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INTERVIEW: VIVIAN CAMPBELL of LAST IN LINE – February 2016

| 27 February 2016 | Reply

Vivian Campbell has worked with legendary bands and has been one of the most solid lead guitar players over the last 30 years.  From his work with Dio to Shadow King (a personal favorite) and from Def Leppard to Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake, Viv has constantly surrounded himself with great music and greater musicians.  The same can certainly be said for his latest project – Last In Line.  This line-up consists of the band that backed up Dio back in 1983: Campbell, drummer Vinny Appice, and bassist Jimmy Bain [R.I.P.] along with singer Andrew Freeman.  The debut offering from these guys, Heavy Crown, is an absolute killer disc that marries classic metal and modern rock in a way only these veterans can do.  In light of the recent passing of Bain, Campbell and the rest of the guys have taken a different path and chosen not to tour behind the disc at this point.  Thankfully, Vivian was able to slot some time in his schedule for us on a crazy Thursday afternoon…

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Vivian: Hey, Todd. How’s it going?

Toddstar: Great, Vivian. Yourself?

Vivian: Oh, not to shabby, thank you.

Toddstar: Excellent. Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule, I know you’re so busy with the big release last Friday.

Vivian: This is what it’s all about, you know? You’re most welcome. Happy to talk to you.

Toddstar: Let’s talk about it – Last In Line dropped Heavy Crown last Friday. What can you tell us about this release, that those who haven’t listened to it a hundred times like myself, might not grab the first couple times through?

Vivian: I really view it as being a complete album. We put a reasonable amount of thought into how we were sequencing the record, and when I listen to it I do enjoy listening to it from top to bottom in sequence. “Devil [In Me]” is the opening track and I think it really sets the tone, it really makes a statement, it’s probably the one song, more than any other on the record that, to my ears, sounds like he could have been on the Holy Diver record, very Dio-esque sounding track. “The Sickness,” which is the closing song of the album, is very very much the last track of an album. It fades in and it fades out. Even when we first wrote “The Sickness” we all immediately started feeling this would be the great closing album track. It’s also our production number on the album. It’s the one thing we probably invested a bit more time into in terms of doing over-dubs and stuff. The rest of the album is pretty basic with minimal over-dubs. There are different flavors on the record. There are a few songs that sound a bit more modern I think, like “Orange Glow” and the title track, “Heavy Crown,” or probably a bit more modern sounding than the song “Devil Ind Me” or “Starmaker.” I’m really pleased with the record. I really enjoyed making it. It was a wonderful process to reconnect with Jimmy and Vinny and a great revelation to work with Andrew and Jeff Pilson as a producer who did a stellar job. It’s so much fun to do and so much fun to play. Even before the record was released I was starting to record ideas on my iPhone, like little riffs for the next album. Now we’re at a crossroads, we don’t know what’s going to happen now that Jimmy’s gone. It’s been so bittersweet that we got so far and Jimmy didn’t quite live long enough to even see the release of it.

Toddstar: That is bittersweet and I’d like to touch on that in a minute, but it’s almost like we sat together and wrote my review, because the couple things you hit on are in my review about “The Sickness” pulling together all the great qualities from the album, and how “Devil In Me” picks up where you guys left off, it’s a good nod to the past, but it’s new stuff too, it’s very modern. Going through the different songs, were there any songs that fought you guys tooth and nail didn’t come out the way you originally planned on, or just didn’t really want to be recorded?

