1981 Def Leppard T-shirt a souvenir from the first rock show

For 40 years now, I can’t remember what prompted me to purchase the second album by Sheffield, England hard rock band Def Leppard, “High ‘n’ Dry” in the summer of 1981. Ai I heard a song on the radio? Was I browsing the fruit crates full of albums at Eucalyptus Records and Tapes and was I struck by the trippy album cover from legendary art design company Hipgnosis? Whatever it was, when I brought it home and put the needle in the groove, I was changed.

I was no stranger to rock ‘n’ roll even though I had grown up in a house where R&B and soul, which I loved, were the staple of our musical diet. I mean sure, my older brothers listened to Eagles, Wings, and Elton John, but what came out of the speakers was millions of miles from those pillars of FM radio and even further away from the Chi-Lites. .

The tunes to “High ‘n’ Dry” hint at the melodic qualities and pop / rock hooking of Def Leppard that they would perfect in subsequent offerings, but it was mostly electric guitars amplified in your face. This was verified from the muscular overture “Let it Go” (er, no, not the song “Frozen”) to the closer “No No No”.

Tony Wade, Back in the day

Def Leppard became much more famous after this recording when they started naming their albums after psychological disorders like pyromania and hysteria and adopted a more pop / glam / rock style, but “High ‘n’ Dry “was their rockin ‘and rollin’ peak, in my opinion.

The topics covered in the 10 songs on the record were standard rock – sex, drink, and rock – but I wasn’t looking for deep existential ideas. I was 17 and was just starting to have relatively minor skirmishes with my parents that would eventually lead to an open rebellion against the strict Christian upbringing I had endured until then. Def Leppard provided an angry, happy, melodious and liberating soundtrack to how I was feeling.

In the fall, I went back to Eucalyptus Records to their Bass box office and bought two tickets – they were $ 7.95 each – for me and my best friend John Nolan to see Def Leppard open for Blackfoot at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. , Friday November 6, 1981.

I had never been to a rock concert before and was unfamiliar with certain conventions, like the number of fans who wear rock t-shirts at concerts. I didn’t have one at the time, anyway. Instead, I wore my Armijo High School basketball sweater that I received for playing in college the year before. I think John was wearing a button down shirt.

We might not have watched the part, but we knew what the right sacrament of rock ‘n’ roll was: alcohol. Ever since John had driven us there in his father’s truck, it had been my job to find strong drinks. I went to a store a few blocks from the auditorium, made sure to make my voice as deep as possible, and scored a Löwenbräu sixer.

When we were sufficiently lubricated, we headed for the room filled with cigarette smoke and weed. I don’t remember much else other than the moment Def Leppard entered the scene. I had never felt this lightning sensation before. The thundering, raw, adrenalinized power was far more intoxicating than three beers. I was hooked and became a rocker for life.

I saw Leppard again in 1983 and 1987 when they were in their commercial heyday, but the electric explosion of seeing my first live rock band has never been matched.

Now I later went to see many bands live including Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Dio and others. And I have to mention that they weren’t all hard rock / heavy metal concerts. I’ve seen Cameo, Run-DMC, Bob Seger, Chaka Khan, Ledisi, Billy Joel, and Stevie Wonder, among others. Hell, this rock ‘n’ roll rebel who sprinted away from church at age 17 has even seen and liked Christian artist Amy Grant on several occasions.

But decades later, the only concert shirt I still had was the one I bought at that first Def Leppard gig. It featured a photo of the group: vocalist Joe Elliott, bassist Rick Savage, lead guitarist Steve “Steamin ‘” Clark, and guitarist Pete Willis, who was kicked out in 1982 for drinking.

But the most interesting thing for me is that the only visible arm of the band member is the right arm belonging to drummer Rick Allen, who reportedly lost his left arm in a horrific car crash in 1984. He remarkably learned to drummer with a arm and a modified drum kit. Having a one-armed drummer looks a bit like the joke about a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest, but Allen keeps moving.

Over the decades I’ve obviously taken Leppard’s hit song “Pour Some Sugar on Me” to heart and doubled in weight like I’m living on Jupiter or something. This T-shirt was stowed away in a closet along with, ironically, the Armijo basketball sweater I wore to the 1981 runway. Thinking that I could ever wear either one again was a dream. Use them as towels? Absoutely. Clothes? Uh, no way.

But, as I detailed in this column, I changed my lifestyle, lost the weight of a good sized human being and can now comfortably wear them both. Putting on the threadbare Def Leppard shirt brings me straight back to that fascinating, life-changing concert and those unconventional days of freedom.

Now these days I don’t drink or smoke and if I ever saw Def Leppard again I would definitely wear some earplugs but I’m still glad I could wear the shirt.

Reach out to Fairfield humorous columnist, accidental local historian and author of The History Press book “Growing Up In Fairfield, California” Tony Wade at [email protected].

Elizabeth J. Harless