It’s about three hours before Def Leppard will take the stage at the Manchester Arena, and frontman Joe Elliott is backstage prepping for a fan meet-and-greet and trying to wrap his head around the fact that his band has just been inducted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after appearing on the ballot for the very first time. They’re nearing the end of a long year of touring — including a massively successful American run with Journey — but Elliott doesn’t sound the least bit exhausted as he speaks with Rolling Stone about the honor, what might happen that night, bands he hopes to see inducted in the future, late Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark, and the possibility of a super jam with Radiohead, the Cure, the Zombies, Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks and Janet Jackson.
Thank you! Appreciate that.
How do you you feel?
It’s one of those situations that’s been on the back burner for a couple of months because once we actually got nominated we were like, “OK, cool. That’s stage one.” I talked about it a lot with some media people in October/November and I said, “We’re not going to get overly excited until, if, we are inducted properly.” Then we saw what the fan vote was doing. We aware that people around the planet were watching it on a daily basis. We were being informed daily how we were nudging ahead of Stevie [Nicks] and then there were comments like, “Do you know that every winner of the fan poll over the past six years has been inducted?” We were, “OK, cool. That’s interesting to know.”
Then we finally find out we’re in. Now we can stop holding our breath and go, “Great! How wonderful to be in the same club as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and the Who and Queen and etc., etc.” It’s nice. It’s a good club to be in.
Who told you that you were in?
Mike [Kobayashi], our manager. He’d just got a call. He’d come in on a daily basis and say, “You’re doing really well on the fan vote, but we won’t know anything until December.” Then yesterday morning, I think, he told us. He gave me a big hug and said, “Congratulations!”
Do you feel weird about being in before Mott the Hoople, T. Rex and a lot of your heroes?
You know what? It’s a funny thing. It is a very American institution. The influence that British music has had on American artists over time, especially in the Sixties and Seventies with bands like the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Black Sabbath, was massive. But there are bands that weren’t as popular as them and didn’t necessarily take off the States, but were extremely influential on people. I’m ecstatic that Roxy Music are in. Many Americans probably didn’t know much about Roxy Music until Avalon [in 1982], but the truth is in 1972 when they put out “Virginia Plain,” between them and David Bowie they instantly, overnight changed the face of pop music.
It was a huge thing that influenced everything from Siouxsie and the Banshees to Duran Duran to Spandau Ballet, Human League … there’s a million artists that count Roxy Music as a major influence. For the more brick-layer rock, if you like, there’s Queen and Slade and artists like T. Rex and Mott the Hoople. It is a little sad that they don’t get the recognition. I imagine that’s because most people on the committee are American East Coast and they go, “Well, they didn’t really make any impact.” Well, yes they did. Not on your shores, but they did in the U.K. and that shouldn’t be ignored.
It’s almost like there should be a sub-ceremony for the British Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in London that can acknowledge bands that did something over here and didn’t necessarily make a big impact in America. Slade in 1973, 1974 was playing like the Beatles did 10 years previous, but it never happened in America. That’s a big cultural thing for people like me that didn’t step out of the U.K. until I was 21.
I’m sure that for you to be inducted the same night as Roxy Music is a real thrill.
I’m happy for them. People have been saying to us, “You’ve been eligible for 13 years.” Well they’ve been eligible for 21! I feel bad that Todd Rundgren didn’t get in. He came in third in the fan vote, but he didn’t get an induction, which is kind of odd. His body of work isn’t just his solo stuff or his hits or the stuff with Utopia, it’s also the production work he’s done with Meat Loaf and the Psychedelic Furs and the New York Dolls. It’s a eclectic combination of of performance and production. He way deserves this. His first record with the Nazz was in 1968, or something? It’s insane that he didn’t get in, but maybe he’ll get in next year like Radiohead when they didn’t get in last year but made it this year. I don’t do the choosing. I’m just a happy recipient of the good news.
Do you think Brian Eno will come? Will he care?
I wouldn’t know. I couldn’t in a million years answer that question. I don’t know if he’s that kind of guy and into that celebrating thing. I would imagine that when U2 got inducted he was eligible for a seat at their table as their producer. I don’t know. I don’t even know if all the original members will turn up. Maybe they’ll boycott like the Sex Pistols. I don’t know anyone in their camp. I met them a few times. I went to see them 15 years ago in Dublin and I was hanging out with their drummer Paul Thompson for the evening. He’s a lovely, lovely guy, but I didn’t get to see them. I’m a fan of their music, but I don’t know them as people. I don’t really know.
Do you think that original Def Leppard guitarist Pete Willis will come?
