"Me, Bono and Bowie hijacked a Mini and drove to this restaurant where the Edge was to sing him Happy Birthday": What happened when we went record shopping with Joe Elliott

Joe Elliott at Sister Ray Records in London
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

In 2009 Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott and friends came together as Down'n'Outz to pay tribute to the extended Mott The Hoople family. They released two albums of covers: MyRegeneration in 2010 and The Further Adventures Of... four years later, before This Is How We Roll, an album of original material, arrived in 2019. We marked the occasion by taking Joe record shopping.  

If there’s one thing you should never do, it’s argue with Joe Elliott about music. And certainly not about 70s rock music. The Def Leppard singer has just been told by the accommodating and knowledgeable owner of long-running Soho record store Sister Ray that cult glam-punk brats the Heavy Metal Kids only made one album. 

“No they didn’t,” he replies, with the unshakeable authority of a champion pub quiz team leader. “They made four. Heavy Metal Kids. Anvil Chorus. Kitsch. And then they did one seventeen years ago called Hit The Right Button, with Danny Peyronel, who played keyboards on one UFO album, singing all the lead vocals.”

If he wasn’t the singer in Britain’s biggest ever hard rock band, Elliott would have been at home behind the counter in a place like this. He’s that rare thing: an A-list rock star who actually loves listening to other people’s music. He has a room in his house in Ireland filled with thousands of albums on vinyl and CD, as well as an authentic 1941 Wurlitzer jukebox. 

“Every so often I’ll go through my stuff, and take a suitcase full of shit down to Spindizzy Records in Dublin and trade it for more records,” he says. “And no, I’ve never taken any Def Leppard records down there.” 

This looks like being a perfect morning, then. Classic Rock has £50 for Elliott to spend on any albums of his choosing in Sister Ray. The fact that he doesn’t have to dip his hand in his own pocket should make this proud Yorkshireman doubly happy. The first stop, inevitably, is the ‘M’ section. 

“There’s more to life than Mott The Hoople, but not much,” Elliott says. “Let’s see if they’ve got anything I haven’t got.” He begins flicking. “Yep, yep, yep…” He pulls out a copy of Mott’s self-titled debut album and points at the band line-up shot on the inside of the gatefold. “See this? Different heads all superimposed on the same body. I think it’s Ralphers [guitarist Mick Ralphs].” 

A Mott devotee since his youth, Elliott formed his side project, the Down‘N’Outz, specifically to support Ian Hunter’s band at their final 2009 comeback show in London. The first two Down‘n’Outz albums featured deep cuts from the Mott back catalogue, including the albums they recorded with Hunter’s replacement, Nigel Benjamin. For Down‘n’Outz’s just-released third album, This Is How We Roll, they decided to ditch the covers and concentrate on originals. 

“We’d done Mott to death,” he says. “We talked briefly about doing Wings songs, 10cc songs, stuff that’s off the beaten track, but we decided to do our own.” 

The sole exception is their cover of The Tubes’ sneering glam-bomb White Punks On Dope. “I always loved that song. It’s the perfect bridge between Bowie and punk. It was otherworldly, but it was parody. And you had Fee Waybill dressed up as [OTT rock star character] Quay Lewd in the wig and platform boots.” 

Are you going to rock that look when you play it live? He arches an eyebrow. “No. I’ll leave that to Fee Waybill. He pulls it off much better than me.”


Elliott bought most of his records as a kid at Bradley’s record store or Sine Electrical in Sheffield. “It sold vacuum cleaners and flasks,” he says of the latter. “But they had record section, and they’d sell a few of the Top Ten records.” 

The first album he bought with his own money was Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells A Story in 1971. “Two pounds and eleven pence,” he says. He pulls a second-hand copy out of the Sister Ray racks. “Four ninety-nine. Wow, with inflation that’s pretty good.” 

