You joined Dio around 1983, right?
And how do you get the spot there? Is it an audition or do they see your work with Sweet Savage and just ask you?
Jimmy Bain, the original bass player, he had heard me play with Sweet Savage and he recommended me to Ronnie. I was still living in Belfast and I flew over to London. I met Ronnie and I met Vinny for the first time- this would have been September 1982. We got together and we started playing and Ronnie started smiling, he liked what he heard. A few weeks later I flew to LA and we started writing the ‘Holy Diver’ record.
When you come into Dio how were you feeling? Had your paths with any of the members ever crossed? Were you nervous?
Jimmy was the only one I knew. I had never met Ronnie or Vinny before and in fact, I was a huge Dio fan. I mean I had ‘Rainbow Rising’, I had ‘Long Live Rock n Roll’. Ironically at the time, I was never really much of a Sabbath fan but at the time this all happened I was really into ‘Heaven and Hell’, the album. I would listen to it in my car a lot. So yeah I was a big Ronnie fan, it’s safe to say I was extremely nervous. In fact, I think it’s safe to say the whole time I worked with Ronnie I was nervous around him. This was a guy I’d been listening to since I was like 12 years old or whatever, he was a big rockstar, you know? A major star. I was just an unknown kid from Belfast. He was also a lot older than me too, so it was sort of a generational thing, you know? I don’t think that Ronnie and I were ever really that comfortable with each other, socially. It was always sort of an awkward relationship but we worked very well together musically. As long as we didn’t have to talk to each other, it was great.
Looking at ‘Holy Diver’, ‘Last in Line’ and ‘Sacred Heart’, which were the three records you worked on, which one stands out to you as a favorite- for whatever reason.
The first two were definitely a lot more fun than the third. ‘Sacred Heart’ was a very very difficult record to make for many reasons. I also think that musically it’s a little overly complex for the band. I think we started to kind of wander off course a bit. I know that Jimmy and Vinny feel the same about that. It was a more difficult record to write and it was a more difficult record to record. Ronnie was going through some very dark personal issues at the time; he was separating from his wife Wendy who was also the manager of the band. But Ronnie was in a very very dark place and he wasn’t easy to be around at that time. Ronnie was also producing the record…that made it exceptionally difficult for everyone involved. So that was a dark time. Maybe that kind of clouds my being able to reflect objectively on that record, I don’t have great feelings for that record. But ‘Holy Diver’ and ‘Last in Line’ are two great records. They were very easy to write, they were very easy to record.
Tell me about Hear ‘n’ Aid and writing ‘Stars’ with Ronnie. How’d that all come about, how was that whole experience?
Well that grew out of an interview on KLOS, the Los Angeles rock station. Jimmy and I were doing the interview and it was at the time that ‘We Are the World’, that Michael Jackson project had come out. The DJ said to us ‘how come no one, absolutely no one, in the rock community was invited to participate in this?’ and you know when you think about it, back in that era hard rock music sold millions of record but it didn’t have any sort of respect in the music industry. It never won Grammy’s or anything, it was always kind of frowned upon. So we kind of had a bit of conversation on air with the DJ about that and we kind of jokingly said that we should do our own thing, and Jimmy came up with the name right there and then and said ‘we should call in Hear n Aid’. We all kind of fell off our stools laughing about that and at the time Jimmy and I lived together; we were roommates during those early Dio records. We went back to our apartment later that night and you know, we said hey, let’s give it some serious consideration. Let’s actually look into the possibilities of doing this. We wrote the song that night. Jimmy and I wrote the music for the song. We were doing the ‘Sacred Heart’ record at the time and like I mentioned previously Ronnie was not in a great state of mind, but we knew that the only way we could get the song to actually kick off would be to have Ronnie’s involvement. We needed Ronnie’s name, I guess, behind it. Nobody was going to listen to Jimmy and myself. So we took the song to Ronnie the next day and Ronnie, I think, he felt overwhelmed. He wasn’t on board with it at first, he wasn’t against the idea but we just had so much going on, like I said, he was producing the record; he was writing all the lyrics for the ‘Sacred Heart’ album. But still, he was kind of cold to it. We just kept pestering him for a week or two and eventually I think he discussed it over with Wendy and I think they both saw some merit in it. Ronnie wrote lyrics for the song and Jimmy and I sat around utilizing whatever contacts we had to just try…I spent literally weeks and weeks making phone calls to people I didn’t know. Just ‘hi, you don’t know me but I’m Vivian Campbell I play guitar with Dio’ and gave them the whole spiel about ‘this is what we’re doing’ and ‘is there any way you can participate’. I called hotels to get free rooms, I called airlines to get free flights, I called studios to get free time, car services to get free shuttling to and from…we eventually did it. We pulled it off, it was incredibly hard work. But you know, I don’t think we would have been able to do it without Ronnie lending his support to it. In a nutshell I guess that Dio sort of took over the idea and ran with it. Once I was done with my bit, just making phone calls and even the day of the recording I was just so…I was being the host, you know. I was making sure everyone got in from the airport, that everyone had what they needed, that all the rental gear was there for the guitar players. And then at the end of the day Ronnie says to me ‘well you gotta play guitar’ so I was like- fuck! I was just so not ready to play guitar. My mind was just elsewhere, you know, in the organizational aspect of it. So I was really glad when it was over- let’s put it that way. It was incredibly exhausting for me, but it was remarkable that we managed to pull it off.
