Last In Line and Def Leppard's Vivian Campbell - Autumn 2016

Last In Line
Vivian Campbell

1983 was an incredibly healthy and standout year for rock and metal. It was a year that spawned a number of landmark albums that would provide the perfect introduction to new bands and as well as indelibly secure the careers of more established artists. Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil, Ozzy’s Bark At The Moon, Def Leppard’s Pyromania and Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All are all examples of releases that undeniably prove this prove this point. However, the album which arguably created the biggest waves was Holy Diver, the debut release from Dio, the new band put together by Ronnie James Dio after he left Black Sabbath in 1982. 

Ronnie James’ next steps would attract a spotlight of huge expectations from the rock community. Deciding to create a band which would take his own name, he brought in successful and experienced musicians in bass player Jimmy Bain and drummer Vinny Appice, as well as the young hot shot guitarist Vivian Campbell. The chemistry of the band was undeniable, evidenced by the incredible success of Holy Diver which would go on to sell in the millions.

This line up would go on to create the further classic albums Last In Line and Sacred Heart before ‘business decisions’ began to dictate changes to the personnel. Vivian was fired and went on to enjoy huge success with bands such as Whitesnake and of course his current gig of 25 years, Def Leppard. But following Ronnie James Dio’s death in 2010, Vivian took steps to reconvene the original members of the band to celebrate the music they made. Naming the band Last In Line after Dio’s second studio album they began to play live and earlier this year released their debut album Heavy Crown, a powerful hard rock record replicating that classic Dio sound but with a modern edge.

As Last In Line prepare for a US and European tour, we catch up with Vivian as Def Leppard's mammoth 2 year tour draws to a close. With only 2 shows left, we join Vivian in Saint Paul, Minnesota as he enjoys a day off. It's early afternoon on what is a gorgeous Autumn day and whilst Vivian has not long since risen from his slumber, the guitarist is full of energy and excitement. After receiving a very warm welcome we get ready to discuss the past, present and future.

Vinny Appice

I'd like to start by going right back to the beginning. You, Vinny and  Jimmy were part of the original Dio group that formed in 1982 and you recorded the classic Holy Diver. What are your memories of joining the band and the enormous success that followed?

It was quite the experience for me. I was 20 and I was playing in a band called Sweet Savage back in Northern Ireland. Sweet Savage opened for every hard rock band that came to Ireland: Lizzy, Motörhead,  Wishbone Ash whatever, and Wild Horses came to play a handful of shows in Ireland which was Jimmy Bain’s band when he was out of Rainbow. It was Jimmy Bain and Brian Robertson. I met Jimmy, I met Robbo, the shows were great and I didn't think much more of it. Obviously Jimmy liked the way I played guitar and Jimmy was the one who tracked me down. Ronnie (James Dio) came over to London with Vinny after he quit Sabbath, and I guess he had played with a few guitar players in LA, including Jake E. Lee, and Ronnie wanted a European style guitar player. He asked Jimmy for some help "Hey Jimmy, do you know any guitar players?" and Jimmy recommended me. I was very fortunate I suppose that my father was also called Vivian and he was the only Vivian Campbell in the Northern Ireland phone book. So Jimmy literally just looked up Vivian Campbell and called. And it was 2 or 2.30 in the morning when he called and he woke my father up. I remember my father coming round and saying "There's a drunken Scotsman on the phone for you". So that's it. My dad bought the plane ticket for me the next day. Jimmy said "Can you fly over to London and audition for Ronnie James Dio?" and I didn't have the money for a ticket so despite being woken up,in the middle of the night, my father very generously bought me the plane ticket, so I flew over there with my Les Paul, rented a Marshall, went in a rehearsal room and away we went. Ronnie at the time had written the song Holy Diver, the title track of the album, and he had a bit of an idea for a song which would eventually become Don’t Talk To Strangers but that night all we played was Holy Diver over and over and over again. Ronnie played a bit of bass guitar so he picked up the bass and showed me ‘dan da da dan da da dan dan daaaa’, showed me how it went and we just started jamming. When it came time for the solo Ronnie was just rolling a joint – he smoked a lot of pot – and he kind of gestured to me to go over and over. All us guitar players, we have our fancy licks and we tend to go to those first and foremost because when your young you mistakenly thing that's the pro thing to do and what people want to hear. So I do all fancy licks and basically I exhaust them and I have to start playing basic, old school ‘from the gut’ rock ‘n’ roll licks. Ronnie was recording all of this and a year or two later I remember sitting in his house with him and he found the cassette – I still have it somewhere in storage - but we were sitting there listening to the cassette and he points to the tape recorder when this part comes up in the solo and he says "that's when I knew you were the guitar player for me!". So basically when I'd run out of ideas! (Laughs). But I think what he meant was I started playing very instinctively. I had no choice. I had to abandon the stock guitar licks and patterns that young guitar players rely on so much and I had to just go with my instinct and that's what he liked. But the chemistry from the band was immediate. Like Jimmy and Vinny just absolutely totally locked in from the moment they played together and I remember this was the first time the two of them had played together too. We all met on the same night. The first time Vinny had played with Jimmy, the first time I had played with Vinny, and it was just immediate. The chemistry of the band was incredibly powerful from the very first note. I'm happy to say that when I first started getting together again with Jimmy and Vinny back in 2011, that had been 27 years since we had played together, and the chemistry was there again right from the first note. There's just something about when certain people play together it creates a sound and it was always there.

