The Spirit, Talent & Compassion of Def Leppard's
"I probably wouldn't have bought that Corvette! Besides that, I don't think I'd do anything differently. I've really been blessed in this life. I get to make music with four of my brothers and tour the world, then come home to my amazing family. So, looking back, maybe I should have bought a 4 cylinder. LOL." ~RA
When Rick Allen was 14, his mom replied on his behalf to an advertisement titled, "Leppard Loses Skins," to replace their former drummer. On his 15th birthday Rick joined the band. As fandom grew, he dropped out of school and by his 16th birthday, Def Leppard opened for AC/DC at the Hammersmith Odeon.
In the1980's Disco was on its way out and Glam Rock, aka "Hair Bands" ruled the airwaves. Bands like Poison, Motley Crue, Ratt, Skid Row, Slaughter, Danger Danger all subscribed to spandex and leather clothing, lots of makeup, and blonde hair sprayed thick with Aqua Net. The industry created an 80's rock star caricature, and bands sported the look.
Then came Def Leppard, a long-haired British band in jeans and cut -up shirts, no makeup, playing pivotal, kick butt Rock songs. A new wave of British Heavy Metal had arrived in the U.S. What they lacked in glam they made up for with strong, pulsating Arena Rock, solid musicianship, and harmonized vocals. Their albums were produced by the legendary Mutt Lange, and the songs were catchy without the wild guitar solos of the time. When they hit the U.S., you couldn't put on MTV without hearing "Photograph" or "Rock of Ages." A new "Beatlemania" was happening.
Not long after their rapid success, tragedy struck the band. At the height of worldwide fame, on December 31st in 1984, Rick had a life-changing car accident in his Corvette and lost his left arm. His bandmates never gave up on him. While recovering in the hospital, Rick drew up plans for a special drum kit that would allow him to continue to play the drums at a very high level. He turned personal tragedy into spiritual transformation and continued his musical career. While he was already a hero to millions of young people, he soon added many more new admirers. In 1986, Rick made his comeback at the Monster of Rock festival with an electronic Simmons drum kit.
The band went on to make their hit album Hysteria in 1987, which topped worldwide charts and sold over 25 million copies. Songs like "Love Bites," "Pour Some Sugar on Me," and "Hysteria," hit the top of the charts, and Rick didn't miss a beat. In 1992, Steve Clark, the lead guitarist of the band, died from alcohol poisoning. Def Leppard stayed together and fought through their tragedies, continuing to sell out arenas around the globe. Post Steve Clark, their album Adrenalize reached number one across the world.
Since then, Rick has been supportive internationally, sharing his personal experiences and love of drumming. Over the past 13 years he has given support to teenage cancer patients, children with special needs, at-risk youths, families of domestic violence, and veterans who have served in Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was awarded the Humanitarian Award by Maria Shriver’s Best Buddies of CA in 2002 and in 2012, was also awarded the prestigious Wounded Warrior Project’s Carry It Forward Award. Rick continues aiding wounded warriors through Project Resiliency’s Warrior Resiliency Program. He also lends charity via The Raven Drum Foundation founded by himself and his wife, Lauren Monroe. Their mission is to support people in crisis using the power of drumming as an alternative healing modality.
In 2012 Rick debuted is first collection of light art (mixed media art and paint on canvas) through Wentworth Galleries on the East Coast. His works have received rave reviews. In 2019, Rick and his bandmates of Def Leppard, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He continues to tour worldwide and inspire millions with his passion for music. In 2021, while Def Leppard has been on a "pandemic hiatus," Rick has painted a series of original works of some of his musical heroes, along with other images close to his heart.
By: Kreig Marks, May 10, 2021
KM: Hi, Rick! Welcome to Tru Rock Revival Magazine. How are you doing?
RA: I’m doing great, Kreig. How about you? How's that weather in South Florida? Hope not too hot. Or, hope it's not too hot in a week when I'm there. As I'm sure you've seen from my complexion, I don't do well in the sun! LOL (Rick will be in town on May 20th through the 22nd to make a few appearances at Wentworth Galleries to show his artwork).
KM: I hear you. Just put on that sunscreen and a hat and stay in the shade.
RA: You're not kidding. Several years ago, I actually lived in Tampa for a few years. The sun was not my best friend, although I did love the weather in Florida. I’ll be at the Hard Rock one day, Las Olas, and then in Boca. Should be a lot of fun. Come on out. I'll have you get in touch with the gallery manager and we'll have to hang out either before or afterward.
KM: Abbe and I will do that, looking forward to it. I really want to talk about your art but I’ve gotta talk to you at least a little bit about Def Leppard.
RA: Ask away. I’m an open book.