It was a labor of love kind of, right?
It certainly was, yes.
And I know not too long after that your time with Dio came to a close. What was the turning point when you were with Dio where everyone realized it wouldn’t be able to work anymore?
Well I was the thorn in Dio’s side. When the band was formed, that night in September ’82 in London, Ronnie kind of sat us down once we played, and this was the first time we all met and played together, Ronnie sat us down afterwards and he was super excited with what he was hearing. He said here’s the story…and he kind of explained to us that he had left Sabbath with Vinny and that he had a record deal and that we were gonna call the band ‘Dio’, for obvious name recognition. And that we would all be writing the record together, and he said there was going to be no money in this- you’re literally going to get a hundred dollars a week, which we did. But he said that if this project is successful by the third album, we’ll make it a completely equitable situation. That’s the thing I never let go of, and people make it kind of a nutshell thing about money. It was never about money, it was always about principle to me, you know? I am a man of my word. When somebody looks me in the eye and shakes my hand and we have an agreement, I’d honor my end of the agreement. In a nutshell, the Dio’s did not honor their end of the agreement. To be honest, with the benefit of having many many decades of hindsight I can see exactly what happened. Ronnie never shared that information with Wendy, and Wendy never saw any value in the band. As far as she was concerned it was all about Ronnie, and that Ronnie could have any three musicians behind him playing guitar, bass and drums and it would be just as good. And the fact was that Ronnie knew that a band was a sum of the parts. The third album came and like I said Ronnie was in a very very dark place when he was going through the separation from Wendy and I talked to Ronnie at the start of the ‘Sacred Heart’ record and I said Ronnie, you know, I just wanna touch base with you about this. We’re on album three here…and up to this point bear in mind that the band has been very very successful. We’ve sold millions of records of which Vinny, Jimmy and myself got nothing from. We’ve sold hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise and t-shirts with our name, image and likeness on them which we got nothing. We’ve sold millions of dollars’ worth of tickets of which we got nothing. And we were being salaried less than the road crew. Which was all fine, we all agreed to work to this end because we all agreed that it was a labor of love, a passion project and we were invested in it because we knew that by the third album it would be an equitable situation. Because that is what Ronnie had promised us. So I was the one, I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t married, I had no kids, I didn’t even have a home, I had no mortgage- I didn’t know any better. I just kept going ‘Ronnie we need to talk about this, we’re doing album number three’. And Ronnie kept saying ‘okay let’s get through the album and then we’ll sit down with Wendy and we’ll figure it out’. So we got through the album and we started rehearsals for the tour, I brought it up with Ronnie again- ‘Ronnie we really need to sit down and talk about this we’re on the third album’. He said ‘okay well let’s get through rehearsals. Once we’re on the road we’ll sit down with Wendy’. So we got through rehearsals, we go on tour, I bring it up again, he keeps pushing it off. And then there was a break in the first leg of the American tour and we were due to start in England so I went back to Ireland for them to transition so I could meet with my family. As soon as I got to Ireland I received a Fed-Ex contract from Wendy Dio. They offered me an extra few hundred dollars a week and they told me to sign it and return the contract, failure to return it within 48 hours would stipulate it- meaning I was no longer in the band. I tried to get Ronnie on the phone and he wouldn’t pick up the phone. That was it. The next thing you know Craig Goldy is in the band and the band is touring England with Craig Goldy. Ronnie is making interviews in the press telling everyone I quit the band, which was absolutely untrue- I was fired from the band in the middle of the tour because I wanted him to respect his word. So, you know, at the end of the day it comes down to this- Ronnie didn’t have the balls to stand up to his wife. He didn’t have the balls to stand up to Wendy and go ‘this is what I promised them, this is what it’s gonna be, this is what it should be’. And frankly, I don’t think the band was ever the same afterwards. And I think that if Ronnie was still around and he were to be honest, he’d admit the same thing. I also think that if Ronnie was still alive and that if Wendy were not his manager, I would be playing with Dio again. I would have done it years ago. Wendy never saw the value in the band and at the end of the day she never thought it was worth it.
