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We're The LAST IN LINE: An Exclusive Interview With Guitarist VIVIAN CAMPBELL Of LAST IN LINE

By Krishta Abruzzini, Pacific Northwest Writer
Wednesday, February 17, 2016 @ 8:15 AM

"The unfortunate truth is that Wendy Dio never wanted DIO to be a band. She always wanted it to be about Ronnie, the solo artist."

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This year has been rough for losses in the music industry. From Lemmy to Bowie and Glenn Frey, itís been one shocker after another. On January 23rd, we lost another dear soul and friend, bassist Jimmy Bain (notably of RAINBOW/DIO fame, more recently of LAST IN LINE).

After the death of Ronnie James Dio in 2010, Vivian Campbell (DIO/THIN LIZZY/WHITESNAKE/DEF LEPPARD) decided to reunite with the original members of DIO to perform covers of the DIO songs they originally recorded back in 1983. Vivian, alongside Jimmy Bain, Vinny Appice, and Claude Schnell, reunited with new vocalist Andrew Freeman in 2012, naming the band LAST IN LINE. The moniker comes from the first album that the four core members recorded along with Ronnie James Dio.

The band performed a handful of shows over the past few years, and were recently on DEF LEPPARDís "Hysteria On The High Seas" cruise when Bain suddenly passed away from undiagnosed lung cancer. Bain didnít know he had lung cancer, and was battling what he thought was pneumonia. Despite his illness, he kept up with a busy rehearsing schedule and looked forward to playing shows and releasing the bandís debut album, Heavy Crown (which is slated for release on Friday, February 19th).

I recently caught up with Vivian Campbell, who was open and candid about his health (he was diagnosed in 2012 with Hodgkinís Lymphoma), his relationship with DIO, LAST IN LINEís latest release, and his future plans. Vivian was extraordinarily humble and a pleasure to interview.

KNAC.COM: How are you feeling these days? Are you in remission with your Hodgkin's Lymphoma?

CAMPBELL: No, Iím not. I was brought back several times, being told, ďOh, youíre in remissionĒ, but it keeps coming back. Iím just accepting of the fact that itís something Iíll have to deal with the rest of my life. I deal with it as maintenance. Iím one of the lucky ones. I caught my cancer early. So itís not life threatening. Unlike Jimmy Bain, I also have the resources to stay one step ahead of it. Iím doing part of a phase-II clinical trial for a drug called Pembrolizumab, which is the same drug that actually cured Jimmy Carter. Itís had great results. Iím part of the cutting edge of research. Thereís minimal side effects. The most important thing for me is that it allows me to continue working.

KNAC.COM: Yet you still remain one of the hardest working musicians around?

CAMPBELL: Thatís part of the recovery. Work is a catharsis for me. Itís important for me. Iíve had people ask me if Iíd rather just take time for myself, curing myself, and I couldn't think of anything worse for me. Itíd be a death sentence.

KNAC.COM: Tell me about LAST IN LINE. I know you originally formed it as a fun project, but now itís led into quite a lot more.

CAMPBELL: Yeah. It keeps evolving in different ways. It was a part-time project going out for fun and playing songs that we wrote and recorded with Ronnie from the first three DIO albums, and my initial desire was to go out and play guitar like that again. I did a brief tour in 2011 as a Ďspotí guitarist with THIN LIZZY. DEF LEPPARD was inactive at the time and Scott Gorham called me and I didnít hesitate to say yes. LIZZY was such an influential group for me. In my formative years, when I was a teenager, really learning my craft and struggling to figure out what on the guitar was what, LIZZY was the band for me. Being onstage with Scott Gorham and Brian Downey and playing those great songs and those great guitar solos, I came off of that tour really reconnected to my inner sixteen-year-old. I just wanted to play rock guitar again. I called up Jimmy and Vinny and we went into a rehearsal just to kick around some ideas, and one thing led to another, and we called up Andrew Freeman, who I had never met before, and he came down and started singing, and he was powerful. He sounds nothing like Ronnie. His tonality and his phrasing is totally different. But it just got me thinking, here was the original DIO band and the chemistry when Jimmy and Vinny and I play, thatís unmistakable, it sounds like the DIO record. Then Andrew was bringing it into a different direction and I had an epiphany, and I said, ĎLetís go do some gigs.í That was just our original plan, was to play and have fun. Then a couple years later, Frontiers called up and offered us a record deal and asked if we were interested in writing and recording new music. Which oddly up until that point, we hadnít even thought about that. But we thought if somebody is affording us the opportunity, letís give it a go. And it was great fun. It was an effortless record to make. It was a very joyous experience. So natural and organic. We didnít really think about it. Some people have said itís very reminiscent of of early DIO, and asked if that was deliberate, and, no, it wasnít.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, but you guys were early DIO. [laughing]

