Thirteen years after becoming eligible, Def Leppard are nominated for the first time for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2019. Joining a stellar and diverse list of nominees that ranges from Roxy Music, the Cure and Kraftwerk to Radiohead, Rage Against The Machine and Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard can, as frontman Joe Elliott, add another notch to a resume that includes over 100 millions albums sold, two diamond albums (Pyromania and Hysteria) and a million concert tickets sold just on this recently completed tour with Journey.
Elliott fully credits the fans and the addition of a fan vote for finally getting Leppard their long overdue spot in this conversation. And for Elliott, as he explains in this very fun and fascinating conversation, that ranges from Roxy Music to discussing soccer with Robert Plant, the greatest thing about the Rock Hall honor to him would be sharing it with the Leppard fans.
Steve Baltin: What takes you to Hawaii?
Joe Elliott: We’ve been rehearsing for two days. After we finished this massive tour with Journey in the States we kind of hit the reset button and we’re starting here tonight. We’ve got two shows at the Blaisdell Arena, which is where Elvis did his Aloha From Hawaii comeback in ’73. We played here 35 years ago actually, but we’re doing the whole Hysteria album in sequence in the middle part of the show. So we’ve been here rehearsing for three days.
Baltin: So what one Elvis song from that special would you cover?
Elliott: I have no idea what he played. My Elvis is pre-army Elvis, before I was born. The stuff that I like of Elvis is the black and white Elvis if you like, “Jailhouse Rock.” But I am quite partial to “In The Ghetto,” that was a fantastic song. In fairness we were just in Memphis three months ago and we had a day off there so I did the honorable thing and we went to Graceland again, which has totally changed. I went there in ’83. Without Elvis there wouldn’t have been a plethora of other bands that were more of an influence on us. So we all think of him as the daddy of everything — with Jerry Lee [Lewis], Roy Orbison. They’re important, even if we don’t own a ton of their records we’re very aware of their value and it’s just interesting we’re here and there’s a big statue outside the venue and all that kind of stuff. It reminds you we’re a cog in a huge machine and it’s a good thing to be in.
Baltin: You’re part of a long lineage and in a few months you could be in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame with them.
Elliott: We weren’t looking for accolades when we got together as kids. We just wanted to be part of everything we grew up listening to. It was like, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could jump on this mad crazy train and have our own carriage?” The station we get on and get off at is kind of irrelevant as long as the ride is fun. And that’s what we’ve been doing for the better part of 40 years. And when you’ve been around this long you do tend to ricochet off different artists of your past and connect with them, whether it be [Pete] Townshend and [Roger] Daltrey last October, when we played with them in Brazil, to knowing Brian May from Queen for 35 years now. And there are a million others in between, It’s not like you feel like you belong, you just feel like you don’t not belong.
Baltin: Have you thought about the Rock Hall over the years you have been eligible?
Elliott: When we were made aware of that we kind of pushed it to one side and plowed on with our career cause the only thing we were really bothered about was making records, playing live, making more records, playing live more often in front of more people. That’s what we do. And then all of a sudden the fans get involved and then we become interested because it literally is about the important people in our lives, which is our audience. And even though, as we all know, the fan voting is one vote our of a thousand votes or whatever it’s the one vote the other 999 can’t help but take notice of because it’s all over the world. It’s in every magazine, on every website, every radio station.
Baltin: I know you are a big Roxy Music fan and it’d be fitting for you and Bryan Ferry to be inducted together. Is there anybody on this year’s list that would make it extra special for you to be inducted with if you get in?
Elliott: It’s funny you should mention that cause I said earlier we’ve been eligible for 13 years and it’s the first time we’ve been nominated. What I find astonishing is it’s the first time Roxy have been nominated and they’ve been eligible for 21. I find that absolutely bizarre because I suppose their argument is how influential were they. Say on a band like Duran Duran 100 percent. Between them and David Bowie’s Ziggy [Stardust] period they pretty much invented alien rock or whatever you want to call it. It was beyond glam. It wasn’t bricklayers in drag. They were actually punching the boundaries of music, especially when [Brian] Eno was on the first two records. The way things were you had this mad scientist with black feathers coming out of his back and this crooner guy dressed either as an army recruit or on his solo records as Frank Sinatra. It was a really bizarre image, but it was so striking and the music was so different. It was drum and bass, guitars, keyboards, but it didn’t sound like anybody else. Maybe this committee that I would imagine are 99 percent based in New York, or at least America, don’t really recognize the value of when “Virginia Plain” hit the airwaves in 1972. But the whole of Great Britain that was between the age of 12 and 16 stopped in their tracks and said, “What the f**k is that?” I don’t think they see that or are even aware that happened. T. Rex were huge.
Baltin: Have you thought about who would induct you?
