In the name of that adored Facebook reminder of how great things were any other time than the present: Here’s an old, January 2005 interview with DEF LEPPARD drummer, Rick Allen.
The Thunder God Speaks
It was the summer of 1979 and my buddy Johnny and I had conned our parents into letting us take the bus to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit my aunt and go see screaming Ted Nugent and the Scorpions in concert. We were only thirteen years old and we thought we had really struck it big with this move. My aunt picked us up at the bus station, took us out for pizza, and then dropped us off at the Charlotte Coliseum at around 6:30pm. While standing in line to get in, we were introduced to seemingly nice folks who were kind enough to ask us if we were “looking”. We really didn’t know what to say, but the torpedo cigarettes that were shoved up under our noses were some of the strangest we’d ever seen. Yeah, we were rocking with the big dogs now and we knew that Uncle Ted was gonna bust our cherry from concert virginity like nothing we’d ever experienced before. Little did we know, it would be the opening band that night which would have us scrambling to the mall the next day in search of their new album. Amidst all the noise and what I’m sure was a full-on contact buzz from all the funny smelling smoke in that arena, it sounded like the announcer said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, all the way from the U.K., give it up for the Deadly Weapons!” I would later find out on my visit to the mall the following day that the record store clerk was at the same show and he confirmed for me that their name was, in fact, NOT the Deadly Weapons….but Def Leppard. I quickly snatched the copy of On Through The Night that he was holding for me in his hands, and raced to my aunt’s car so that we could get back to her apartment and listen to the tune “Answer To The Master”. That was the killer song with the awesome drum solo that I had seen the night before. I scanned the album credits so I could see who the drummer was…and there, right in front of me, was a picture of a kid who couldn’t have been any older than me at the time! “Rick Allen” was the name, and it was one that would forever be engraved in my young mind.
Later that year, when I started playing drums myself, “Answer To The Master” was one of the songs I would always listen to and dream about being good enough to play. On Through The Night was one of those albums that I held in high regard along with my Kiss Alive record and the first Mother’s Finest album. It was Rick’s drumming on that record and his performance at that show twenty-six years ago that made me a life-long fan of Def Leppard and everything Rick would lend his name to. I studied his drum set up, I noted that he played barefoot, I knew every cymbal size and weight that he used…I was obsessed with his playing. I cried when he had the car accident that cost him his left arm, and I marveled when he came back and continued to play for the band regardless of the fact that he was one appendage short of his counterparts. To say that Rick Allen has always been one of my heroes is an understatement.
Follow along now as Away-Team takes you on an exclusive interview with Rick to talk about the band, his Raven Drum Foundation, and ask a few questions from some of our readers.
BAM2: It’s an honor and a pleasure, Rick, I’ve been a fan for many years dating back to when you guys opened for Ted Nugent and the Scorpions in 1979. I was only thirteen then and I remember that show like it was yesterday. You did a killer drum solo out of “Answer To The Master” that had me hooked.
RICK: Oh yeah, I did used to do a solo in that one. I must not be that much older than you then, if you were thirteen at that show. I’m forty-one now.
BAM2: Yup, you’re only a couple of years older. That’s one of the things I connected with back then is that you were already what I considered famous at the time and yet you were not much older than me. (laughs) I figured I might actually have a chance at fame. (laughs) Needless to say, I never got very far. (laughter) Let’s talk about the band. You’ve got a greatest hits compilation out now called Rock Of Ages and you’ve also got an album of cover tunes coming out on September 20th that is called Yeah!, plus a tour with Bryan Adams…what else is going on?
RICK: Well, I think we’re going to probably end up elongating this tour through December because the interest has been incredible. Also, we’ve been working on some new music. We have this room that we set up at the gigs…we call it “The Sparkle Lounge”. There’s a couple of guitars, some guitar amps, and a small drum kit there and it gives us the opportunity to work out some ideas that people are coming up with. [Band members] will present ideas to each other and we’ll do some rough recordings and hopefully some of those will make their way to the studio when we are ready to record another album. It really makes sense for us to do that because the last thing we want to do is get off the road and go, ‘Oh Shit, now we’ve got to come up with a new record!’. Things are really great right now. People are really behind us, the record company are really into everything that we’re doing…it’s almost like the perception of the band has changed, you know, with all the younger people now that are coming to the shows.
