Joe Elliott Recalls Late Guitarist Steve Clark’s Pain
Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott recalled witnessing the personal pain endured by guitarist Steve Clark in the time leading up to his death in 1991. Clark had been given time off from the band to deal with his alcohol issues, but failed to survive them.
Despite the issues he brought into the notoriously career-focused group, Elliott said they could never fire him, even though they dismissed founding guitarist Pete Willis in 1982 as a result of his drinking problems.
“By coincidence or torture, I often got the room next to Steve,” Elliott told the Guardian in a new interview. “I could hear through the walls the pain he was in. I remember the night before one tour started, he was trying to smash his knuckles on the sink so he wouldn’t have to play, because he was scared to death of getting up on stage. And then we did the gig and he was like: ‘I’m fine.’ With bruises everywhere. It was fucking hard work to have to room next to him. We would never have kicked him out of the band because he was always apologising for being the way he was. He wasn’t an asshole by any means. He wasn’t angry or throwing things. He was always subdued or insular. So you always felt sorry for him.”
It had been a different story for Willis, who was replaced by Phil Collen. “It was holding us back,” Elliott said. “We all drank, don’t get me wrong, but when we drank we just told dirtier jokes a little louder. Pete caused problems. He was disruptive and negative. The band had to come first.”
Elliott also praised Vivian Campbell, who replaced Clark. “With Vivian, you got the impression he wasn’t going to wake up dead the next morning,” the singer said.
As a case in point, Elliott cited “We Belong,” a 2015 Def Leppard track. “This song has everybody in the band singing lead vocal, which is something we’ve never done before. Every line the guys sing can totally reflect their life," he said. "Vivian’s line – ‘Behind a painted smile’ – well, he was going through cancer. He was still turning up and being as positive as he could. At the same time, behind closed doors, he’s in hell.”
Watch Def Leppard Perform 'We Belong'