I do think it's some luck that they managed to find you from the outset when considering you for the band and that they actually found your father. If he hadn't have been in the phone book or if he hadn't had the same name as a you it could actually have worked out very different. 

Exactly! Life is strange. I get asked a lot by a lot of young guitar players if I have any advice or tips on how to make it in the industry and luck is a great element. You have no control over it but that's a very, very big part of it. But at the same time there's an expression ‘where opportunity meets preparation’. I definitely was prepared. I was very, very motivated as a young man to play guitar. That's all I wanted to do with my life and I was determined that I was going to have a career as a guitar player so when opportunity did come knocking on the door, I definitely feel I was ready for it. I was hungry and that showed in my guitar playing. But that is an element none of us have any control over.

I think there is an element of luck in there but in a way, the way that you prepared, that luck would not have come along had you not had that drive, for example your  actions to ensure you opened for every band that came through. That must have been instrumental in creating that opportunity. 

Yes, that's definitely an element of it. You kind of put something out that and it grows and it manifests. Like I said, I was determined to have a career as a guitar player and I didn't realise that when Sweet Savage was opening for Wild Horses that Jimmy Bain was taking it in and making mental notes on me thinking "I like how this kid plays guitar". I was oblivious to that and I didn't know anything about that until 2.30 that morning when Jimmy called and woke my father up. But I guess you're right. I had manifested that through my desire.

Andrew Freeman

Since being fired from the band in 1985, you continued to have huge success with bands such as Whitesnake and of course 25 years with Def Leppard. But it was following Ronnie James’ passing in 2010, you set about reconvening the other original members, finally becoming active as Last In Line in 2012. After so many years and a hugely successful career what made you want to revisit this era?

