Queen’s Brian May praised pop-metal heroes Def Leppard, and recalled the time frontman Joe Elliott literally saved his life, during a gushing speech inducting the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
May has been a longtime friend and fan of the band, joining Def Leppard onstage numerous times. They famously collaborated on a performance of “Now I’m Here” at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness in 1992. In 2006, May and Def Leppard covered T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” at Vh1’s Rock Honors and way back in 1983, May hopped on stage with the band to perform a clever mashup of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelin’ Band” and Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” (the performance was included on the deluxe edition of Pyromania and it nearly ended with May being engulfed in flames). This isn’t even the first time May has delivered an induction speech on Def Leppard’s behalf, previously doing so when the band landed a spot on the Hollywood RockWalk in 2000.
Read May’s entire speech below.
Sixty-five years after Bill Haley sang “Rock Around the Clock,” rock & roll is alive and well, am I right? I have the greatest job in the world. I am so honored and privileged to be importing Def Leppard into the Hall of Fame.
I’m going to quote first from the Joe Elliott book of philosophy, which says that you get one chance to do the good shit, don’t fuck it up. So this is my guide tonight, I want to do it justice — I really want to do these boys justice and I’m not going to tell you a history, I’m just going to tell you my personal view. I want to tell you how these guys came into my life and how important they are.
In 1981, Queen were in the studio in Munich recording our album, Hot Space, and I nipped out to see some friends of mine, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, and who should be supporting but a young precocious bunch of boys called Def Leppard. I got there late and I missed them. And I felt so bad about it, I sought out the dressing room and went in to see them. I poked my head through the door and said, “Hi guys, I just wanted to say hello because I missed you and I’m really sorry. I’m Brian May from Queen.” And they said, “No shit,” which was kind of nice, so I think we got on from that point. They told me that Queen had been a great influence on them, which is always a great thing for me to think about.
Cut to 1983, you know what you do when you’re on tour? We’re out on tour and when you’re in the cars and the planes, you hit the button to see if anybody’s playing your record. So this is what I’m doing, every time I hit the button I’m hearing this amazing kind of clang, sort of an arpeggiated guitar, and I’m hearing amazing harmonies and these big, juicy bass lines, these huge fat drums. And it’s not Queen, it’s these young, precocious boys called Def Leppard and the song is “Photograph”! This amazing song, which catapulted them to fame. It was never off the radio at that time, and before the album was finished that it came from, Hysteria … They sold 10 million copies of that album.
OK, cut to September ’83, I’m in Los Angeles, again we’re recording an album, which, this time, is The Works, I think, and I go out. This time, Def Leppard are playing the local arena, which is the legendary L.A. Forum. I go down there, very inconspicuous, I sit in the back, and when these boys hit the stage, I have to tell you — I have never seen anything like it. I’ve seen some great shows in the Forum, but I’ve never seen an audience react like that. They got to their feet, they never sat down and they screamed and shouted the whole way through the performance. Def Leppard killed that night. I went backstage to see them afterwards, they invited me, and just like when we first played in the States, all their moms and dads are there — very proud moms and dads, and I get introduced to them. And the boys say, “Will you come out and play with us tomorrow night?” So I said yes, and the rest is history. We played “Travelin’ Band.” It’s history because I nearly lost my career and my life because this is Pyromania and the production has all kinds of fire. Joe warned me, he said, “Watch out for the fireworks at the end, just be careful.” But I’m at the end, we finish “Travelin’ Band,” we’re up behind the drums and there’s a kind of chasm in front of us where the fire’s about to come out — I have no idea. I’m gone, I’m like giving it all this, and Joe’s going, “Brian, Brian!” And I’m thinking he’s just kind of appreciating me, you know? He’s going, “Brian, Brian, the fire!” Anyway this huge sheath of flame comes up in front of me, and just in time, Joe’s dragged me out of it — otherwise I wouldn’t be here tonight. So early on in their career, Joe Elliott saved my life!
