The Moment Def Leppard Saved Their Future

Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen recalled the moment he had enough of the band’s career trajectory, leading to a turnaround in its fortunes.

He was performing at a state fair in 2005 when he told his bandmates: “Fuck it! We’re better than this,” he told Classic Rock in a new interview.

“It was like a carnival, if you can imagine doing a gig at a carnival,” he said. “They put fucking deck chairs out! It was full-on Spinal Tap. Like, ‘Are we going on before the puppet show?’ I was so pissed off. I just thought: ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’” He stated that he never considered quitting the band, but added that “what I thought is that we’re in a rut and we need to change. And everybody backed me up on it.”

Singer Joe Elliott explained: “In one sense, state fairs are like every other gig – big stage, big audience. But there’s a stigma that comes with it. It’s the difference between an ‘80s artist like Madonna doing six nights at Wembley and an ‘80s package tour … at Butlin’s. And at a state fair, you’re just one of the attractions, along with a big wheel and firework display and a juggling pig or whatever. It’s not exactly Madison Square Garden.”

The band’s decision involved its departure from Q Prime management and the Universal record label. “If I saw those guys now, it would be all high fives,” Elliott said. “It wasn’t working out with Q Prime anymore, and we needed a bit more inspiration around us. Howard Kaufman had a different way of thinking, and when he took over, everything changed.”

With the help of Kaufman’s HK Management company, notably the boss’ chief assistant Mike Kobayashi, Def Leppard set about rekindling their career. While they were still in demand as a live act, Universal was no longer interested in them, so they relied on their position to release two albums independently. Eventually, their reputation recovered, Universal invited them back and the band is currently part of the Stadium Tour with Motley Crue, Poison and Joan Jett.

“We re-signed with Universal because new people have come in and they see the value in Def Leppard,” Elliott said. “Some of these people bought our records in the ’80s. They understand. In this business, it’s all about perception. To get out of that rut that we’d been in, we had to make people look at the band in a different way, and so much of that was down to Howard and Mike.”

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