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Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott Talks Mott the Hoople Love + Down N’ Outz Evolution

Gareth Cattermole, Getty Images

Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott is a devoted Mott the Hoople fan and has long carried the torch for the British icons and their fearless frontman Ian Hunter. Elliott, who’s been referred to as the band’s “cultural ambassador,” formed a tribute band with the Quireboys in early 2009 called the Down ‘n’ Outz to play a one-time gig opening for Mott the Hoople at one of their five reunion concerts in England.

As it turns out, the show was only the half of it. The new band went over so well that it evolved into the recording of the ‘My ReGeneration’ album, a limited ‘Live At The Hammersmith Odeon’ DVD and issuing a very special brand of lager with the Down ‘n’ Outz name on it.

We recently interviewed Elliott, asking him to tell us more about the Down ‘n’ Outz and their forthcoming release and he was eager to share his passion, compliment his band and pay homage to his heroes.

What came first — the Down ‘n’ Outz or the announcement that Mott the Hoople were reuniting?

The Mott announcement! In February of 2009 I got a “shhhhhh don’t tell anybody but…” that the reunion was probably on. I mean, if you’re going to do shows in November the wheels are in motion for six-to-nine months beforehand. When it was definite, I sent an email around to the whole band and the management, everything in capital letters that said, “DO NOT BOOK ANYTHING.” I don’t care if it’s 10 million dollars. Do not book anything for October because I’m going to these gigs. I’m going to every one of them and I’m giving everyone a six-month notice.

How did you hook up with the band the Quireboys?

It was put to me like this, “Why don’t you put a band together and open for Mott The Hoople on the last night of the tour?” Hunter’s agent, Mick Brown, was looking after the Quireboys as well, so he’s the one who suggested them as a backing band.

It was plainly obvious that Def Leppard would’ve been inappropriate. It would have just been stupid, everything about it would’ve been wrong. When he said that the Quireboys would be up to doing it, I said, “Well – what about [vocalist] Spike?” and it was said, “Oh, he’ll be fine” and it turned out, he was! So they put me in touch with Paul Guerin, their go-to guy, the guitar player, stage left guitarist and I just starting chatting with him on emails and then we talked to each other and it was pretty obvious that they were really up for doing it. He said, “You just tell us what songs you want to do and we’ll learn them.”

How did you determine what songs to cover?

That summer I was out on tour with Poison and Cheap Trick and by then, I knew it was really happening so, I’d literally do our sound check and then go on the back of the bus with a guitar and play along to the record versions of the ten songs that I’d chosen. The whole idea of it was: What would I want to hear me do if I were out there watching me do it? Ya know? A: I don’t want to destruct, I want to enhance. B: I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes, I just want to be thankful that I’m there and hopefully they’ll get it. The diehards will get it!!

So, I went right to everything that they did after they split up, I instantly went straight to the ‘Drive On’ album. I went straight for the Ian Hunter solo record and then you go from there and eventually you think, “I may as well chuck in a British Lions track,” because two of them were involved in that. You have [Overend] Watts and [Dale] Buffin up there and though Morgan [Fisher] wasn’t involved in the reunion, he was out front in the audience!

I picked ten songs that I thought would be great live tracks. I set it up like a real live gig. We opened up with ‘Golden Opportunity’ into ‘Overnight Angels’ and then into ‘Storm.’ I wanted to do the first track on ‘Drive On’ called ‘By Tonight’ and I wanted to do ‘Shouting and Pointing.’ I wanted to do one ballad, ‘Career,’ and the rest was just going to rock all the way through and end with ‘Good Times’ which was a great way to end it.

How did the name of the band come about?

The Down ‘n’ Outz came about purely because we had a gig to do and we needed a name quickly. I was reading the paper and there was an article on an Irish snooker player (Alex “Hurricane” Higgins) who had really fell on hard times and the phrase “down and out” was staring me in the face, so with a slight spelling alteration, which I seem to have a habit of doing, the Down ‘n’ Outz were born.

What was your approach to working with the Quireboys?

Literally, I sent Paul Guerin a MP3 of the whole ten songs, he distributed them to the rest of the guys and while the Quireboys were touring Europe they were learning the songs in their hotel rooms. When we actually met to rehearse, they said they thought they had it all down and literally, after the first run through we were like, “Pub?” I couldn’t believe how well rehearsed they were! All I had to do was just sit on the top of them. They played; I stuck another rhythm on and sang over it.

How long did it take you guys to get it down?

We had the two days to rehearse it and it was a day too long. We were that good — they were that good. I’d spent six weeks doing it everyday on the bus for that whole tour and it was a great way of doing it. We approached it like, it’s a lot of work to do 45 minutes but it’s for Mott, it’s worth it! It could be a historical night, it could be the last time that they ever play and we’ll at least be able to tell our grandkids that we were the opening act. I just thought that was the coolest thing.

