Steve Clark (1960-1991) left such an indelible mark on Def Leppard’s legacy.
It’s hard to believe Steve performed on only four of the band’s albums (On Through The Night, High ‘n’ Dry, Pyromania, and Hysteria), which goes to show the major impact he had in shaping Def Leppard’s music, trademark sound, and, ultimately, the band’s identity.
Even decades after his passing, it’s practically impossible to discuss some of Def Leppard’s greatest songs without mentioning how Steve Clark played a key part…literally and figuratively: the unmistakable opening riffs of “Photograph” and “Wasted,” the guitar intro to “Gods Of War” and “Foolin’,” the unforgettable “Switch 625,” and so many other Def Leppard songs Steve co-wrote and performed on.
Steve was such an integral part of Def Leppard and helped lay a foundation which the band still stands upon today.
Def Leppard: Feeling Like It’s Over…
Def Leppard fundamentally changed the day Steve Clark passed away.
Fans’ hearts sank January 8, 1991, when MTV interrupted their regular programming with “breaking news” along with a picture of Steve’s face on-screen.
It was confusing, shocking, sad, and so tragic to hear MTV’s Kurt Loder communicate the grim news of Steve’s death.
In an instant so much changed for the band and its fans.
Aside from the human tragedy of Steve’s life ending at the age of 30, many other realizations also sunk in over time: Def Leppard lost one of its original members; there would be no more Terror Twins; hearing “Photograph” performed live — especially its iconic, opening riff (Steve’s creation) — would never be the same; Joe Elliott could no longer playfully call out to Steve with his classic line “C’mon, Steve. Get it!” during “Armageddon It,” and so on.
In addition, a Def Leppard without Steve Clark’s irreplaceable on-stage presence was simply hard to fathom.
Here’s just one example showcasing a fierce, live performance from Steve during the Pyromania era:
Bringin’ On The Heartbreak
Steve’s death occurred in a pre-social media era — you didn’t have a major, universal platform to grieve or discuss his death with millions of other heartbroken fans.
Instead, you mostly stay glued to MTV to get up-to-the-minute updates, hoping to hear from the band and share in their loss.
I still recall the image of a very somber Joe Elliott discussing Steve’s passing during an MTV interview…
Up to that point, Def Leppard fans had been waiting years for the band’s follow-up to Hysteria, but it all seemed so inconsequential the day Steve Clark died.
All of a sudden, it became a question of if or how Def Leppard — a two-guitarist band — would continue, not about what their next album would sound like.
Trying times indeed.
Thankfully, Def Leppard being the band that it is, once again persevered and overcame the tragedy.
Stand Up! Kick STEVE Into Motion!
Adrenalize was the first album to not feature Steve Clark’s guitar contributions on record. (Phil Collen performed all the guitar parts, also working off of Steve’s original demos as a guide.)
It would have been nice though (and even a bit therapeutic for heartbroken fans back in the day) to hear Steve’s actual guitar contributions on the record, at least on one of Adrenalize’s gems like “Stand Up! (Kick Love Into Motion).”
What was his approach to the track? What melodies would he have showcased, and what would they have sounded like?
Well, an answer to those questions may actually exist.
A supposed demo of Steve’s original guitar solo for “Stand Up! (Kick Love Into Motion)” has been on the internet for years.
Phil Collen reportedly confirmed years ago that the demo was in fact legitimate, saying that it’s him and Steve performing together.
Just like the old days.
If you’ve never heard it before, enjoy the haunting melodies of Steve’s chill-inducing solo:
Let’s go a step further…
One fan made the extra effort to incorporate the demoed guitar solo into the final version of the song (starting right before the 3:00 mark) for fans who’d like to further savor it:
Steve Clark’s Legacy
Def Leppard’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame provided the band with yet another opportunity to look back and reflect on what Steve meant to them — as a band member and friend.
Joe Elliott summed it up beautifully in his very poignant acceptance speech:
“It was Pete [Willis], after a chance meeting in a college canteen, both reaching for the same guitar magazine, who introduced us to the late, great Steve Clark. Over the following 10 years, Steve made a massive musical contribution to this band, his incredible and unique riffs helped shape some of the most important songs we will ever write and it really does go without saying that we love him and we miss him every day.”
The band has mentioned in interviews over the years that unreleased material from Steve does exist — one can only hope they release it someday.
Hearing material like the “Stand Up! (Kick Love Into Motion)” guitar demo is a nice reminder that though Steve may be gone, his presence (and influence) remains. And though his work will never be on any new Def Leppard recording, he’s still there in spirit, playing along with the band with his Gibson Les Paul guitar slung low and riffing as only he can.
Much has been said about Steve in many fine, well-deserved tributes over the years — whether spotlighting his personal ups and downs, the demons he fought, and so on. But what I think of when I’m reminded of Stephen Maynard Clark — no matter the anniversary — is simply the wonderful work he left us with.
Def Leppard and their fans were so fortunate to witness Steve’s genius in the short amount of time he was with us.
Though forever missed, Steve and his immeasurable contributions will never be forgotten.
Thank you, Steve.