Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How Pete Willis Was Fired From Def Leppard

For many Def Leppard fans, their best work included original guitarist Pete Willis.

Sadly though, the last fans heard of his guitar playing were the rhythm tracks on Leppard's blockbuster Pyromania album, as he was fired while the band was recording it with producer Mutt Lange.

Willis was an integral member who co-wrote many songs on On Through the Night, High 'n Dry and several off Pyromania ("Photograph", "Too Late For Love", "Comin' Under Fire" and "Billy's Got A Gun").

It was Willis who brought singer Joe Elliott into the fold, as well as the late Steve Clark.

Naturally, as a bunch of 20-something's from Sheffield, England, the band enjoyed partying as much as the next rock star, but Willis had more of a problem with alcohol than the other members.

Even before he was fired, there was trouble with Willis as they were touring in support of High 'n Dry. His eventual replacement, Phil Collen, told musicradar.com that Elliott actually called him and told him to learn the songs.

"What happened was, Pete Willis was having some problems with the band - things were just not going well - and one day, during the High 'n' Dry tour, I got a phone call from Joe Elliot, who was in the States at the time. 'Can you learn 16 songs in two days?' he asked me. 'Uhh, yeah,' I said. 'Why is that?' And then he told me that things weren't great with Pete, that it wasn't working out," said Collen. "Funny thing is, Joe called me two days later and told me that things were OK again.

That would have been in the late summer/fall of 1981.

Things with Willis would come to a head during the recording sessions for Pyromania less than a year later in England. After a long night of partying, Willis showed up at the studio in rough, rough shape.

The band were working on "Stagefright" and Willis basically could not play the guitar, so Lange told him to go home and dry out.

It was then that Leppard decided to fire Willis, and Elliott was tasked with breaking the news to his bandmate. Incidentally, the band wanted then-manager Peter Mensch to tell Willis, but he refused, reportedly saying "No, it's your band. You're big boys."

So Elliott broke the news to Willis over the phone on July 10, 1982.

"He was nice about it," Willis said of Elliott's phone call. "He said 'I'm really sorry, Pete, I didn't want to have to be the one to tell you this, but I got the job anyway.' After he said that, I knew what was coming next, I said I wanted to come down and talk about it. I didn't want to change their minds as much as to ask why - although deep down, I knew why."

The next day, Willis met with the rest of Leppard at Mensch's London home and was told again he was no longer a member of the band.

Elliott recalls Willis offered to get psychiatric help, but the singer responded that it was too late for that. "I had to be adamant because I knew nobody else would stand up. I said 'It's finished, there's nothing to discuss.' After that, he went 'Well, to be honest with you, I'm slightly relieved about it.' And that was it."

With that, the band brought in Collen to finish the Pyromania sessions where he laid down some solos and added backing vocals, then became a permanent member in the band.

Sadly though, alcohol addiction cost Def Leppard another member when Steve Clark died in 1991.

After Willis left, Def Leppard lost some of their hard rock edge as Hysteria, the follow-up to Pyromania, boasted more of a radio-pop feel to it.

To their credit, Willis still gets all of his song-writing royalties and he's never had any hard feelings towards his former band.

Check out our look at how late Leppard guitarist Steve Clark died due to alcohol consumption


  1. Very informative blog post.Really looking forward to read more post.
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  2. Seems like Mutt Lange fired Pete.....after he brainwashed the kids from England.....I wish they would've given Pete some time in rehab......js

  3. that must have been really fucked getting fired from your own band, well he was a man about it and yes the original much better than the replacements, to me the definitive time of implosion for def, just cant listen to anything after pyro, way to sugary yuck

  4. i'm really suprised elliot did'nt see that what the band was losing would force them into a pop abyss, i know pete willis could have never let that happen, hell i don't think he knew what pop was no less how to play it, for shame leppard shame, even a half dead drunk willis was 1ooo% better than what you got, no disrespect phil you just aint him

  5. Willis is thrice the guitar player that Collin is.

  6. After pyro it was like "pour some gas on me", wonder why they let Clarke continue with his booze battles.

  7. Elliot is a stupid pig who was not standing up but bowing down to ugly Mutt Lange who later became the ferry Mr. Shania. YOU ARE AN IDIOT JOE U SHOULD HAVE FOUGHT TO KEEP PETE

  8. LetItGo LetItGOOOOO LoveIt LiveIt Pete Will never forget we got it on video thx

  9. Pete Pete Pete Pete Coolest Coolest The Heart And Soul Hamer vs. hamer vs kramer vs. kramer lol crunching Thanks Pete

  10. He looked cool too. He was always the one who's image stuck in my mind after seeing pics and vids of that period. He was unique, the others all look like they're cut from the same cloth.

  11. Pete was great, love his work with Athe lepps. But his Roadhouse band absolutely sucked... sounded like a cheesier,3rd rate adrenalize era leppard.

  12. Pete was great, love his work with Athe lepps. But his Roadhouse band absolutely sucked... sounded like a cheesier,3rd rate adrenalize era leppard.

  13. Well..I have mixed feelings about how that went down and the end result..when it comes to the music aspect..I enjoyed pete's songwriting for Leppard..he was the main architect of that bands sound sure the others collaborated to some extent so some credit where credit is due..I do think it was kind of a lousy thing to do especially considering he wasn't just a bandmate..there wasn't just musicianship involved but friendship as well..I understand that ultimately it is a business and needs to be run as such however considering everything in the equation with Pete being a Founding member..In fact recruiting Steve Clark as well as Joe Elliott..One could say it was pretty much his band to start with so I believe he should have gotten that one last chance of get your faculties back in order..clean up,dry out or ship out..after all he had already laid down his rhythm tracks so as far as solo's that could have waited till last while he was recovering and getting his act together..I do firmly believe Leppard became a different animal after Pete's departure..They lost that brash edge which i think rrally made them the band they were becoming, however that had to detour to become well history tells the tale..ok..deep breath......., having said that perhaps on the other hand it may have been the best for all parties involved..except for mpehaps the true old schoolfans..but who knows Pete may have relapsed later down the road on tour and might have had a possible Bon Scott episode..So Thank God that never happened..I actually know someone from Newcastle England who has a mate who knows Pete Willis and says he still receives royalty checks..and in his words says he's still a Pisshead.!(Slang for a drunk) In his words..So he says Pete is still doing quite alright in that department..hence no financial Woes..(Wish I could say the same for myself!!!)