Let's face it; when iconic former Black Sabbath/Rainbow frontman Ronnie James Dio released what would ultimately become his final solo studio effort Master Of The Moon (2004), the essence of the group's classic origins (i.e. the multi-Platinum Holy Diver, The Last In Line and, to a lesser extent, the justifiably maligned Sacred Heart) had been irreparably lost amid an increasingly commercial, keyboard-driven direction. However, when guitarist Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard, Sweet Savage, Whitesnake), bassist Jimmy Bain and drummer Vinny Appice informally reconvened in 2012 with vocalist Andrew Freeman, it ultimately led to the release of their full-length debut Heavy Crown (2016). Recently, Campbell, always a man of many words and interesting stories, was kind enough to speak with us regarding, among many other things, the group's sadly tenuous future.
Todd: For the uninitiated, let's go back to the origins of the group. How was Last In Line formed? Was this something you had planned with Jimmy and Vinny as a tribute to the life and the legacies of Ronnie James Dio?
Vivian: “No. It was entirely spontaneous, very much by accident. It started out, I played with Thin Lizzie in early 2010 or early 2011. Def Leppard went on hiatus. (Thin Lizzy drummer) Scott Gorham called me and asked if I could stand in as a part-time guitar player in Thin Lizzy. And I leaped at the chance because I was a massive fan growing up. They were very influential to me in my formative years. It was a short tour. Only a few a months in Europe and some east coast gigs, but I got so inspired by playing the songs of my youth again that it really reconnected me with that style of heavier guitar playing. I came off of that tour just wanting to play more aggressive and more involved guitar than I had done in decades. So I called Vinny and Jimmy and I asked them if they'd like to go into a rehearsal room to jam. That was kind of how we came about. We went in and started jamming and it sounded great. At that point, it had been twenty-seven years since we'd played together, but the chemistry was immediate. It was just as electric as it had always been. We played for a couple of hours and Vinny suggested that this would be even more fun if we had a singer. He said 'I know this guy Andrew Freeman who lives close by', so he called him and Andrew came by. As soon as I heard Andrew sing with the three of us, I got the idea to do some gigs because Andrew doesn't sound anything like Ronnie. He's a very powerful singer like Ronnie was, but he's got a completely different tonality. At the same time, when Vinny, Jimmy and I play together, it was the unmistakable sound of early Dio. It's just the chemistry that we have. It seemed to me that having the sound of the Dio band with an entirely different singer was an interesting proposition. I didn't give any thought at all to the name. I suggested it right there and then by saying 'Hey do you want to go out and just do some local gigs for fun when it's suitable for everyone?' Right off the top of my head, I said 'Let's call it Last In Line' because at that point, Ronnie had already passed away, so there was no more Dio band per se. We were the Last In Line because Ronnie was gone. It obviously references the title track of the second album we did with Ronnie. Also, I think the because Ronnie had passed away and the band Dio no longer existed, it made it possible for us to think about doing this. I probably wouldn't of suggested that we went out and did any gigs if Dio were still active. ...It was very, very much an organic growth. It wasn't something that we sat down and thought about and even when we did start going out and doing shows, we had no ambition beyond just doing some regional shows. This was all in 2011. It wasn't until a couple of years later that we were offered shows in the UK and a festival in Japan and once we'd taken those steps, it seemed to have become a much more legitimate 'group'. That's when Frontiers Records offered us a deal if we wanted to write and record new music.”
Todd: What separates Last In Line from the Dio Disciples? Do you feel both are true 'celebrations' of his career?
Vivian: “I don't think we're even in the same league as the Dio Disciples. None of those guys were original members of the band Dio. We're the original band. We're the guys who formed the band with Ronnie. Not only were in the band, but we wrote all the songs with Ronnie. If you look at the writing credits on the first three records, it was very, very much a collaborative creative venture. That's what made the early Dio records so strong. The guys in the Dio Disciples... As far as I'm concerned, there is zero credibility with the Dio Disciples.”
Todd: The passing of Jimmy was certainly a huge shock. Prior to his death, were the other members of the group aware that Jimmy was truly terminally ill? Had he informed everyone of the advanced state of his illness?