Things got serious when he discovered Revolution Records in Sheffield during the punk era. “The first record I ever bought there was Rattus Norvegicus by The Stranglers. It’s where I got all my under-the-counter stuff: [Sex Pistols bootleg] Spunk, the Clash live somewhere or other with Siouxsie Sioux on the cover before she became famous.” 

For all his catholic tastes, there have been a handful of guiding lights that have remained constant throughout Elliott’s career. Mott are one, David Bowie is another. The new Down‘n’Outz album features a tribute to the late singer, Goodbye Mr Jones. Elliott met Bowie several times over the years. The story behind the first time is a pearler, and comes with some champion-level name-dropping. 

“It was 1989, and I got an invitation to Bono’s place,” he says. “He was throwing a big barbecue and everyone who meant something in Ireland was there. [Director] John Huston, [actor] John Hurt… I get there, and Bono says: ‘I want to introduce you to somebody.’ So he takes me upstairs to this room with a snooker table, and Bowie’s sitting on the table. Bono goes: ‘I thought you might like five minutes.’ I’m like: ‘You could have fucking told me. What am I gonna say? How’s your mum, David?’” 

The pair hit it off, to the point where Elliott soon found himself crammed into a car with Bowie and the barbecue’s host. “Me, Bono and Bowie hijacked a Mini and drove to this restaurant where the Edge was having a meal cos it was his birthday. We pulled up, jumped out of the car, sang Happy Birthday to the Edge, jumped back in and drove back to Bono’s.”

Joe Elliott holding a copy of Sparks' Propaganda album

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

Earlier today, Elliott had mentioned the version of All The Young Dudes that Bowie recorded during the Aladdin Sane sessions. “He said: ‘I’ve never heard that since I did it.’ And I said: [disbelievingly] ‘What, you don’t have it? I’ve got it on a Japanese bootleg.’ And he goes: ‘Can you get me a copy?’ He was playing The Point in Dublin the next night, so I did a tape of it and gave it to him just before he went on stage. He went: “Thank you,” slipped it in his suit jacket pocket and went straight out on the stage.” 

This combination of fandom and fearlessness got the young Joe Elliott into places where less bolshy souls would fear to tread. He queued to get his copy of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers’ debut album signed after he saw them opening for Nils Lofgren in Sheffield in 1976. The following year he “broke into” the dressing room of the Doncaster Gaumont to meet Ian Hunter and his solo band. “‘Can I get your autographs?’ ‘Yeah, come on in.’” 

Not every encounter with one of his idols was so happy, though. 

Leppard had just released Pyromania when he bumped into Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott at Frank’s Funny Farm studio in West Sussex. “I said: ‘I’m Joe from Def Leppard. I wanted to say hi.’ And he said: ‘I know. I heard your album, and it’s the reason I’m splitting up the band.’” 

Elliott shakes his head. “What can you say? It’s the most backhanded compliment you can get. I wish I’d had the balls to slam him against a wall and go: ‘Well, you should just write a fucking better record. Don’t quit on us.’”

Joe Elliott with a copy of The Rolling Stones' Through The Past, Darkly

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

Contrary to the impression he gives, Elliott does listen to music made after 1980. “But not much,” he concedes. He’s heard the Greta Van Fleet album (“Once,” he says, non-commitally) but he loves The Struts and is a massive fan of Italian terrace-glam hooligans Giuda

“They crack me up,” he says. “Nobody does that any more. They’re doing what the Stray Cats were doing in the eighties – making this totally unfashionable music fashionable again.” 

While we’ve been talking, his random browsing strategy has brought us to the ‘T’ section. He pulls out a surprising choice: Marquee Moon, the genius 1977 album by New York punk visionaries Television. 

“I love the angularness of it,” he says. “They were supposed to be new wave, but there’s a song on here that’s eleven minutes long. They were kind of prog-punk.” 

Television aren’t the kind of thing you expect the singer from Def Leppard to be listening to. 

