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Monday, July 15, 2013

Last in Line's Vivian Campbell on Dio, playing and coping with chemotherapy

In a candid interview Vivian Campbell speaks about his forthcoming Belfast date with Last in Line, dealing with cancer, his fall-out with Ronnie James Dio, and the 'gang' that is Def Leppard

FROM the depths of the debris of Ronnie James Dio's first tenure with Black Sabbath arose a seminal album - Holy Diver; an album that defined a new rendering of heavy metal, influences drawn from the US and Europe.

And handling the guitar duties was Belfast guitarist, Vivian Campbell. Now - 30 years since Holy Diver rocked metal heads across the world - Campbell is leading the charge to celebrate its release and the albums he worked on for three heady years.

We caught up with Vivian as he prepared for a Def Leppard gig in Quebec City (July 12th). Remember, this is a man who recently completed his seventh chemotherapy session since being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. But as he declared, he believes "we are what we do" and picking up the guitar is what Vivian does - it is who he is...

When Vivian arrives in Belfast with his bandmates the Last In Line will rewind the clocks to the 1983 to 1985, when in a short period of time they pounded out three albums, toured the world and Holy Diver, Last in Line and Sacred Heart were on playlists on radio shows and in every self-respecting rocker's album collection.

Last in Line appear at Limelight1 on 8th August - the full cast list is Vivian, Jimmy Bain, Vinnie Appice, Claude Schnell and vocalist Andy Freeman. All bar Freeman played on the first three Dio albums and tours, and to an extent, for Campbell it is about "re-claiming" the songs that he and Bain, aided on some tracks by Appice, wrote in those heady days.

How Last in Line got together goes back to an invitation to play onstage with Thin Lizzy, and a chance for the axeman to re-connect with his roots after an invitation to play a gig with the 'new' version of Lizzy came before they dropped the legendary monicker in favour of finding their own identity.

"Lizzy was such a seminal influence to me as a kid and a teenager in my formative years as a guitar player," said Campbell. "Their guitar players, Scott Gorham, Brian Robertson, were players I looked up to, and through Thin Lizzy I discovered Gary Moore."

"He was probably my single biggest influence. And I got a call from Scott Gorham asking if I wanted to play a few dates with Lizzy, and I thought - yes I do!"

And it was through that experience that got Campbell back into what inspired him.

"To play those songs again really re-connected me with my youth, and that passion to want to be a monster guitar player, so after I came back from that tour I went back to LA and I was really fired up," he explained.

"So I called Vinnie Appice and Jimmy Bain from the original Dio band and said 'let's get a rehearsal room and play', and they called Claude Schnell our keyboard player back in the Dio days.

"The four of us went into this rehearsal room and played and it just sounds so amazing. Thirty years had passed and it seemed as if 30 minutes had passed, and we didn't miss a beat."

But there was no-one on vocals...

"Vinnie Appice said he knew a guy called Andy Freeman," said Campbell. "I'd never met Andy before, even though he lives nearby. Vinnie calls him and about an hour later he shows up, steps up to the mic and starts singing and that was just the final piece."

Freeman has sang backing vocals on tour with The Offspring, Dokken and the George Lynch Mob, so he knows his chops.

"It sounded so incredible we all thought we got to do something with this and take it a stage further. With Andy, he's a real powerful singer, he's got real passion in his voice, has a great range, but he doesn't actually sound like Ronnie, which made it even better," explained Campbell.

"If we were going to do something we didn't want a Ronnie clone, that would invite those comparisons. You can never replace a voice like Ronnie's. He was the best singer in that genre and had a very unique sound, a unique timbre to his voice.

"That made it even better, here was a guy who could match him in power and passion but not the same tonality. We just wanted this to be a celebration of the original band and the original music"

Originally Last in Line planned a three-week tour of Europe, but that was before Campbell was diagnosed with cancer.

"I've got to do these chemotherapy thing every two weeks and I've got to do it in Los Angeles," said Campbell. "So we couldn't do the original tour, so the dates we have in now are what we could fit in between my chemo treatment.

"I think I'm over the worst of it. They say every cancer is different and every treatment is different, but I personally think I'm over the very worst of the bad side effects. I'm out here doing shows with Leppard, but it's really just like touring always was. The worst part is the travel and it's worse travelling when you're feeling nauseous, but it is what it is.

"No matter what it's still a pleasure to play on stage and I'm a great believer you should continue with your life when facing this kind of stuff. You can's stop living."

Campbell has chemotherapy on August 5th, and then will be arriving in Belfast on the seventh, the day before the Limelight1 date with Last in Line.

"It's going to be pretty hardcore," he said. "Doing these four dates. but it was important that we do it, and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to establish ourselves."

Apart from the four dates, Last in Line have a Japanese date in October, but Campbell is determined to keep the "wheels in motion, doing as much as we can", fitting dates in around his Leppard touring commitments and the gig dates of the other members, who all have ongoing projects.