There's several reasons why in 2011 we reconnected and started playing again. I'd always been close with a Jimmy and Vinny, we were always good friends. We didn't see each other that often but when we did it was a genuine friendship. We all lived in the LA area and had done for decades so we'd see each other every year or two at various functions. Several things happened. In 2010, Ronnie passed away. That changes a lot of things. For one thing there was no more ‘Dio the band’. In a way that played into it. Another thing perhaps more immediately for me was that in late 2010/early 2011 I got a call from Scott Gorham to go and be a stunt guitar player for Thin Lizzy, and the guitar players and the music of Thin Lizzy were so influential to me when I was teenager and when I had that hunger. When Jimmy Bain first heard me play in Sweet Savage, my playing was very, very much moulded on a Thin Lizzy music. I knew the Live and Dangerous album backwards and forwards and sideways. I knew every lick. My guitar playing style was heavily influenced by Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham, and especially by Gary Moore so Lizzy’s music really resonated with me and to be out on stage plying those songs, the songs of my youth, with Scott Gorham and Brian Downey, playing Emerald and Black Rose, it really ignited my passion for guitar playing again. I think it's fair to say that in the 25 years I've been with Def Leppard I'm really challenged as a vocalist in Leppard, because we're such a strong vocal band, but I'm not as challenged as a guitar player as I was in the Dio band. So to be out there playing with Lizzy really kind of reignited that passion. So when I came back from that tour, that's when I called Vinny and Jimmy. We had no agenda and I had no agenda. All I wanted to do was play guitar again so I just asked them if we could go into a rehearsal room and play, and like I say, at that point, around the middle of 2011, it had been around 27 years since we'd played together. As soon as we started playing, from the first beat it just gave me tingles! It was like that first night in 1982 at John Henry’s rehearsal room in London when we played Holy Diver. It was just the chemistry, the sound of that original band was there, obviously without Ronnie. What happened was that we played for a couple of hours and we were all smiling, we were giddy and it was so joyous to reconnect and play that music again, but it was Vinny’s suggestion. Vinny said "wouldn't it be great if we had a singer to make this more complete?" And he said "I know this young guy, Andrew Freeman, he’s is a great singer, a, really strong singer who lives close by. Let me give him a call". So Vinny called Andy and he came down. That was the first time I met Andy. Andy walks up and he starts singing. He is a really powerful and passionate singer with really strong pipes, just like Ronnie did but his tonality is totally different to Ronnie, and to be honest, if Andy had sounded like Ronnie Dio, like a second rate Dio or a Dio clone, I would never have been motivated to do anything more with this project. But the fact that Andy sounded different, that he could kind of make these songs his own – you know, here you had the unmistakable music bed of the original Dio band and the sound that that generates but you have a singer who doesn't sound anything like Ronnie and that's what got me thinking. I just said for a laugh right there and then "we should go out and do some gigs just playing these early Dio songs" and I just said right off the cuff "why don't we call it Last in Line?" in obvious reference to the second Dio album but also I was thinking the fact that we are the last ones and that Ronnie had passed away the year before. We were the last in line. So that's what happened and it just kind of grew from there. Over a period of a couple of years we sporadically played a few shows, playing a couple of songs from Sacred Heart, almost all of Holy Diver and then a considerable amount of the Last In Line album, and we had Claude involved too, the original keyboard player from Dio back in the day and it was fun! It was really, really joyous and it kind of grew. We got offered to do some shows in England and we go offered to play the Loud Park festival in Tokyo in 2013 and it was actually right after that, after playing in Tokyo, that we got an offer from Frontiers Records if we would be interested to write and record some new music, but up until that point we hadn't really thought about that. But it did kind of make sense that it would grow to that and then we started writing the record in exactly the same way that we'd approached writing the Holy Diver record in ’82. Basically, Jimmy and I would go into a room and we'd kick around ideas. It would either start with a riff that Jimmy had or a riff that I would have, or even if we didn't have a riff, sometimes Jimmy would play drums and he was a very inspirational drummer to me. He’d just come up with these monster beats that kind of inspired me to play something, then we would often make something out of nothing. We would try and mould these ideas and Ronnie would come in the evening. Ronnie wrote really, really quick. He'd always have books of lyrics with him. He'd listen to what we'd shaped in the afternoon and after about 20 or 30 minutes he'd step up to the mic and start singing and it was almost always what became the final song. Sometimes he'd make suggestions around how to change the musical arrangement, other times he wouldn't, but it was very quick and very organic, and we did exactly the same thing with writing the Heavy Crown record. At this time, Andrew had moved to Las Vegas so he wasn't always in LA to write with us, so it was usually just the 3 of us. Vinny would record mp3s and send them to Andy. Andy would do the same thing and he'd turn it around really, really quick just like Ronnie did. The next session Andy would fly in from Vegas and he'd have an idea. He’d have a lyric and a melody completely done. So that's how we did it. It was really, really easy. There's not a lot of thought that goes into it. It's a very instinctive, from-the-gut kind of process and we think we yielded a result. We got the record we wanted: a kind of simple, visceral, rock ‘n’ roll record.

So just to confirm, you hadn't considered the prospect of making new music until you were approached by a record company?