KM: Rick, you’ve been doing the Rock 'n Roll thing since you were a kid. What was it like being a 15-16 year old kid when Def Leppard Mania was taking over the world? I guess you were 16 when things really took off for the band.
RA: Yeah. I was 15 when I first joined the guys, and was 16 on our first big tour.
KM: Being the youngest in the band, who was keeping an eye on you? Did you have tutors? At least initially, I assume you were still going to school.
RA: Yeah, I had people looking out for me and I had some tutors, but that was really only for about a year or so until I was done with school. Then, it was really all business and growing up in this business.
KM: What was the toughest thing about being the youngest guy in the band?
RA: Hmm. Well, besides from the obvious, being underage and not being able to do some of the things the older guys could do. You know, honestly, there really wasn't anything "tough" to deal with, other than the practical jokes and that sort of stuff. It was a great time, still is.
KM: What kind of practical jokes? Who got you?
RA: LOL. Oh man, Steve was brutal! (Steve was Steve Clark, the original lead guitarist and principal songwriter for the band. He died in 1991 from acute alcohol poisoning).
KM: Give me a Steve story.
RA: The rest of the guys in the band liked to ride in golf carts to and from the stage. I don't, and never have. I get claustrophobic. So, I walk. But, sometimes it gets crazy because I'm walking along and I get recognized, so I try to do this incognito thing. So there I was, getting ready to head to the stage, and so I put on a wig and hat, and a jacket. As I'm walking along there came Steve. "Hey Rick, looking good man, see you in a few." He gave me a big pat on the back. I kept walking and, right when I got close to the stage, some guy comes running up and says, "You're Rick Allen, the drummer!" I was perplexed, how did this guy figure it out? Anyway, when Steve walked away and patted me on the back, he had stuck a sign on my back that read, "I'm Rick Allen!" LOL!
KM: LOL! Yeah, once you said he patted you on the back, I knew where this was going.
RA: That was Steve.
KM: Every die-hard fan of Def Leppard knows the band’s history with a lot of success and unfortunate tragedies. Steve Clark’s death, your car accident, and most recently, Vivian’s battle with Hodgkin's. How do all of you find the strength after everything, to keep focused in life, especially when you're in the public eye and you don't always get the privacy to deal with these things. Were there times when you all just wanted to throw in the towel?
RA: That's a good question. Yeah. After my car accident and losing my arm, I was ready to throw in the towel. It wasn't bad enough just losing the arm once, but twice. After I had it surgical reattached, things were looking optimistic. Then, a terrible infection in the arm happened and it was spreading so the only solution to save my life, was to remove the arm. That was devastating to go through it twice. But, during my recovery in the hospital, I started thinking about my life, my future, and I was not ready to give up anything, especially my drumming. That's where the idea and design of my current kit came about. So, yeah, I was ready to give up, but somehow I dug deep and moved ahead.
KM: Do you ever haven any phantom pain from your injury?
RA: Not anymore. I've learned some ways to manage it, and my wife has helped a lot, too. Meditation really helped a lot.
KM: And then Steve's death.
RA: Yeah, a few years later, Steve died. That was devastating to all of us, too. It was horrible. I think we we were all at a crossroads and really didn't know if we could or should go on as a band. You know, it's never easy. Steve's death was really hard on all of us. He was our brother. There was no joy with us anymore at that point. Our best friend had just died. Remarkably, we all decided to go on. We believed that Steve would want us to move forward. We were just sad that he wasn't there for the ride.
KM: Did you guys feel helpless, watching him fall apart?
RA: Yeah, we all did. It was so hard to watch him. We tried to get him some help. But, at the end of the day, if someone doesn't want the help, no matter how much you do or want to do, all you can really do is pray that they turn it around, I suppose.
KM: Any regrets to this day about Steve's death?
RA: You know, you'll always have those thoughts, "Was there something that we missed? Was there more we could have done?" But, in the end, I don't think there's anything any of us could have done, anything more than we did. At least he's been at peace for all these years. But, I still think about him often and really miss him. I don't think there's a day I don't think about him.
KM: I’m pretty sure I know the most traumatic time in your life. So now, tell me about the most satisfying time in your life?
RA: Uh, I think coming back after my accident was very satisfying, and being accepted and getting so much support. People were very receptive and supportive, and doing this now in such a unique way.
KM: What scared you the most back then after the injury?
RA: I was just very self-conscious, afraid of what people would think, afraid of rejection. What really helped was to stop comparing myself to how I used to be, and to stop comparing myself to others, and truly embrace how unique it was that I could actually play this way. Then it became a blessing.