Elliott: We haven’t even thought about it. You’re the first person who’s brought it up. It’s the first time I’ve actually thought about who we would have induct us because we’ve been nominated, we’re not in. If and when that thing comes in, whatever day you hear in December, that’s when we’ll sit down and go, “Alright, who do we hope we could get to do it.” Because at the end of the day we’ll put a wish list together and they might all say, “I can’t make it, I don’t want to do it” or, “I don’t think I’m appropriate, I don’t like doing that kind of thing, I’m nervous talking in front of people.” It’s gotta be a compromise I imagine. But I will say this much, I would take great pleasure in inducting Ian Hunter should he ever ask me to do it and he gets nominated and accepted because there’s one guy I do totally connect with. If he did get in I’m sure I’d be the first person he’d ask because we’ve now had a history and gone back since I first met him in ’77. But he didn’t know that because I burst into his dressing room as a 17-year-old kid to get his autograph and then I met him briefly in 1980. Then we got to know each other ’87 and ever since…I got onstage with Mott The Hoople when they reformed in 2014. I opened for them on the first tour, Ian’s been onstage with us. I’ve been onstage with him a million times. There’s a connection. I would do that. But I can’t see me getting the nod from Roxy. I genuinely hope they get in because I understand the respect factor of they could go, “Well done, guys, I love it when British bands do as well as you did, but it’s not my cup of tea.” I don’t have a problem with that at all because I can still sit down and talk to Phil Manzanera about coffee, Indian restaurants. I talk to people like Robert Plant all the time and we never discuss music, ever. It’s always soccer. So you can be on a different level with people that understand your success. They give you the thumb’s up and respect you, but they don’t have to be part of it.
Baltin: How do the soccer conversations with Robert Plant go?
Elliott: With Robert we talk soccer. We played the Garden in New York, he was playing the same night so we ended up talking the next day on his way to Toronto and all we discussed was soccer. That’s fine. I’m a realist when it comes to that. They always say, “Never meet your heroes.” That’s never been a problem for me because I don’t expect them to necessarily get what I do cause the kind of music Def Leppard makes doesn’t really have that much of a connection to a lot of the music I grew up listening to. It does to a point, You can hear little bits of other people’s stuff in our music. So much so that when we did the Yeah! album one of the reasons we did it was we actually wanted to show people where we mixed from. So when we did things like “He’s Gonna Step On You Again,” by John Kongos with the tribal drumming, it was a nod to the fact, “Yeah, I was listening to that kind of rhythm stuff when we came up with ‘Rocket.'” We cut “Street Life,” by Roxy Music on that record, because we were huge fans of the band and it was one of those songs we could Leppard-ize that. We could Leppard-ize David Essex, we kind of did a straight-forward cover of “Rock On.” We just wanted to show people where our musical influences laid. And they were Blondie and T. Rex and Bowie and Roxy Music cause we spent 25 years trying to tell the world we weren’t specifically influenced by Zeppelin, Sabbath and Deep Purple and all that kind of stuff. Everybody was trying to shove us in that thing. I said, “Look, they don’t listen when we talk, they’re gonna listen when we sing and dance.” So we recorded songs instead of doing interviews. “These are our influences.” So Roxy Music are part of that, but I’ve got a feeling they’ll probably get someone like Loudon Wainwright to do it (laughs).
Baltin: What bands in the Rock Hall already would you want to do a package tour with a la the Heart, Cheap Trick and Joan Jett “All For The Hall” tour?
Elliott: You name me any bands that we haven’t already toured with. We’ve toured with Journey, with Cheap Trick, with Joan Jett, with Poison, Heart, Foreigner. The last time we went out with a band that weren’t like minded, if you like, was Tripping Daisy in 1996. Trust me, it didn’t work. Lovely guys, very interesting band, but our audience went, “What?” There aren’t that many left.
Baltin: Have you ever done a full tour with Aerosmith?
Elliott: We’ve done festivals with Aerosmith, we’ve done a tour with KISS. Aerosmith would be great, we love Aerosmith. There’s enormous mutual respect from us to them and vice versa. So that’s one band where we get their music. Aerosmith are fantastic, they really are. They’re America’s band. They’ve been through, everybody up and down anything anybody could ever go through or should ever go through and somehow managed to survive it and it’s the original five piece, give or take a few years with Jimmy Crespo, they’ve been the same guys since 1969 or something. That’s kind of mental, it’s really crazy. And you’ve got to have a respect for anybody who hangs in like that, whether it be somebody a generation or two later like U2, Duran Duran to a point, Iron Maiden are all basically the classic lineup to the best of their ability.
Baltin: Are there moments that you can look at as having brought you to the brink of the Rock Hall?
Elliott: When we went out with Poison and Cheap Trick in 2009 that tour was huge. It was one of the tours I can look back at and go it’s part of the trampoline effect of where we’ve arrived at. We’ve had our wilderness years, don’t get me wrong. But even then we were still selling out 10 to 12,000 seaters. But when we went out with Cheap Trick and Poison and a year later I think we went out with Heart we were doing up to 20,000 people because they’re events. And we love being part of event. You’ve got to remember when we were kids growing up and looking at the adverts on the back of Melody Maker or whatever there were so many gigs where it was the Who with special guest Steve Marriott and the Moog. It wasn’t just special guests or plus support, they were like mini-Woodstock’s. And since day one, when we went out in the States we were the special guests for Pat Travers, Judas Priest and Ted Nugent. When we went out in ’83 we had Uriah Heap and had Krokus. Then in ’88 we had Tesla and L.A. Guns in Europe. We’ve never shied away from a band that is visible. We don’t see them as a threat, we see them as an addition. It’s just a better ticket.