Why You Should Know Them
The guitar-shredding duo of Phil Collen and Steve Clark could do no wrong throughout their immensely successful career as part of the supergroup Def Leppard. Though originally formed in 1977, Collen joined the band (at Clark’s urging) in 1982 after the departure of original member, Peter Willis. This was to be the lineup that went on to major stardom.
Def Leppard’s 2nd studio album, High’n’Dry, produced by not-yet-legendary Mutt Lange, put them on the map with the single, “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak.” Besides being very successful, this album was critical for the band because it helped define their style and sound for the next several records.
Their 3rd studio album, Pyromania, boosted their popularity immensely with the hits “Photograph” and “Rock of Ages.” The band’s popularity went well over the top with the release of their 4th studio album, Hysteria, skyrocketing the band into the stratosphere. The album had seven hit singles including “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Hysteria,” and “Animal.” It’s quite safe to assume that if you’re reading this, it’s impossible that you’re not familiar with at least a few Def Leppard tunes.
The real reason you should know these guys is simple: Phil Collen and Steve Clark brought duel-guitar playing to another level. The rock music of the ‘80s was known for its pristine production as well as incredible musicianship. These guys not only fit that model, they helped define it and as cliché as it may sound, the metal bands of today would not be where they are without the influence of Collen and Clark.
In addition to awesome solos that displayed chops, technique, and speed, the guys had great chemistry and their guitar parts made that quite evident. The two musicians had a great balance and they knew how to layer multiple guitar lines, both clean and heavy, without stepping on each other’s parts.
Def Leppard demonstrated their ability to persevere throughout multiple hardships including when the future of the band was grim (remember when their drummer lost his arm in an accident prior to the making of Hysteria?). Collen and Clark continue to have an enormous amount of success. Perhaps it’s because of their perseverance, or perhaps it’s their immediately identifiable style and songs that they’ve been able to bridge generations of fans and stay “fresh.” Ask anyone in their teens and twenties and chances are they’ll know the band, have a favorite song, and possibly know all the words to “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” All in all, the distinctive Def Leppard sound is like nothing else then or now, and that’s enough reason to know these two great guitarists.
Collen was usually seen with a blonde Fender Telecaster as well a Jackson Kelly. He would typically play through the Marshall JMP-1 MIDI Tube Preamp and Randall RP2/200 power amps, and Marshall 4x12 100-watt cabs (as many as eight of them).
Today, Collen typically plays Jackson PC1 signature Dinky models and several Fender acoustic guitars, in conjunction with the same amps from yesterday: Marshall JMP 1 preamps, Randall power amps, and TC Electronic effect processors.
A fun fact: He uses a metal pick, as well as heavy strings. Collen says the combination of the two give the pick the ability to “dig in…and get a real attack.” He is also noted for using an Ibanez Destroyer from time to time, and the Jackson Sustainer pickup is part of his signature sound. At the flip of a switch, the pickup can provide infinite string vibration similar to an eBow, only across the entire guitar instead of applied to a single string.
By the time Hysteria was released, Clark was endorsing Gibson and had an affinity for Les Pauls. His gear during the Hysteria tour consisted of two Les Paul Customs (both equipped with Kahler tremolo units), two Gibson Firebirds, and two Gibson double-necks (the EDS-1275 model). The Les Pauls and Firebirds were equipped with coil tap switches to split the pickups. At times he also played a Hamer Double Cutaway and used an array of Fender guitars for studio work.
Clark’s amplifiers consisted mostly of Marshall JCM series amps as heard on the first three Def Leppard albums. Towards the end of making Pyromania, Clark and Collen had both become endorsed by Randall. Clark’s rigs then featured a mix of Randall and Marshall equipment. In addition, his pedal collection included a Morley Preamp, Boss Delay, and Boss Chorus.
Where Are They Now?
Despite losing Clark from an accidental drug/alcohol overdose in 1991, Def Leppard still found great success in the ‘90s. Adrenalize reached number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 and UK album charts in 1992, containing several hits including “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad.” The band’s 1993 album, Retro Active, contained the acoustic, “Two Steps Behind,” while their greatest hits album Vault released in 1995 featured the new single, “When Love and Hate Collide.” Vivian Campbell later replaced Clark after his passing at age 30.
Collen has been involved in several side projects throughout his career. Most notably is the band Man Raze, formed as a joint collaboration with bass player Simon Laffy, a former bandmate from Collen’s old band, Girl, and drummer Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols.
Throughout the ‘90s, in addition to working with Def Leppard, Collen co-produced the On the Edge album from the Australian band, BB Steal. In 1991, he offered a song he had written, “Miss You In A Heartbeat,” to the band, The Law, which was featured on the band’s self-titled album. This album was the band’s only release, and "Miss You In A Heartbeat" was later recorded and released by Def Leppard. In 1993, Collen executive produced the album Sublime To The Ridiculous for the band Sheer Greed, which was composed of other former bandmates of Collen’s in Girl.
Collen has worked on side projects with Def Leppard singer, Joe Elliott. One of these projects was a tribute to David Bowie and Mick Ronson. He and Elliott also joined with Trevor Bolder and Mick “Woody” Woodmansey from Spiders from Mars and keyboardist Dick Decent to form the band, Cybernauts. In 2001 they released a live album of Bowie songs. Def Leppard later released a self-titled album in 2015 as well as a live album and concert DVD in February 2017.
Currently, Def Leppard continues to tour and additionally, Clark performs with another one of his projects known as Delta Deep that includes himself, Debbi Blackwell Cook, Forrest Robinson, and Robert DeLeo. The band released their first album in 2015 and continues to share their sound style of extreme blues with the world.
For a band as huge as Def Leppard became, zero record label support for the band's sixth album, Slang, (because of a stylistic departure from their signature sound) meant that it flew under the radar for many fans. We think it's one of their best efforts, with a darker edge rarely heard in their music. What do you think?