Anniversary of Def Leppard's First Gig

07/18/2011
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(Gibson) On this day in 1978, Def Leppard made their live debut at the Westfield School in their hometown of Sheffield, England. They performed for 150 students. Gibson takes a look back: Def Leppard's rags-to-riches story, including their meteoric rise to fame that at the time only the King of Pop could rival, as well as the numerous tragedies that tried but failed to derail the band, all started when three students, living in the depressed steel town of Sheffield, England, decided to start a band.

Rick "Sav" Savage who, at one point in his teens, was a good enough soccer player to catch the eye of the mighty Sheffield United chose to pursue a career in music instead of one on the pitch. He loved the guitar and taught himself by playing along to such classic rock fare as Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" and Don McLean's "American Pie." Savage attended the Tapton School with fellow guitarist Pete Willis, himself a huge Jimi Hendrix fan. Along with drummer Tony Kenning and a couple of other friends, they started a band called Atomic Mass and played covers from the big rock bands of the day, groups like Queen, Slade and Deep Purple. It was determined that Willis was the better guitarist, so Sav switched to bass.

In November 1977, Willis met fellow musician Joe Elliott after Joe had missed a bus. He told Joe about Atomic Mass, and he was immediately interested in auditioning for the band. The group was impressed and hired him to be their vocalist. Joe quickly suggested a name change for the band. For a while he'd envisioned being in a band called "Deaf Leopard," and the boys liked the idea. At the time, animal names were somewhat popular, especially with many of the punk bands. It was their initial drummer Kenning who suggested the spelling change to "Def Leppard," and they all agreed. Many have later speculated that the new spelling was also created to mimic the odd spelling of Led Zeppelin.

The final piece to the first incarnation of Def Leppard came when, in search of a second guitarist, "Steamin'" Steve Clark auditioned by playing a note-for-note rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird," which landed him the gig. With the lineup complete, the band quickly began rehearsing, day after day, for weeks, then months. Perfectionists from the beginning, a trait they seemed to acquire even before uber-perfectionist producer (and future Leppard Svengali) Mutt Lange came into their lives, the band rehearsed like there was no tomorrow. They rehearsed so much that at one point, many months into rehearsals, Clark threatened to quit the band if they didn't actually play a proper gig.
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