"It's very much a labor of love." ~ Vivian Campbell on Last In LineLast In Line is a band comprised of Vivian Campbell, Jimmy Bain, Vinnie Appice, Claude Schnell, and singer Andy Freeman - a band born of the desire of the original members of Dio to again play the music that produced platinum records, sold out tours, and created a platform for Ronnie James Dio to achieve solo stardom after successful stints with Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow and Black Sabbath.
After twenty one years with Def Leppard, Vivian has found himself reinvigorated by a brief stay with Irish rock legends Thin Lizzy. Playing with Lizzy reminded him of his early love affair with the guitar, and he finally felt ready to face his past with the Dio band, something he had been unable to do for almost thirty years. The split with Dio is a thing of rock legend - we deal with that in great detail in the interview, which I would hope any lover of rock will read with an open mind and heart. Viv pulls no punches, dodges no issues, and stays on the point that as the composers of the material, the original members of Dio have every right to take the music to the stage once again, and I think at the end of the day this is a win/win scenario for everyone involved.
I spoke with Vivian Campbell just before he announced his cancer treatments - it was decided that any discussion of health could be left to him to dispense, and we limited our discussion to things musical. I will say that the Irish guitarist sounded very healthy - he was enthusiastic about the future, and emphatic about the past. We laughed a good deal as we navigated the straits of his long and successful career in some of the best bands in the history of rock.
My first question was 'Why now,' for Last In Line?
Vivian Campbell: "You know, Tony, what I figured, a big part of it was that I did a stint with Thin Lizzy in 2011 - and Lizzy were a very, very influential band for me when I was learning how to play guitar as a teenager. That was the shit I learned, the Live & Dangerous album. I think that my role in Def Leppard, as great a band as it is, isn't that challenging for me as a guitar player. Leppard is about the songs, the singing, the structure - and I've certainly become a much stronger singer from the 21 years in Def Leppard, but most of the stuff we play is the classic stuff, and Phil Collen plays most of the challenging guitar solos.
"So my stint with Lizzy kind of reminded me of my guitar playing youth, and I got real excited about my guitar playing again. I came home from the Lizzy tour, and I'm playing a lot of guitar - so I called Vinnie, and Claude, and I said, 'Hey - let's get together and play some of those old songs that we did,' and Vinnie recommended Andy Freeman, who he ad worked with briefly in Lynch Mob. Andy came in, and he sings the shit out of the stuff! We had a great time and we decided to take it a stage further."
Next, I was curious to hear how it felt to play that material again after such a lengthy and trying period of being away from it, and the situation of his leaving Dio:
Vivian Campbell: "It was very, very, very exciting, and it actually sounded incredible! We probably could have done a bit of a gig that night.
"It was so tight, and it all came back so quickly for us. It was a very unique chemistry that happens with any group of players, especially when you write the songs together. I firmly believe that no two people play alike - no two guitar players are quite the same, no two drummers are the same. There's all sorts of difference between the notes, and little grace notes that are very unique to individuals.
"You know, Vinnie, Jimmy, and I, we wrote those songs together, so nobody is ever going to play them like us - and as soon as we started playing, it all came right back."
Getting reinvigorated by playing on the same stage with Thin Lizzy is certainly understandable, but I was interested in what it was actually like to be standing on stage playing with Scott Gorham and Brian Downey after learning their catalog note for note as a kid:
Vivian Campbell: "That was incredible! Because again, every musician is unique, and nobody plays like Brian Downey - he's got a real swing feel to his playing, I don't even think Brian had ever intended to be a rock 'n' roll drummer. It's part of the whole uniqueness, that idiosyncrasy that he has that made that music so unique.
"Gorham was one of my guitar heroes - particularly the classic era lineup of Brian Robertson and Scott, like I said, the Live & Dangerous album in particular, and the Jailbreak record, I knew them inside out. It was very much from my love for Thin Lizzy that I came across Gary Moore, who was probably my most influential guitar player, y'know?
