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Vivian Campbell | Interview

Vivian Campbell – Def Leppard guitarist from Co. Down, and the man who wrote, and played, some of Ronnie James Dio's most celebrated tracks.

Those first three Dio albums – 'Holy Diver', 'Last In Line' and 'Sacred Heart'- are chock full of some of heavy metal's greatest anthems. Now, Campbell is taking a break from his day job to go out and play them once again with the other founding members.

The band, called Last In Line, play Belfast's Limelight on Thursday August 8th. MI spoke to him on the eve of the show. After so many years of rancour between himself and the now deceased Ronnie James Dio (RIP), it turns out Campbell is still emotional about that relationship and it's consequences.

He says he's simply taking back his own music.


So you guys are just back from Wacken – how did it go?

There's been some confusion over that. We were supposed to be doing a more comprehensive tour of Europe including the Wacken festival, but we had to curtail those plans to work around my chemo schedule, which is every two weeks… and I'm doing it in Los Angeles. So we actually didn't end up doing Wacken at all, but they kept us on their website nonetheless!

I didn't realise the chemo was ongoing at the minute. Many people will be anxious to know how it's going for you?

I'm actually almost done. I did chemo number 9, out of 12, this past monday in LA. The last couple have been pretty straightforward. I'll be done by the end of September, and I might even have some hair by Christmas.

The day of the chemo and two days after are definitely the hardest thing, but the last couple haven't been the worst. Treatments 4, 5 and 6 were the worst for me. I dont know why, obviously people react differently depending on the cancer diagnosis and the different types of chemo.

But I've been keeping busy and I've found that that's really helped me. I finished the Def Leppard tour – we were out for about two and a half months – so I've been kind of keeping busy with work, and I've found that's good for me.

So given that things are on going with Def Leppard, why did you decide the time was now right to revisit your early Dio years with Last In Line?

A few things. First and foremost was a little stint I did with Thin Lizzy in 2011. I did a European Tour as a stand in guitar player, and that really reignited my passion for playing guitar again.

It was challenging, and Lizzy was such an influential band for me when I was a teenager cutting my teeth. So I came off that tour really energised and recharged, just wanting to play guitar.

So I called up Vinny Appice, Jimmy Bain and Claude Schnell, we got together in a rehearsal room and it just sounded amazing. Vinny knew this singer called Andrew Freeman and he lived handy enough. When he came down to sing we just thought 'we should get out there and just do some gigs'. We thought we'd do it for fun.

Then one day we just started talking about this band Dio's Disciples – they're out there playing the songs that we wrote from the records that we recorded with Ronnie. And we just thought [laughs] – 'hang on, this is a little strange. None of those guys were ever in the… not one of them was in the original Dio band, not one of them wrote those songs.

Those are our songs, and they're our musical heritage as much as it was Ronnie's. And that was the impetus for us to say 'let's just go out and do it ourselves'.

We've got no delusions of grandeur about this. It's a celebration of the songs we wrote on those first three albums. It's a bit of fun and we're doing it for the right reasons. We enjoy each others musical performances and we enjoy each other's company, and it's just fun to play.

For me, for many many years I didnt even want to listen to the Dio music. The whole business situation with Ronnie and I went down in such a way that it left such a bad taste in my mouth. I wanted nothing to do with Dio or the music.

But with the passage of all these years I really have a different attitude towards it. I really do see that as my rightful musical heritage and I'm thoroughly enjoying playing the songs.

So what's it all about: is it giving fans another chance to hear the classic Dio material, or is it about you reasserting your musical legacy as the writer of that classic music?

It's a bit of both. I'd certainly subscribe to both those feelings. It is my heritage as much as it's Jimmy Bain's, I mean Jimmy and I wrote so much of that music. And you know… I got marginalised and ultimately got fired.

For me what really stuck in my craw was the fact that for the years after that Ronnie and Wendy Dio went out of their way to portray it that I had turned my back on the band, that I had quit in the middle of a tour, which is absolutely 100% untrue [note – Wendy Dio may say otherwise – ed], I was fired and Craig Goldy was brought in to replace me.

