Over 30 years since he joined Def Leppard in 1982, Phil Collen has led one of the more interesting careers for a rock guitarist. Beyond his work with Def Leppard – one of the best-selling bands of all time – Phil has regularly been a part of tasteful side projects, in addition to producing and writing for other artists. One of those side projects is Delta Deep, a quartet which comes to New York for shows on Apr. 3 (Manhattan’s B.B. King Blues Club) and Apr. 8 (Long Island’s Boulton Center).
An all-star band of sorts, Delta Deep is also comprised of Stone Temple Pilots bassist Robert DeLeo, Michael Bublé vocalist Debbi Blackwell-Cook, and India.Aire drummer Forrest Robinson. The roots of the “extreme blues project” began to take shape in 2013, eventually leading to the self-titled debut album released by Mailboat Records last year. As the members of Delta Deep all have serious touring obligations otherwise, this run of eight shows on the East Coast is likely to be New York fans’ only chance to catch the group live this year.
Phil spoke to Downtown in advance of Delta Deep’s April run, also tackling some other topics in the process. Those also looking to hear the Def Leppard hits can catch Phil live at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on Jul. 11 alongside REO Speedwagon and Tesla. For more info on all things related to Phil Collen – including the latest on his band Man Raze – he can be followed via his official website.
How would you describe Delta Deep to someone who hasn’t seen the group live before and is just familiar with everyone from their other bands?
Phil Collen: I’d say the best description I can give is one that I heard and it was a quote and it said, “Imagine Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan doing lead vocals for Led Zeppelin.” That pretty much sums it up for me.
Should the people coming to the Delta Deep shows in New York be expecting to hear any of your other bands’ music? Or is the focus entirely on your self-titled 2015 album?
P: Yeah, it’s all Delta Deep. That’s what it’s about, you know. We have our own setlist along with most of the songs off the album.
How did you and Robert first meet?
P: Chris Epting who did my biography with me, Adrenalized, he said, “Hey man! Have you met Robert DeLeo? He’s a huge disciple of Motown. He’d love this stuff that you’re doing!” So that’s really how it all came about and he introduced us.
Do you have a favorite song by STP?
P: Yeah, I love “Interstate Love Song.” It’s great!
Your work in Girl was very glam-influenced, which can arguably be said about Def Leppard as well. Were you always blues-influenced?
P: Yeah, I picked up a guitar because I saw Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple playing. Jimmy Page and you know, the [Rolling] Stones, Keith Richards and [The Spiders From Mars’] Mick Ronson. Mick was the ultimate glam rock guitar player and a huge blues-influenced guitar player, so yeah, that all came from there really.”
Was guitar your first instrument?
P: First and only, apart from singing.
What do you remember about the first gig that you ever played in New York?
P: It would have been opening up for Billy Squire during the Pyromania tour, which was 1983. In the city I think we played surrounding areas like Jersey and Nassau Coliseum and stuff like that. I remember jamming in a club in the Village and Michael Bolton was singing. He was a rock singer back then, so we were jamming. That’s one of my first “in the city” kind of experiences.
Besides Delta Deep and Def Leppard, do you have any other musical projects coming up? More from Man Raze? A revisiting of your Bowie tribute?
P: All the above. Man Raze, we’re looking at releasing an album. I’m doing the new Tesla album, producing that. That’s underway at the moment. As for the Cybernauts, we’ve been promising that for years. We’ve actually pretty much got all the songs. We’ve got to record three more. We’ve got some bass tracks from Trevor Bolder, who passed away. Woody Woodsmansey is going to play drums. I’m going to play guitar and Joe [Elliott] has already done some acoustics and vocals, so it’s just a matter of us getting the time.”
You’re known to be a vegetarian and to work out extensively. What exactly prompted your lifestyle changes?
P: I always felt a bit weird eating dead body parts. But I guess it wasn’t until I actually started thinking about what it actually was, and not until I started watching the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre did I really start thinking about it, and that just sort of changed everything from that point on. As for exercising, after I stopped drinking I realized I had all of these extra hours in a day when I was recovering from hangovers, etc., so I started running. That led to other things.
How do you manage to stay healthy on the road?
P: There’s many hours in the day when you don’t have anything to do. I’d rather use that time doing something for myself rather than not.
Do you travel with exercise equipment?
P: Yeah, I have a bench press and other stuff. But even without that I can make it work. For example, there’s this bar behind Rick’s drum kit where I can do pull-ups, push-ups or whatever it takes. I, along with most other people, try and make excuses to not work out. So being aware of that by being able to work out anywhere, I never really can give myself an excuse that will stick.
Do you research in advance of where gyms and healthy eating options are?
P: No, I do all that when I get there, if at all. Our tour buses pretty much have everything we need food-wise. I’ll have a blender, a George Foreman grill and a Vitamix, and I’m pretty much set to go.”
When you’re not busy with your career, how do you like to spend your free time?
P: I’m always busy with my career. I’m always doing something. I read a lot and watch a lot of movies with my wife.
Hobbies aside, is there something that you wish more people knew about Phil Collen?
P: Everything I want people to know about me is pretty much in my book, Adrenalized.
Finally, Phil, any last words for the kids?
P: People are not prepared to put in the work it takes to achieve any type of success. You shouldn’t get a medal for just showing up. The reward for artistic expression is literally the fulfillment you get from that. If you are lucky enough to get paid for it and inspire people, then that’s the gravy.
-by Darren Paltrowitz