Joe Elliott:
The TVD Interview

Joe Elliott is one of the most recognizable and accomplished artists on the planet. As the voice of Def Leppard he’s led the band through triumph and tragedy to become one of the most successful rock bands of all time. Elliott moonlights in a side project called Down ‘n’ Outz where he shares his passion for Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople alongside fellow musicians from the London Quireboys and Raw Glory.

The band was formed to open for Mott the Hoople on the last night of the ensemble’s tour at London’s Hammersmith Apollo in 2009 . After a successful debut album called My Regeneration, Down ‘n’ Outz return with their follow-up, The Further Adventures of…

I was fortunate enough to get some time with Elliott on the phone last week to chat about the new Down ‘n’ Outz record, the upcoming tour with KISS, and some fun moments from Def Leppard’s incredible legacy.

I’m a huge fan of Mott the Hoople and I love all of the songs on the new release. How did you go about choosing the songs for this specific record?

It’s pretty easy really. I couldn’t do Hoople songs on the first Down ‘n’ Outz album because it was a case where we recorded the songs that we played live when we opened for Mott. I wasn’t going to play Hoople songs only though—I thought that would be disrespectful and quite ridiculous. On this album, I could go anywhere I wanted. If I was creating a playlist or some “desert island disc” situation, these are pretty much at the top of the list. So, it wasn’t that difficult having lived with these songs for the best part of 40 to 45 years—they prioritize themselves in your mind.

I mean there isn’t really a bad song in the whole catalogue in my eyes anyway, but certain songs…they are just inappropriate and I wasn’t going to go with the obvious things like “All the Young Dudes” and you know, “All the Way from Memphis.” I wanted to dig a little deeper and shine a brand new light on some lost gems.

Why do you think the Mott or Ian’s solo stuff wasn’t bigger in the States?

The usual thing, the songs were always good, the production was always right, but most of the time when an artist doesn’t really break huge they have some form of bad luck—which is any combination of management, record company staff… I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve read about an artist who gets signed to a major label by a big fanatic and by the time they get the first album recorded, that person has either quit or being fired.

So, when the record is delivered, the champion of that record is no longer there, so the record gets buried or unreleased.  It happens to loads of people who aren’t in a luxurious position like us or any other major artist. So I would imagine it was probably a combination of that—it wasn’t due to hard work. Those guys worked, they toured, they went everywhere they were due to go. They played well, the songs were there…

So, if all that were the right ingredients, then the little bits to take it to the next stage—it’s literally the business, so most likely the record company politics, management decision, that kind of thing that probably held them back.

In regard to the upcoming tour with KISS, have you crossed paths with Gene and Paul in the past?

Socially, yeah, loads of times. I went to see the Stones with Paul at the Wiltern Theatre in LA about 10-12 years ago.  I toured with Gene Simmons about three years ago in a side project called the Rock ‘N’ Roll Allstars. It was myself and him, three guys from Guns ‘N’ Roses, Steve Stevens from Billy Idol’s band, Billy Duffy from the Cult, Sebastian Bach, and Mike Inez from Alice in Chains.

We just jumped in and out of each other’s songs, you know, three or four songs each, two-hour set, had fun, traveled together on the plane. Did a lot of talking—me and Gene did a LOT of talking and did a lot of, “have you ever heard this?” playing each other obscure English songs. The conversation just gets around to—why have we never toured before?

I’m assuming you guys weren’t flying commercial. Does Gene have his own KISS plane?

No, we actually had a Rock ‘N’ Roll Allstars private plane, yes and we had—I mean he was hilarious. The stories were the best thing about that tour. To get up on stage and have Duff McKagan playing bass on “Sugar,” and Panama was surreal and just a lot of fun. I mean you are talking about—the people on that tour probably sold a billion records between us, and being around for such a long time. The stories were just hilarious, all the experiences that had a common thread, their stories, our stories, you know—all that been there/done that kind of thing, and the humor was just phenomenal.

So, had you seen KISS without their makeup before they did the big reveal?

I never saw them without their makeup until they took it off in the ’80s.

Do you remember where you were the day that they revealed themselves on MTV—were you watching?

No, I would have been somewhere in Europe doing something else. I don’t live in the States so it wouldn’t have been something that made a massive impact in Europe, and when it did it would have been in a weekly magazine, probably six days after it happened. By that time, word has gotten around. I’ve seen the old photograph of them in the street where somebody had been following them around a bit to figure out who they were. It wasn’t that big a surprise really. I had seen them kind of socially on occasions, so I knew—at least knew what Gene and Paul looked like.

With the massive success of Pyromania and Hysteria selling 10 million copies and receiving the diamond award, what does the RIAA actually present to you?

Yeah, It’s the Diamond Award and it’s about a 12-inch high, it looks like a monument with a kind of supposed diamond—well, it’s supposed to represent a diamond, it’s just cut glass. Then there’s the monument part which is around three inches wide at the base and gets slightly more narrow until it’s about an inch at the top. The diamond sits on the top—well, it does until your kid knocks it off and smashes it, and it comes with a huge plaque on the bottom of it saying, you know, congratulations for selling 10 million records.

