Def Leppard is a band of mammoth proportions. Hard rock legends, their sound reflected the steel of the city from which they hailed. One of the biggest bands to come out of the South Yorkshire city of Sheffield, their hits include tracks such as ‘Photograph’, ‘Rock of Ages’, ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ and countless others. Regardless of what you think of their music, that very brash sort of anthemic rock that was ubiquitous in the 1980s, you cannot doubt the talent of the band’s members.
There’s a reason that why, as a combined outfit, they’ve scaled the largest of rock and roll mountains; they know how to pen a tune or two. Whilst being ostensibly a hard rock act, Def Leppard found a formula that allowed them to be respected in their field and branch out into the mainstream and reap all the rewards. They might not have the credibility that they may have once had, but I doubt they care, their coffers are full.
However, it’s not always been plain sailing for Def Leppard. They’ve also had their fair share of hard times as with any huge band. The standout moment is undoubtedly the terrible accident drummer Rick Allen suffered in 1984. Allen was involved in a serious car crash that threatened to destroy his career forever. On New Year’s Eve 1984, whilst enjoying a countryside drive with his then-girlfriend Miriam Barendsen, he lost control of his Corvette C4.
Allen was attempting to overtake another car at high speed, but it span out, hit a drystone wall, and crashed into a field. His left arm was severed as a result. “I left the car and landed in a field, and I think my arm was left in the car,” Allen told the BBC’s Fighting Back in 1992. The Doctors wanted to reattach the arm but decided against it because of infection.
This left Allen in a predicament of massive levels. Surely, as a drummer, losing one of his arms meant that his career as a drummer was over. However, Allen backed himself, and the rest of Def Leppard stood by him. They never thought for a second that they’d hire another drummer. Nevertheless, the band went on an onstage hiatus until they all figured out the way forward.
“In order to keep me from sliding down the bed they put this huge piece of foam at the bottom of the bed, which I could sort of press my feet on and push myself up if I needed to,” Allen recalled. “After listening to music for a few days, I realised I could still play quite a lot of the parts from some of my favourite songs just using my feet.”
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He explained: “I think that’s one of the things that really helped me—I didn’t give myself very much downtime. I never gave myself any sort of time to ‘recover.’ From a mental point of view, I thought it was because I threw myself straight back into work again. And from a work point of view, yeah, I was proving to the rest of the guys in the band that I could do it.”
Before too long, Allen had collaborated with electronic drum kit brand Simmons to design a custom kit for his needs. He progressed quickly, and after a few months, he gathered the rest of the band together and performed them the introduction of Led Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’. Frontman Joe Elliot labelled it a “very emotional moment”. Allen was ready to enter the next chapter of his career with Def Leppard.
The band returned to the live circuit with a triumphant set on August 16th, 1986, at the Monsters of Rock festival in Castle Donington, England. Allen and Def Leppard had returned from the brink, in the best way possible.
Allen, hailed as ‘The Thunder God’ by fans, carried on as one of the most well-respected drummers in hard rock. The most remarkable thing was that he was only 21 at the time he endured his injury, making his decision to carry on even more mind-blowing.
Allen’s defiance in the face of adversity was tremendous. He showed that disability shouldn’t be able to stop you from achieving your dreams. Duly, it’s a story that is etched into music history.
Watch Allen’s return at Donington below.