“Not everybody realizes that these guys are not just crowd pleasers. They also embody such an amazing technical excellence. They have it all.”
You know the history of Def Leppard is incredibly colorful and filled with all kinds of stuff that I can’t even go into because I don’t have the time. But they started August 1977 in Sheffield, England, which is not a very glamorous place and there’s a lot of people who say there’s a great urge to get out. They recorded 11 incredible albums and they played their asses off around the world many, many times. They did it the old-fashioned way. They played and played and played, and they made great music in the studio. They sold, eventually, more than 100 million albums. And they endured being very fashionable and being very unfashionable as well, as sometimes happens, particularly in England where the press wasn’t very kind. I don’t know why this happens. But they kind of got attacked among other things for making hit records. Now, can I just remind you what some of those hits were? We’ve got “Bringin’ on a Heartbreak,” “Photograph,” “Foolin’,” “Pour Some Sugar,” “Armageddon It,” “Hysteria,” “Let’s Get Rocked,” “When Worlds Collide,” “Animal,” “Love Bites,” “Rock of Ages,” “Rocket” — that isn’t even the full list. They released 50 singles, most of which were hits and many were Number Ones. There was this kind of feeling abroad in the press, particularly in the U.K., that maybe that made them uncool. But let me tell you, those songs, the fact that they wrote real songs that people can sing and carry in their heads is the reason that Def Leppard will be remembered in hearts and minds long after all of us have left this Earth.
I got to say something about their endurance. You know the Def Leppard band is a family, an evolving family. I would say the amazing bass man, Rick Savage, he’s the only guy who was there at the beginning and he’s here at the end — it’s not the end, it’s the continuing story. But very soon Joe Elliott joined them and Joe brought the name with him, which apparently refers to some aurally challenged cat of some kind. So these stalwarts are the very birth of the band, but the family grew and evolved and faced all kinds of adversity. The loss of drummer Rick Allen’s arm in 1984 was a massive shock and setback, which would’ve ended the career of a lesser band. But thanks to the incredible fortitude of Rick himself and bringing himself back, and also thanks to the incredible loyalty and cohesiveness of that family, which is Def Leppard, in supporting him when he came back, they actually grew in stature and in every way — not only Rick but the whole band benefitted in a sense. I was there at Donington when he first came back for that triumphant return. Similarly the loss of the fantastic riff-meister, Steve Clark, in 1991 — what a great player, what a wonderful player. I think many people thought that could be a mortal blow to the band, and it could have been for lesser human beings, but the current guitar duo of Phil Collen and Viv Campbell is awesome. In fact, I would say Collen and Campbell are truly frightening as a guitar duo and it’s amazing.
Not everybody realizes that these guys are not just crowd pleasers. They also embody such an amazing technical excellence. They have it all. I regard all these guys as great friends and kind of part of my family, that’s why it’s so important for me to be here. I wouldn’t have let anybody else do this. They also came for our Freddie Mercury tribute, which was 1992, and we’ve played together a bunch of times. Joe and I in particular have shared many precious and fun moments, snatched among the madness of touring life. We have a strong bond and he’s one of my dearest pals. When Steve died, Joe says that the first phone call he got was from me, and when the news got out of Freddie’s passing, the first phone call I got was from Joe Elliott.
These guys are a magnificent rock group, in the classic tradition of what a rock group really is. I’m just going to quote a couple more things. Early on, Joe said, “What’s the story, the secret of a successful rock group?” I said, “Don’t split up.” A few years later, he came back and he said to me, “I have a couple of other secrets to being a successful rock group. You have to not get fat and you have to keep your hair.” I have to say, these guys did not get fat, they did not lose their hair, they did not split up, and they’re here tonight, ladies and gentlemen. They’re also as honest and decent a bunch of magnificent human beings as ever came out of Yorkshire, or Britain, or the world. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my privilege to welcome to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Def Leppard!