Do you think that, in this day and age, any artist will ever achieve that again?

I think Lady Gaga may have done it or is about to—one of her records will go past 10 million.  I think Taylor Swift might as well, but the fact is that when they celebrated the diamond award, when they gave it for the first time back in 1999-2000, they had one big ceremony in New York. There were I think maybe 100, I am not sure, but that’s how few people have sold 10 million records in the history of the music industry.

We all know that record sales fell off in the millions. Now it’s not going to happen at the same rate, if they have another one of these for 10 million sales in 20 years time for whoever has done it since we received ours, they’ll be able to do it in a café.

Is the Down ‘n’ Outz going to be released on vinyl?

No, it’s purely on CD and download because it’s a self-financed kind of side project, I didn’t really have the infrastructure or the time to start planning on it. I had to get this record out now or it would have never got released at all. I think maybe one day I am going to do a special package of the two albums on like quadruple vinyl or something like that, a limited edition, a couple of hundred copies signed by the band.

Do you have any prized vinyl records at home?

I do, I’ve got some phenomenal vinyl, but I don’t play it much. I keep a lot of vinyl because they were either the first record I ever owned or it was a present from my father in the 1970s. I’ve also got autographed copies of those things, but I don’t listen to vinyl too much because I’m always listening to music on the go, on an airplane or somewhere. I did put on Slang because it was the first time I’d ever put on a 180 gram vinyl to see what it sounded like, and it sounded fantastic, but it crackles a lot. Those crackles drive me crazy.

Do you remember your first record? What was the first record you ever bought?

The first record I ever bought from an artist was Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart in 1972. The first record ever technically was a compilation put out by Howard Records called Elpea, on the front cover was just a huge P and it was a double album. It had all the artists who had records out at the time, like Free, ELP, Mott the Hoople, Nick Drake, etc., and for 1 pound 99 you got like 20 tracks. So it was a bargain, and as a kid who did not have much money, that’s what I went for.

Now, the first record I ever owned was Electric Warrior by T. Rex. I still have that on vinyl, the actual original.

Where’s the most unusual place that you’ve heard your music?

I don’t know really, there’s nothing unusual about hearing “Sugar” in a strip club—it’s like that just goes in that vein—every strip club in the world plays “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” I remember hearing a really weird version of either “Animal” or “Armageddon” in a Mexican restaurant once and it was performed by a mariachi band.

Ever had an actual Spinal Tap moment on tour?

Of course—every day, every day. Getting lost under the stage, the tour is wrong, you know, everything. I stopped worrying about it once I read that Tom Waits watched it and it made him cry, and that’s Tom Waits, you know. So yeah, I don’t think there are many bands who have never had a Spinal Tap moment. That’s what Spinal Tap is—it sums up what rock ‘n’ roll was all about…just stomping over the finish line, and the finish line being getting on stage, everything else is just getting there.

In the epic battle of The Clash vs. The Sex Pistols, who do you prefer and why?

Good question. I like the Pistols more because I think their one record is better than any of The Clash albums. I think it is more consistent. The Clash did have some phenomenal songs and I love the first Clash record, but as an album it doesn’t sound as good as the Pistols.

Of course the Pistols were produced by Bill Price and The Clash album was produced by some engineer they never met. Having said that, “London Calling,” “Rock the Casbah,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go”—fantastic songs and London Calling is a great record, but very patchy. There are some patchy things on it. I tried listening to—I mean there’s many times I really struggle with it. The only Clash record that I like consistently is the first one, which didn’t even get released in the States at the time, but when compared to the Pistols’ record, I prefer the Pistols.

The Down ‘n’ Outz record was released on the Bludgeon Riffola label which was also the label for the very first Def Leppard EP, right?

The name Bludgeon Riffola came about when we did a gig before we got signed and it was reviewed by some local or national paper critic. He just tore us to shreds and said we sounded like “bludgeon riffola.” We just laughed at it saying, well it sounds like Italian food or something, and we turned the negative into a positive when we made our first Def Leppard EP, we said we are going to make our own label like Purple Hat, Swan Song, and etcetera.

So, we chose that phrase Bludgeon Riffola because it was funny, and lo and behold, by the time we were releasing albums somewhere…I think even Hysteria even came out with Bludgeon Riffola. We actually acquired the use of the name via Universal Records—we retained the name. So, the Down ‘n’ Outz second album is the first ever non-Def Leppard release on Bludgeon Riffola records. That’s where that came from…

Def Leppard is touring with KISS this Summer for what is sure to be one of the best rock tours of all time. Down ‘n’ Outz’s The Further Adventures of… is available now.

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PHOTO: MARYANNE BILHAM

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  • Rick

    Joe is a special kind of musician, at least in my book. I always had a good vibe when it came to him. Can’t wait to see Def Leppard on tour this year, just got my tickets here.

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