When Last in Line arrive to play Belfast it is a set firmly rooted in their collective memories and the touchstone songs for almost all fans from that era.

"We're pretty limited as we only did the first three albums, and none of us have particularly fond memories of Sacred Heart as that's when the relationships with Ronnie started to go sour," said Campbell.

"We probably won't play a lot from that, we might play King of Rock 'n' Roll and the title track, but we'll play every song of Holy Diver, and most of The Last in Line."

Looking back to the early days, when he was playing with Sweet Savage, Campbell said he was very focussed on making his career as a guitar player.

"It would have been great if Sweet Savage had made it big, and in a way we did, we just changed our name to Metallica," he said laughing. "And, when I hear Hetfield sing I hear Ramie Haller!"

"While it would have been great for Savage it was just the wrong place at the wrong time, but we certainly gave it our best."

For Campbell, he explained, that after his career since Sweet Savage with Dio and Whitesnake, he is comfortable with Def Leppard.

"It's a great bunch of guys, and it really is a band. Dio was never really a real band. Jimmy Bain and myself wrote so many of those songs, but it the name was Dio and Ronnie kept all the money. It was never going to be a real band, and that was why I got fired," he explained.

"The first time I met Ronnie in John Henry's studios in London it was me, Ronnie, Vinnie Appice and Jimmy Bain, and we got together and played for a long time. We then got together and Ronnie explained the parameters to us and he said 'I have an existing record deal, we're going to call the band Dio for name recognition, and I'm going to bankroll this and take all the risk, but by the third album we'll have an equitable situation' so when we did the third album I called him out on this and I got fired.

"I said 'Ronnie, third album, remember that night we talked about the third album' and that's when I got fired," Campbell said. "We were literally getting paid less than the road crew, yet we had written those songs. We'd given blood, sweat and tears to that band.

"People might says isn't it a bit blasphemous to go back and play those songs, I wrote those songs with Jimmy, Ronnie and to a lesser extent with Vinnie, so for us it's about reclaiming those songs, so we're perfectly entitled to reclaim our heritage."

He said that Dio was never really a band as it was Ronnie's vehicle, and Whitesnake has always been a "revolving door of musicians, it's always been Dave Coverdale's band".

Campbell continued: "I was never destined to stay too long with Whitesnake but Def Leppard is a very different thing. Def Leppard is a very different thing. Def Leppard is five guys who very much in a band together, it's like being in a gang.

"We're a very close bunch; we genuinely have respect for each other, and that's why Def Leppard have been able to endure. I've been in the band for more than 20 years, but you can guarantee that if Steve Clarke hadn't died, Steve Clarke would have still been in Def Leppard. I'm the new guy - I'm the Ronnie Wood of Leppard!

He said there was a reason why they'd been able to continue for so long as Leppard are "a very original band, and there is a mutual respect between everyone in Def Leppard, and it's a very professional organisation and a great bunch of muscians".

Campbell said that sometimes he had a "very minor gripe" that he doesn't get to play enough guitar with Leppard, "but that's what I have Last in Line for".

The Belfast man is not work shy. He has had a variety of side projects as well as Leppard and Last in Line.

"I like to be busy. I'm a firm believer that you are what you do and I love playing guitar, playing my instrument. And to be fair Leppard has huge blocks of time when it may be inactive and I keep myself active in those time," he said.

"I even have a wee bar band back in LA, and I go out and play, and get $100 each and we schlep out own gear around, literally like back in the day, but we do it for fun and we do it for the enjoyment of it. And playing live is where it is at; that's the ultimate reward."

For Campbell, no matter what project it is that reward which makes it worthwhile.

"I still get a real buzz. You still feel that [moment] of apprehension before you go onstage, you have an adrenaline flow and the buzz you don't get from sitting at home watching TV."

As if that wasn't enough Campbell was a founder member of the LA ex-pats football team, Hollywood United, which featured a range of players, all starting with a pick-up kickabout. And it was an all-star line-up which donned boots.

"We had Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, Billy Duffy and Ian Astbury from The Cult, Robbie Williams turned out a few times and Vinnie Jones, when he was in LA doing movies he'd come out a play with us, so it was a bit of fun"

Campbell played as a defensive midfielder, before he stopped turning out for the team.

And that is perhaps a suitable metaphor for Campbell. Like all holding midfielders he is has firm opinions on how the game shapes; he knows his role and understands his commitments to the 'team'. For him the game means everything and his game is as a guitar player, the man with both the flourish to lay down the licks, but also keep the riffs going while the frontman or another player takes the spotlight.

It has been a long journey from the streets of Belfast, but it has been one that has seen Campbell take his share of knocks yet still remain standing. He has firm views on the road so far, and the potholes he has navigated, but is open enough to express them.

Despite dealing with Hodgkin's Lymphoma he remains committed to his craft, and whether it be with Def Leppard, a bar band in LA or Last in Line, he still has his axe ready to lay it down.

Last in Line play Limelight1 on 8th August, tickets are available from all usual outlets.

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