sure that it will be a successful tour. And I’m very much looking forward to it.
RMS: Yeah, it’s going to be huge. Def Leppard really doesn’t even need a support act. It seems like the band is more popular now than ever before.
VC: Yeah, I think that you’re right. There certainly is a whole new generation of people that have discovered the band. I do think that is one of the upsides to music piracy. They say music piracy has decimated the industry, and I don’t agree with that at all. It certainly decimated record sales. But I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing overall for music, because it really has turned on a whole new generation to classic rock. Obviously, it’s a whole different story if you are a new artist, because you have to sell records. But for Def Leppard, we have been seeing for the last decade, younger and younger people coming to the shows. They sing along and know all of the words. But yeah, the band is more popular now than certainly it was in the 90’s.
RMS: Def Leppard will also be releasing a live CD this summer, called “Mirrorball.” But in addition to the live tracks, there are also three band new studio tracks as well. Can you tell us a little about the style and sound of the new tracks?
VC: Well, they are three very different songs. It was really a last second decision to put new songs on the CD. Originally, it was just going to be a live album. It was pointed out to us, that it would be beneficial to put some new songs on as well. So, Joe Elloitt wrote a song, Rick Savage wrote a song, Phil Collen wrote a song, and I wrote one. Unfortunately, mine got in last. So it didn’t make the cut. The Sav song is pretty epic, The Phil song is pretty Leppard like. Of the three, the one that really stands out to me is the one that Joe wrote, called “Undefeated.” That is probably the only one of the three, that we are going to perform on this upcoming tour. It’s a pretty amazing song. I really think that out of all of us, Joe is the best at writing simpler songs. All it takes is three chords and a melody. Joe always seems to come up with the best ones. But, yeah we have three new songs, plus a disc of live material, and a DVD of concert footage - with some backstage shenanigans.
RMS: How would you describe your working relationship with your co-guitarist Phil Collen and how does your guitar style differ from him?
VC: Phil is a lovely, lovely guy. There is no competition or rivalry like that. I think that we too old for that shit. Maybe twenty-five years ago, it would have been a bit different. But we are very different guitar players. We have totally different styles. When we are in the studio and we are trying ideas for songs, frequently we will switch guitars, to try different things. But, even when I play through his guitar and amp , I sound nothing like Phil. The same thing happens when he picks up my Les Paul and plays, he sounds like him. A guitar player's tone and style comes primarily from his hands, and how they approach the instrument. Phil and I are different, he practically picks every note he plays, and I have much more of a metal style. I’m also more blues influenced, and he’s more of a technical guitar player. It’s very different, so I think that we complement one another. Plus he is very easy to get along with, so there are no problems there.
RMS: What is your favorite Def Leppard CD that you have performed on?
VC: Wow, that’s a difficult question. I would have to say the last one “Songs from the Sparkle Lounge.” I’ve almost always felt, that in twenty years that I’ve been in the band, that a little bit of over thinking, goes into making records. It can be a frustrating process. In fact, it usually is. Particularly for me, my experience started with DIO, and we made records very organically and very quickly. With DIO, we would be in the rehearsal room, Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice and myself, would kick out a riff, and Ronnie would come in, and start arranging and singing. And a week later, we would be in the studio, cutting the track. We would do it all live with the rhythm guitar, bass and drums. And then I would do the guitar solo, and Ronnie would do a vocal, and it would be done. A week later, we would be on tour. I know that isn’t necessarily the way that the business works anymore. But the other side of that equation is the way that Leppard works. It is very slow and methodical, and very precise.
But with the “Songs from the Sparkle Lounge,” we didn’t do it that way. We recorded it rather quickly, and for Def Leppard, really organically. I felt that it was a much more enjoyable experience. And I felt that it was a better record.
RMS: My last question is, you’ve accomplished so much over your career, but what do you think is your greatest musical accomplishment?
VC: Pauses…I don’t know. I really have no idea. I don’t tend to look too favorably on anything that I do. I really don’t. I always see what’s wrong with it, before I see what’s right with it. But that has always been my way.
RMS : Are you a perfectionist?
VC: Well yeah, I’m a Virgo, and I do have a bit of that tendency. I think as I get older, I let go a little of that. But I don’t lose sleep over that. But I still do think about things, like that was ok, but it could have been so much better. But, I feel that my best is yet to come. I’m a late bloomer and I always have been. But, my best is right around the corner. And I’m excited about that.
For more on Vivian Campbell check out:
MelodicRock Records for the Riverdogs