BAM2: You’ve got songs that you could say stand the test of time, though. I have a fifteen year old daughter who still loves to hear “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and knows all the words. I don’t know what has connected the genres the way that it seems you guys have been able to do, but it’s amazing just how relevant you guys are today. The music is timeless, bro.
RICK: That is very true and we’re starting to realize that. You know our last tour, with the X album…you know the powers that be didn’t want that record to succeed. Now, I know a lot of personnel have changed at the record company over the years, so that may be part of why this is happening too, but it just seems that a lot of people are really into the band again.
(Writers Note: At this point I tell Rick the story about seeing him play with Ted Nugent and the Scorpions and how I thought the band’s name was The Deadly Weapons.)
RICK: (laughs) Oh, now that’s funny.
BAM2: Now, over the years, especially with some of the things you have to do with the electronics that allow you to play your snare with your foot, etc.., I’ve always noticed that you have an incredible bass foot. Your right foot in “Answer To The Master” bounces to the tune of what a lot of drummers have to use two bass drums to accomplish. I’ve always been curious, especially since your heroes, Bryan Downey, Ian Paice, and Keith Moon were all double-kick players…why did you never play double bass drums?
RICK: Well, it’s true and Ginger Baker is another one. He played two bass drums. You know, I developed this technique with my right foot which is like a heel-toe technique. Basically what you’re doing is you’re going down with your heel for a downbeat and back on your toe for an upbeat. So, you’re getting this ‘dah-do-dah-do-dah-do, dahdo-dah-dahdo-dah’…
BAM2: Which is almost like a ruff (Writer’s Note: This is a drum rudiment that most drummers will be familiar with, but for those who aren’t…just listen to Rick’s right foot in “Answer To The Master” and pay attention to the drum roll sound he makes on the bass drum to get an idea of what we’re referring to).
RICK: Yeah, exactly. It’s almost like you rock the pedal. You’re just jabbing the pedal to the point where the pedal starts doing all the work for you.
BAM2: Let’s talk about the Raven Drum Foundation. It’s a non-profit organization that you started with your wife that travels around and helps people. Fans of the band are familiar with this organization, but for those who don’t know what it is, let’s give them the skinny.
RICK: Well, let me start by saying why [I started ] the Raven Drum Foundation. I felt as though when I went through my accident, even though it was in England…I felt as though I was really taken care of well by the whole medical profession. I was so well taken care of, and many years later I realized how well I was taken care of and how I could have just died then. So, I’m really grateful for what they did for me, it was just incredible. When I met up with my wife, Lauren, about six years ago, she had this idea. She had been in health care and sort of alternative health care, and she suggested that there was a way we could go into the community and kind of use music and the arts to really empower people. To me it was really a way of giving back to the community and allowing people the experience that I was allowed. I was able to develop and I came back even stronger. To me, the human spirit is the strongest thing I know.
BAM2: And you’ve proven that by just doing what you’ve done. You’ve influenced so many people just by continuing to do what you do, both physically and mentally. I remember everything about that day when they announced your accident. It was my senior year of high school and I remember it like it was yesterday. Just the fact that you kept on going was a huge inspiration to me. I don’t think you ever even thought for a minute that it was going to affect you playing drums with the band. I mean you never gave up, bro.
RICK: Well, that’s cool and that’s what I want to pass onto people. Really, with the human spirit, if you tap into that part of yourself that we really don’t visit very often, then you can pretty much do anything. What [Raven Drum Foundation] is doing now is that we’re going into these special needs groups, women’s shelters, teenage penitentiaries, you name it and we’ve got all these things on the go, and it’s really helping people. We use drum circles to really empower people and give them a sense of self. The drum circle itself is a metaphor for community, and it’s great because it makes you feel as if you’re not alone.
BAM2: Do you ever visit these events?
RICK: Yeah! I get involved. I like going up to these teenage penitentiaries. A lot of [them] are gang related, but when we interview the kids afterwards or even some that have left the penitentiary, what they say is that it really brought the gang members together. They would actually play games together back in their dorms….
BAM2: Whereas normally they’d be trying to kill each other.
RICK: Exactly. One of the kids said that. He said, ‘you know if I saw one of these other gang’s kids [out on the street] now, we’d be less likely to be hostile to one another because of the kinship that we felt in the drum circles’.
BAM2: I have a question here about the foundation that was submitted by Marcy Sorbo of York, Pennsylvania. She writes, With the mission of Raven Drum, what new programs for children and adults would you like to develop that you haven’t already, and what programs would you like to expand upon?
