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Def Leppard's Phil Collen goes Delta Deep

An Interview with Phil Collen of Def Leppard on his latest musical roots project Delta Deep.
Publicity image, courtesy of Delta Deep.

Publicity image, courtesy of Delta Deep.

By Jeb Wright

Phil Collen has released a new album out with a new band, no, not the supergroup Manraze, which he formed with Sex Pistol Paul Cook and ex-Girl bandmate Simon Laffy. Phil has added another band, and musical style to his repertoire titled Delta Deep.

Delta Deep features Collen, along with his wife Helen’s godmother, Debbi Blackwell-Cook, on vocals. This lady can flat out sing as Phil admits in the interview below. The rest of Delta Deep ain’t too shabby either, and features Robert DeLeo, from the Stone Temple Pilots on bass and Forrest Robinson on drums. The result is a powerful set of blues and rock that will have fans of this genre drooling from the first note they hear!

Collen is thrilled about the band’s first release although he admits his top priority remains Def Leppard, even copping that their new album “is the best thing we’ve made since Hysteria.” He is also relieved to have Vivian Campbell back in the band after yet another bout with cancer. “When you sing and play with someone for so long there is a blend that you can’t describe and that’s what we have,” says Collen. “I am glad to have him back.”

While that is big news for Def Leppard fans, this interview is all about Delta Deep, both the music and the unique blend of races that make up the band. Collen opens up and discusses how his limitless expectations in life helped influence the music on the Delta Deep’s self-titled debut.

Read on to learn more about a great new band making a big splash on today’s musical horizon!

This project began because of you jamming with your wife’s godmother. Is that really true?

Phil: Absolutely, true. Helen had told me how wonderful her godmother could sing. She has done Broadway stuff and she has done a lot of other things. She just sings all the time. I knew straightway this would be good. She is my favorite singer. You hear that sound…I wanted that voice for years and then I found her. She is all my favorite singers rolled into one. It is Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan all rolled into one.

Some artists feel that if an album doesn’t sell a million copies then they have failed. In today’s industry that just ain’t going to happen.

Phil: Without a doubt. I ask new kids who play in bands what they want to achieve and they say they want to get noticed. We wanted to write songs and have people hear the songs, but now people want to be noticed. It is a ‘me me me’ thing out there. We have an industry that accommodates that. You have reality TV stars and we have a new person that exists now that is famous for just that. A lot of millennials are that way, but there are also a lot of kids who are buying vinyl and they want no part of that other scene. They get into music because they want to create, which is a really healthy thing. It is not just the sound of it, as it is symbolic of something else.

Still, you’re very excited about this project.

Phil: Helen and I have been telling everyone about it. I think one of the brilliant things we’ve done is that we had the attitude of no limitations. Blues turned into rock 'n' roll and soul and it went into different ways. Little Richard, Chuck Berry and BB King were initially playing the same kind of songs, but it got stuck into different boxes. We are going back to those places and we have no restriction or limitations. We play all of the genres…blues, R&B, soul and rock and we can combine all of those. We’ve kept it very pure in that sense.

Do you find that it is easy not to have limitations as you are in a multi-racial band and you are a member of a multi-racial family. You do not have a lot of blinders on that others do. Does that cross over into your music?

Phil: It makes a difference. My wife is black and I am white. There is not stigma or weirdness attached to anything. The Delta Deep songs are that way. We can write songs that we may not do if we were an all-white or an all-black band. We are a bi-racial band with a white guy, an Italian guy and two black people…we get pure expression and we wrote without any type of taboo at all. It is really liberating I’ve got to say. I do think that has something to do with it. It knocks down a lot of barriers and walls as we are so free in that respect.

Jeb: I went to see Santana a couple of weeks ago and it was the same type of thing. There were people from about 10 different countries on stage. You wonder why more people can’t figure out that is a good thing and not a bad thing.

Phil: I think more than being racist, or ignorant, I think people are afraid. There is a fear attached to it. I will give you a great example. You go to New York and everyone says it is so diverse, but Little Italy is next to Chinatown. As diverse as the city is, these people do not hang out with each other. There is a fear of stuff you don’t know. Santana has the opposite going on. His bands have always been a total blend of races. There is a freedom in Carlos Santana’s music that has always been there. There has always been a charm to it. When I first started playing guitar I was very drawn to the sound of his band. There is something more relevant there as well.

Something tells me you have a lot more songs than just the ones on this album?

1 DD front album cover final

Phil: We’ve actually have more songs. There is a song that we couldn’t get mixed in time that is almost like a Sam & Dave song. It is kind of a Soul Review song that is really cool and it will be on the next album. We also have like five songs that we’ve written for the next album. One song is a classic. It is one of the best songs I’ve ever written. We have not even got this one hardly out and we are ready for the next one. It is really cool.

 I want to talk about your vocals. You are a good guitar player but people may not realize how damn good of a singer you are? Do you realize how good of a vocalist you are?

Phil: Well, I’ve been singing since I was a kid. People go, “Wow you can sing. You sound a little like Joe.” On “Pour Some Sugar on Me” you hear my voice more than you hear anyone else. The chorus is pretty much my voice, so everyone has heard my voice, but they don’t associate me with that. Everyone is singing, but my voice, at that point, is the prominent one.

You get to hear me on different things like “Animal” and a lot of others. I’ve been singing for years. Mutt Lange got me singing even better. Being around him for a few years…he just made all of us way better singers. That is it really. I think it is more about the confidence that the technical ability. That is really what being a singer is about. It should always be about expression. A lot of people lack confidence. If you can get over that hurdle then it becomes really easy. I got over the hurdle years ago and I didn’t care what people thought about me, or if they would judge me.

Last one, Phil. This is totally off topic but I have heard your picture is on the back of Deep Purple "Made in Japan." Is that true?

Phil: It was because of that Deep Purple concert I went to that I play guitar. That photo was taken and it was used on the back of the album.

If you look closely enough you can spot a young Phil Collen in the audience of the Deep Purple concert photographed and put on the back cover of "Made In Japan."

If you look closely you might spot a young Phil Collen in the audience of the Deep Purple concert photograph put on the back cover of "Made In Japan."

You were not in Japan though.

Phil: No, no, it was in Brixton in London but it was the same tour. I think the photo on the front is actually The Rainbow Theater in London. That is what started it all off for me, right there.

Jeb: Tell me how you discovered you were on the cover?

Phil: The album came out, which was not long after I’d been to see the show. You look at the cover and go, “That looks like where we saw Deep Purple. That looks like where Ritchie Blackmore was standing. That looks like where we were standing.” Then you go, “Holy f**k” and there we were. I have never had the chance to tell him about that. I just took part in a documentary that they are doing on Blackmore, so if I get a chance to talk to him I will tell him about it!