CAMPBELL: Yeah. The big difference is the singer. Thereís Andrew and thereís Ronnie and the two are very different. But it was great, great fun. We found ourselves at that crossroads, and now we find ourselves in another, because Jimmyís gone.

KNAC.COM: The obvious elephant in the room is Jimmy Bain. I know over the past few years Iíve seen him, it became shockingly apparent that he wasnít well. Have you guys come to any decisions as to what you will do as a band?

CAMPBELL: The record comes out soon. Itís a great record. The songs surpassed our expectations, weíre very proud of it, and Jimmy perhaps more so than anyone. For the last 18 months of Jimmyís life, he was finally sober. A big part of his being able to focus on that was working. He took immense pride in this band and in this record, and all 12 songs were very much a team effort, and Jimmy was all over this record. He was very involved in the writing and as a co-producer, so it would be ridiculous not to do anything to promote it. This record was actually ready to go last April, and the reason we didnít release it was because we were waiting for all our schedules to open up so we could tour and promote this record, because we all believed in it so much. We didnít want to just put it out for it to wither on the vine. It would again, be ridiculous not to, having just done that, to actually not go out and do something. We did have a tour planned for March and April; weíre not going to do that. I just think it would be wrong and disrespectful to just get someone else in this soon. There are a couple highlight dates within that though, and we will honor those commitments, a couple high profile gigs like Rocklahoma on Memorial Day weekend and the Frontiers Festival which is in mid-April in Italy. Weíll do those two shows. I donít know what else weíll do. It would be weird to go out on tour in a couple of weeks with someone else, you know? We just had Jimmyís memorial last week. We donít even know who weíre going to play with for those two shows that I mentioned, but like I say, ultimately, we will at least work this record. For the future, I have no idea. Itís really hard to say.

KNAC.COM: Take your time man. Itís really soon. I think ultimately it be a good tribute to Jimmy to take the album as far as you can and Iím sure heíd want you guys to go forward with all of it.

The record sounds great. It is really heavy guitar laden. Definitely takes me back to straightforward rock & roll. You guys chose Jeff Pilson to produce this record. How did you choose him?

CAMPBELL: Heís a friend of ours, and he lives close by. I was so, so impressed with what Jeff brought to the table. Heís an exceptional producer. I always knew that Jeff was more than just a bass player. I knew he was a great singer and a great writer, but he has in recent years taken on a whole new skillset as a great engineer and a great producer. He has a fantastic home studio. He really contributed an awful lot to this record, in particular in regards to Andrew, because heís such a great singer and really understands that aspect.

KNAC.COM: What are your favorite tracks off the album?

CAMPBELL: I love "Starmaker", I love "Martyr", "The Sickness". Thereís not many I donít have strong feelings for, I can honestly say. I really enjoy this record. I enjoyed making it. I enjoyed writing it, recording it. I enjoy playing it. We got one gig with Jimmy, where we played three new songs, that was the one and only time. We played, "Devil In Me", "Martyr" and "Starmaker" at that one gig and they fit seamlessly with in with the rest of the set, which were all songs from Holy Diver and The Last In Line albums. As I said before, it was just so much of a pleasure to do this, and a completely joyous experience.

KNAC.COM: I love to hear that. Youíve been with DEF LEPPARD now for 24 years. Do you still consider yourself the new guy?

CAMPBELL: Very much so, yeah.

KNAC.COM: [laughing] Wow.