Correct. I mean, I've got enough on my plate. Being in Leppard is a very time consuming gig. We work a lot. Furthermore, I got a cancer diagnosis in early 2013 and still to this day I'm dealing with it. Fortunately it's nothing major and I'm able to continue my work but it really took a lot of my focus, especially when I first had it. I had to go through chemo a bunch of times, and I had to put a lot of my energy into that, so between being in Leppard and that I had no real ambition or thoughts about doing anything else or anything extra curricular, but when Frontiers came and approached us about that, we all talked about it and it was like ‘why not – let’s take it to that stage’, you know. It did involve us having to rethink certain things and it was at that time we parted ways with Claude. Again, like I said, when we wrote and recorded the Holy Diver album, Claude wasn’t part of the band. He only came in for the tour so we wanted to get back to that creative nucleus that Jimmy and Vinny and I had back in 1982, and that, and various other reasons, led to us parting ways with Claude. But we did not write the Holy Diver record with keyboards. We didn't want to do the Heavy Crown record with them either. We wanted to get back to being a guitar, bass and drums and vocalist band.

You've mentioned of course Heavy Crown, Last in Line’s debut album of original material that you released earlier this year, and I wanted to talk a bit more about that. It's a fantastic hard rock album of an exceptional standard. The quality and delivery of every track is outstanding and absolutely representative of the band’s world class talent and musicianship. You've given us a great understanding of how you approached the song writing and how that came together, but given the personnel, how did you manage to pull it off from a scheduling perspective?

We did it in instalments. We would get together for 3 or 4 days and write the songs and literally within probably the week following that we would go into the studio with Jeff Pilson and we'd record them. So we'd write and record usually 4 songs in a block over a period of about a week and then we would reconvene a month or 2 later and do the same thing. I think we did it over 3 sessions. I'd also like to mention that Jeff Pilson was an absolute godsend for this project. He was the perfect producer for us and he had the perfect little studio. Jeff really got it. Having played with Ronnie in later years, he was very familiar with the sound and the music and the whole vibe of the Dio band and he's a long-time friend of ours. In fact when Jeff was with Dokken, Dokken were the opening act on the Last In Line tour in the United States for months and months so that's when we first got to know him. We knew his personality and he has great energy and great musical sensibilities, and he's also a great singer which really, I felt, helped bring out the best in Andy. He could really get inside Andy’s head and help shape the melodies and the phrasing and the delivery of the vocals. And he worked super quick. That's another thing – he didn't labour the whole process and that's a joy for me personally. I like to go with instinct. I don’t like to over analyse rock because I think that's when you lose the rock! It was great. It was a lovely connection there with Jeff, we’re all really good friends and it was just a happy, joyous thing.

Jimmy Bain

Sadly just before the record was released Jimmy passed away. Last In Line have been very open about how this affected you all and the loss you felt. Was there a point when you wondered whether the band could continue?

