On this day in 1979, a young group from Sheffield, Yorkshire (famous for its steel production) calling themselves Def Leppard played at Crookes Workingman's Club in their hometown. The gig was reviewed in the UK music paper Sounds, which led to a recording contract with Phonogram Records.
Rick Savage, Pete Willis, and Tony Kenning were all students at Tapton School in Sheffield, and formed a band called Atomic Mass in 1977. The band originally consisted of Willis on guitar, Savage on bass (after originally playing guitar), and Kenning on drums. Only 18 at the time, Joe Elliott tried out for the band as a guitarist following a chance meeting with Willis after missing a bus. During his audition it was decided that he was better suited to be the lead singer. Their first ever gig was in the dining hall in A Block in Westfield School in Mosborough, Sheffield.
Soon afterward they adopted a name proposed by Elliott, "Deaf Leopard", which was originally a band name he thought up while writing reviews for imaginary rock bands in his English class. The spelling was slightly modified in order to make the name seem less like that of a punk band. In January 1978, guitarist Steve Clark joined the band and, according to Joe Elliott, he successfully auditioned for the band by playing Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" in its entirety.
Rick Allen, then only 15 years old, had joined the band as its full-time drummer and the group released their debut EP, the track "Getcha Rocks Off" to be given extensive airtime by renowned BBC Radio DJ John Peel, considered at the time to be a champion of punk rock and new wave music.
Throughout 1979, the band developed a loyal following among British hard rock and heavy metal fans and were initially considered one of the leaders of the new hard rock movement, dubbed by Sounds 'The New Wave of British Heavy Metal'.
Their breakthrough came when Phonogram suggested working with producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, who helped to define their style, and nothing then could stop them. After Phonogram paid for the filming of some of their tracks to create promotional videos, "Bringin' On the Heartbreak" became one of the first hard rock videos played in heavy rotation on US MTV in 1982. The band's next studio album, Pyromania in 1983, with the lead single "Photograph", turned Def Leppard into a US household name, although airplay in the UK was much more elusive, due to BBC Radio 1's reluctance at the time to play anything with a heavy guitar sound.
And then the rock 'n' roll kicked in.
On 31 December 1984, drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash in the hills outside Sheffield when his Corvette swerved off the road and went through a drystone wall. Despite the severity of the accident, Rick was committed to continuing his role as Def Leppard's drummer, and realized that he could use his legs to do some of the drumming work previously done with his arms, working with the Simmons company to design a custom electronic drum kit. The other members of the band supported Allen's recovery and never sought a replacement.
One more tragedy was to dog the band: on January 8, 1991, Steve Clark (nicknamed "The Riffmaster") was found dead at home by his girlfriend. The autopsy revealed he had died from an overdose of codeine and had Valium, morphine, and a blood alcohol level of .30, three times the British legal driving limit.
Still, the band soldiered on, with Clark's replacement Vivian Campbell, a veteran of Dio and Whitesnake, adding to their legacy of a commitment to solid and melodic hard rock.
Def Leppard have sold more than 65 million albums worldwide, and have two albums with RIAA diamond certification, Pyromania and Hysteria. They are one of only five rock bands with two original studio albums selling over ten million copies in the U.S., and are known as one of the nicest, most honest bands in the business.
Rock of Ages, indeed!