CAMPBELL: Yeah, well, because when you consider, 24 years is a long time to be with a band, but LEPPARD had so, so much history and so much success prior to my joining the band that when they talk about that stuff prior to when I joined the band, when they Ďgo thereí, Iím the stranger in the room. And thatís fine. It is what it is, you know? Like the ROLLING STONES, Iím sure when Mick and Keith are talking to Charlie Watts, theyíre talking about the late 60ís or whatever, Iím sure Ronnie Wood is sitting there twiddling his thumbs. He was off in those days with Rod Stewart and I was off in DIO with Ronnie. Itís just a certain history that we donít share, so Iím always going to be a new guy. But thatís not a bad thing. As long as Iím always the new guy, thatís a positive thing.

KNAC.COM: I know at one time you and Dio had quite a little feud going on. I will tell you that Ronnie told me that he had a huge respect for your playing. He also told me that he felt you were totally wasting your time with LEPPARD. He was not one to mince words. He said he gave you complete artistic control that you lost playing with LEPPARD. Did you guys get to mend fences prior to his death?

CAMPBELL: No. I never got to talk to Ronnie again afterwards, unfortunately. Actually we only talked to each other through the press, which is never, ever, ever a good idea. We were both guilty of saying really stupid and hurtful things. Iíd like to think that we would have made up? I think if Ronnie and I had bumped into each other on the street, I think after a couple of minutes, we might have agreed to go to the pub for a pint and we could have probably worked things out. There was a part of Ronnie that was really, really warm and caring and giving. But there was also a part of him that could be very angry. Unfortunately, that was the part that I saw more than the other. The latter more than the former. You know, If Ronnie thought I was wasting my time with LEPPARD, he should have just honored his commitment.

KNAC.COM: He should have paid you more?

CAMPBELL: No. Hereís the thing. It wasnít about money. It was never about money. I am very, very big on principle. When a man looks me in the eye, and shakes my hand and makes an agreement with me, I expect him to honor that agreement. Because I always uphold my end of the deal. And when I went to Ronnie, he reneged on that. The agreement was that by the third album, the band would be an equitable situation, and the reason I was fired was because I called him on that. The unfortunate truth is that Wendy Dio never wanted DIO to be a band. She always wanted it to be about Ronnie, the solo artist. In her mind it didnít matter who was in the band with Ronnie, who was standing behind him, bass player, guitar players, drummers, whatever, we were all interchangeable. I strongly disagree with that. I think every musician is unique, like our own fingerprint. The way you play, the way you donít play. The gaps you leave, the timing, the tonality you have, everything is unique to an individual, and when you find three or four people that work together and create a great sound, thatís the chemistry of a band. Thatís unique. When you start pulling people out of that equation, itís never going to be the same. Itís always going to be a facsimile. The original DIO band had a certain magic, not only in the way we sounded, but in the way created and we wrote those songs together. That was never going to be the same. I want to strongly emphasize, this was never about money. It was always about principle. Thatís what broke up the DIO band.

KNAC.COM: I know he had a lot of regret, toward you especially. Heís had quite a few guitar players, but youíre the only one he discussed more than any of them. I think there remained a soft side toward you that he always just thought, ĎDamn, I messed this one upí.

CAMPBELL: Yeah, well, but the buck stopped with Ronnie. He just didnít stand up to Wendy. I think he was always genuinely afraid of her. Even when they werenít married. Thatís what it came down to, he was always afraid to stand up to her.

KNAC.COM: So, changing it around a little, you also do a little singing yourself, and you started a solo project?

CAMPBELL: Iíve had a few projects here and there. I like to keep busy. You are what you do, and Iím a musician, and as a musician Iím not just a guitar player. Obviously thatís my primary thing, but to me music is like food. I love Indian food, but I get really tired of eating it every day. So I like to dabble in other genres. I like to listen to other kinds of music. I like to perform and partake in other types of music. Iíve experimented a lot in my career. I only put out one solo record and that happened to be a blues record. Iím not a blues guy per se, but a lot of my influences are from that genre. I spent about a year and a half listening and playing nothing but the blues. That was over 12 years or so ago. Itís fun to dabble. I also do love to sing. Thatís something Iíve been very fortunate with my 24 years with DEF LEPPARD. Iíve really gotten to work on that side of my career. LEPPARDís a very, very vocally challenging band. We all sing on every song. As a guitarist, my guitar parts are not that much of a challenge compared to my work with DIO or LAST IN LINE, but the vocal part is a real workout. Iíve gotten to be proficient at that. Itís fun. Human beings are never just black and white.