Yes. It really took the wind out of our sails, you know, Jimmy passing away a month before the album. This record meant so much to Jimmy, and one of the things that really pissed me off right after Jimmy died was the immediacy of which so many people in the media and on social media jumped straight to the assumption that his death was related to substance abuse. Fair enough, Jimmy did have a chequered past and he had a history of dealing with that but I can honestly tell you that the last couple of years of Jimmy’s life he was sober. He was absolutely focused on this record and it was this record that kept him alive. It was this whole project, the energy that he was putting into this band that kept him there. He was fighting his demons and he had finally won that battle. Jimmy got a tattoo – the only tattoo he had on his body was Last In Line. That he was 60-something years of age, in his mid to late 60s he went out and got a fucking tattoo! That’s how much it meant to him, you know! When we were writing this record, I would pick up Jimmy. He was at a half-way house. He had gotten into a lot of legal trouble because of his substance abuse and he had to serve his time in this half-way house and he could only get out from 4pm until 10pm. He had to be back before 10pm so I would pick him up at 4.15pm outside this miserable shit hole of a fucking place in Hollywood. I'd drive him to rehearsal, we'd write songs and I'd have him back there by 9.45pm. The only thing that Jimmy had in there was his bass guitar. He would come up with these great ideas. Jimmy was a great riff writer, and it really meant so much to him and that's the only reason why I feel we can continue to do this because when Jimmy passed away the initial affect on me was ‘fuck it, that's it, we’re done’. We’ll put the record out and that’s the end of it but on reflection, Jimmy put so much into this record, as indeed we all have, that we owe it to him and we owe it to ourselves and our legacy to work this record. We did have a tour planned for immediately after the record was released but we obviously cancelled that tour. We ended up doing some of the key shows a couple of months later like the Frontiers Festival in Milan and we did the Rocklahoma Festival at the end of May, but on reflection it was important to us. It meant too much. The response to the record also helped fuel that decision because people did genuinely respond to it and say ‘hey this is a great record, it's what we've been waiting for years’ so that obviously buoyed us a lot and we licked our wounds and picked it up and we were very fortunate that we got Phil Soussan, who’s about as close as you can get to someone who plays in that style that Jimmy does. Phil knew Jimmy for years and years. We were all friends. He played for Ozzy for years and years. He gets what it's like to play that kind of aggressive, time-keeping percussive bass guitar like Jimmy did so it's never going to be quite the same. No 2 people ever play the same - guitars/bass players/singers – we’re all unique like our finger prints and that's what makes great bands and the chemistry as the interaction of these individuals. It's as close as we’re going to come playing with someone like Phil Soussan and we owe it to Jimmy and his memory and the musical legacy that we have together. We finally decided we have to continue to do this, but it was a painful decision.

It's completely understandable why you took this decision and I think it's absolutely the right one. I've seen footage of Jimmy talking about tattoos, the career he had with so many high profile bands yet Last In Line was the ink he chose and I think that's reflective of how committed and happy he was in the band. 

I think you're right about that. Jimmy did feel that this was his band. We split everything equally. There's no prima donnas in this band. We split all the songs 4 ways, regardless of who initiated the idea or who did the lion’s share of the work, everything was split. It was very, very much a team effort and I think Jimmy really appreciated that, you know? I know I do. I think that makes for better music, you know, where's there's no other agenda involved, when you're not thinking ‘okay, I'm going to get all the publishing on this song so I can make more money’. It's all about the music and that's all it's about. That gave us all great joy, and you're right, Jimmy got that tattoo because he felt this was his band.

The great news is that you will be embarking on a US tour starting in Seattle on 21st October, before moving on to Europe and the UK in November, finally concluding in your home town Belfast on 3rd December. You've mentioned of course that as well as Vinny and Andrew Freeman, you will be joined by the incredible talents of Phil Soussan and also Erik Norlander. How much are you looking forward to getting out there and playing on what is quite an extensive tour?

I'm really excited to do it! I just wish we had more shows! We're only doing 6 shows on the west coast of America before we go to Europe and the reason for that is that's all we can afford to do. It's so difficult to get the economics of it to work. I'm not even talking about making money - I'm talking about not losing money. The last time we went and played in the UK in, I think, 2012 we lost money. It's just expensive to play in clubs and a lot of people here in the States have been saying "Can you come to Texas? Can you come to the Mid West? Can you come to the East Coast?". I would love to do that but it's so difficult at this level to make the economics work, but it is something we are going to try and do in 2017. I'm really excited about doing this because it's really cathartic to me to play in this band and to play guitar like this again and to reconnect with my inner 17 year old and just wrangle the shit out of my Les Paul. It's such a visceral thrill for me to do that and it just gives me great joy, and I think that my whole perspective on this stuff is so different now since having a cancer diagnosis 4 years ago and continuing to deal with that demon. I really, really take great pleasure in these little things in life and to be on stage with these guys and play this music is just exhilarating. I should also mention we are joined on this tour by Erik Norlander, a keyboardist who used to play with Asia. A lot of people said "well, why didn't you just keep Claude in the band?". When we wrote the Heavy Crown album, like I said before, we went back to the nucleus of the original Dio band: guitar, bass, drums, vocals. When we go out and play this stuff we do need to supplement with keyboards for the early Dio material, not necessarily for the songs on the Heavy Crown album so much, there's songs like Egypt and the intro to Holy Diver, the little keyboard lick in Rainbow In The Dark, which Jimmy wrote by the way, that was his little contribution that little hook. So we have a really, really stellar line up. Phil Soussan is as close as we can get to anyone filling Jimmy Bain’s shoes and Erik Norlander is a consummate professional, a great keyboard player and a lovely chap, great singer and all-round musician so it's a great band and it's finally nice to get out and do a comprehensive tour. We really, really appreciate the way people have responded to this record. That really means a lot to us. We are not doing this for money, believe me! There's fuck all money in this (laughs). I get plenty of money in my day job with Def Leppard. This is a passion project, this is very much a labour of love, and I'm very excited to do it.