Vivian: There were a couple that were a little bit more troublesome than others. For the most part they were really straight forward and easy. We didn’t have too many issues. The song “I Am Revolution”; that one we had a bit of an issue with. At the very end of that track it goes to half-time. That was the original idea. We kind of had that for a while and we were playing that and we’re thinking we got enough of these slower things, maybe we should shelve this and just get on to writing something more up tempo. Then Andrew came in for one of the sessions, because here’s the thing, Andrew in recent years has moved to Las Vegas, so the rest of us are in L.A. Andrew wasn’t always in the room with us when we were doing these writing sessions. It was just Vinny and Jimmy and myself, and Vinny would record everything on his studio player and make mp3s and then send the ideas to Andy. Andy would write back and say, “This is great.” Or, “Can you change this?” Or, “Invert that.” Or, whatever. Then sometimes Andrew would drive into L.A. to actually be at the sessions with us. This one night when we working on “I Am Revolution,” Andrew happened to be there with us and if he hadn’t been we wouldn’t have written the song, because we were about to give up on that, and Andy comes in and he picks up my guitar and he, I think this is because Andy is a little bit younger than the rest of us and he’d been more punk influenced as well as hard rock influenced, and he said, “Let’s do it like a really slashy punky kind of thing.” He starts playing it like real double-time. We all looked at each other and we would never have gone there. I would never have thought of that with that particular riff, so I grabbed my guitar back off him before he embarrassed me any further, and we started playing it and it instantly lead to Jimmy just doing the driving for the first part, and I just dropped out altogether. It seemed appropriate to just have it come down to bass after that frantic entrance. There were songs like that that had been stubborn and then it took Andrew being in the room to look at things in a different way than Jimmy and Vinny and I would normally do it, but everything else came together really really quick. Even a song like “Starmaker,” I remember the night, Andrew was also with us for this writing session. It was the first time we heard Andy’s ideas vocally for it. And that was the night somebody suggested, and I can’t remember who, I can’t remember if it was Vinny or Andy, but one of the two of them suggested that we put the stop before the choruses, and that turned out to be a great idea, because it’s really impactful when you have that dead air right before the chorus comes in. It gives it more impact and so much more strength on the down-beat of the chorus. That was another one-way. We had the song, more or less; the bits at least for a while and then somebody, like I say Andy or Vinny had that great suggestion that totally had us all going, “Yes! That’s it! That’s really powerful.”

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Toddstar: You actually have, in my opinion, one of the better solos on that disc in that track as well.

Vivian: Well, thank you. That one was a good one to do. I really kind of locked in to that part. Some of them are easier than others, you know? I run very hot and cold. I don’t always go into the studio prepared to do guitar solos. In previous years I never went in prepared at all. As I’ve gotten a little older, sometimes at least, I try to have something in my back pocket, but I still try and let inspiration lead me. Sometimes that really really works. Going back to the Dio days, the very very first solo I recorded on the Holy Diver album was “Rainbow In The Dark” and the solo that’s on the album was the first take, and it’s a live take. I just been playing guitar all day in the key of A minor, because that’s the key of the song and I knew that’s what we were going to record that evening. I had no idea what I, I gave no forethought to what I was going to play at all. Ronnie came into the studio later, and Angelo our engineer, “Okay, let’s do the solo.” I did the solo that’s on the record, and Ronnie just went, “Wow!” He said, “That was fucking amazing.” He said, “You want to try another?” And I said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll try another.” Now I’m starting to think about it. I’m thinking, I can’t start where I started, I can’t go to that because I did that, so now I’m starting to put up all these mental barriers. I did another one, but I’m thinking about it way to much so it’s not flowing, and it’s like, yeah, that’s okay. So Ronnie just says, “Ah, we’ll keep the first one.” Not every guitar solo comes out that way. There were other times on that record, and on every record I’ve worked on since where you expect lightning to strike twice and it doesn’t, and I end up thinking give me a few hours here, I’m going to go in the back room and think about this. So I’ve learned to not go in completely blind, to have sort of an idea as to where I’m going, some sort of a road map. Sometimes I just let inspiration go and sometimes you get great results. I think “Starmaker” may be one of those days, but I’m well pleased with that one myself.

Toddstar: Like you, I love this thing top to bottom right now. I know it’s only into February, but right now this is the album of the year in my mind. This is just killer.

Vivian: Oh, well, thank you. Thank you, Todd.