How did it evolve from there?

Things took a change when I went to the bar during the interval. We finished, toweled down and it was, “Let’s go get a pint” so we went out into the lobby of the Hammersmith and I was getting pinned against the wall by kids who were almost crying, going, “You can’t just say that’s it — you need to go in and make a record! You’ve got to make a record! When’s the album out?” and they’re telling me that “You guys need to talk.” We ended up going backstage just as Mott were ready to go on or maybe we snuck in halfway through the gig, I can’t remember but we all ended up in the dressing room and I said, “What do you think, while it’s still in everybody’s DNA about going into the studio and bangin’ these down?” They were totally up for it!

A couple of the tracks on ’My ReGeneration‘ were actually pulled from the multi-tracks from the live stuff because all we had to do was pull the audience off. I just cleaned them up and sang on them in the studio. The live thing came before the studio thing which, I’m not aware that, that’s happened before; where the record master is actually a live track with all the audience taken off. That’s how tight these guys were, ya know?

Same thing goes with the DVD when you listen to ’Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding‘ — that’s the first time we ever played that in front of an audience. We’d only had one day rehearsal but it took me four months to learn that piano part.

What’s your favorite memory from the Hammersmith Odeon that night?

It was funny because nobody knew we were actually on. It wasn’t advertised so it really was like word of mouth. I mean we walked out and there was nobody out, there was nobody in the hall. Eventually, people started coming in and by the time we were finished everybody was on their feet going nuts.

I thought, this was billed exactly like a classic opening act in the ‘70s; the band would go on half past seven and you would walk into the gig and it’d be like “Who’s the opening act?” and you’re looking at the ticket and it says plus support so you look at the bass drum and see what it says and it’s a band called the Doctors of Madness or whatever and it’s like, “Wow, these guys are really good!” and you would go out and buy the album the next day.

It had that same kind of vibe which I thought was perfect for a gig like that. A ‘70s band and to think they’re like, “Hey, that’s that dude from Def Leppard!” and by the time they’d figure it out we were already into the second song. I was just glad to get through it. I was doing most of it with my eyes shut because I knew I’d better remember the words so the only time I’d open my eyes was during the solos.

So, now it’s turned into the Down ‘n’ Outz recording another album?

We’re having such a good time with it, we just decided that whenever the Quireboys are not working and I’m not working; as when there’s a hole in our schedule that suits everybody, let’s keep going. The one thing that can happen when you’re in a band like Leppard or the Quireboys is that it can become, not a chore, but it becomes a job. The business takes over and you spend more time discussing what you’re going to do next year than actually doing what you’re going to do next year.

Moving forward, will the band cover more of the Mott The Hoople catalog?

Now we’re not opening for Mott and we don’t have that limit. We couldn’t go near ‘The Hoople’ album then, but I can now. When we went out with Paul Rodgers last year we were doing ‘Whiz Kid,’ ‘Rock and Roll Queen’ and ‘One of the Boys.’ I’ve already recorded the vocals on all those. We’ve also done ‘Violence,’ ‘Crash Street Kids,’ ‘Marionette.’ We’re going to do ‘The Journey,’ ‘Broadside Outcasts,’ and ‘My Life Is in Your Hands’ off the British Lions album. We just keep adding little trinkets to the collection.

And you pick out the songs?

Yes, I pick out all the songs and they’re happy enough to do that. We’ve vowed to write the third album! We were actually going to do a third album of other bands and do mad stuff like ‘Crazy Horses’ by the Osmonds but I think we’ve nixed that because it’s going to be like old news. So, instead of doing that maybe we’ll play one live. Still, we’re going to write that third album and it will be written in “the style of.” So expect it to sound like, if Mott hadn’t split up — this is what they would’ve sounded like.

Cheap Trick sounds like the Beatles and they don’t deny it. The Down ‘n’ Outz are going to sound like Mott The Hoople or the British Lions. That’s the plan. There’s no doubt, there will be some overspill. I mean, my voice is what it is. You stick Ozzy Osbourne over the London Philharmonic and he’s still going to sound like Ozzy. So, with drums, bass and guitar there’s always going to be an element of it being Leppard-ish especially if it’s a commercial song but it’s going to have the piano which is the driving difference between us and them.

The Quireboys have that swagger of the Faces and the Stones which is where Mott were anyway, so there will be a bit of Quireboys in it as well, no doubt. It’ll be interesting to see what it’s like when we finally get around to doing it.

Tell us about the Down ‘n’ Outz beer?

The Down ‘n’ Outz beer is currently only available in Ireland and the U.K.. It’s brewed by a company called Porterhouse who has eight or nine themed pubs in Dublin and London. You can pick it up in a few supermarkets too, but sadly it’s not available in the U.S.A. or anywhere else because the licensing/import laws are intense. We are working on it but it just seems to be taking an age to do.

Next: Best Reunion Tours

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