Today was a sad day in music history because, on January 8th, 1991 (exactly 29 years ago), Stephen Maynard Clark of Def Leppard died of alcohol poisoning. He was born on April 23rd, 1960, and lost his life way too soon, when he was only 30 years old. Steve was a brilliant musician, songwriter, and human being. I heard he auditioned for the band by playing the whole Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” and if that doesn’t say anything, I don’t know what will! So, I wanted to take the time to dedicate him and recognize his accomplishments during his time with Def Leppard.
One story that comes to mind is how the song “Wasted” (1980) came about. Steve was on the bus to meet the guys and came up with this riff for a new song. Not only did he have the riff, but he also had the chords, the bridge, and everything. The funny thing is, Steve didn’t say anything when entering the room. He just ran up the stairs, grabbed his guitar, and played the riff before he forgot it! Like Rick Savage described it, “fucking brilliant!!” Steve was the initiator and secret weapon (as I like to call it) in Def Leppard because he hardly came up with full songs, but he came up with these awesome guitar riffs and ways to get things started!
Another story that stood out to me is how Steve came up with the opening riff for “Photograph” (1983). There was a bit of struggle putting the song together. While Def Leppard was watching the World Cup in 1982, Steve went into the other room to work. During a break in the game, the guys heard a monstrous sound in the other room. When they walked into the room, Steve looked at them and said, “I fixed it.” They discovered that he came up with this sick riff that opens up one of Def Leppard’s biggest hits that helped break them in the states even more (after “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”).
Steve wrote the song “Switch 625” (1981) from Def Leppard’s High ‘N’ Dry album. At first, I didn’t want to give this song a chance because I am not a big fan of instrumentals. However, about a month after I got into Def Leppard’s music, I decided to give it a listen, and I ended up liking it! It’s a classic at Def Leppard concerts, and it’s a song where every instrument gets to shine. Also, that one video of Steve playing “Switch 625” with Def Leppard on the Pyromania tour in Melun, France, all the members had the flu at the time, but they played the song with justice!
“Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” is another crowd favorite at Def Leppard concerts, and Steve has mentioned that he plays one of his favorite solos during that song. On the Hysteria tour, however, he and Phil played a unique arrangement to that song. Phil would play his acoustic guitar, and Steve had his 18-string Gibson razor. It was a fascinating and beautiful way of playing “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak.” What’s hard about watching videos of it now is when Joe says, “I think this is the way it shall be from now until eternity!”
“Armageddon It” is one of my favorite Def Leppard songs ever! So, when Steve died, I knew the song was not going to be the same without him. I saw videos of the band playing it without Steve, and it was not bad. Instead of saying, “C’mon Steve, get it,” Joe now says, “C’mon boys.” Still, I love to rewatch the live performance in 1988 of Def Leppard performing this song on In the Round In Your Face because Steve looked happy during that performance.
Steve helped come up with the song “Tear It Down,” and it became such a big hit that the guys decided to perform it on some of the Hysteria tour dates. I love “Tear It Down,” and it’s one of my personal favorites in Def Leppard’s catalog. What hurts the most is that when they performed the song on the MTV Music Video Awards in September 1989, it was unknown to the world that it would be Steve’s last performance with the band!
What I loved about Steve as a guitar player was that he had a different way of playing. While Phil was more polished and clean, Steve was messy and eclectic. Steve was trained in classical guitars and knew how to read and write music, whereas Phil was self-taught and developed his skills from studying Al Di Meola and listening to jazz players. Steve was also inspired and influenced by Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin! Both Phil and Steve had different approaches, but that’s what made them work as a guitar duo because they could trade between parts, whether it was rhythm or lead guitar, maybe both were rhythm for the same song, etc.
Personality-wise Steve was the heart of the band. Onstage, he was this amazing rockstar that guitar hopefuls admired, while offstage, he was this shy and sweet guy that believed in Def Leppard’s success. There was this one interview in Japan where Steve brought up how it’s good that the band listens to all different types of music and artists because it helps define Def Leppard’s sound since Def Leppard doesn’t sound like one thing! When you hear a song on the radio, you can instantly tell it’s Def Leppard! Steve was a guy that loved his band and wanted to make music, have fun, make people smile, and also believe in himself, which he struggled with at times!
I still love Def Leppard with all my heart, and I am happy for how far they’ve come since Steve’s passing. As of right now, I want everyone to know how precious Steve Clark was and that the world will never be the same without him! Rest in peace, White Lightning!
What was your favorite moment of Steve Clark? Either in an interview, at a concert, or in a Def Leppard TV appearance. Let me know in the comments below!
Take care and see ya real soon!