Note: Press of Atlantic City Director of Entertainment Publications Scott Cronick spoke to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, drummer Rick Allen of Def Leppard, about his art, his vegan line of food, being a new Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and what Def Leppard has in store for us in the coming year on “Off the Press with Scott Cronick” on 1400 NewsTalk Radio WOND. Allen comes to the Wentworth Gallery on Friday, Jan. 18, from 5 to 8 p.m. The show is called “Rick Allen Legends and Dreams,” and is currently being showcased exclusively in the Wentworth Gallery locations throughout the world.
Scott Cronick: Rick Allen, Hall of Fame drummer for the great, great rock band … Def Leppard is coming, finally, to Atlantic City for his own exhibit
It’s titled “Legends and Dreams” at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City’s Wentworth Gallery, 5 to 8 o’clock on Friday, Jan. 18. Here he is, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and a guy that his fans call “Thunder God,” Rick Allen. Hi, Rick. How are you, buddy?
Rick Allen: I’m good, I’m good. It’s nice to be coming to Atlantic City for the first time doing this. I’ve played concerts there, but I’ve never brought my artwork there, which is fantastic.
Cronick: Yeah, since the Hard Rock opened they have been bringing a lot of folks like yourself in to show off the other side of artists like yourself. And, I imagine the inner artist in you always wants people to see the whole picture, right?
Allen: Yes, you know, it’s interesting ... I always feel like artwork or any kind of artistic endeavor is interchangeable, you know? If you can play drums, you can probably take a picture. If you can take a picture, you can probably write a poem, you know what I mean? If you can do that, then it’s nice to be able to have other ways to express yourself and I’ve found with the artwork, I can connect with people in a completely different way than, say, if I’m backstage at a Def Leppard show, you know, it’s kind of a more personal experience. So I enjoy connecting with people in that way. It’s cool.
Cronick: Have you been able to blend your artwork with the band at all, whether it’s with poster art or whether it’s with album art or anything ... or do you try to keep a separation of church and state?
Allen: That’s a great question. I actually took some of my artwork and I wrapped some of my drum kits with some of the artwork which actually looks really cool.
Cronick: I bet.
Allen: I did like a Union Jack and a Stars and Stripes combination and, you know, kind of stuck it all over the drum kit and people loved it. And the other thing, of course, I tend to listen to a lot of Def Leppard music when I’m actually making the art.
Allen: There’s definitely a connection.
Cronick: Why don’t you as an artist give us a rundown of what to expect at the Wentworth Gallery five to 8 o’clock on Friday? And I know they can also go to Wentworth-Art.com and check it out as well. But what’s Rick Allen’s art all about?
Allen: Well, right now the thing that I’m really proud of is the Legends series. I started out with Steve Clark who, was my best friend obviously really inspiring to me, given the music that he left us all with.
So I did a painting of Steve and that went over really well. People really liked it. And then I moved on to John Lennon. He has always been a huge inspiration ever since I was a kid. And then I did a Jimmy Hendrix which is so cool — I love it. And all of these pieces, when I finally finish making them, I wish I never had to give them up to the gallery. I really wanted to keep them for myself, but unfortunately I couldn’t.
Cronick: And what I like about it is you don’t just paint images of famous people such as Lennon and Hendrix like you said, but also beautiful pieces like the girl on a swing that I have in front of me. Or the rose, which is part of the Dream Series which is the other side of this Legends Series. So I think that people get a little glimpse of different sides of you as an artist.
Allen: You know, ”Girl on a Swing” is actually my daughter ... and she’s a huge inspiration to me in terms of painting, because she just paints without any kind of rules — she just does it. It was fantastic to watch her do that. Yeah, I mean, pieces like that … it’s kind of my peaceful place. That’s when I’m in a more meditative state or I’m looking for something that makes me feel good on the inside, you know? So that’s kind of where those pieces come from.
Cronick: So ... is that where the painting kind of evolved from, Rick? Was the desire to kind of break away from the reality of life a little bit, to find inner peace somehow?
Allen: Yeah. You might know, after my accident I really suffered quite badly with PTSD ... (and) what I found is photography, painting, just being out in nature — these are all things that really help me manage that and keep my nervous system calm. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy painting so much. Because I can take that feeling of when I’m playing drums and being in the moment and I can take that home with me and, you know, just get into a zone and just be creative, you know?
Cronick: Absolutely. You’re, of course, talking about the accident where you lost your left arm which not only showed diligence on your part to basically recreate drums as we know them, but also to move on and carry on in life in general in such positive ways. What a great person to look up to in that regard. But ... if I looked at your art in 1985 and I looked at it now, I guess I would see giant differences in approach and also in ability, right?
