This Day In Music 23.04.2016
Born and raised on April 23 1960 in Hillsborough, South Yorkshire, England, Stephen Maynard Clark got his first guitar when he was 11 years old and it was love at first sight.
His passion for playing guitar would take a turn toward rock after he heard Led Zeppelin, “I used to listen to the radio, watch TV and hear groups all the time, and I knew that I wanted to make music, but I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of music, until I heard Jimmy Page” he said. “I heard the first Led Zeppelin album at a friend’s house … and that was it! I had to have an electric. That was what I wanted to do.”
Before joining Def Leppard, Clark played cover songs with his small band, Electric Chicken. Clark eventually met guitarist Pete Willis, who invited Clark to try out for his new band, Def Leppard, in 1978. Clark wowed his future bandmates by playing Lynyrd Skynyrd “Free Bird” in its entirety. Their timing couldn’t have been better, as heavy metal was becoming wildly popular in the U.K. Def Leppard were a large part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
After one successful EP and a year of playing shows, Def Leppard had cultivated a loyal base of fans. Their debut album, On Through the Night (along with U.S. tours opening for AC/DC, Nugent and Pat Travers) brought them notoriety, as well as early criticism for seemingly forsaking British metal for radio-friendly pop.
Clark, however, never seemed to be dedicated to a purely metal sound. Like his idol Page, Clark wasn’t just about sticking to one aesthetic. He idolized Page just as much for the elder’s work as a producer and songwriter as he did his guitar playing. Clark was fastidious in the studio, writing and rewriting material over and over until he felt it was good enough.
“We wrote ‘Armageddon It’ in Dublin, and there’s not one section that survived,” he said in an interview. “The chorus wasn’t strong enough, so we changed the chorus. Then we thought the chorus is so strong, the verse is a bit weak. We rewrote the verse and said the bridge stinks. There’s not one existing note from the original, but a progression that went over about three years.”
After Pete Willis was asked to leave the band (ironically for drinking), after Pyromania, the band hired Phil Collen into the band, and it was this partnership that many suggest contributed to the success of the band. The best of friends they were nicknamed the Terror twins in honour of their twin guitar assault, although they only worked together on Lep's fourth album Hysteria. Hysteria would become the band’s biggest success to date, and Clark’s last album.
The album took three years to complete, due in part to a car crash that cost drummer Rick Allen his arm. While Allen adjusted to his loss, the rest of the band continued writing songs in the studio. Once completed, Hysteria would propel Def Leppard to a higher level of fame.
As the band’s success grew, so did Clark’s alcohol consumption. Guitarist Phil Collen, along with longtime producer Mutt Lange, bandmates and friends, held an intervention in 1989 after a doctor warned of the drastic harm Clark was doing to himself. Phil Collen recalled the intervention in his autobiography, Adrenalized.
“He sat there with a cigarette taking it all in,” Collen said. “Mutt gave him a big hug, then we all hugged him and told him that we loved him. That was a very tearful and emotional experience for all involved, especially when the doctor explained to us that about 70 percent of alcoholics who get to this level usually end up getting killed either by accident or overuse.”
Clark agreed to go to a rehabilitation clinic in Tuscon. While there, he met a recovering heroin addict, Janie Dean. The two decided to leave rehab and move in together, and soon Clark was back to his regular drinking habits. On January 8, 1991, Dean found Clark on their couch, motionless. He’d died in his sleep after consuming alcohol and prescription pain medication, codeine. He was 30 years old.
In 2007, Clark was ranked No. 11 on Classic Rock Magazine's "100 Wildest Guitar Heroes".
Here's a rare interview with Steve Clark pointing out his thoughts about Lep's success