"It was a real honor and privilege to play with those guys, and to be on stage with them every night. I was pinching myself - here I am on tour with Thin Lizzy, because when I was about 18 or 19, my first band out of Ireland, Sweet Savage, we did a UK tour opening for Thin Lizzy, and every night we'd go on stage and do our thing, then we'd watch Phil Lynott and the band do their thing. I so badly wanted to be a part of that band - and here I was, 30 years later!"
Stepping back a couple of decades, Campbell had joined the already hugely successful Def Leppard after two rough endings with Dio, and Whitesnake. I asked Vivian what he remembered about that experience:
Vivian Campbell: "It was a lot to learn! They are very specific about what they want - it's not open to interpretation, if you know what I mean.
"And to be honest, that's more the way I play - my playing has always been a little fast and loose. When it comes to taking liberties with style, because I'm a self taught player, and I'm not very schooled. I still to this day don't understand modes, or any of that stuff.
"But I was a Def Leppard fan from way back - like I mentioned before, my band Sweet Savage started at the same time That Leppard did, and they were kind of an inspiration, not even so much musically, but as forging their own path. Leppard and Maiden were two of the first bands to break out of that whole New Wave of British Heavy Metal thing. As a result of that, they were very inspirational. We were very aware of what they were doing, and we were always checking out their music.
"I was also a friend of Joe Elliott's - Joe had lived in Dublin for a great many years. He and I had mutual friends, and we knew each other socially. I'd see him in clubs, and we'd go to dinner occasionally, we'd have a little game of soccer together, y'know? So, Joe knew me personally, and he was the one who invited me into the band - he had to do a selling job to the other guys, because the other guys only knew me by reputation.
"I'd been in Dio and gotten fired, I'd been in Whitesnake, and been fired....so I was two for two in terms of not being able to hold on to a job. The other guys were a little bit skeptical about my reputation, so we had this sort of long courtship that lasted about two months here in Los Angeles.
"I had lived in LA ever since I had come over to do the Holy Diver record, and the band came to town - they were mixing the Andrenalize album. We got together and we played, and it was great when we played, but it wasn't even about the music with the guys in Leppard.
"They wanted to be sure that I could be part of their team - they wanted to make a commitment for the long term, they weren't just looking for a guitar player for a tour.
"Literally - we went out to movies together, I remember we went to the Imax to see The Rolling Stones, we went to dinner together, played football together, and we'd go into the studio and play some more, then we'd go for a walk! It was like going on a date, y'know?
"That went on for six to eight weeks here in Los Angeles, and eventually we really got to know each other, and it worked out.
"Material wise, I just put my nose to the grindstone and got in there. I was already familiar with the songs, I just had to ascertain which parts specifically to play, especially on the later material like Hysteria, because there are so many layers of guitar parts. Fortunately, Phil lives about an hour from me, he lives down in Orange County, so he and I could get together frequently, and I just sat with Phil with a couple of practice ampss, and he'd show me the specific parts - you play this for the verse, you play that for the chorus, so it was easy enough!
"I like to think that I'm an easy guy to work with, I think if you ask anyone in Leppard, they'll tell you that, but obviously the reputation I had coming out of Dio, and coming out of Whitesnake didn't do me any favors. It didn't look like I was someone who could keep a job!"
We had reached that point in the conversation in which it was time to broach the topic of the guitarist's relationship and history with Ronnie Dio. Many unpleasantries had been exchanged over the years, and in the light of the legendary metal singers' death, many internet discussions were overheard that questioned the appropriateness of the Last In Line project. At this point, I must congratulate Vivian Campbell for stepping up, taking the bull by the horns, and having his say:
Vivian Campbell: "Why would anyone be against the Last In Line idea?
"We wrote and recorded those songs, and we'd like to play them! That's what it comes down to - the only issue being that Ronnie and I had a public spat.
"I can hold my hand up and admit being wrong about saying some mean things about Ronnie, and I was also derogatory about the genre of music.
"The thing that Dio fans may not completely understand is that they weren't there when we wrote and recorded those records - Ronnie was a very difficult person to work with. He was a lovely human being to his fans, but he didn't always share that wonderful personality with those closest to him.
"Every human being is complex, there's no back and white, no cut and dry.