Yeah. Pete is invited. Absolutely. Whether he comes or not is up to him. We might have to drag him there by his hair. But he deserves to be inducted since he was involved in the first three albums. A lot of people aren’t aware that he did play until halfway through Pyromania. He contributed as much as anybody on the first two albums. Of course he deserves to get in. I haven’t seen Pete in 14 years. I don’t know if he’s aware yet. We’re going to reach out to him over the next day or two now that the dust has settled and we’ll see if he wants to come.
Are you going to play with him that night?
I haven’t thought about that, but I don’t think we’ll be playing anything from that far back. But being there is part of the thing. Pete has kind of moved away from this kind of stuff, so he might just be a little reluctant to come along. The truth is that it’s obviously right that he gets in and he gets his statute, or however it works, but the success of the band was mostly to do with everyone else. I think that anybody would rightly say that the reason we got nominated is more likely to be because of the work we did after Pete left.
He helped us lay the groundwork for what was to come, but the success of the band was more with Phil [Collen] and Steve [Clark] and then with Vivian [Campbell]. It’s like a rocket that goes to the moon. The bit that gets ejected two minutes into the flight is still an important part when it sets off. It’s just not that important when it gets into orbit. Pete is kind of that guy I suppose. He was an integral part of the band when we started off, but we went our different ways. It became clear that we couldn’t go any further with him in 1982. We had four years together, but we’ve been together for 40. There are 36 other years in this band that he had nothing to do with. Playing with him might be a bit weird, but I don’t see why he couldn’t come if he wants to. He’s totally welcome.
How do you think Steve Clark feel about this if he was still here?
Good question. The Steve that I knew, which was for more than 13 years, I think he’d enjoy it. It’s a difficult question since a lot of what we’ve done to get where we are we did with Steve. And then everything since then has been building the fan base. It’s kind of like asking what Peter Green would think of Fleetwood Mac getting in. I think if this was to happen to 1988, Steve [would] be like, “Yeah! Awesome!” If a 60 year-old Steve were around today, I don’t know if he’d care. I don’t know. It’s an impossible-to-answer question. I’m just speculating.
It’s a very strong year with the Cure, Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks, the Zombies. I imagine you’re fans of them all.
Strong is a good word. Eclectic is another one. It’s not one type of music, which I think is a great reflection on people’s taste. I think it’s great that Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent finally got in there. I’m really surprised, again, that Todd [Rundgren] didn’t. Janet Jackson, for all her success … People might argue that it’s not rock & roll, but that “Rhythm Nation” stuff kicked ass. I don’t see why not then. Absolutely.
Bands often play three songs. Can you think of which three ones you’ll want to do?
Yeah, but not right now. I don’t know what we’ll choose. I don’t think it’s going to take rocket scientists to figure out which ones we’ll probably play, but we’ll make that decision probably a week or so before we do it. Something could happen between now and then that influences the decision, so that would make a December decision redundant. I doubt we’ll be playing anything off the first two records though.
There tends to be a big all-star jam at the ceremony. Can you think of a single song that you could play at the same time as the Cure, the Zombies, Radiohead and Roxy Music?
No. I can’t. I’ll be honest. What would I suggest to Thom Yorke and Robert Smith? [Laughs] The only thing I think that we’d remotely have in common would be David Bowie and his songs are a bit arty for a big jam. I suppose older folk would be thinking “Johnny B. Goode” and younger folk would be thinking “Heroes.” Jesus. I have no idea. It might one of those awkward moments where I’m saying, “I’m uncomfortable. I’m not doing it.” Do they really want to play with us? Do we want to play with them? I don’t know. It depends on the Kumbaya-ness of the evening.
I asked the Zombies and Colin suggested “I Saw Her Standing There.”
Yeah. That’s been definitely done a thousand times by a thousand artists. That could work. “Dancing in the Streets,” the thing that Bowie and Jagger did at Live Aid. There’s a ton of songs that work either R&B or rock style. Seriously, it could be anything. I’d be up for doing “All the Young Dudes,” but it wouldn’t mean a thing to anybody else. It’d be up for the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, but would Radiohead? I don’t know.
To wrap up here, what does the Hall of Fame mean to you on a personal level?
I don’t know yet. I think it is a nice badge of honor. I don’t think it’s going to make too much difference to many people. It was something that we weren’t overly concerned about until the fan vote thing became a major part of it. The people that really matter to every band are the audience. You have a filter to it. You have to go through media, radio, TV, A&R men to get to an audience, but the audience is the prime target to any artist. Now the people on the [nominating] committee, none of us know who they are. But once the fan vote became an important thing and that’s when we started thinking, “OK, now this starts meaning something.”