It wasnt just an overnight thing, it had obviously been on the cards for months. I mean they'd been expecting it, and for him to replace me. It really was such a deceitful kind of situation. It was so bad for me that I really reacted very poorly to it.

I've been very immature about some of the things I've said about Ronnie. Slandering anyone in the press is never the right option, and Ronnie said some exceptionally cruel things about me too. But to me that's all water under the bridge now is about the music.

I honestly do think that if Ronnie was still alive he'd be saying hang on a minute, let's join forces.

In a way it's easy for you though to say it's water under the bridge now, because Ronnie has passed on. Would you even be going out with this material now if here were still alive?

I think if Ronnie was still here I'm not sure it would have happened, because if Ronnie wasnt dead, Dio's Disciples wouldn't be out playing and I dont think we would have put this together. But I would like to think that if Ronnie and I had met under the right circumstances we would have had a beer together and kissed and made up.

I think Ronnie would also have admitted that the best lineup he ever had was the first one. There really is a magic about the original band that was never replaced.

One of the best things I ever saw in my life was Ronnie live in Belfast with Doug Aldritch on guitar. To hear that stuff live was like nothing else.

You were fortunate. In my opinion, Doug Aldritch was the only guitarist other than me that deserved to play with that band. Doug is an exceptional guitar player and a wonderful human being, and of all the guitar players who've been in the revolving door of Dio through the years, he was the only one that deserved it in my opinion.

Interestingly, I read an article somewhere where the person was saying 'it would have been nice if Vivian Campbell and Ronnie had gotten together for that recent Holy Diver tour. And yes it would have been nice. But the fact is that Ronnie fired me. I never wanted to leave that band.

When was the last time you saw him – did you ever get that beer, and a chance to talk?

No. The last time I saw him was when he fired me. I got a call about three years after that from Wendy Dio kind of asking what was going on, a feeler call to see if I was interested in joining forces with Ronnie again, and I said well the same applies.

It was the reason he fired me in the first place. I had asked for an equity situation, which is what Ronnie had promised us on the first night we all met. By the third album he promised us that if we worked for peanuts, which we did, for the first two albums, then by the third album there'd be an equity situation. That's what got me fired, for holding the man to his word.

I said to Wendy, I said, you know, the same deal is what I want, and she said no. So…

The metal mags can continue to rake over it. But what we want to know is: how does a teenager from Co. Down end up playing on one of the most incredible heavy metal albums of all time?

Well, Sweet Savage was my first band when I was 16. We played around for a few years and it was through Sweet Savage that Jimmy Bain heard me play. He hooked me up with Ronnie when Ronnie came over to the UK after he quit Black Sabbath.

He took Vinny Appice with him and they came to England. He called up Jimmy and said he was looking for a guitar player, do you know anyone? So I flew over to London, where I met Ronnie and Vinny for the first time. When we played it sounded incredible, and that's when the band was born. And that was the night Ronnie said 'here's the deal'!

Earlier you said that this was a bit of a workout for you on guitar again. Anyone who's ever heard 'Holy Diver' knows that the energy, the tightness, the expression in your playing is pretty serious stuff. Do you look back at that stuff and think that you really were on fire?

Um… no. I'm not a big fan of what I do. But I certainly have more of an appreciation for it now in recent years than I did back then.

But what's not to like?!?

I'm a very fly by the seat of your pants guitar player. It's pretty hit or miss with me. I think it's become a lot more consistent, my playing in recent years, but certainly back then you never knew what was going to happen.

Yeah, there is an energy to it, but that wasnt just from the guitar, that was from the whole band. The original band was where it was at, and noone can play those songs better than us. And frankly noone deserves to play those songs better than us becasue we wrote them and we recorded them. That's the reason why we're doing it.

We're doing this, it's costing us an awful lot of money, and we're doing it for the right reasons.

You're a guy who's made a living plaing stadiums for 30 years – what do you get from being on a small club stage with this stuff?

Def Leppard's on hiatus. One beef I have about Def Leppard's work schedule is that it's full of big gaps. It's not the busiest band in the world. We work very intensely for a while, then there's months and months we dont see each other.