Do you think that if Wendy Dio wasn’t the manager it would have elongated your career with Dio?
Absolutely. One hundred percent. I would have never left the band. I would have never been fired.
That’s crazy for me to hear. Looking back at your time with Dio, I can see you kind of have mixed feelings about it, so how do you feel about your run with Dio?
I have very different feelings towards it now than I did, say, ten or fifteen or twenty years ago.
The way that it happened, to be fired in the middle of a tour from something I had invested so much in for years and then to be flagged in the press and again to be misrepresented in the press that I had turned my back on the band, it hurt me so much. I wanted nothing to do with it. In fairness, I was stupid enough to lash back out at Ronnie- we were both guilty of saying nasty things about each other in the press which is never a good idea. But a lot of things have happened in recent decades. Number one, Ronnie has passed away so its water under the bridge, it’s gone. I didn’t even own the Dio records. I didn’t listen to it; I didn’t want anything to do with that genre of music for many years because it left such a bad taste in my mouth. It kind of was a little bit easier for me to reflect on now that Ronnie has passed away. A couple of things prompted my wanting to get back into hard rock music and play guitar like that again. Primarily in 2010 and 2011, Scott Gorham asked me to go on tour with Thin Lizzy as the stunt guitar player. Now Thin Lizzy was the most influential band for me in my youth, so to be on stage playing ‘Black Rose’ and ‘Emerald’ and what not with Scott Gorham and with Brian Downey, it brought me back to being a teenager again and reminded me of my first love. So I came back off of that tour and I just wanted to play guitar like that again. I called up Jimmy and I called up Vinny and we went into the rehearsal room just to jam, that was the only agenda- to play guitar and have fun. Things grew out of that. Out of that jam we met and Vinny suggested that the next time we jam we sing with this guy Andy Freeman, he’s such a great singer- this would be fun, it’d be more fun to jam with a singer. And out of that, when I heard Andy sing, it had the unmistakable sound of a Dio band but with a totally different singer. I just thought it was an interesting way to present these old songs, you know. I started thinking about it very very differently and around that time, because Ronnie had passed away and there was enough passage of time, I reframed how I look at that time of my life. It was as much my creative project as it was Ronnie’s. The band was called Dio. The band was called Dio but we all created that music together. We were all very very much a part of it. It was as much mine as it was Jimmy’s as it was Vinny’s. I kind of felt like this has been taken from me for decades, partly through my own attitude towards it- I’ve let it be taken from me. And I really kind of reembraced it and I look at it very very differently nowadays. And maybe because of the fact that I had my own cancer diagnosis a year or two after that probably has also helped me reflect upon that and reflect upon life in general. I just thoroughly enjoy it, I mean I so enjoy playing guitar like that again. That’s the one thing I’ve done best in life is just to beat the shit out of a Les Paul, and when I play with Jimmy and Vinny it always elevated my game. Vinny Appice is the most inspirational drummer I’ve ever played with. When Vinny plays behind me I really have to raise my game. It’s so great to connect with Vinny again, it was great to connect with Jimmy before he passed away- and just to reconnect with my youth and like I said, with my original love and my original passion- to play guitar like that. And then out of that grew the chance to write and record some new material with Last in Line and it’s just so much fun. I read things online and people say ‘this is a cash grab’ and all this- people have no fucking idea. I am not doing this for money; there is no fucking money in this. This is completely for the love of it. We just did a European tour in November, you know, I bought my own plane ticket to get there and back. I do this, I’m my own roadie- I tune strings of my guitar for every show. I’m doing this because I want to do this. I do this because this is my passion- to play guitar, because I do it really really fucking well. It just exercises a very different muscle than I exercise in Def Leppard. I mean, Leppard is a great great live show but the real challenge for me in Def Leppard is vocals. It is a very very vocally challenging band because we all sing in every song; the challenge in Last in Line is all about guitar. I don’t even sing in Last in Line, I don’t wanna sing in Last in Line. I never sang with Dio, I was just the guitar player so that’s all I do with Last in Line. I put my head down and I play the shit out of that Les Paul.