KNAC.COM: Youíre mainly a Les Paul guy?

CAMPBELL: Well, thatís where I started. One of my first bands, SWEET SAVAGE, I had a Les Paul. It was the same Les Paul I bought when I was 15, and the same one that I auditioned with DIO with that I recorded the Holy Diver album with. It was my only guitar for several years. Then in the 1980s I got into playing strat-style guitars with Floyd Rose tremolo bars. Everyone did. It was the flavor of that decade, you know? Then I found myself by the mid-90s, after I was with LEPPARD for a couple of years, coming around full circle to a Les Paul and realizing that itís the instrument that feels more natural and more musical to me in my hands. That was highlighted to me being in LEPPARD more so because itís a guitar band and Phil is very, very much a whammy bar guy, with his Jackson. It seemed really redundant, so that helped highlight the point to me that it didnít make a lot of sense for us to both be doing that. During the making of the Slang record, in the mid-90s I started going back to playing a Les Paul, and I realized, whoa, this is where itís at for me. It can be a more difficult instrument in some ways. It can can be a little easier as well, but itís more meat.

KNAC.COM: Itís a heavy guitar isnít it?

CAMPBELL: Yeah. Itís why all us Les Paul users have back issues [laughs]. Itís the kind of guitar you can really get aggressive with. I play very, very aggressively. But with my early guitar heroes, the two guys that really shaped the style of my guitar playing were in this order: Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore. Theyíre both very heavy-handed guitar players. I physically assault the instrument when I play it. The Les Paul is able to take more punishment [laughing].

KNAC.COM: Do you have any endorsements or guitars that are made just for you?

CAMPBELL: No. The Gibson guitar company is very peculiar. It is such a huge, huge corporation that people come and go. Every year or so I get someone from Gibson saying, ĎHi, Iím so and so, Iím new to Gibson and Iíd really like to work with you,í and then we send a few emails or calls or meet in person, talking about doing a signature model guitar, and then they disappear into the evening. I have no relationship with any guitar company at the moment. Itís unfortunate, but business has changed a lot. I had some good Les Pauls, I had some not-so-good Les Pauls. The fact that the company has gotten so big now means that they also donít have quite the same quality control that they used to have. Not every Les Paul is the same. Just because youíre paying $5,000 for a guitar doesnít mean itís going to be great.

KNAC.COM: Well, I really look forward to the record release this week. Also hoping for a smooth transition in finding someone to take the place of Jimmy. I know itís going to be tough. Do you have anyone in mind?

CAMPBELL: Um, yeah. Thereís a few guys. Thereís a couple things youíve got to think about. More than anything else, thereís the tonality that Jimmy had and the timing. Jimmy physically played his guitar with a pick, very close to the bridge, so he had a real edge to his tone as well as a massive low end. Itís a skill that not a lot of bass players have. You know, even though I sing in DEF LEPPARD, I do not sing in LAST IN LINE. Itís a matter of principle with me. I just want to put my head down and play guitar. Itís the other end of the spectrum for me. Itís all about playing guitar. So whoeverís going to come in with LAST IN LINE had better be able to sing. Again, weíre not even thinking beyond these couple of shows. So itís not like weíre going to get someone in to replace Jimmy, itís more like a stand-in for now. And then weíll see what develops with this record and what the future holds for us. It always was, and even if Jimmy was still alive, and if we were still going to do the tour we booked, it was always going to be a part-time project. Because everyone is committed to something else. Itís still a secondary project for all of us, but itís still very much a labor of love, weíre all very, very passionate about this project.

*On Friday February 19th, Frontiers Music SRL will release the bandís highly-anticipated debut album. Pre-orders can be made HERE.

Also, please visit and help support the Lymphoma Association: http://www.lymphomas.org.uk/information-and-support/personal-experiences/def-leppards-vivian-campbell

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