"I had a very difficult relationship with Ronnie, and he had a very difficult relationship with me, and it really hurt me that he not only fired me, but he went on to betray it as if I had left the band. So that's what got me so riled up, and I really turned my back on him and the genre of music because I was very, very hurt by what it was he had done to me.
"I admit that it was childish, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge, and for me, I've taken all that out of the equation. When I think about the music, I didn't listen to it for almost thirty years - that's how caught up I was about that shit.
"Ronnie and Wendy Dio went out of their way to betray me as someone who had turned my back on the band in the middle of a tour and quit, which was absolutely, 100% untrue - I was fired from that band, I never intended to leave that band, and I never wanted to leave the band.
"Those are my songs as much as they are Ronnie's songs. Jimmy, Vinnie, Claude, and myself got fuck all for those records. We got nothing from the record sales, none of the t-shirt money - we were salaried musicians earning less than our road crew! Because we believed in the music, and we believed as Ronnie had told us that we were going to have an equal cut by the third album.
"And that's all I asked for! The third album came along and I said Ronnie, do you remember that first time we met in London when we jammed and this band was put together, and you had promised us that by the third album it would be an equity cut, which was why we got fuck all for all those years? We put our blood, sweat, and tears into doing that and it hurt the fuck out of me, as it would anyone. So then he goes and fires me, and betrays me as being the one who quit. So for thirty years, I didn't listen to those records.
"I wanted nothing to do with Dio, I wanted nothing to do with that genre of music - I just removed it all from my life.
"After thirty years, and maybe it is because Ronnie's dead, maybe that does make it easier, I don't know - I haven't sat down and analyzed it, but the fact is, that's my music, I'm the one who's entitled to play it, and that's what I'm going to do.
"What really makes me laugh is when people think I'm doing it for the money! We've got four shows booked in the UK, and I can't even begin to tell you how much money it's costing to do that. It's all for the love of guitar playing, the only reason I did it in the first place!
"The only thing that I would ask is that people come with an open mind.There's been a lot of shit said in the press, a lot of it untrue, some of it is true, but it's truly about the music. I'm not doing this for the money, believe me, I've got plenty of money. It's about the love, the passion for the guitar playing. When I did it in the first place, I didn't do it for the fucking money - $100 a week, I don't think that's a lot of money, and that's what I got for doing Holy Diver. And that's pretty much what I'll get for doing it again, thirty years later, hahaha!"
I was reminded of the days when I was a guitar tech for the McAuley/Schenker Group and had been instructed to never talk money with the band, as we crew members were making a more, shall I say, livable salary:
Vivian Campbell: "Well, that's exactly what happened with Dio. Right up until the Sacred Heart Tour, and when I got fired, we were still getting paid less than guys in the crew!
"It's one thing to get less than the principle artist, yes - I get that, but to earn less than the crew?
"Especially when you are the ones writing the songs, it's not like we were hired to play the parts. We wrote those fucking songs, we were part of the band, and we were totally gipped over.
"But in hindsight? I said all those things about Ronnie, and well yeah, part of it was true about Ronnie being the one who ultimately made the decision, but it was really all Wendy Dio. Jimmy Bain, Vinnie Appice, Claude Schnell, they still haven't made a fucking dime, nor have I. I have been very fortunate to have twenty years of work, so I'm doing fine, thank you.
"Rock 'N' Roll is full of these kinds of stories though, y'know? But it's all just very much a labor of love."
We spent a bit more time talking minor guitar talk, but I think it feels right to stop here - again, I thank Vivian for being so willing to discuss very openly a part of his history that has been buried for so long. As always, there are two sides to every story, and most generally things aren't as simple as they are made to seem. I definitely get the impression that Campbell feels, and quite frankly I agree, that he has every right to go out and play the music he's written, and I think that at the end of the day it is the music that matters - personally, I can't wait to hear them again doing what they did so marvelously for so long.
I'll leave you with one thought - as soon as Campbell made the call, every member of the original Dio band signed on (and without promise of financial gain), and remain anxious to again take the stage as Last In Line. To me, that speaks volumes.