Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Steve Clark: Def Leppard's Late, Unsung Guitarist Deserves More Kudos

So many rock stars who die before their time become more iconic in death than they were in life.

Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Bon Scott, Randy Rhoads are but three examples from a long list of fallen rockers.

Sadly, though, late Def Leppard guitarist Steve "Steamin'" Clark is rarely talked about in terms of the stellar legacy he left behind when he died in 1991 at the age of 30.

Maybe it's because he wasn't Def Leppard's frontman. Maybe it's because he was fairly low key in the band.

Whatever the case, Clark a co-founder of Leppard with ex-guitarist Pete Willis (ironically kicked out of the band for too much boozing in 1982), vocalist Joe Elliott and bassist Rick Savage, was instrumental in writing most of Def Leppard's tracks during their stratospheric rise to stardom in the 1980s from their debut On Through The Night, through High N Dry, Pyromania and Hysteria. Despite not playing on 1992's Adrenalize, Clark co-wrote most of the tracks.

Whether it's "Hello America", "Let It Go", "Switch 625", "Bringin' On the Heartbreak", "Photograph", Rock of Ages", "Hysteria", or "Gods of War", Clark had a hand in crafting those songs and helped Def Leppard reach the top of the rock 'n roll mountain.

Yet, despite that, he seems to never get his due for what he did, unlike Cobain or Rhoads.

Despite Def Leppard's Success, Depression Dogged Clark

Despite his phenomenal talent as a songwriter (one his nicknames was "The Riffmaster") and the amazing success Def Leppard enjoyed, Clark was a depressed alcoholic, who numbed his pain with booze and drugs (both prescription and hard drugs like cocaine).

Tragically, everyone around him knew he would wind up dead, but they couldn't stop it. And Clark seemed resigned to his fate.

His father, Barry, noted in a VH1 documentary his son was " really looking worse for wear" at Christmas in 1990. Barrie recalls telling his son that if he kept on drinking, he'd kill himself. To that Clark responded "Well, I'm not bothered anyway."

Before he died, the members of Leppard and those around them knew Clark was in major trouble, heading down a one-way street to nowhere, so an intervention was held in 1989 after a doctor addressed the serious damage Clark was doing to himself.

Bandmates, longtime producer Mutt Lange, as well as friends were on hand to lay it out for Clark, who, according to guitarist Phil Collen in his autobiography Adrenalized “... sat there with a cigarette taking it all in. Mutt gave him a big hug, then we all hugged him and told him that we loved him. That was a very tearful and emotional experience for all involved, especially when the doctor explained to us that about 70 percent of alcoholics who get to this level usually end up getting killed either by accident or overuse.”

Clark then agreed to go into rehab ( his last of several attempts ) in Tucson, where he met recovering heroin addict Janie Dean, an American. They moved in together and got engaged, but according to Collen, both continued with substance abuse. She was the person who found Clark dead on their couch in their Chelsea home on Jan. 8, 1991.

Clark's Last Night and Death

The night before he died, Dean and Clark were supposed to take in a theatre production, but he'd been out drinking before they were going to leave, so the couple decided to stay home. However, according to Dean, at 8 p.m. on Jan. 7, Clark told her he was going to go out for 10 minutes. He came back four hours later, extremely drunk with a buddy. Clark passed out on the couch and never woke again.

An autopsy confirmed the cause of death was compression of the brain stem - which caused respiratory failure - due to excessive alcohol mixed with anti-depressants and pain killers. According to Dean, he was taking Prozac, Valium, and would also do cocaine.

At the time he died, Clark was on an unofficial six-month leave from the band, so he could focus on getting healthy.

So ended the sad story of one of rock's great songwriters and guitarists. One of Clark's nicknames was "Riffmaster" and when you listen to Def Leppard's first four albums, you know why.

After his passing, Sacramento rock band Tesla, who toured with Def Leppard, wrote a tribute song to honour Clark called "Song and Emotion". And Leppard wrote "White Lightning" for the "Adrenalize" record. The song looks at their and Clark's struggles with substance abuse. Check it out below.

See how founding Def Leppard guitarist Pete Willis was fired from the band during the Pyromania recording sessions

4 comments:

  1. Steve Clark never gets mentioned when there are articles in magazines or Radio stations do tributes to dead Rock & Rollers.I miss him & maybe his family life contributed to his tragedy.There are a lot of dead rockers that never get the remembrance they should.Like Bob Welch

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  2. Steamin Steve Clark never gets mentioned when articles are published or radio does tributes to fallen Rockers.
    That's a shame. Theres a Rolling Stone mag out showing dead rockers-But most have been discussed to the point of not being anything new.Bob Welch & Bob McBride are a few more that never are mentioned. Steve Clark was a great treasure & will never know the pleasure He brought to millions of people.

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  3. Funny how the band kicked out Pete for drinking which possibly saved his life, but let Steve crash and burn, self serving hypocrites.

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  4. Steve Clark was the real talent in Def Leppard, from both the song writing standpoint and the guitarist standpoint. As he faded, so did their appeal to me musically.

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