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Steve Clark


1978-1991 Def Leppard - guitars  

Personal information

Born on: 23.04.1960
Died on: 08.01.1991

Stephen Maynard Clark (April 23, 1960 - January 8, 1991) was one of the co-lead guitarists for British Hard Rock band Def Leppard up until his death in 1991

Childhood and adolescence
Clark was born and raised in Hillsborough, the north-western suburb of Sheffield, England. From an early age he showed interest in music -- his mother even took him to a concert to see The Shadows perform when he was six. At eleven, he asked his father for a guitar, and his father gave him one, on the condition that Steve would learn to play.

His favourite guitarist was Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page; after hearing "How Many More Times," he fell in love with the sound and knew he wanted to continue with a musical career. He soon exchanged his acoustic guitar for an electric. After that, Steve started learning some Led Zeppelin songs note by note, improving his style and technique in one. More evidently because he loved Jimmy Page, Clark only used Gibson guitars during his timeline with Def Leppard.

Career and technique
Before joining Def Leppard in 1978, he played cover songs with his small band, Electric Chicken, in Sheffield. Around that time, he met Pete Willis (Def Leppard's original guitarist/founder). Steve asked for a spot in the band and joined Def Leppard in January 1978. According to Joe Elliott in Behind the Music, Clark auditioned for Def Leppard by playing all of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird".

While a guitarist for Def Leppard, he was one of the main contributors to the band's music and lyrics. More importantly, Clark threatened to leave the band if they didn't go out and play. Considering the impact he had on the band's skill level and songwriting, lead singer Joe Elliott scrambled to find a suitable gig. The rest, as they say, is history.

He and Pete Willis shared lead guitar duties, but many of the band's gems could be attributed to Clark's virtuosity. A notable song in mind that shows Steve Clark's iconic guitar riffs is the instrumental "Switch 625" off of High 'n' Dry.

When Willis was asked to leave due to his drinking problem, former Girl guitarist Phil Collen auditioned for the band. Elliott gave Collen a copy of Stagefright, a track off the band's Pyromania album, asking Collen to come up with a solo for the song. The next day Collen played the solo for the band and he was in. Clark and Collen were dubbed the Terror Twins in homage to Aerosmith's Toxic Twins (Steven Tyler and Joe Perry). Over the years, Collen quit drinking, stopped eating meat, and adopted a healthy lifestyle; however, Clark did not.

The other members of Def Leppard looked upon Steve as a great guitarist and showman, his live performances being memorable in that respect. But his musical work with the group was increasingly interrupted by his severe alcoholism.

Lead singer Joe Elliott said while other band members would be out playing soccer, visiting family, or watching a movie, the only thing Steve was interested in was drinking and/or playing guitar. In fact, one night in Minneapolis, Steve was found unconscious with a blood/alcohol level of .59, almost double that of John Bonham at his death.

Since the late 1980's, Clark's addiction to alcohol was seriously damaging his musical career. He often showed up intoxicated, causing problems in the recording sessions for Hysteria. His role with the band was limited everywhere but onstage, in which case he was always ready, able and sober. During the Hysteria 1988 World Tour, Steve played different intro riffs for three famous Def Leppard songs "Gods of War" and then with Phil Collen on "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" and "Hysteria"

The 1992 song White Lightning on the album Adrenalize was written about Steve Clark, because the members nicknamed him "White Lightning" for his preference to use only white clothes up on stage often, and for his powerful guitar riffs that defined Def Leppard's stance in the music industry.

He is best remembered for the powerful riffs that drove Def Leppard's first four albums in the 1980s, for which he was also nicknamed as "The Riffmaster". His distinctive style can be heard in particular on "Wasted" (from On Through the Night), "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" (from High 'N' Dry), "Die Hard the Hunter" (from Pyromania) and "Gods of War" (from Hysteria).

He contributed to half of the songs on the band's 1992 album "Adrenalize" just prior his death.

In 1991, Clark was found dead on his couch by Janie Dean -- his girlfriend at the time. The autopsy revealed he died from a mixture of anti-depressants, painkillers (used for a rib injury), and alcohol. There was no evidence of suicidal intent.

At the time of his death, he was on a six-month leave of absence from Def Leppard. The band had allegedly grown despondent over their repeated, failed efforts to help Clark and decided time off was the only solution.

Steve's remains are buried at Wisewood Cemetery in Hillsbrough, Sheffield, near his family's house.

Tesla, who opened for Def Leppard on the Hysteria tour, recorded a tribute to Steve Clark on their Psychotic Supper album, called "Song & Emotion (To Our Friend, Steve 'Steamin' Clark)".