What can people expect from a Last In Line show?

Nothing in terms of production because we have nothing (laughs). You can expect 5 guys dressed in black sweating profusely and giving 100%! We don't do things in half measures. Vinny sets the bar in this band and he always has done like right back to the original Dio band. When you play on a stage with Vinny Appice, you've gotta bring your A game because Vinny doesn't fuck around. He is the loudest, most aggressive drummer I've ever played with and I've played with a lot of drummers. Vinny always raises my game. He always raised Jimmy’s game and the same is true with the 5 of us now. You'll see 100% commitment and 100% aggressive, hard rock, and there will be no fancy production because we can't afford that yet!

The UK leg of the tour sees you co-headlining with Inglorious. Last In Line and Inglorious have much in common given that you both released your debut albums on the same day (19th February). What does it mean to be touring with Inglorious?

I’m excited about that because you're right, we have a lot of similarities. We're on the same label, we were released on the same day and they’re getting a lot of buzz. They seem to be a genuinely  talented bunch of guys so I think it's a really good package that we’re actually out there with them. In fact I couldn’t think of a better act to be on the bill with us.

Def Leppard released their self-titled 11th studio album on 30th October 2015. As the record nears its first birthday, how would you summarise its success and the live shows that have supported it?

The Leppard record has been well received, like really, really well received. I always said from the get-go, and it's been echoed by a lot of publications who have reviewed the record, I do actually think this is the best Leppard studio album since Hysteria. It really is a very strong record and is so typically Def Leppard so much across the board. Ironically it's the one I've had the least to do with, for various reasons, mostly relating to my health and having to deal with it. I wasn't so involved in the creating of that record. Obviously I played and sang on it but in my 25 years of being a member of Def Leppard this is the one album I contributed least to. I think it's quite ironic that it's probably the best record they've made in that time (laughs). Maybe the universe is telling me to butt-out! The important thing at the end of the day is that it's a great record, it's been really well received and the tour over here has just been going gang-busters. We noticed for the the last 10, 12, 15 years whatever that we've been getting a younger generation coming to our shows and that's especially true this last couple of years. I would say over 50% of our audience now in North America are young enough to be our children and that's very, very encouraging to see that we’re cross-generational now. It’s not just a bunch of old people like us! It's really nice, you know. It really makes us feel good about the future and really makes us want to continue to make records. I think that's an important thing for a band like Def Leppard, even though the majority of people coming to see Def Leppard aren't interested in new music. They want to hear the hits from 20, 30 years ago and the majority of our show is still made up of those classic songs but it's important for any band as a creative unit to continue to make new music, and I could also cross reference that with Last In Line. We could still just be out there playing the songs from the first 3 Dio albums but the band has just become so, so much more vibrant because of the fact that we wrote and recorded a new album and I really think we kinda hit the mark with it too. We absolutely achieved our creative goals in making that record. And we will be making another one!

As our conversation draws to a close, it's wonderful to reflect on how after first coming together more than 30 years ago, Vivian, Jimmy and Vinny have again created arena-ready, hook-drenched hard rock that absolutely embodies everything that was great about the original Dio band. But their journey so far has also been about much more than this. It's also about 3 people who developed the closest of friendships through music which, regardless of the paths each subsequently took, has remained strong and supportive for more than a generation. Jimmy has sadly left us but his legacy continues.

For more information about Last In Line and the Autumn tour, visit In the meantime, enjoy the video for Devil In Me, the lead track from debut album Heavy Crown.