Right now we're in one of those phases. I've just finished a month of shows with the guys but we've got nothing cialis online australia scheduled til next spring, other than maybe coming up with new music.

So it's definitely my opportunity to kickstart Last In Line. We're doing these four UK shows – we were supposed to do the three week run before my cancer diagnosis, but we've got a show in Tokyo in October, we're hoping to add more to that. We're talking to US agents as well. So we're wanting to make it happen.

So what's the atmosphere going to be like in the Limelight?

If it's anything like the show we did in Orange County, California lastnight it's going to be pretty intense. The band is super loud, we're incredibly tight and committed and I think anyone who comes is going to hear the real deal. I don't think anyones going to be disappointed to be honest.

I'm really excited that Belfast is our first real show. I didnt engineer it that way, but that's how it worked out – serendipity really – and it all just makes sense to me now.

Final question: what were Ronnie's lyrics about? We can all sing it at top volume, but does anyone really understand?

I mean, I'm as befuddled as anyone else. I really dont know, and he never discussed it. It was all imagery, I guess!

Interview by Earl Grey ::: 07/08/13


  1. Seems reasonable enough. Good interview.

  2. Great interview!

  3. Nice interview from a nice local guy who’s made us all proud of his achievements in the music industry. Looking forward to the Limelight tonight!!

  4. very heavy metal all round. good to get the other side of the story too.

  5. Damienk666 Says:

    Good interview. I can fully understand why he wants to play this music again, especially when Dio’s Disciples are on the go. I watched DD at Bloodstock last year and it was like watching a pub band tribute act. At least Vivian et al. will have some passion playing the music.

  6. must say… they were a great job live, right on the money… vocals fitted right in place too.

  7. How are we expected, as Dio fans, to take Vinnie Campbell serious? Is this the same person who publicly denounced any affiliation with Ronnie James Dio before he died? And now what? He has had a change of heart and wants everyone to know that he is flying the Dio flag high? Typical Belfast bullshit. Them and their flegs.

    I have just this minute returned from the gig in Belfast. Do me a favour please Vinnie. For starters, leave your ex band at home. Im sick to the death of listening to them TRYING to play a tune. They were shite at Iron Maiden. They didnt belong there. How the organisers could replace Heaven and Hell with this travesty is beyond me. They were booed off the stage and still couldnt take the hint. And they were booed off the stage again tonight in Belfast. Sorry sweet savage, I dont care who used to play with ye. Go back to your day jobs, PLEASE!!! I implore you. I dont want to pay money to see you any more. Its got to a stage now that when I pay money for to see a decent band, I dread that ye are gonna be the supporting act. Stop!!!! Give up, stop trying to stand in the wake of decent bands. Ye are not wanted, take the hint and stop subjecting us all to your drivvel.

    As for Mr Campbell? You are a brilliant guitarist, but in my eyes, a PUBLIC apology is necessary or some form of remorse, and take back all the horrible things you said against the man who gave you everything you have today. Only then will you be fit to travel and play his music. And this bullshit about his ghost being there behind you at your opening gig. Wise up!!! If he did appear, I can assure you, it wasnt to give his approval, it was to try to wring your very hard neck.

  8. Who is Vinnie Campbell?

  9. deeeznuuuts Says:

    what a rant lol

  10. strong reaction Says:

    He means Vivian Appice.

  11. ToxicTwin Says:

    Lol. Vinnie Campbell, ‘Soupy’ Campbells Italian-American Cousin.

  12. Soulforger Says:

    Great interview! The music Vivian and Ronnie (and Vinnie, Jimmy, and Claude!) made together was absolutely genre defining. Viv was a huge influence on me as a guitarist and his music is very important to me (and I was fortunate enough to see the Sacred Heart tour before Vivian’s departure). I know the first three Dio albums were extremely meaningful to Ronnie and I believe he would be pleased that Vivian is doing this, not only playing the songs, but rediscovering that this music is important and meaningful to him as well. RJD would be proud! I am really looking forward to seeing what this will mean for Vivian’s musical future, get well Viv!

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