English rockers Def Leppard became the masters of the arena rock spectacle — their power anthems had the ability to bring an audience to its feet singing their lyrics back to them, note for note.
Throughout the 1980s, they were part of a new wave of the heavy metal movement to mainstream. Being one of the first bands to have a video on the brand new music outlet, MTV, didn't hurt their cause either.
The band consisted of Joe Elliott (lead vocals), Rick Savage (bass, backing vocals), Rick Allen (drums, backing vocals), Phil Collen (guitars, backing vocals) and Steve Clark (guitars) and was formed in 1977. Vivian Campbell joined in 1992 after the death of Clark in 1991.
Their 1981 album, High 'n' Dry, was produced by Robert John "Mutt" Lange, who helped them begin to define their style, and the album's standout track "Bringin' On the Heartbreak" became one of the first rock videos played on MTV in 1982. The band's next studio album, Pyromania, was released in January 1983, with "Photograph" and "Rock of Ages" as the lead singles, blowing the doors off the charts. The momentum continued with Hysteria, released in 1987.
They are one of only five rock bands with two original studio albums selling over 10 million copies in the U.S. The band was ranked No. 31 in VH1's "100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock" and ranked No. 70 in "100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Def Leppard sold more than 100 million records worldwide.
Hits included "Love Bites," "Animal," "Foolin," "Too Late for Love," "Armageddon It," "Rocket," "Women," and their signature anthem, "Pour Some Sugar on Me." Illustrating their continued popularity and relevance, Def Leppard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.
Would the long-time tribute band Pyromania take any credit for helping to keep the musical legacy going with the many shows they've performed over the years? Not a chance. They are well aware the spotlight deserves to be on the original guys themselves — but Pyromania is like any fan, they just can't get enough of the music…no f-f-f-foolin'. But they can't help but appreciate people saying the Huntington Beach group is the next best thing to seeing and hearing Def Leppard live. They are proud to take that compliment, thank you very much. It means their tribute is doing exactly what it's supposed to — make people happy.
Pyromania consists of Michael O'Mara as Joe Elliott (lead vocals); Neal Shelton as Steve Clark (guitar, vocals); John Kulczyk as Phil Collen (guitar, backing vocals); James Schultz as Rick Allen (drums, backing vocals); and Patrick McGrath as Rick Savage (bass player).
We talked with Michael O'Mara about the band, the music and the show they bring to Harrah's Laughlin as part of the resort’s Summer Beach Concert Series. Here's his take…
Talk a little about the background of the group.
It all started in the spring of 2002, I was looking to put together a Led Zeppelin tribute and I came across an ad that this band was looking for a singer to do Def Leppard. Now, I was a big Def Leppard fan, but I'm thinking, "how many hits do they have? Is Def Leppard going to be viable to the public? Are people going to show up? Is this going to last two weeks, or two years?" I went to check out the band and they were good. I tried to talk them into, "Why don't we do a Led Zepplin tribute band?" They said, "No, there's too many of them." They were right, and I was wrong. We've gone through a few personnel changes over the years and more than 17 years later, we're still doing it, the phone's still ringing, and we're still playing. We've played in over eight different countries as a tribute to Def Leppard, and we did it because, as they explained it to me at the time, no other bands were doing Def Leppard. And we quickly found out why.
Sounds like it was more challenging than you thought?
Def Leppard is pretty hard to replicate, they are a very heavily produced band. Of course, Mutt Lange was their famous producer and he really brought them to life. Like I said, at the time, this band was good, but it took us, gosh, probably a couple of years before we were good enough, but that didn't stop us. We got together in April 2002, and in October, we played our first show. I look back at videos and I'm like, "Yeah, we were alright."
