VIVIAN CAMPBELL: 'I Always Thought VAN HALEN Were A Lot More Interesting Than DIO'

Classic Rock Revisited recently conducted an interview with DEF LEPPARD guitarist Vivian Campbell. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow:

Classic Rock Revisited: DEF LEPPARD is a great live band. However, you don’t show off much in this band. Your playing is very straightforward and Phil Collen takes way more solos than you do. Your thoughts?

Vivian: "You are right. From a guitar point of view it is a very easy sort of a gig. It is not as challenging because I am not the only guitar player in the band. In DIO, I had a guitar solo in every song. With LEPPARD, I may play 35% of the solos. A lot of what we play are classic hits. It would be very inappropriate for me to play the solo to 'Photograph' when Phil Collen is right there and he was the one who first played it. Plus, I couldn’t play like that — I can’t play like Phil. Part of what makes DEF LEPPARD work is that Phil and I are very different guitar players."

Classic Rock Revisited: What is more important to you: Being a guitar player or a guitar hero?

Vivian: "It is more important to me to be a musician. I think it is fair to say that I am not nearly as proficient of a guitar player now as before I joined DEF LEPPARD. I say that only because this gig does not require me to exercise that particular muscle as much. Having said that, I feel I am much more of a complete musician. I know a lot more about writing songs and a lot more about the studio craft than I knew before. I am also a much, much better singer from being in this band. I feel more complete as a musician. As a guitar player, although it is not as technically challenging, I am okay with that. I spent my time in the '80s spinning my wheels trying to pay homage to the great technical gods of guitar playing. I would much rather play like Mick Ronson than Yngwie Malmsteen."

Classic Rock Revisited: When you joined DEF LEPPARD you really knew you were leaving the guitar hero thing behind.

Vivian: "I was glad to leave it behind. Around the time I played with WHITESNAKE I accepted that I couldn’t compete with those guys as a guitar player. I also knew that I was no longer there musically. As a kid, I just wanted to play guitar. I didn't make the distinction between pop, blues, rock or heavy metal. I was attracted to anything that had a guitar solo. You get drawn into hard rock and heavy metal because it glorifies the instrument. You don't hear a lot of guitar solos in pop music. As a teenager trying to write songs, I would write riffs. If I had a cool riff then I thought I had a song. I wasn't thinking about the melody or the lyric; I was only thinking about the riff. I thought it was all about finding something to lead up to the guitar solo — that is all there was.

"When I started playing with DIO we would sit around and write riffs. It was all about the guitar-hero thing. There were a lot of fresher bands out than DIO, like VAN HALEN. I always thought VAN HALEN were a lot more interesting than DIO. They had a sense of humor and they had a very fresh sound. Eddie Van Halen was doing things no one else had done on the guitar before him. David Lee Roth is a million miles away from Ronnie James Dio in terms of vocal ability and what they were singing about but David Lee Roth was interesting and he was perfect for VAN HALEN. Ronnie was very, very rigid and set in his ways. What he was doing was not just heavy metal, it was classic heavy metal. He would only write about certain things. He had very, very strict boundaries in which you had to work. As a result of that, I sort of got burned out on heavy metal. I remember being on the road with DIO and buying all these different cassette tapes. I would buy ARETHA FRANKLIN, ELVIS PRESLEY, PETER GABRIEL — anything but hard rock. I listened to a lot of soul music at that time. If I was listening to guitar music I was not listening to Yngwie, Shenker or Van Halen. I was listening to Jeff Beck, David Gilmour or early Eric Clapton.

"Later on, I found myself in a very competitive situation with Adrian Vandenberg in WHITESNAKE. We would try to one-up the other one. It was all very technical and it was all very flash. We were not a very good band. We looked good on paper but we sounded horrendous on stage from where I was. No one listened to anyone else in the band. It was all flash; there was no substance."

Read the entire interview at ClassicRockRevisited.com.

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