Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott explains why they and Motley Crue survived while so many of their peers fell by the wayside.
“We’ve both been through so much sh*t and come out the other side. And we’re 10 times stronger than when we first started out. It’s survival of the fittest.”
Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe touring together – whose idea was it?
Joe: Nikki and I were the big players in that decision. We discussed the idea when I was a guest on Nikki’s radio show a year ago.
Nikki: It’s like actors. There are only so many A-list actors, and eventually, we get to see great actors on screen together. And it was only a matter of time till Mötley and Def Leppard got together. I’m excited because it’s been way too long coming.
Joe: If Nikki is comparing us to great actors, can I be Richard Burton, please?
Nikki: I guess that makes me Elizabeth Taylor.
The two bands have shared a stage twice in the past. The first was on September 17, 1983 – the final show of Leppard’s Pyromania tour.
Joe: Yeah, that was at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. We were finishing up our first headlining tour of the States, where we’d gone from opening for Billy Squier to headlining Jack Murphy Stadium, which holds 55,000 people. The support acts were Uriah Heep and Eddie Money and this young band called Mötley Crüe. On that tour, I bought my first ever video camera, and I filmed from the side of the stage when the Crüe were playing Looks That Kill. I’ve transferred it to DVD now – I must give you a copy, Nikki.
Nikki: Oh, f*ck yeah! I would love to see that.
You also played together at a US festival show in 1999.
Joe: That’s right, and I remember taking a friend of mine into Mötley’s dressing room so he could get their autographs on his arm and have them tattooed.
What kind of a friend would take someone into Mötley’s dressing room?
Nikki: Ha ha ha! Listen, for this guy to have our names tattooed on him – that’s a serious commitment.
Have you socialized together over the years?
Joe: We’ve crossed paths in a nightclub now and again, but this will be our first real get-together.
Nikki: It’s actually your fault because you guys should have moved to America a long time ago.
Joe: Well, three of us did. It’s just me and Sav [bassist Rick Savage] left, me in Dublin and Sav in England.
Nikki: Yeah, your drummer [Rick Allen] lives right down the street from me.
Was there ever a rivalry between the bands?
Nikki: No. I always loved Def Leppard. Back in the day before MTV, there wasn’t a cool rock station in LA for young bands, so we were out looking for vinyl all the time, and when I got Def Leppard’s first album [1980’s On Through The Night] it just jumped out at me. You know, I made a Def Leppard playlist the other day with three songs from the first record on there, and they really sound good. Joe, you really should go and listen to your first record again.
Joe: Yeah, people tell me that all the time. They’re always asking, “Are you guys playing Wasted tonight?” But we played Wasted at Download.
**Did Leppard ever feel threatened by the Crüe? **
Joe: It’s funny. When we played together at Jack Murphy Stadium in ’83 that was our last American gig till Hysteria came out in 87. And then we saw the Crüe and Bon Jovi and all these other bands come up. We were watching MTV from Holland, where we were recording Hysteria, and I remember thinking, ‘Christ almighty, they’ve taken our crown and we’re never gonna get it back’. Of course, Bon Jovi came along and just blew everybody out of the water. And we saw Home Sweet Home, which was just a f*cking brilliant video. We’d see you guys between Lionel Richie and Madonna…
Nikki: That’s a strange image for me – and kinda sexual too.
Joe: I didn’t mean it to come across that way. But that just shows how weird the 80s were.
How did Vince cope after Razzle’s death?
Nikki: Vince changed that day. For us, it was kind of hard to grasp that somebody died in a car accident because Vince was drinking. We all drank and drove in the 80s. It’s just what we did. We got lit up at home, we jumped in the car, we went down to Hollywood, we drank more, we grabbed a bunch of chicks, we got kicked out of a bar at 2 am, we went to a party and then we got ourselves home. But when Razzle was killed, that was the first time we realized there was a consequence to this. And it wasn’t that you were gonna get in trouble – somebody died. Vince changed that day, and I don’t think he’s ever changed back. It’s something that’s embedded in his DNA. I haven’t had that experience, so I don’t know how to explain it – other than to say that I’ve seen a man change forever.
Mötley Crüe laid themselves bare in The Dirt. Why hasn’t there been a tell-all Def Leppard book?
Joe: I can’t speak for Nikki, but maybe for the Crüe it was a case of self-therapy to tell the world what happened, whereas we’re the English guys that don’t wash their laundry in public. In the 80s, both bands did a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but we were the ones that suffered death through it. Not many people knew that Steve [Clark, the guitarist who died in 1991] had the problem that he had until he actually passed away. And then it all came out. When we did our book in 1987 (Animal Instinct), we really focused on Rick’s recovery. We’ve never done a second book that covers Steve’s decline and eventual death and then us going through the whole grunge nightmare and coming out the other side with a big smile on our faces. We never thought that anybody would be interested in that story. I guess that’s why the Crüe did The Dirt and we didn’t.
Nikki: The stuff in that book, none of it actually happened. We’re just good liars.
Joe: Ha ha ha, that’s good.
Nikki: I just figured we’ve got to do something exciting because it’s pretty boring out here in Los Angeles. So we made it all up.
Joe: I did like the Bullwinkle reference to Tommy’s old girlfriend. I thought that hilarious.
Nikki: Well that was the only true part of the book. She was definitely a large lady.
What has made Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe so successful?
Nikki: With Def Leppard it’s simple. It’s one word – songs. Nothing else matters. Those songs have great hooks, and that’s it. One thing that Joe and I have 100 percent in common is the music we grew up with – and make no doubt about it, that music was the best.
Every song was a benchmark. If we wanted to be great songwriters and great musicians, we had to live up to David Bowie, we had to live up to the Rolling Stones and Slade and The Sweet. The bar was set f*cking high for us.
Joe: I’m glad Nikki said that, because for us, there was nothing else but the songs. And I’ve got to say, with the Crüe there are some stellar songs there. But also, they visualized their songs better than we ever did. Their videos just kicked a*s. I mean, I loved Bowie, but he was from outer space and we weren’t. We were from Sheffield. We grew up watching Bowie and Bolan covered in glitter, and the Crüe took that image to the next level. We didn’t have the b*lls to do that.