With the classical training Steve had studied, this helped him to pick up songs by ear and after he had heard the Led Zeppelin album his playing style changed towards the Zeppelinesque. Steve would learn these songs until he could play them all note for note and soon formed his first band, which was believed to have been called Electric Chicken.
Steve finished school and got a job as a lathe operator and a four-year apprenticeship at a factory in Sheffield with G.E.C. Traction, and out of working hours he spent his time playing his guitar. “I had this old guitar that my dad gave me. That was my favourite thing”. He remembered.
Later, while at Stannington College one day which he attend as part of his apprenticeship training he got talking to another young lad around his age about guitars as it turned out that they both played, and the boy, named Pete Willis, explained to Steve about his new band and that they were considering adding a second guitarist so he invited Steve to come to a rehearsal. However, Steve never showed up. Shortly after, he bumped into Pete again at a Judas Priest concert. Pete was there with Joe Elliott, the singer in his band. Pete once again offered Steve an invitation to come for a rehearsal and this time Steve fulfilled his promise.
Pete and his band mates Joe Elliott (vocals), Rick Savage (bass) and Tony Kenning – who would later be replaced by Rick Allen – (drums) had called their band Def Leppard and were rehearsing in an old spoon factory building on Bramall Lane. Steve turned up at the spoon factory on January 29th 1978 and wasn’t overly impressed with the “real grotty shithole” that was their rehearsal room. They started out playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic, Freebird, and Steve proceeded to dazzle the others with his ability not only to play the entire song itself but also the lengthy solo at the end as well note for note. It was at that moment that Steve became the second guitarist that Def Leppard was seeking, completing the full 5-member line-up. Steve was impressed that Def Leppard was a band that wrote their own songs because all the previous bands he had been with had never even attempted to write their own material before.
It wasn’t long before the other four Leppard’s realised how invaluable Steve had become to their band.
In the first six months that Steve had been with the band over half of the songs that would appear on the band’s independent E.P. and debut album On Through the Night had been written.
Steve had a terrific talent for writing music and progress began to pick up some momentum. However by June of 1978 Steve was becoming extremely frustrated with rehearsing all the lack of live action. He wanted to get out there and play on stage in front of an audience. He had threatened to quit – quite a few times – if they weren’t going to do a gig soon. And on one particular evening Steve issued a serious threat to Joe that if they didn’t do a gig shortly then he was off to find another band.
This time Joe panicked, because he and the other members knew that if Steve left Def Leppard then that would be the end of the band. So Joe started talking to some people to arrange their first gig, which would be at Westfield School.
The gig went quite well and they earned the princely sum of £5. After that first gig, Def Leppard began to play a few more gigs until they were playing a number of pubs and clubs all around Sheffield and the country. And Def Leppard wanted to be noticed, so they scraped some money together (with the help of Joe’s dad) to record their E.P.
The band managed to get airplay on BBC Radio 1 and it wasn’t too long before people in the industry were asking about this young group. A deal with a record company and management soon followed. Their E.P. had sold out of its two (at this point) different pressings and things were going from strength to strength. The fact that Steve and his band mates took their music career so seriously paid off in the end. They had strict routines for rehearsals and only after the rehearsing would they go for a drink.
The next big things in Def Leppards early career were a debut album On Through The Night and touring with some rock giants such as AC/DC, Scorpions, Ozzy Osbourne & others after they had changed to new management.
Def Leppard got their first taste of being a band on the road and it was a taste that they liked! Next up was their second album High ‘n’ Dry for which they had managed to employ the talents of producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. And the Leppard’s were about to find out just how hard it was to make a good record. Once High ‘n’ Dry was released the band toured again around the world.
Unfortunately for the band, Pete Willis was beginning to cause a few problems. He was becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol and on numerous occasions he had to be practically carried off stage after gigs. He apparently suffered from stage fright at times and was in general a pretty shy guy and the fact that he was not the tallest person didn’t help his confidence, but relationships within the band were becoming strained.
During the High ‘n’ Dry tour Steve and Pete didn’t always get on too well while rooming together which caused more friction. During live performances Pete would walk off to the side of the stage to have a drink, leaving all the guitar duties up to Steve.