But we've definitely grown over the years, we've gotten a lot better. We've gotten better players. Right now Neal Shelton who plays the Steve Clark character and I are the only two originals from 2002 — and now we've got Patrick McGrath on bass guitar, Jimmy Schultz on drums, and John Kulczyk on guitar. It's a really solid band, really enjoyable. I think that we do them justice. We get a lot of really good comments, so I think we're finally doing it right after 17 years.
Assembling the right players is half the battle.
We were looking for a bass player — gosh, this was probably seven years ago. We had gone through a couple bass players, and Neal said, "I've got a bass player friend." I said, "Who?" He told me about the person he was thinking of and I said, "That guy doesn't sing, we've got to have somebody that sings." Everybody pretty much has to sing 'cause we don't want to use tracks. We want to do the real thing, we want to be live on the fly. So when we got Patrick he brought along his keyboard capabilities — he plays a lot of the bass-synth parts like "Rock of Ages." We're able to mimic the Def Leppard live show much closer these days.
Do you think your tribute helps with Def Leppard's continued popularity? What's it like paying tribute to a band that's still out there? Do you think of them as competition?
No, we don't think of them as competition. I mean, they're the kings, and it's understood we're just doing what we love to do and we love to replicate the band. They do know about the band, and we played "The World's Greatest Tribute Bands" it's a live show on AXS TV. We did that a couple years ago. It's a one-hour fully live show so you're live and on the fly, whatever happens, happens. It was cool because when we were approached by the producer of the show, they said "Yeah, there a few other Def Leppard bands out there, but you guys are definitely the best and we want you to play." That was exciting and nerve wracking at the same time, because you're live — they've got the cameras everywhere. It was fun though, and I was really proud of the band, they did a great job.
And they actually promoted the AXS show for us. We've run into Vivian Campbell, we've met everybody but I have not met Joe, the lead singer. We ran into Phil Collen at Starbucks in Orange County. He was walking out and we were walking in. He looked at us and said, "Oh, it's the Pyromania band." We were like, "Whoa, he knows us!" It was quite flattering, and very, very cool.
Does one song go over better than the others?
Years ago, I don't know if it was Rolling Stone magazine or VH1, they had done the Top 50 rock and roll anthems of all time. "Pour Some Sugar on Me" was No. 2, and "Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC was No. 1 — both produced by Mutt Lange. Even to this day, we call it "national anthem of Def Leppard music." When we play "Pour Some Sugar on Me," that's when everybody gets out of their seats and that's still the biggest response.
"Rock of Ages" gets a really good response, "Photograph" gets a great response." We do 'em all. When I was questioning how many hits they had, we found out in the early days, they had a lot of hits and a lot or rock anthems that really go over well. We have trimmed it down to a nice neat 90-minute set of just the hits, nothing but the hits. It's a good show.
What do you think it is that sets you guys apart? Are you still the only ones out there?
There might be one or two out there now, but I think what we have over any that are starting out or that are trying to do a Def Leppard tribute is we've got several years of playing these songs under our belt. We constantly go into rehearsals and constantly try to emulate the sound of Def Leppard more and more. I think that just the experience of doing these songs over and over and over again, have really put us at the top of our game. What we try to do is go up there and just give the people 110 percent.
What's one of the strangest places you never thought you would perform?
Other than we've done live performances in eight countries, and broken attendance records and sold out shows and things like that, 10 years ago, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen reached out to us. He was having a benefit for his Raven Drum Foundation, which benefits veterans, in Las Vegas, and we actually played his event. So that was an honor. He didn't play with us, but you meet him and you're like, "With everything you've been through, the adversity (Allen lost his left arm in a car accident in 1985) and you're still up there playing — that says a lot about the band, too." It's a great band, the band has really been very good to us, the people are very dedicated to the band, and we just love doing a tribute to the band. It's been so much fun. I honestly didn't think it would last two weeks and here it is 17 years later.
One thing about the Pyromania band I love is I've really surrounded myself with professional musicians. It's five professional guys who are there to do a job and we're going to do it well. It will be a lot of fun. I can't wait.