RICK: I think the work that we’re doing with autistic kids and the mentally challenged kids is something that we’re going to develop more and more as we move on. The music therapists that we work with are just incredible, they have so much dedication and such a lot of patience. The beautiful thing about music is that it’s beyond words. If you’re wired differently [than] the rest of us, you don’t necessarily have to express yourself with words. You can express yourself musically, which is so powerful. It’s like trying to describe chocolate. Try describing love. It’s virtually impossible to do. But, if you just do it…if you play, and you play with intention, the group is so powerful that it becomes this wonderful entity that carries the whole group. I think it’s difficult to grasp that concept unless you just do it. It’s really, I mean drumming in general, is such an ancient form or our DNA. If you go back far enough, we’re all tribal. You cannot deny that part of ourselves. It all started with gutteral sounds, body slaps, hand claps…wood on wood, and really to me that was the beginning of dance and ritual, which developed into a form of spirituality.
BAM2: Can someone like myself get involved in the foundation?
RICK: Absolutely, it’s like, we all know we all have so many layers to ourselves, that with these drum circles it’s like pulling back these individual layers of yourself. You don’t have to be a stereotypical “different” kind of person to be a part of what we’re doing. You can be a two-armed or three-armed person and we don’t care. We feel as if it’s beneficial to everyone because it’s such an ancient form.
BAM2: How does one find out more about the Raven Drum Foundation?
RICK: The best way is to go to the website, WWW.RAVENDRUM.COM, and kind of read up on the mission statement and what we’re doing for the year, what our involvement is with the Def Leppard tour as far as the Ebay auctions, meet-n-greet passes, that kind of thing. It will at least let people know what we’re doing and lead to an interview of possibly getting involved at a later date.
BAM2: That’s great stuff, man. Thanks for sharing that with us. Marcy also wanted to know, what’s your favorite Def Leppard song to perform live, and which one poses the most challenge for you?
RICK: That’s a good question! “Rocket” is always a little tricky, but very satisfying to get it right. Some of the older songs as well, the two arm songs, they can get a bit tricky. Like for instance, the other day we were practicing “Rock Brigade”, and it’s the first time I’ve played that song since I lost my arm, it’s all a bit new even though they’re old songs. As far as favorite songs, I love playing “…Sugar” and….I love playing songs that involve the crowd. You know that anthemic vibe. It’s one thing playing it at a soundcheck, but it’s totally another when you play it live. It’s like a different experience every time.
BAM2: This next one comes from Jason in Green Bay; Jason wants to know is there any chance that you guys will be playing “in the round” again someday?
RICK: Oh, we would love that. I mean, if this tour continues the way that it is and it continues to become as successful as it has been so far, we would love to do that again. We were really in our element [for those shows], that was one of the best things that ever happened.
(Writer’s Note: At this point, Rick’s P/R people pop on the line to tell us that we’ve only got a few more minutes, so I try to wrap up quickly and slip one more question in…)
BAM2: Okay, let’s see if I can slide one more in, Rick, before they cut us off, bro…Chandra from St. Petersburg, Florida wants to know why did you change or back down from what you had on the video screen during the song “Gods Of War” during the Tampa show?
RICK: Basically, we felt as though the footage that was being shown left people confused as to whether we are for the war, or against war. What we [have since done] is that we have thrown EVERYONE in there. Everyone who has ever been a part of making war…is in there now. That doesn’t mean to say that they are right or wrong. We’re just pointing out…the lyrics to the song are “We’re fighting for the Gods Of War, What the hell are we fighting for. The Gods Of War, and we don’t wanna fight no more”. That, to me, is advocating peace!
BAM2: Well Rick, they’re gonna cut us off here, buddy, I just want to say thanks for your time and thanks for the years of great music, man. I could talk to you for days
RICK: Well, thank you and I look forward to meeting up with you soon.
Many thanks to Shannon Herber at Universal Records and Wendy Weisburg at Hello Wendy Promotions for setting this up for us. Also, a big thanks to the folks at WWW.DEFLEPPARD.COM and to Gina Hart and her killer Def Leppard site WWW.DEFLEPPARDUNITED.COM for letting us use some of their photos for the interview. Make sure to check them both out for all the updated news on the band and for some great history as well. Most of all, I’d like to thank Rick Allen for his years of inspiration he’s had on me and for what he continues to do to this day to help make his mark on the world of music and humanity. He is truly the Thunder God!!!