The Day Rick Allen Joined Def Leppard
Rick Allen had just turned 15 years old when he read a report headlined “Leopard Loses Skins” in a newspaper in Sheffield, England. The story outlined a split between local band Def Leppard and their drummer Tony Kenning – the one who’d suggested the famous spelling as opposed to the original “Deaf Leopard.”
The usual recriminations were to follow over whether he quit or was fired in November 1978. Much more urgent, however, was the need to find a replacement, because the band already booked recording sessions for its debut release, The Def Leppard EP.
Those sessions went ahead on Nov. 25 and 26 in Hull, about 65 miles from their home city, with stand-in drummer Frank Noon, at a total cost of £148.50.
“We listened to it in the car all the way back to Sheffield," singer Joe Elliott said later. “We were driving over a bridge and I said, ‘Ah, there's a wrong note there!’ But it was a real good record. It really represented what we were. And somebody was watching over us when we made it. … Everything went perfectly. We never went out of tune. … And here we were, in these two little cars, drums piled up in the back of one, guitars in the other, listening to our first record.”
Before the studio sessions took place, however, a newly inspired Allen made contact with the band. “It was kind of an accident,” Allen told SiriusXM in 2018.
“At the ripe old age of 14, I decided to give up the business, being a drummer, because I was fed up of bands around Sheffield," he added. "I was probably in three or four bands at that point. … I remember tossing a couple of cymbals down the steps outside and getting really annoyed, and really frustrated, because all the bands that I’d been playing with, all they were interested in was cover songs. And my parents pointed out this article in the newspaper, that said ‘Leopard Loses Skins.’ … Within minutes they, we, got on the phone, spoke to Joe; a couple of days later, met up with Joe and Steve [Clark] at a local club.”
The three of them realized they’d “rubbed shoulders and not known it” at innumerable concerts.
At some point, Elliott invited Noon to become their new drummer, but he’d declined, citing loyalty to his own group the Next Band, who had loaned Def Leppard equipment for these studio sessions. So, Allen was invited to audition on Nov. 27, 1978. “The original drummer came back, wanted his job back. Another guy came. I decided to go last,” Allen rememberd.
“Rick wowed the band with his whiplash timing, rifle-crack sound and his nifty Pearl all-chrome kit,” the band later reported. “We asked Rick if he knew ‘Emerald’ by Thin Lizzy," bassist Rick Savage said. "We played that and suddenly the song sounded six times better than the way we usually played it. We were now in the company of a proper drummer. Even at 15 he was outstanding.”
“When I played, I obviously did something right, because they said, ‘We’d like you to come back,’” Allen recalled. Decades later, he remained the youngest member of the band.