Joe Elliott Recalls Rick Allen’s Fight Back from Arm Loss
Joe Elliott admitted that he’d thought it was the “drugs talking” when Def Leppard bandmate Rick Allen said he’d play again days after losing his arm in a car crash. The vocalist hailed the drummer for having fought back to become a better musician than he’d been before the accident on Dec. 31, 1984.
“We were never going to fire him,” Elliott told Hawaii Public Radio in a recent interview (via Blabbermouth). “That's just not the British way of doing things... It wasn't a business. It was a cliquey little club that was ours and ours alone, and when one of us gets kind of lost by the wayside, it's a hard thing to bring somebody else in.
“When Rick lost his arm, there was no way we were going to say, 'Okay, you're done, so we're just going to put an advert out for someone else.' I'd be lying if we didn't think as human beings that, gone through what he'd just gone through, he probably wouldn't play the drums again.”
You can listen to the interview below:
Those thoughts circulated for the few days Allen remained in a coma, Elliott recalled. “Once he was upright, he actually said, 'I think I figured a way around it.' I remember me and Phil [Collen] kind of looking at each other [thinking], 'Yeah, that's the drugs talking.’”
The rest of the band continued working on their Hysteria album while Allen focused on his recovery, learning to play with three limbs using an electronic drum kit. “We never went anywhere near him,” the singer said. “It would have been wrong to hover over his shoulder, watching him re-learn how to play, so we left him alone until he decided he wanted us to hear it.
“After about four or five months, I remember he came into the control room in the studio in Holland and said, 'I want you to come and listen to something.' We all went in there not knowing what to expect, and it was quite simple, but he just started playing the beginning of ‘When The Levee Breaks’ by Led Zeppelin, and it was astonishing.”
By mid-1986 Allen had returned to the stage, and, having regained his confidence, Elliott said the band got “pretty much back to being self-sufficient again.” He continued, “We never had any pressure from the label or the management, because they knew the kind of band we were. We were never going to have any of it. It's a family – we don't necessarily always agree on everything, and we've had a few rough times and fights and disagreements, like most marriages do.”
He argued, “[Allen is] actually a much better musician now than he ever was before. He has to think harder, because he doesn't have that natural swing of two arms. He has to plan how he's going to do things with a bit more thought, which suits the songs better. It made everybody reevaluate the way that we arrange songs and play them for the benefit.”
Def Leppard's current tour runs until Dec 18. The band is in the running for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's Class of 2019 alongside Stevie Nicks, the Zombies, Devo, the MC5, the Cure, Roxy Music and Todd Rundgren, among others.