KM: You're really an inspiration to so many people on a broad scale. And now, you're an artist, too. Man, you're really a talented artist.
RA: Thank you.
KM: You’ve been into painting since you were a kid?
RA: Yeah, and then I picked up photography, which I still do today. Then, 10 years ago when my daughter was born, shortly after she could get around and start drawing, we did that together, which inspired me to start painting again. I'm not formally trained, but I have a few cool techniques I use. I really enjoy it. It keeps me in the moment. And, during this time of COVID, we're not out on the road or playing music as much, so the artwork has become a real blessing.
KM: You've got a real talent.
RA: Oh man, thank you. I appreciate that.
KM: You mentioned that each piece of your artwork tells a story about a different time in your life. Tell me more about that.
RA: Well, it started out with the telephone boxes, which represented shelter and communication and being around my friends, especially being out there on a freezing Winter's day, when we're freezing our asses off, we'd be out there and up to no good, but at least we had a place to go. LOL. Every piece, the Union Jack flags, the telephone boxes, all the legends that inspired me growing up, I probably wouldn't have become a musician without some of the incredible musicians I've painted over the years, like Steve Clark, Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix changed the face of how guitar was played forever, and then when Eddie Van Halen came along, he changed it more, he moved the goal posts further. There's John Lennon, Janice Joplin. They all had some type of positive influence on my musical career.
KM: I’ve looked over all of your paintings on your website. Two of my favorites are the girl on the swing looking up at the half moon. The other is the Route 66 sign. The girl on the swing reminds me of my daughter. And, the Route 66, I love that because during the pandemic, my wife and I and our 8 year old twins took a trip out to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, a bucket list vacation for all of us.
RA: That's so cool.
KM: We were able to see the sunrise at the Grand Canyon.
RA: Really? That's very cool.
KM: It was amazing. Then, during our travels, we got to see the real Route 66 and it was such a thrill for us.
RA: That was actually the first and the last painting I did. I love it. It's so iconic. The whole idea of Route 66, it was such a beautiful time in America when people were driving along Route 66.
KM: Yeah, along with many musicians taking that Route, on the road from town to town. The painting of the girl on the swing, who is that?
RA: That's my daughter.
KM: I love it. When I saw that it reminded me of my daughter who's 8 now, but a few years back, she would go on the swing and say, "Daddy, push me real high, high like the moon." She loved being on the swings.
RA: Yes! That's exactly where this came from. It came from that child-like innocence. There's no limit to what these kids can do, and my role as her dad is to keep those fantasies alive.
KM: That's our duty, yes. What are some of your favorite works you've done?
RA: Um, really, the legend series are the ones I really love. And my happy place, India. A few years after my accident I spent quite a few years traveling to India. So the paintings of the water and the flowers, it's very powerful to me. Seeing the totality of the conditions there, seeing what I didn't like about myself. But, by my 4th year going down there, I didn't want to leave. I started to really accept myself.
KM: Have you become spiritual over the years?
RA: You know, it's an ebb and flow. It's good to get into some type of practice, you know?
KM: I have heard, yet I haven't learned to do that much yet. You work closely with the Wounded Warrior Project. How did that come about?
RA: Well, you know, it was a natural transition for me, to work with them. These are men and women who've been injured while serving
their country. Many have lost limbs and require a lot of financial assistance in their recoveries. Their recoveries can go on a long time, so
I wanted to do something, to be able to help raise dollars and assistance for these people.
KM: It's important to honor them and care for them. So, that's how your charity Raven Drum Foundation came about?
RA: Yeah. It's all connected and something very important to my wife and me. You know, these service people, many of them have
been through major traumatic stuff. Our foundation helps them with PTSD, we offer suicide prevention workshops, resources for healing, and community education. It's a huge part of my life.
KM: You're doing great things with the foundation. I applaud you for this, even more than the applause I've given you at your concerts. Is this more satisfying to you than what you've accomplished in Def Leppard?
RA: Thanks, Kreig. I really appreciate that. It's a completely different feeling. With Def Leppard, I'm on stage, living a dream. With the foundation, I'm helping others to be able to live their dreams, at least, I hope to be able to help them find solace in their lives again.
KM: Your wife, Lauren. You two have been married now almost 20 years. Do you think that meeting her and getting married several years into your career, away from the crazy 80’s, has made a difference in your relationship?
RA: Oh, absolutely. Man, the 80's were crazy. It's everything you can imagine, there was so much debauchery, decadence, you name it. It was nuts. Growing up in the 80's and being in a huge rock band, you were basically given a license to do crazy things. Drugs, booze, sex, it was always there. Not that I was doing all that, but it was always there if we wanted it. And, we were always in the spotlight, there was always a camera on us. As I've gotten older and hopefully wiser, I believe that the relationship I have with Lauren is something I couldn't have had or enjoyed back then, like I do now.