And we’re gonna talk about Last in Line in a second because I find it interesting that you said when you joined forced again with Jimmy and Vinny that really like, lit the fire for you guitar playing wise- you were doing numerous things prior to that. Did you not feel fulfilled doing all the things prior to being with Thin Lizzy and now with Last in Line?
Well, I always like to keep busy. I have a record coming out later this year with Riverdogs and it’s an absolutely amazing record. Fucking great record. Unfortunately in this day in age no one will ever hear it…actually come to think of it, nobody ever heard the original Riverdogs record either.
Very under the radar.
I know, and we made this new Riverdogs record exactly to the same template that we did the original so it’s very very similar to that in style. I like to keep busy. We are what we do. So to me, I’ve always been a guitar player, I’ve always been a musician and I like to keep working. I play club shows here in LA when the schedule permits. Obviously I don’t do that for money either, so it’s just my passion. It’s what I do and it’s what I do best. In general, I just like to keep busy. You know, in Leppard sometimes we work intensely for months and months and months and there’s other years where we barely do anything so for me it’s important to keep going. Otherwise, I very very much believe in the old saying ‘you use it or lose it’. For me as a guitar player, I’ve got to keep playing, I’ve gotta keep doing it. And as a songwriter, we’ve gotta keep writing. And that’s why, you know, in Def Leppard we keep making new records. Nobody’s really buying them compared to the classic albums in the eighties and when we go on tour we play a couple of the new songs. To be honest, the audience doesn’t care they just want to hear the classics but that’s not the point. We still owe it to ourselves individually and collectively to exercise the creative muscle, you know. It’s very very vital.
With Last in Line are you planning on or are you working on any new original material?
We are, actually. I’m on my way today to another writing session with them. We’ve had several already; I’d say we have about two thirds of the album. It’s sounding great. I’m happy to say that, I didn’t know how it was going to work with Phil Soussan from a creative point of view, but I’m very happy to say that he fits in there. He absolutely gets how we write songs and it’s been a really good fit having Phil. The songs are sounding great; Andy’s got some terrific lyrics and melodies. We wanna keep the same team in place. We worked on the ‘Heavy Crown’ record with Jeff Pilson and Jeff was absolutely fantastic for us so it’s a great fit and we want to keep that. That’s the good news. The bad news is that because of Jeff’s schedule with Foreigner and my schedule with Def Leppard this year it’ll be September before we can actually start recording which unfortunately means it’ll probably be early 2018 before the record’s released. But it will be coming, at least.
Absolutely, at least you’re working on something and keeping it going. Is Def Leppard working on anything?
No, we’re gonna have a pretty light year for Leppard. We’re going to do the thirty-something shows in April, May and June and then I think we’re pretty much taking the rest of the year off. Although we are writing and I do think we’re not going to leave as long between record as we did between ‘Sparkle Lounge’ in 2008 and the 2015 record. That was a ridiculously long time. I do think we’ll have another new Leppard record out within a year or two but I don’t think we’re gonna get into it this year.
Alright, great. And Last in Line is coming over to the East Coast- is this the first time you guys are coming over here?
Yes it is! A lot of people have been requesting it but you’ve gotta understand, and we touched base on this earlier in the interview, about economics. It’s not like we can just fly in and do a gig, you know, swan in and swan out on a private jet. It doesn’t fucking work like that. This is a club level band. We don’t earn a lot of money so it’s very very difficult economically to make shows work and we’re based on the West Coast- that’s why until recently we’ve only been able to play on the West Coast with the exception of that European trip that we did last November. So I know it’s well overdue and I know we’ve got a lot of support out there on the East Coast, a lot of people have been waiting and requesting this for a long time. It’s nice to finally be able to make this happen, even though it’s only a very limited number of shows it’s better than nothing. I’d like to do it, finally.