Def Leppard are arena rock favorites whose hooky, guitar-centric, anthemic pop-rock was one of the most popular sounds of ‘80s. Thirty years later, songs such as “Animal,” “Rocket” and “Love Bites” still sound fresh and rock hard. Hysteria is a pop-metal masterpiece. It’s one of my favorite albums from the ‘80s!
This year is proving a busy one for Def Leppard. The gents will hit the road this summer with Styx and Tesla, plus plan to release a new album near the end of 2015. For the full list of tour dates, visit Def Leppard’s official website.
Guitarist Vivian Campbell has overcome a lot to get to this place. Two years ago, Campbell was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He went through rounds of chemo to battle the disease. He kept working the whole time, both with Def Leppard and his band with former Dio members, Last in Line. Now, Campbell is enjoying his work cancer-free.
Campbell spoke with me about how having cancer has changed his perspective on life, the upcoming Def Leppard album and why he rocks “various flavors of Les Pauls” on the road and in the studio.
Everyone is so happy to hear you’re cancer-free.
Yes, thank you!
How has having cancer changed your outlook on life and music?
It certainly changes things. I’d like to think I have always had a pretty positive outlook. My glass has always been half full, but certainly going through something like that reinforces that notion and heightens that sensibility. I guess it makes you think about the finality of things. Everything has an expiration date. You better enjoy what you have, and I’m sure I do so even more now. As far as music, it’s made me want to write more. It has been a very creative time for me. During the past couple of years, I was dealing with the cancer and chemotherapy, and not only was I out with Def Leppard but also working with Last In Line. I was fortunate to have been able to have that distraction of touring with Leppard and Last In Line and doing both of those records. It really was a big part of my recovery, to be able to focus on my work and creative aspects and the joy that brings.
Def Leppard Guitarist Vivian Campbell

How’s the new Def Leppard album coming?
I’ve very diverse. It’s a representation of the band’s sound. We started first and foremost with the rock element, and we definitely wanted to get that for this record, and we achieved that and played live in the studio, because that’s the best way to get the dynamic. We’re a very good live band, and we’ve been together decades, but we don’t always capture that in the studio, and the best way to do that is actually set up wherever we can all see each other. That’s what we did for the first couple of weeks, and we got some great rock songs, and it was very seamless and effortless. But we didn’t want to make just a straight rock record. That’s not what the band is about anymore. We’ve evolved over the past 35 years from being just a rock band to something more complex. There are a couple of styles on the record we’ve never tried before. One song is psychedelic, and we’ve never done anything like that. Another song has all five of us taking turns singing lead vocals, which is a first for the band. All in all, I think it’s the best record I’ve made in my 23 years with Def Leppard. The bad news is we won’t be releasing it until later in the year.
Let’s talk guitars. What’s in your Def Leppard rig?
I have a few of my trusty Les Pauls I always use for recording and touring. My main Les Paul for both touring and recording is a 1978 Les Paul custom. I bought it in a pawn shop in Nashville in 1992, and it got damaged in transit flying to Europe. The only part of the guitar that was salvaged was the neck, but that was the most important part of the guitar, because I like the feel of the neck. So, I had it re-bodied with a standard Les Paul body, not a custom, and it’s basically a mutt guitar! That’s my main stage guitar and my main one in the studio, too. My second go-to Les Paul is my ‘56 Goldtop reissue.
What guitars do you use with Last in Line?
With Last in Line, my main guitar is the first Les Paul I ever bought. I bought it in 1977 or ’78. I was 15 years old and got it from a local music shop. I even remember the serial number! That’s my original Dio guitar, and when I joined Dio, that was the only guitar I owned. We wrote and recorded and toured the entire Holy Diver tour using that guitar. I retired it after a couple of years with Dio. I used some other guitars, and then about 20 years ago, I started using Les Pauls again, but still hadn’t used that one until I started playing with Last in Line.
What makes you a Les Paul guy?
I think it’s a real simple design. The most enduring design elements are simple. It’s got a perfect feel and balance for me. I like the way it sits on my body. For me, I started on a Les Paul and went through years of playing other guitars and just came back full circle to what was more natural to me.
What other guitars will you have on the road with you this summer?
On top of the two main Les Pauls, I also have a guitar that’s a cheap Les Paul that I’ve had for a few years, and every few years, I do a different paint job on it. I really like the guitar even though it’s not special in terms of value. It plays nice. I also have a couple of ‘58 Flame Top Les Paul reissues, which are very nice guitars, and I like to use those frequently. Various flavors of Les Pauls.
Vivian Campbell photo by Ross Halfin, and band press photo by Maryanne Bilham-Knight.