Vivian: “We knew that he had pneumonia. We didn't know if he had cancer and I don't know if Jimmy did either. Personally, I wasn't aware that Jimmy had cancer. I have been dealing with cancer myself for the last three years and he and I had several conversations about it. Ironically, we had one just a week before he passed away where Jimmy was crediting me for the way that I have dealt with my cancer. I remember saying to him 'Well, you've got two choices when life gives you something like that. You either make the best of it or you capitulate to it' and he was like 'Yeah, I totally agree.' I would like to think that if Jimmy knew that he had cancer that he might of mentioned something to me. At that point, it would have been perfectly appropriate considering that we had been friends for over thirty years. I don't think he knew. He was dealing with pneumonia and had been in and out of the hospital with various antibiotics and prescriptions. He was definitely very weak. We knew he wasn't well, but we had no idea to the extent of it. At the very last show in Miami the night before we set sail on the cruise he was so weak. He got through the show, but only just. But that's Jimmy, he was a trooper until the end.”
Todd: At this point, how is your health? Is your cancer in remission? Am I correct in understanding your are now taking part in a series of clinical trials involving immunotherapy drugs that aren't be approved by the FDA?
Vivian: “I still have cancer. It keeps coming back, but I am well. My health is fine. I am doing a course of treatment called immunotherapy. I did three rounds of chemotherapy over the last three years and the cancer kept coming back. At the end of 2014, I went into the hospital for a month and did a stem-cell transplant. I was, to be honest, really hopeful that that was going to take care of it. But then in May of last year, they did new scans and the doctors told me that the caner had come back. At that point, they had wanted me to do radiation and I just couldn't bring myself to do that. I'm not a fan of it for many, many reasons. That prompted me to do some research. My wife found out about a course of treatment called immunotherapy. They are a new class of drugs that are under clinical trial for several years. I went back to my oncologist and I asked if that was an option for me to do that and he concurred that it would be so they put me on a drug called pembrolizumab. It's the same stuff that (former US President) Jimmy Carter was taking that cured his melanoma. Of all the monoclonal antibodies that are being currently tested, pembrolizumab seems to be the shining star. It's the one that's yielding the best results. I have been taking pembrolizumab since late June of last year. I get scans every three months and my most recent scan finally started to show less cancer activity. The tumors are still there and are still the same size, so they haven't shrunk yet but there appears to be less cancer activity within the tumors. My doctors are cautiously optimistic and I can continue with this treatment for another year or fifteen months. It's part of a clinical trial, which means I have to fly back to Los Angeles every three and half weeks to receive infusions. Frankly, that's the most difficult part of it. The scheduling and the extra travel. There are minimal side effects from taking these drugs and it's certainly nothing compared to chemo. There is no intense nausea, hair loss or neuropathy that goes on with chemo. It's a walk in the park. I had those issues when I was doing chemo while still touring in Def Leppard. ...It made it very difficult for me to play at times. You deal with it, ya know?”
Todd: What are your touring plans? With Jimmy passing away, obviously everything has changed dramatically...
Vivian: “We had a tour planned and we were due to start within two weeks within the records release at the end of February, but we canceled the tour. It would have been too weird to get another bass player and go out on tour and pretend like nothing had happened. But we did do a couple of high-profile shows that like the Frontiers Festival in Milan Italy and we're going to do (the Pryor, Oklahoma-based) Rocklahoma Festival on Memorial Day weekend. ...In advance to both those shows, we'll do a couple of club warm-ups. The record is being really, well received, so we do think that we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to Jimmy's memory to do something. We don't feel like we shouldn't just roll over and let it go. It just didn't seem appropriate at the time to do the tour that we had booked. It's kind of going to be a moot point, really because after those shows that I mentioned, I go back to work with Def Leppard and I'll busy until mid October. If anything were to happen further with Last In Line, it wouldn't be before the end if this year. I don't know. We're taking it one step at a time here. We're really encouraged by the reception that the record has received, but we're still at a bit of a crossroads, ya know?”
Todd: Was the formation of the group ultimately facilitated by the ongoing relationships between each member?
Vivian: “No. Like I said, we never planned to do this, it just happened. Andrew came down because he was a friend of Vinny's. He lives in Las Vegas now, but at the time, he was living in L.A., so Vinny knew he lived close by and invited him down. It literally happened like that. We weren't thinking about forming a band and we certainly weren't thinking about looking for a singer. When I heard first him sing, I was like 'Do you guys want to go out and do some gigs?'. That's how it started. ...We were always close. We didn't see each other very often, but Vinny, Jimmy and I have always been good friends. We've always liked each other and enjoyed each others company. Certainly, we have always enjoyed playing music together, but we didn't see each other too terribly often even though we were all living in the L.A. area. Every now and then we'd bump into each other at events.”
Todd: What type of set list has the group been working with? Have you been focusing on the first three records?