Toddstar: Getting back to the bittersweet topic of Jimmy, what was it like for you guys to get together and decide to do this after so many years apart? You guys hadn’t been in the studio, you hadn’t done any writing, and then you guys put this together. What was that like, that initial meeting?

Vivian: It was great. It had been twenty seven years since we’ve played together, and this was back in 2011 when we first reconnected. I’d done three or four months on the road as a stunt guitarist Thin Lizzy, and that’s what really got it going again for me. Playing on stage with Scott Gorham and Brian Downey, playing “Black Rose” and “Emerald” and all the great riffs and the great guitar solos, it really reconnected me with my inner sixteen-year-old. I came off of that tour just really wanting to play guitar, really into my instrument again. So I called Vinny and Jimmy, and we’ve seen each other over the years, we were always good friends even though we didn’t see each other too often, and I said, “Can we just get into the room and start playing?” Fortunately they were both up for it, but it had been twenty seven years since we had played together, and we walked into the rehearsal room, tuned up, plugged in our instruments and started playing, and it was just immediate. It was just like it was back in the eighties, and the chemistry was there. It could have been twenty seven seconds. We all got so excited, we got goose bumps, and we all got giddy, and that’s what lead us to take it to another stage. It was Vinny who first suggested let’s get a singer. It’d be so much better if we had a singer to complete this. Obviously Ronnie had passed away in 2010 so there was no chance of calling up Ronnie, not that Wendy Dio would ever let that happen either. Vinny new Andrew and Andy came down. When Andy started singing that’s when I had the light bulb moment. I thought, wow, this is the unmistakable sign of the early Dio band, and a singer who just takes it in a whole different direction but has the power to do it. That’s what made it a viable and interesting project to me. In our early days we were literally just very very limited ambition. We just wanted to go out and do some shows for fun, playing the early songs, and that’s why we didn’t give a lot of thought to the name either. I said let’s call it Last In Line just after the Dio album; because Ronnie had passed away a year or so before this and Jimmy and Vinny and I, we were the last in line and we were the lasts ones there so it just seemed like an appropriate name. We just went out and played a few gigs. Couple of years later we got offered shows in Japan and the U.K. and off the back of that we got a call from Frontiers Records offering us the opportunity to make a new record if we wanted to write and record new material, so we decided to give it go and here we are.

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Toddstar: You’ve been a busy man. From the first recording with Dio until now you’ve always had something going on and Vinny’s all over the place as well. How excited was Jimmy to be able to really get back in the main stream with you guys and do this project full on?

Vivian: Jimmy was still playing with people. I just think maybe a lot of the projects Jimmy was dabbling in didn’t have the same profile as maybe what Vinny and I were doing, but Jimmy was still very very much active in his art form as a writer and a player. He was still doing it all the time. So it was great, but I think probably more so than anyone else when we first started doing this Jimmy was the one who was the most invested. He actually went out and got a tattoo. The only tattoo ever had on his body was Last In Line. That’s how much he was invested and that’s how much he believed in it, that at his age, in his mid-sixties at the time he went out and got his first tattoo. Being in this band while we were making this record for the last year and a half or two years, really helped Jimmy finally overcome his demons. A lot of people unfortunately jumped to the assumption that when they heard the news of Jimmy’s passing that he had died with a needle in his arm, which is absolutely untrue. I can tell you that Jimmy was sober for at least the last year and a half of his life, and I believe a big part of that why he was finally able to overcome his biggest demon in life was that he was so focused on writing and making this record. He really really believed, even more of the rest of us here and we all really believed in it. There’s that word again, bittersweet. It really really is. This record was ready to go over a year ago and we decided to sit on it until all of us were available to tour and promote it because we believed in that much. We wanted to give it every opportunity to be heard, and do a tour and work this record. Then we got to the eleventh hour and Jimmy didn’t even get to live long enough to see the release. We’re at an extreme crossroads right now. We owe it to Jimmy and we owe to the record, to ourselves, to actually do what we can, but we’re not going to tour. We are actually supposed to be on the road right now. We ended up canceling the tour, just didn’t seem respectful to Jimmy’s memory to just get someone else in to play base and go on tour. We will however do a couple festival shows, one in Italy at the end of April, and Rocklahoma at the end of May. I don’t know who’s going to play bass for us yet, we’ll tackle that in the coming weeks. It’s never going to be the same. I don’t believe that musicians can just be replaced. We’re all unique. We all have our unique finger print and our unique sound, and Jimmy certainly did. Whoever plays base with Last In Line, from this point on, it’s not going to be the same. That’s something we’re just going to have to deal with and we really don’t know what our long term plans are going to hold. It depends a lot on what happens with this record. It’s a strange situation to be in.