During the recording of their third album Pyromania in 1982, Pete Willis was fired. He’d been given warning after warning but Pete’s condition was getting worse. He even turned up to the studio one morning very drunk and couldn’t play his guitar. So the band all got together, called a meeting and fired him, which was not an easy decision, given the fact that Pete was one of the founding members of the band. But it was something that needed to be done.
Phil Collen, a Londoner, was brought in to help out in the studio as the band and Phil had met before and they knew each other. Phil turned out to be a breath of fresh air and immediately helped to lift the mood in the band camp. He brought a different dimension to the band and Steve got on very well with Phil. Phil was good for Steve. The other band members had said that Pete had been a bad influence on Steve at times, as he [Steve] tended to drink heavily a lot as well. Phil had brought Steve out of his shell and was a much better influence on Steve. The two guitarists became very close and did everything together.
Phil had to learn the guitar parts for the new songs that were going to feature on Pyromania. And he was a very good guitarist. Phil and Steve’s styles were so different that they complimented each other beautifully on the tracks. They managed to have the two guitarists play their individual parts on songs so that they intertwined with each other and the music flowed harmoniously and the lead and rhythm parts blended together almost as one. This helped to create the new unique Def Leppard sound.
When Pyromania was released it sold by the truck load, shifting 6 million albums off the shelves in America alone! This was the album that put Def Leppard into the Superstar bracket!
Pyromania spent something like 72 weeks non-stop in the US charts. The only record that prevented it from clinching the number one slot on the chart was Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Steve was now, at the young age of just 23, in a big, successful, hard rock band, headlining huge arenas, playing to sell-out crowds and had an army of female fans after his blood. This was like a dream come true and success beyond Steve’s expectations. The hard work and scraping together in the early days of the spoon factory had paid off making them very wealthy young lads. And Def Leppard, at the time, were the Rock Kings of America. Their success was growing in other countries too, but the USA was where they hit the big time first.
The Pyromania tour was a blast for Def Leppard, hugely successful. Steve and Phil also had the honour of being dubbed “The Terror Twins” by one of the band’s roadies. This was due to their pranks and nonsense that they would create together – usually under an alcoholic haze. Phil and Steve were practically inseparable during this tour. They would always get drunk together and end up doing something completely stupid or get into some sort of trouble, eg: bar brawl.
However, Phil received his wake up call one day, after he had discovered that he had spent thousands of pounds on a jewellery store’s most expensive Rolex watch while drunk with no recollection of the purchase. Steve had also bought an expensive watch and an earring that day. After that incident Phil Collen gave up drinking for three months solid and eventually kicked the booze completely. But Steve carried on drinking.
Def Leppard were asked if they would like to take part in the Live Aid concert for Africa in 1985 by Bob Geldof, but at the time they had to decline due to Rick’s accident. They had also been scheduled in to appear on the bill for the first ever Rock In Rio festival in Brazil the same year, but for the same reasons were unable to do the gig. It was just a little bit too soon. But in 1986 they were listed as one of the bands to appear at the Monster’s Of Rock festival in Europe. This was a welcome break from the grind of the studio and was also the time for Rick to make his comeback on stage after his accident. And Rick did it in style. And he received an enormous welcome and appreciation from the crowd in Donnington Park, England. It was an emotional time for Rick and the band.
As Hysteria, their fourth album had taken around four years to complete, due to numerous mishaps, delays and setbacks the world had almost forgotten who Def Leppard were. And during the time Def Leppard had taken to create this album, they had managed to get into serious financial debt. This album had to sell at least four million copies for them to break even. And given the success of Pyromania and the amount of time that Def Leppard had been out of the limelight, this would prove to be a formidable task.
Hysteria was released in August of 1987. The first US single released was Women and it didn’t fare too well. Animal was the first single in the UK and this track was much more of a success doing well on both sides of the Atlantic. It soared into the UK top 10 and Def Leppard embarked on their 17 month-long Hysteria World Tour. But sales were a bit slow. Hysteria had been released for almost a year before it suddenly took off. When Pour Some Sugar On Me was released as a single it rocketed to the top of the American charts and the album sales soared. Not just in America, but all over the world.