KM: Let’s take a step back for a minute. You’re 15 years old. Def Leppard is all over MTV. It’s the 80’s and it was, as you said, the decade of decadence and debauchery. But, you’re only 15, the rest of the guys in the band are of legal age. Girls are throwing themselves all over the band. Did you have someone watching over you or did you just jump right in with the rest of the guys?
RA: Yeah, I had people looking out for me. I had tutors for a short while for school work, was looked after. But, you know, by the time we really hit it and were all over MTV, I was finished with school and I could take care of myself, do what I wanted to do.
KM: I have to hear one of the craziest fan stories of Def Leppard.
RA: LOL, OK. We're out on tour and there are these two girls who somehow, were able to climb up the side of the hotel we were staying at and make there way up to Savage's balcony. (Savage is Rick Savage, the bassist for Def Leppard). So, they climb up and I guess after a while, Sav showed them a safer way to get back to the hotel lobby, afterwards. LOL.
KM: Most embarrassing time on stage?
RA: Ha! Easy. The last time I wore my Union Jack shorts on stage.
KM: Let's hear it.
RA: LOL. I was wearing the shorts and at the end of the show I was drenched in sweat, I mean soaked. It's hot on stage, even with the fans they put on us. So, we finish the show, I'm walking off the stage, and there's Lauren looking at me, pointing at my shorts, or what my shorts were covering. I guess the shorts were a little too small, soaked and sticking to me and it looked like I had a sausage and a couple of meatballs about to fall out. As you can imagine, I was told to get into some other clothes, and I haven't seen those shorts again. LOL.
KM: A protective wife. Hold onto this lady.
RA: Oh yeah, absolutely.
KM: If you could turn back the clock, what are 2 things you would do differently in your life?
RA: LOL. Well, first-off, I probably wouldn't have bought that Corvette! Besides that, I don't think I'd do anything differently. I've really been blessed in this life. I get to make music with my four brothers and tour the world, then come home to my amazing family. So, looking back, maybe I should have bought a 4 cylinder instead of a Corvette! LOL.
KM: What are you most proud of in your life as a musician?
RA: I guess that I'm still alive and here! Being in the same band all these years with my brothers. We've been at this now a little over 40 years. Man, that's a lifetime. But, being so fortunate to do this all this time with 4 other guys whom I call my brothers, that's what I'm so proud of, and so grateful for.
KM: What are you most proud of as a man?
RA: My family, being a dad, a husband, a son. Those are my blessings in life. Yeah, that's what I'm most proud of, being called dad, son and husband.
KM: I have a friend Debra who now lives in Georgia. She’s a fantastic drummer and after quite a hiatus, she’s back to playing her drums again. Her band is called the High Strangeness. She wanted to ask a question.
RA: Let's hear it from Debra. What's her band's name again?
KM: High Strangeness.
RA: OK. What's the question from Debra from the band, High Strangeness?
KM: She wants to know what motivated you the most while you were playing, especially after losing your arm?
RA: Definitely a higher power: God. After the accident, I didn't know what I was going to do or if I could ever play the drums again. I did a lot of soul -searching and I found myself speaking to God, not in the "Oh God, why did this happen to me?" sense, but really looking into myself and looking for that higher power. Once I found that, I became peaceful with who I was and my new disability. I found a way to work around it, through it, and with it.
KM: Do you consider yourself to be a spiritual person?
RA: Spiritual? I suppose. I'm definitely more aware of who I am and who I want to be today, and moving forward.
KM: Rick, this has been really cool. I've been a huge fan of Def Leppard since I was in high school and it's been great speaking to you.
RA: Likewise, Kreig. This has been very cool. We'll have to do this again once things start moving forward again.
KM: Absolutely. So, when can we see you and the band back on stage? Have you been writing new material?
RA: Yeah. We're constantly writing new stuff. Hopefully, we'll be back out on tour soon. We just want it to be safe for everyone. The pandemic is getting better, no need to push things until it's safe all around.
KM: I can't disagree with that.
RA: Kreig, remember, May 20th I'll be in Boca so I'm expecting to see you at the gallery. Call Christian and let him know who you are and let's make plans to meet in person then.
KM: Sounds like a nice plan. We'll see you there.
RA: Looking forward to it.
Kreig Marks, Founder/Publisher, TRR
Kreig Marks is the Founder/Publisher of Tru Rock Revival Magazine.
Rock music has always been his passion, and promoting musicians. In is spare time he is an internationally recognized neuro-fitness trainer/ kinesiologist.