Toddstar: I guess the best part of this album, other than the music, is the fact that this really… listening to it you can hear Jimmy’s heart and soul in those bass lines, and this is such a great memorial to him musically, in addition to what he’s done through the years.

Vivian: Yeah, and I’m pleased with that. If had been a so-so record it would have been a sad way for Jimmy to end his rich legacy, but I honestly believe this record stands shoulder to shoulder with a lot of the great records that Jimmy was involved in through his life and his career. I’m very pleased for him that it is, you know? And like I say, no one believed in it more than Jimmy.

Toddstar: I agree. I know your busy, and I know you’ve got so much going on, but I want to take a personal note and just say as a national volunteer and trainer with the American Cancer Society, it’s so good to see you going on and keeping on with everything you got going on in your personal life. You truly are the face of a survivor in the cancer world.

Vivian: Thank you. I’m not at all concerned about my health. I was at first. When they first tell you’ve got cancer you think the worst, you think death, and since you start thinking about chemo and all the horrors of that. It’s been three years and I’ve done three runs of chemo and a stem cell transplant, and now I’m doing immunotherapy and I’m not remotely concerned about my health. I will beat this, absolutely. I never really thought otherwise.  I’m one of the lucky ones. Jimmy wasn’t. Jimmy died of lung cancer and he didn’t even know he had it. Jimmy didn’t have health insurance, so even if he had health insurance I don’t know if Jimmy would’ve even bothered to deal with it. Knowing Jimmy’s character he might have just said, “Ah, whatever.” But he didn’t even have that opportunity. He didn’t even know he had cancer. In context of that, I’m so so far ahead of the game. I’m so lucky to have caught my cancer early, to remain one step ahead of it, and like I said before, I am not remotely concerned about my health. This disease is not going to get me.

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Toddstar: You’ve beat it every day since the first diagnosis, congratulations on that. With you guys not really touring behind this, what’s next? I’m sitting up here in Detroit, Michigan and wondering when’s the next time I get to see Viv Campbell grace the stage in my area.

Vivian: I am going to be working with Leppard starting in May. Right the way through October we have North American dates with Def Leppard. As far as Last In Line I really don’t know. Other than these two festival shows and maybe a couple of warm ups in advance of them we have no plans to do anything. If the record is really really well received and there’s enough perceived demand for us to do a tour then we feasibly could do one in late October, November, December. Or carrying on even into 2017, because 2017 will be a relatively quiet year for Def Leppard I’m sure. But I really don’t know with Last In Line. I really don’t know if we will continue. It’s just so bizarre to think about it, you know? It’s so strange. We got this great record, it’s just come out, but we don’t have Jimmy anymore. We’ll see what happens.

Toddstar: I’ll take Viv Campbell in any incarnation I can get him. I love watching you perform. Always have, always will. I wish you so much good luck with this release, and hope that it’s well received and given the attention it dissevers, because again, this thing’s an album of the year contender, hands down.

Vivian: Thank you, Todd. I’m really flattered, thank you.

Toddstar: Good luck with everything, and we’ll hopefully talk to you and see you soon, Viv.

Vivian: Let’s hope, all right. Bye, bye.

LAST IN LINE LINKS:

OFFICIAL SITE

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

VIVIAN CAMPBELL LINKS:

FACEBOOK

Todd ‘ToddStar’ Jolicoeur

Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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