Def Leppard’s Stephen Maynard Clark was born on April 23, 1960, in Sheffield, England. He would’ve been 60 years old today. Fans everywhere miss him dearly, and his legacy lives on as Def Leppard continues to pay tribute to him at concerts and through the songs released during his time with the band. Like the title says, Steve Clark may be gone, but never forgotten! Instead of mourning over the loss of this legend, let’s look at today as a celebration of Clark, remembering his accomplishments and looking back on the memories we have of him.
Clark became fascinated with music at an early age; his father bought him his first guitar at age 11, with the condition that he learn to play it. He was a big fan of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, who heavily influenced his musical style. Clark joined Def Leppard in January 1978, a year after the band’s formation. It still amazes me that he managed to play all of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” on his own, just like that! He earned the nickname “The Riffmaster” for his playing ability and writing the most brilliant guitar riffs in rock history!
After Pete Willis got fired from Def Leppard in 1982, Phil Collen joined the group; Clark and Collen became best friends. They were known as the “Terror Twins” for their drunken antics and close friendship. Collen quit drinking in the late 80s, and unfortunately, Clark never escaped his addictions.
Despite that, they had some pretty funny moments together, I’ll admit; I’ve seen footage and photos to prove it. Once for some odd reason, Clark and Collen were wearing Scottish kilts on the final show of the Monsters of Rock tour in Mannheim, West Germany, in 1986. Not the whole show, just the encore. The funny thing is, they didn’t tell anyone they were planning to do it. Only Peter Mensch, Def Leppard’s co-manager at the time, knew about it, and according to an article posted by Def Leppard UK, Joe Elliott couldn’t finish the song because he was dying of laughter!
Another funny memory I have of the “terror twins” is during a performance on a Japanese TV show called Just Pop It, in 1988, Clark and Collen shared a kiss on screen, just for fun! I rewound it at least five times on YouTube because it was so cute and so them if that makes sense.
Clark hardly spoke during interviews. But on stage, he lit up immediately with his stage presence and impeccable playing. As you can tell by his antics with Collen, Clark loved making people laugh and putting a smile on their faces.
I remember this one video of him that I love, and it’s from an interview done in Japan on Pure Rock in 1987. When asked about what advice he’d give young guitarists, Clark jokingly said, “Learn to play drums!” Haha! One of my favorite moments of Clark took place during the behind-the-scenes footage from the Hysteria tour; out of the ordinary, he put on a chef’s hat and apron and started messing around on the guitar. You could tell it was hilarious because Elliott was laughing in the background.
In terms of music and performance-wise, my favorite riff Clark played was the solo in “Billy’s Got A Gun.” If you haven’t watched Def Leppard’s full performance on Rockpop In Concert (1983), I highly recommend you do so because Clark was on fire throughout the whole thing. He had a unique way of playing and always wore his guitar too low. He’d jump on stage, lift his guitar in the air like a rock god, he’d play on the floor and always had to be doing something because he could never stay still during performances.
As mentioned before, Clark wrote some of the best riffs in rock history and Def Leppard’s catalog overall. Think about “Wasted,” “Photograph,” “Rock Rock Till You Drop,” “Rock of Ages,” “Hysteria,” and the list goes on and on and on. Though not included in the final version of the track, Clark did this monstrous solo on “When Love & Hate Collide,” which was his last recorded guitar solo ever!
I always think about what Clark would’ve been like if he were still alive today. Would he have kept his hair long, would he have liked Disneyland, would he have enjoyed roller coasters, how would Clark have felt about Slang (1996), and what would’ve happened if he became a father, etc.?
In a way, Clark made me a better person. I’ve decided to take more risks in life and not be afraid to go after my dreams. I also gave up drinking because of him, which I never thought I’d do. But most importantly, he taught me to never judge people by what’s on the outside. There was more to Steve Clark than just drugs and rock ‘n’ roll; that goes for everyone in the music business.
I wish I had the chance to meet him, but I’ll always keep Steve Clark in my heart, especially on this day. I hope you’re doing better up there, White Lightning, rock on, and see ya real soon!
Don’t forget to blast your favorite Def Leppard song today in memory of him!