Vivian: “Not to harp on it but it brings me back to the whole Dio Disciples thing. That kind of is, I think, what most people want to hear. That's another reason that I thought we should wait to do these gigs in the first place. It was around the time that we got together to jam that I had first heard of the Dio Disciples. I wasn't even aware of them. It was actually Vinny who told me. I couldn't believe that these guys were going out and playing songs that we actually wrote with Ronnie. I thought 'Well, if they're doing it, then why shouldn't we do it?' With us, there is a legitimacy to what were doing, ya know? ...I doubt that there is a real legitimacy in the Dio Disciples.”
Todd: How did it feel to be selected for such a high-profile position at such a young age? Who 'discovered' you?
Vivian: “It was exciting, ya know? I founded my first band Sweet Savage when I was sixteen in Ireland. We'd done all we could with Sweet Savage. We'd knocked on the door and tried to get a record deal, but we just couldn't. We did what we could and we kind of gave up after a while. I knew that I was going to have to look elsewhere if I was going to have a career as a guitar player, which I was certain I did. Quite by coincidence, Jimmy had heard me play with Sweet Savage and was the one who told Ronnie about me. Jimmy called me up and invited me to fly to London to audition for the band, which I did. It was all quite surreal to be there with Ronnie James Dio, really. I was a very big Rainbow fan, but was never a Black Sabbath fan until Heaven And Hell (1980) was released. I was very flattered, but I was also very nervous and very honored to be there and to be invited to play with Ronnie. I owe my break to Jimmy because Jimmy was the one who hooked all of us up.”
Todd: You obviously parted ways with Dio on less-than-amicable terms. Over the years there have been many rumors regarding the motivations behind your departure. What really happened? Were you fired or did you quit?
Vivian: “What happened in Dio and the reason it left such a bad taste in my mouth for so many years was I was fired from the band. ...For years and years afterwards, it was portrayed by Dio, Wendy Dio and all the press that I turned my back on the band. I absolutely did not. I was fired in the middle of the tour and the reason I was fired is because I called out Ronnie on his promise. When the band was formed in 1982, Ronnie sat the three of us down and said 'We are going to call the band Dio for obvious reasons'. It was his record deal. He had been offered a solo deal after Black Sabbath, so it was his name on the recording contract. He said 'Here's the deal. I am going to pay you guys a salary, but it is going to be a band. We are going to write, create and present this as a band, but we are going to call it Dio'. He said 'I am asking you to work for very, very little money', which it was, a hundred dollars a week. He said 'But if we are successful by the third album, it will be an equity situation'. So for three albums, we wrote the songs with Ronnie and we went on tour, but got paid literally less than the road crew. We didn't make anything from the sales from the album and we didn't get any merchandise sales and none of the ticket sales. But that was fine because we believed in him. We were working to the end goal of this equity situation by the third album, so when we're in the studio doing the album, I approached Ronnie. I said 'Ronnie, do you remember? We need talk about it or we are not doing the third album', but he kept pushing it off and kept saying 'We''l talk about it when Wendy comes.' ...When we were doing the third album, he and Wendy had split up, so Ronnie's mood was particularly dark. Long story short, Wendy Dio was never on the same page. She never wanted it to be a band. She always thought it was all about Ronnie Dio and didn't give a fuck who was standing behind him. It didn't matter who played guitar, who played bass or who played drums in her eyes. It was irrelevant. Ronnie knew it was different, but at the end of the day he sided with here. He did not stay true to his word. I was a constant thorn in his side and that's why I got fired. I am a man of principle. When somebody looks me in the eye, shake my hand and we make a deal, I uphold my end of the bargain and I expect them to do the same. Ronnie didn't. Ronnie let us down and I wouldn't let him forget about it. That's why I was the first to be fired. It was never about money. It was always about principle. People summarize it by saying 'Viv Campbell left the band because he wasn't getting paid enough', but that's wrong on two counts. I did not leave the band and it was never about money, it was about principle. He made a deal with us and I expected him to honor it. Even on the third tour, we were still earning less than the people in our crew.”
Todd: What prompted the decision to discontinue working with keyboardist Claude Schnell (Dio, Rough Cutt, Y&T)? Was there any animosity or unresolved issues behind the group deciding to 'move forward' without him?
