When your professional music career spans 35 years — the last 30 of which have been spent playing for iconic rock ’n’ roll bands such as Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Dio and Thin Lizzy — it’s hard to be thought of as a newbie.
But even after spending the last two decades with the same band, guitarist and songwriter Vivian Campbell is still considered the “rookie” of British rock group Def Leppard.
“Yeah, it’s kind of strange. This is the longest I’ve ever remained with one band by far, but I’m still the new guy,” Campbell said recently by phone while on his way to play a concert in Buffalo. “But they’ve made me feel at home and I’m very much a part of the band.”
On Wednesday, the Northern Ireland native and his bandmates play their first gig in Bangor at Waterfront Pavilion along with Poison and Lita Ford. Gates open for the show at 5 p.m.
“I’ve never been to Bangor, Maine,” said Campbell, who will turn 50 on Saturday. “The only place I’ve been in Maine is Portland, and yeah, I’m really looking forward to it.”
Campbell, who began his music career at age 15 with a band called Sweet Savage, had never remained in a band longer than five years before joining Def Leppard in 1992.
“These guys all grew up with each other, and the majority of the music we play on stage still predates my involvement, even though I’ve been with them 20 years,” said Campbell, who replaced Steve Clark in 1992, the year after Clark died. “It’s still kind of a weird thing.”
What’s even more weird is being able to say you’ve played for a collection of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-caliber bands and find it a bit regrettable.
“I actually think it’s kind of unfortunate because I wish I’d had an entire career with one band,” he said. “That’s not to say it’s not a good thing to be with so many great singers and musicians and bands, but there’s a part of me who’s always wanted that cohesion.”
The kind of cohesion Def Leppard has attained. All four of Campbell’s bandmates (Joe Elliott, Rick Savage, Rick Allen and Phil Collen) hail from England, and three of them are founding members. Collen, who replaced Pete Willis four years after the band formed, is the only other nonoriginal, and he’s been part of the group since 1982.
Still, the “musical nomad” has already had a career most can only dream of.
“Indeed, yes. The Lizzy thing was just a real privilege and honor for me to play with those guys,” he said of his 18-month stint in 1990-91.
Campbell credited his Thin Lizzy experience for getting him back in a good musical frame of mind.
“It kind of reignited my passion for playing guitar again because I’d kind of gone a little cold on it,” said Campbell, who learned the instrument by playing day and night in the old, abandoned farmhouse his parents bought about 13 miles outside Belfast, Ireland in the 1960s. “I was very fortunate because I could play loud, even at 3 a.m.”
Campbell had a unique case of deja vu when he played lead guitar for Def Leppard’s cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Don’t Believe a Word” for an album of 1970s covers titled “Yeah!”
“I thought they’d want to do a different treatment, but Joe told me I had to play the guitar solo just like it was on the original album,” he said.
Campbell has only recently started getting over the anger he has felt since being kicked out of Dio in 1986.
“I was with Dio for arguably their best or most popular three albums, but it’s hard for me to feel like I belonged to that because I was very unceremoniously dumped from the band during a tour,” he recalled. “Ronnie [James Dio] and I did not get along and I didn’t feel a real connection with them.”
Campbell says he’s slowly realized that he has ownership of Dio’s success not just from playing, but also writing many of the songs.
“Only in the last three years did I really start feeling that and reclaim it,” he said. “Those albums were as much mine as Ronnie James and the other members.”
When Def Leppard’s current tour ends, Campbell doesn’t plan to take time off.
“I’ve reformed the original Dio band and called it Last in Line, and we’re going out when Def Leppard is on hiatus,” he said. “We’re going to play stuff from the first two albums and it’s going to be a hell of a time.”
Tickets for concerts on the Bangor Waterfront are available at waterfrontconcerts.com, at Mark’s Music in Brewer and all Ticketmaster outlets, and by phone at 800-745-3000.