“What do you mean?” he booms, making the customers flicking through the reggae racks behind us twitch nervously. “It’s because people don’t fucking take any notice; they lob us into this category or that category. People go: ‘What do you actually listen to?’ I go: ‘I listen to The Stranglers, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and this [waving Marquee Moon], and they go: ‘[confused voice] What, you don’t listen to Saxon?’” 

Just how far off-piste does he go, then? Is he into psych-pop? 

“A bit of it. I’ve got the Nuggets box set, but I wouldn’t remember any of the names on it. [Todd Rundgren’s original band] The Nazz are awesome, though. A bloke who came to fix my telly once told me about them. I was a fan of Todd Rundgren, but I’d never heard of them. Open My Eyes is a brilliant song.” 


He pulls a face. “If there’s one thing I cannot stand, it’s rap. Not a fan. I don’t mind stuff like Run-DMC or Beastie Boys, but all this new stuff: ‘Bitch, ho, blah blah blah…’ Dude, just sing me a fucking melody.” 

Then Elliott drops his bombshell. 

“I listen to a lot of jazz. John Coltrane, Stan Getz. A ton of Miles Davis. It’s brilliant when I’m chilling out. It’s because there’s no lyrics. You can listen to it without having to judge. But it’s still a learning curve for me. I wouldn’t ever admit to being an expert.” 

Can we expect the next Leppard album to head off in a jazz direction? 

“Nooooooo,” he says empathically. “I like it, but I don’t want to actually have to do it.”

Joe Elliott ar Sister Ray Records with a copy of Mott The Hoople's debut album

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

All this is very interesting, but it’s seriously biting into our record-buying time. Elliott is on a tight schedule: he’s got to be at a radio interview shortly, then he heads to Heathrow to fly home to Ireland for 24 hours, then he’s off again to play a festival in Nashville with Leppard. And he hasn’t even thought about buying anything yet. 

Right Joe, you’ve got fifty quid to get through in five minutes. 

“Okay,” comes the reply. “Let’s do it.” And then he’s off like a Supermarket Sweep contestant. First stop: Killing Joke. “Love Like Blood is one of the greatest eighties singles of all time,” he says, magnificently. 

Next: the Stones, where he pulls out the 1969 compilation Through The Past, Darkly (“This was my introduction to them”) and Their Satanic Majesties Request (“A bit too out-there for me”). 

In short order, he then hits The Stranglers (“What? They don’t have Rattus Norvegicus? Disgraceful”), T.Rex (“My People Were Fair… Hang on. Forty quid? I can’t afford that”) and Sparks (“Genius band”). 

We meet at the top of the stairs five minutes later. He’s made his choice: Mott’s Wild Life (unsurprising), Propaganda by Sparks (ditto) and Miles Davis’s 1959 jazz landmark Kind Of Blue (absolutely no one would have put money on that). 

Of course, he doesn’t actually need any of them. “I’ve got loads of versions of all of ’em,” he says, thrusting the three LPs into my hands. “Here, you have them.” Then this glam rock spirit guide is off, striding down the streets of Soho to his next appointment. And after that? Well, there are still plenty more records to discover, plenty more reggae fans to terrify.

Checkout: What Joe spent Classic Rock’s £50 on

Joe Elliott at Sister Ray Records in London

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

Mott The Hoople - Wildlife
“The 180-gram vinyl reissues of Mott albums were the last one I actually bought – well, got sent by someone at Universal. I’ve got them all multiple times already. Wildlife is my desert island disc. Brilliant record, really underrated.”

Sparks - Propaganda
“If you’re going to go with Sparks, go with Kimono My House, Indiscreet and this. Proper arty, glammy genius.” 

Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue
“It’s my birth year album – it came out in 1959. That guy did with the trumpet what Eddie Van Halen did with the guitar in the late seventies – he revolutionised it. There’s a great Miles Davis album that’s just come out called Rubber Band, which was originally recorded in 1985. And there’s an album of his called Young Man With The Horn, which is the best title ever."

This feature originally appeared in Classic Rock 269, published in November 2019. The 40th Anniversary Edition of Def Leppard's Pyromania is released on April 26.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.