Vivian: “Claude was not a part of the original band. That's why when we were afforded this opportunity to do a new record, I suggested that we go back to the original genesis of the Dio band and the Holy Diver album., and Jimmy, Vinny and Andrew were all very much on board with it, too. When we went into the studio to write and recorded the Holy Diver record, we were a four piece band: guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Claude was brought in towards the end of Holy Diver by Ronnie specifically just to do the intro to the track Holy Diver. The keyboard hook in “Rainbow In The Dark” is actually Jimmy Bain. Jimmy wrote it and Jimmy played it on the record, so we were not a a keyboard band. Then, when we went out and played on the Holy Diver tour, Ronnie decided he wanted Claude to be an offstage player, so Claude was playing literally behind the P.A. It wasn't until the Sacred Heart tour that Claude was actually featured as part of the live show, so we were never really a keyboard band. Vinny, Jimmy and I had always felt that creatively, the original Dio band was starting to lose it's focus by Sacred Heart because Ronnie was wanting to use keyboards more and more in the arrangements. Jimmy, Vinny and I didn't agree with that. We felt that we were getting too far away from what was the original nucleus of the band, so when Last in Line was offered the chance to make a new record, we decided to go back to that original starting point of just guitar, bass and drums. We didn't want to complicate our arrangements with a keyboardist. It's nothing against Claude. It's nothing personal and it's nothing against keyboard players in general. ...We just wanted to write and create everything the same way that we had done the Holy Diver record.”
Todd: Prior to you officially joining Def Leppard, how familiar was everyone with both your various bodies of work and you as an individual? Was there a process where everyone slowly became acquainted with each other?
Vivian: “The hardest thing for me was making the decision to join another band because I had been in so many and it hadn't worked out for various reasons. ...I had been in Sweet Savage and it didn't work out because we didn't get a record deal. I'd been in Dio and it didn't work out because Ronnie fired me. I'd been in Whitesnake and it didn't work out for various reasons, mostly to do with my ex-wife and (ex-wife of Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale) Tawny Kitaen. I'd been in River Dogs and it didn't work out because I left because our record company fucking dropped the ball on what was a great record. I'd also been in Shadow King with (former Foreigner vocalist) Lou Gramm. We did one record and one gig and it fell apart because Lou had a chronic cocaine problem so I quit. (Def Leppard frontman) Joe Elliot has been a friend of mine for many, many years. He was the only guy in the band that I actually knew. We knew each other socially and that was it. We'd never made music together, but Joe knew the kind of person I was and that's why he recommended me for the band. He thought I would be right for the band. The other guys only knew me by my reputation and my reputation wasn't necessarily good because it appeared that I couldn't keep a job, ya know? At the time, I was working on a solo record. I was still under contract as a result of the River Dogs album to CBS/Sony and I was working with a bunch of different writers. I was also taking intense vocal lessons, really honing my craft as a singer. I was truly on the path to making my own solo record and quite happy with it, so the hardest part of me joining Def Leppard was deciding whether or not I wanted to be in another band. But, you know, it is Def Leppard. It's not everyday you get afforded that type of opportunity. I knew Joe and I knew the kind of person he was, so I figured that I knew the sort of band that Def Leppard were. We actually went through like a courtship. It wasn't so much an audition as it was getting to know each other. It took place over two or three weeks in L.A. We'd literally go into the rehearsal room, play some music together and then go to dinner, go to the bar and then, the next day, we'd go to the park and have a game of football. It was us getting to know each others personalities to see if it would work. Twenty-four years later, it's still working, but I would think that it was much much more difficult for them to accept me than it was for me to step into that band. At that point, I had been in so many bands that I was used to coming into situations, working with different people and making it work musically. For them, when they stepped on stage with me, it was the first time that Steve Clark wasn't onstage with them, so I think that it was a much, much more difficult situation for the four other guys than it was for me, ya know?”
Todd: How difficult was it for you to 're-create' the riffs and solos Steve had originally recorded with the group?
Vivian: “On the Adrenalize tour, which was my first with the band, I wasn't so much playing like Steve or playing Steve's parts. After that tour, I had second thoughts about that. Since then, I've always tried to be as faithful as possible to his solos because they weren't just guitar solos, they were very melodic and thematic and very, very much a part of the song. I could never play them like Steve. I don't think that any two guitar players, or any two musicians, ever truly sound alike. I do believe we are all unique and that's what makes us great, so Def Leppard will never sound the same without Steve Clark. I'll never be able to play like Steve, but that's okay. I try to be respectful to what Steve did but I still bring my own style to it. I play much much more aggressively than Steve did. ...What I do is play my Heavy Metal versions of what were initially Hard Rock solos, ya know?”
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