For the Def Leppard frontman revisiting Live And Dangerous, Johnny The Fox and Jailbreak was a labour of love and a life’s ambition.
All three are out now and don’t forget you can catch the current line-up at this year’s Download festival!
rushonrock: Explain how you became involved in the remix production of the Thin Lizzy deluxe editions?
Joe Elliott: I think the genesis of these deluxe editions is around three years ago. It might even have been discussed before then! Three years ago me and Scott had a plan – we agreed that if the time and the opportunity ever came around we’d get this done. We discussed the future of Lizzy and it was clear the band had big plans. I’ve known Scott for more than 20 years so it made sense to get the project off the ground. When we did get down to business Scott couldn’t really bear to listen to the original records, apart from bits of Live And Dangerous. There were things on Johnny The Fox and Jailbreak that just drove him mad and I knew exactly what he meant.
rushonrock: Are you saying Scott was embarrassed by what he heard?
JE: To a musician who knows his work could have been better it’s a frustration. I felt Scott’s pain. But we’ve got the technology these days to take everything that we did originally and make it sound like it was recorded today. That obviously intrigued Scott. And when I explained there was the opportunity to put new guitars on the original tracks he just couldn’t resist.
rushonrock: Why roll out the reissues now?
JE: With Def Leppard taking a break and Lizzy not out on tour until the beginning of this year, 2010 was the perfect time to get the job done. I started work on the records after I was done with the Down N Outz. But we’d waited for months to get the budget together and the amount we were looking for wasn’t ridiculous – it just reflected the amount of work we were going to put in. Eventually someone had a word with someone else and we scraped together just about enough money to out the whole thing together. And I wasn’t looking for Mark Ronson remix fees either!
rushonrock: Was it a complicated process?
JE: We used my studio in Dublin but first off we had to bake the tapes. In the past the original tapes weren’t always stored in a temperature controlled environment and it’s just like you leave a pair of shoes unattended for 35 years. They go a bit mouldy. But the Lizzy tapes were salvageable and we stuck them in what’s effectively a great big pizza oven for a couple of hours. It reoxidises them and then, once you’ve copied them digitally, you don’t need to worry about those tapes ever again. After that you stick them through ProTools and hey presto you have the album sounding the way it was always meant to sound.
rushonrock: So have some of the tracks been re-recorded as well as remixed?
JE: We started to filter all the bad stuff out and then set about building each track up again. For instance we had Phil Lynott’s bass parts from 30 years ago coming through a 2010 bass amp and it sounded incredible. We did the same thing with the drums. We kept the guitar parts that everyone is familiar with but recorded a lot of new rhythms. And there was the opportunity to tune the individual instruments because, for instance, with The Boys Are Back In Town a lot of the guitar parts are out of tune. And the reason for that? Back then the red light would come on and the Lizzy boys would be told you’ve got 18 days to make an album! We had the chance to do it properly. We had the chance to put right what they couldn’t afford to do or didn’t have the time to do.
rushonrock: In your day job with Def Leppard you’re well known for embracing technology so were you a natural partner for Scott when it came to the Lizzy remixes?
JE: Def Leppard was the first rock band that got any credit for using the new studio techniques available to everyone in the 80s. The Human League were doing it throughout the decade and Kraftwerk were the pioneers of the techniques we started to use. We were trying to lift rock music out of its stagnant state and I suppose Pyromania will always be seen as the blueprint with Mutt Lange on board and doing the very best job he could. By the time we were doing Hysteria that kind of music had furthered itself again and we believed we could drag it into our world. We were a frontrunner when it came to embracing the new studio technology available but then we had a producer with the foresight of Mutt.
rushonrock: But do you still cringe like Scott when you look back on your career-defining records?
JE: Every record that we’ve done could have been better – none is perfect in our eyes. When you’re making an album – however long you take making it – the last song is always rushed. When you’ve got 11 or 12 songs done and dusted the label bosses start inking in promo and tours and all of that stuff and suddenly the pressure’s on. There’s a lot of Hysteria that I’d do again. And bits of Pyromania. But there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t wish we’d done something different.
rushonrock: But surely Hysteria is seen as a record that set new standards both technically and commercially?
JE: That becomes a problem when no mater what we put our name on people will always compare it to Hysteria. It’s both a cash cow and an albatross. Things have moved on. Def Leppard records aren’t supposed to sound like Hysteria nearly 25 years after that record came out. I’m like ‘let it go’. It’s like expecting Harrison Ford to always play Han Solo. It’s what we have to work with but it was less critical for a band like Def Leppard because we used to spend years working on an album. Lizzy had 16 days. Scott spent five days doing his guitar parts for Jailbreak! Can you imagine?
rushonrock: Beyond your work on the Lizzy deluxe editions you’ve played a key role in reshaping the band’s line-up…
JE: In fairness I didn’t recommend Ricky Warwick to Scott. I did recommend Vivian Campbell because I knew Scott just didn’t think it was going to work out with Brian Robertson this time around. I suggested he talked to Viv – he grew up on Lizzy and was the natural choice. In the end Scott said it was like Viv was teaching him how to play Lizzy songs! I think because I’d been involved with Viv joining Lizzy and we were talking about the deluxe editions that the conversation came around to Ricky. And Scott remembered he’d worked with Ricky eight years ago. When I was putting Ricky’s solo album together we had Scott come over and play all different types of guitar parts for it. Whatever we asked him to play he played it – we had him playing slide guitar and everything. We dragged it out of him. And Scott proved a bit more versatile than people had painted him as being!
rushonrock: So do you feel Ricky is the right choice to lead Lizzy in 2011?
JE: Scott went back and listened to that Ricky Warwick record and said he thought Lizzy might give him a try. And I think he’s sounding really good with the band. He’s singing, rather than shouting and I think he’s found his niche. I know he’s been working his bollocks off for the last five months to make sure he’s the best Lizzy vocalist he can be. He’s done his homework and one thing you always get with Ricky is 100% whatever he’s doing.