Allen: I think so. I mean, I started when I was very young and then I discovered music so really the art came first. Then, as I said, I saw my daughter painting and, you know, seeing a young person paint is so refreshing because they do it without any kind of rules. It’s not like, “Oh, everything’s got to be within the lines and everything’s got to be a certain color.” She just kind of goes with it and just goes with a feeling. And that inspired me to want to be in the same place that she was — almost coming from a childlike sort of place.
Cronick: I just interviewed Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead drummer). He says he only paints in his studio. I asked him if he painted on the road and he said it was just too much for him. He needed to be in his own space. How about you? Are you a studio guy or do you paint on the road?
Allen: When I’m out on the road, I tend to plan things out. Like ideas for new imagery. Like this latest piece that I’m working on, the David Bowie piece is, you know, sort of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, sort of, era. It was something … I saw an image and I was like, oh, OK, that’s what I’m going to do when I get home. I don’t really have time or the space to really do it while I’m on the road. And to be honest, it gets really physical these days, you know, to play drums and drive a band like Def Leppard on the road. I really do need my down time, and in my down time, you know, I don’t necessarily want to be in that head space of painting … It’s more planning … planning, you know, for the future and things that I know I can do when I get home.
Cronick: So let’s talk about a question I hope you’re not sick of answering yet. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You’re one of this year’s inductees. Fans voted for you guys like crazy. What did that mean for you personally?
Allen: The thing for all of us, the whole of Def Leppard, that made it really special that they introduced the fan vote, and I’m not sure how much of an influence it has in terms of, you know, sort of point system or whatever, or how that relates, but I think when that many people come out and vote, it has to have some sort of influence and that, to us, was the most important part of the whole process. The fact that it was fans and not necessarily board members, you know, sitting around a table trying to decide who deserves this.
Cronick: Right. It meant more from the fans, obviously. That’s great. That’s awesome.
Allen: Yeah, it’s cool. They’re the ones that come to the concerts and, you know, going to a live concert is a very personal experience and I doubt everybody out there that decided on whether we were going to be in the Hall of Fame, I doubt whether all of them have even been to one of our concerts. But when you go to a Def Leppard concert and you see the reaction, you experience the reaction of Def Leppard fans, then you go, “Wow.” This is really cool, very special and I’m just happy that so many people came out and voted for us.
Cronick: So I’m 47 years old, so right in the wheelhouse of Def Leppard and that whole genre of music that definitely gets, overlooked in a lot of ways. Last year, we saw Bon Jovi get in, this year Def Leppard is in. Do you think that we’re finally going to see some respect paid to hard rock of the ‘80s, early ‘90s?
Allen: I hope so. I think it was an important time for music. You know, there was … we just grew up in a fantastic time for music … To see the ‘80s being, you know, sort of paid attention to, to me, is really special because I think a lot of great music came from that time.
Cronick: So are you planning out the performance yet? Do you guys have it down, what you’re doing yet or are you still kind of tossing things around?
Allen: We talked about it, but it was right at the end of what felt like forever — that last tour, we did like sixty shows in North America, Canada and then Hawaii, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and then England and Ireland. By the end of that whole run, we were really ready to go home ... and we weren’t necessarily in the right head space to start talking about what we were going to do for a particular performance. But having said that, I’m sure I’m going to start seeing emails coming through and people making suggestions about how we do this.
Cronick: Well, will you listen to the fans at all? I mean, they’re the people who put you there.
Allen: You know what? We always do. You know, this whole last tour we were bringing up songs that we hadn’t played in a long time … which kind of went back to when we did the Vegas residency … We’d come out with “Ded Flat Bird” and we basically opened up for Def Leppard and it gave us license to play whatever songs we wanted to. So we’re a little more open, to suggestion these days and I think it’s fun to delve into our past and play things that some of the die hards, you know, it’s the reason why they like us in the first place.
Cronick: You’re 55 you’ve been going for 40 years with Def Leppard. You started with them when you were just 15 years old — kind of crazy. But Def Leppard is still relevant. They’re still making music, and your’re still selling out arenas. You’re not one of these bands that is getting inducted 20 years after their peak. Def Leppard is still a viable creation. Is that kind of cool to jump on stage with other Hall of Famers in that way?
Allen: It really is, and as you suggest, there’s always new music on the horizon. We’re always coming up with new music. And I think that is the thing that propels us forward along with the fact that we all like each other. We all share the same dressing room and we travel together, and I think that aspect of Def Leppard — realizing where we came from as working-class kids and not letting, you know, fame or whatever carry us away. I think the fact that we can still know where we came from … and we realize that the chemistry of the band — that is the most important thing.