SMG Interview: Vivian Campbell’s Excellent Adventure

Vivian Campbell’s Excellent Adventure

Vivian Campbell has got it made.  He’s an 80’s guitar hero who knows how to maintain high profile employment doing what he does best, playing ballsy rock guitar.  Few guitarists can say they’ve done time in Dio, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, and Thin Lizzy, and still had time for numerous side projects.

Campbell is finishing up his stint with Thin Lizzy and is about to go on the road to promote the new Def Leppard album titled Mirror Ball: Live & More.  It’s a hellacious live record with beloved rock staples such as “Foolin’,” “Rock Of Ages,” “Too Late For Love,” and “Photograph.”  It’s a nicely packaged two CD set served up with gut level urgency and power that includes three new studio tracks.  SMG hooked up with Campbell to get the inside skinny on his gear, the new record, and the Dio feud.

How cool is it to be playing in Thin Lizzy?

It’s a dream for me.  I wanted to be in Thin Lizzy when I was eighteen.  It’s like being a teenager again being able to do that.  I’m so familiar with the catalogue it’s ingrained in my DNA.  It’s such a pleasure to get out on stage and be Brian Robertson, Eric Bell, and Gary Moore all in one night.  I haven’t been this excited in decades about my instrument, and I think I’m playing better than I’ve ever played as a result.

Why a live Def Leppard record?

We never actually recorded this stuff specifically to release as a live album.  We just started to archive it.  The technology nowadays is cheap, affordable, and portable enough that all you need is a laptop, some software, and a bunch of hard drives.  Basically we started recording every night and we did that all over the 2008 – 2009 tour.  It also takes the pressure off the band because you forget you’re being recorded.  The hardest part was actually going through the material and deciding what the best performances were.

We’re a very consistent band so we left it to Joe Elliot to figure it out.  It was up to him to figure out which night he sang best on a certain song.  We cherry picked through over a hundred shows.  Joe has the hardest gig being the lead singer.  If Joe has a sore throat it’s going to be hell for him.  That’s why we left it to Joe.


What’s your main guitar?

It’s a bastardized Les Paul Custom with a silver sparkle finish.  It started life as a ’78 Les Paul Custom that I bought at a pawnshop in Nashville in 1993.  It had a great neck, which was the reason why I bought it.  Then it got run over by something very heavy when I was traveling to Europe.

What remained of the guitar was the headstock, the neck, and the front pickup.  I had the guitar re-bodied with a 1958 Jimmy Page style knock-off body, so it’s a smaller body than a custom.  Consequently it’s a little bit lighter than a regular Les Paul Custom.  I re-fretted it with Dunlop 6000 fretwire, which I have on all my guitars.  It has a DiMarzio pickup in the bridge, which is the same one that Phil uses in his Jacksons (DiMarzio Super 3).

It’s got Tone Pros hardware on it, and I got a 300k pot on the volume so it cleans up a little more when it rolls off.  Basically the entire guitar has been reworked, but there’s something about that guitar that just sounds great and plays great.

What kind of amps are you using?

For Def Leppard I have a Marshall JMP with the typical switching system of digital delays and stereo processing which is necessary.  I have a brilliant sounding rig that I built for the Thin Lizzy tour.  I just love the way it sounds.  It’s basically a Mojave Scorpion 50-watt head and a Mojave 4X12 cab.  It’s a very direct signal path.  My Les Paul runs on a cable because I don’t like what a wireless does to your guitar sound, but in Def Leppard I have to use a wireless because of the size of the stage.  With Thin Lizzy it’s my Les Paul into a Dunlop Hendrix Wah, to an Angry Troll Boost pedal, to the front end of the Mojave.  The Mojave doesn’t have an effects loop, but it has an adjustable line out.  I take the line out and feed it into the front of a Fulltone Tube Tape Echo, and from that to a little Crown 150 watt guitar amp, that would power a Marshall 4 X12 cab.  So I have a dry cab and a wet cab with a tape delay and it sounds so fucking good.

You and the late Ronnie James Dio had a falling out.  How has his passing affected you?

It’s not so much that we had a falling out.  Ronnie and I never really had much in common other than the music.  There was a real age difference between us.  When I joined Dio I had just turned twenty.  Ronnie was a lot older.  I’m sure it was just as uncomfortable for him as it was for me.  We had this very awkward kind of relationship where we found it very hard to communicate with each other.  It was like being in a band with your step dad.  It was really weird.

Then Ronnie fired me.  A lot of people think I left Dio and I turned my back on him.  That’s absolutely not the case.  I got fired half way through the Sacred Heart Tour.  I never wanted to leave the band.

Why did you get fired?

When we first got together, Ronnie promised us that by the third album there would be an equitable split for the band.  Everyone would be an equal guy in terms of merchandise and record sales.  We got none of that.  Jimmy Bain (Bass) and Vinnie Appice (Drums) and myself were all salaried players.  We earned less than our road crew.  I just felt it was wrong.

Ronnie and particularly his wife Wendy made this promise to all of us back then.  So we started doing the third album, and I was probably the most vocal.  “Hey Ronnie, we talked about this back then and you promised us this.”  Ronnie kept saying, “We’ll talk about it when the record is over.”  Then the record was over and I brought it back up again and he said,  “We’ll talk about it when we’re on the road.”  It just kept getting put off.

Then we had a break in the tour and I went back to Ireland to visit my parents.  I got this FEDEX asking me to sign this contract.  They were going to pay me an extra two hundred bucks a week, and that failure to return it signed by such and such a date would be constituted as me leaving the band.

So I’m on the phone trying to get Ronnie, and of course Ronnie won’t pick up the phone.  The next thing I know, the band is doing the UK part of the tour with Craig Goldie and I’m fired.  I’m very proud of those records.  The songs that I wrote with Ronnie and the records we made really stand up.  It’s bittersweet for me because I never got paid for them, nor did Vinnie or Jimmy.

You don’t get royalties from those records?

We got no royalties on the records.  We got none of the receipts from the tour.  We were salaried guys getting paid less than the lighting designer, getting paid less than the sound guy, getting paid less than the professionals on the crew.  To put a dollar figure on it, in 1984 I earned sixty something thousand dollars, and Ronnie earned eleven million.  It’s a little bit of a financial discrepancy, considering that the band also wrote the music.  Jimmy Bain and I wrote a lot of those songs with him.  To not get paid at all and then to be fired…

I don’t like talking about the details of it in that way.  I thoroughly enjoyed playing in that band.  I never wanted to leave.  I got fired.  As a result, it did leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, so I hadn’t spoke to Ronnie since then.  Frankly, when he died it was two weeks after my mother died, so I was kind of a little bit numb to the whole thing.

People were calling me saying, “What do you think about Ronnie dying?”  I didn’t feel anything about Ronnie dying.  I hadn’t talked to him in over twenty-five years and my mother had just passed.  Saying that I left the band and turned by back on Dio is absolutely not true.  I was 100% fired.


Vivian’s Tools of The Trade


Gibson ’78 Custom (Sparkle Finish)

Gibson ’56 Custom Shop Reissue Les Paul


Mojave 50-Watt Scorpion

Marshall JMP-1 Preamp


Way Huge Angry Troll Boost Pedal

Dunlop Crybaby Wah pedals (runs 3 of them on stage)

Fulltone Tube Tape Echo

Yamaha D1500 Digital Delay/Echo Processor

Electronic 2290 Stereo Delay

Eventide Omnipressor

Rocktron Chorus


Dunlop 13-54


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