Sheer determination, willpower, enthusiasm and the women’s section at Topshop circa 1977 – these are the ingredients that made Joe Elliott the man he is today.
Born in Sheffield in 1959, he’s spent the last 37 years fronting British rockers Def Leppard. More recently he’s invested in his long-held affection for Mott The Hoople with his covers band Down ’N’ Outz, now on their second album. He’s also saved every item of Def Leppard history, sworn off the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as “faceless cretins”, and become a dad.
What were you like at school?
Not a swot! I was off with the fairies all the time. It’ll probably sound arrogant, but even as a twelve/thirteen/fourteen-year-old kid, I knew I could read, write and add up, and I figured that’s mostly all you need in life to get by. The only class I dug at school was art. When everyone else was drawing bowls of fruit, I was drawing band posters, and I started making names up – that’s where the name Def Leppard originally came from.
Is it really grim up north?
At times of the year it’s grim everywhere. I’ve been in California and it’s grim up north. You go to Seattle and it rains nine months a year – it looks like Scunthorpe.
You’ve said before that you’re the Def Leppard ‘archiver’. What’s the best souvenir you’ve acquired over the years?
I’ve got laminates and backstage passes from every tour. I’ve got itineraries. I’ve got the diary I used to keep back in ’78. I’ve had all my old press bound, and it’s come up with me from the first contract we signed, to the bill for the first album, and the breakdown of how much we spent – including replacing the kettle which we broke because we used it as a cowbell on It Don’t Matter.
Where do you keep it all?
In my shed. A man has to have a shed. My shed’s not full of spades and plant pots, it’s full of Marshall amps, old drum kits, synthesizers, posters and all that kind of stuff. It’s the most rock’n’roll shed in the world.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about you?
Well, I am highly opinionated, and a lot of people take it the wrong way because sometimes in print the humour doesn’t come across. So people think I’m slagging someone off when I’m messing with them, really. It’s just a deflective humour trait of mine, I suppose. And because I care so much about what I do, people think I’m very defensive. And I’m not. I just stand up for us.
What can Joe Elliott do that nobody else can?
Fuck up on a regular basis and get away with it? Nothing. Whatever I’ve done, anybody could have done. And I think that’s the beauty of Def Leppard: everybody in this band is very capable, but I wouldn’t say we’re the best musicians on the planet. But as a team, it’s a pretty unbeatable machine.
What advice will you give your son as he grows up?
Do whatever you want to do. My parents came from a suit-and-tie background, but when Bowie and T.Rex came along, they encouraged me to get involved. My mum bought a guitar and taught herself to play Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. I’d sit and watch her fingers and just be enthralled, and got her to teach me to play. Dad said: “Learn to play guitar and you can have your own one.” You had to work for this stuff. I did four paper rounds so I could afford to buy an album every week, and I spent all my dinner money on records
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Leppard have toured with Kiss. Have you ever felt the urge to layer on the slap as much as they do?
Oh yeah. Well, not as much as Kiss. When you started out as a kid in 1977/’78 in Sheffield, there was Burton and Topshop. And Topshop didn’t really sell much boys’ stuff. You see our first appearance on Top Of The Pops, and I think I’m wearing blue spandex and a red-and-white shirt from the women’s section at Topshop. We grew up with people like Bowie, Marc Bolan, [clown-faced Sensational Alex Harvey Band guitarist] Zal Cleminson… Those were the guys that fascinated us because they took it to the next extreme. We were a bit shy to do that – and a bit too northern, maybe.
What’s the best drug you’ve ever taken?
I did an E once with Ricky Warwick [Black Star Riders]. I’d never done it. We were stood on a dancefloor in Dublin, waiting for it to kick in, and what seemed like twenty minutes later I said: “I don’t feel anything… she’s good-looking, beautiful women here… still don’t feel anything though. What time is it?” “Five-thirty in the morning.” We took it at, like, 9.30pm! Eight hours in the same place, just looking at these girls, going: “Ooh she’s good-looking, isn’t she?” So that was fun.
Do you believe in God?
I believe in a higher power. I don’t believe in the white-bearded man on a cloud, wearing sandals. I think there’s a higher power, and everybody’s entitled to reach that in any way, shape or form they want;a human form if you like, or it can be a gassy entity that’s invisible, or not… Just a presence. But the whole Bible thing I just find a bit weird.
What will your last words be?
“Did we finish the album?!” But no, I’d want to make sure my family are safe and well looked after, and that whatever’s there doesn’t get taken by the tax man.