Guitar World – Phil Collen of Def Leppard and Delta Deep Feature
Def Leppard Guitarist Phil Collen’s Delta Deep Dig into Blues, Funk, Soul and Rock
Posted 06/22/2015 at 3:04pm | by Joshua Miller
Guitarist Phil Collen is a certified rock-and-roller for life.
Since joining Def Leppard in 1982, he’s enjoyed being in a popular rock band that continues to make music to this day.
However, if you talk to him, he’ll quickly remind you that he’s more than a rock guitarist. He strives to listen to all kinds of music—soul, funk and blues included—and constantly tries to explore new ways to express himself.
That’s where his new project comes in. He enlisted the help of Stone Temple Pilots’ bass player Robert DeLeo, singer Debbi Blackwell-Cook (backup vocalist for such artists as Michael Buble and Luther Vandross) and drummer Forrest Robinson (drummer for India.Arie, Joe Sample & the Crusaders, TLC) for a new blues-, funk- and soul-flavored band called Delta Deep.
The band will release their debut album June 23. The album also features Whitesnake’s David Coverdale, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, Sex Pistols’ Paul Cook and bassist Simon Laffy.
Collen initially began the project in 2012 after jamming at his house with friend and relative Blackwell-Cook (She is the godmother of Collen’s wife, Helen). Collen, Helen and Debbi began writing original music, which Collen and Debbi recorded in Collen’s home studio. Their joyful pastime quickly became something more and they enlisted the other members to see where they could go. As they found out, it proved to be an eye-opening experience and gave them a chance to “stir things up.”
Guitar World caught up with Collen prior to the album’s release to find out why he felt it was important to form this band and how it compares to his rock life in Def Leppard.
GUITAR WORLD: One of the reasons you started with this band is you felt there wasn’t enough true blues, soul and funk music being made today. Can you elaborate on that?
I’m just not hearing it being expressed these days. The reason I picked up my guitar was to express myself. I’m hearing a lot of music these days, whether it’s soul music with no soul in it or R&B that doesn’t have any rhythm. It’s really weird. And that goes with the some of the late blues stuff; you don’t hear that pain and suffering that really came from blues.
You listen to artists like Muddy Waters, and there’s a lot of pain there. I certainly don’t hear that. In this band, some of [the lyrical content] is very serious subject matter that goes back to what blues was created about. My wife lost two of her brothers to gun violence, and Debbie’s son got shot dead two years ago. So they’re able to muster up this agony, and it comes out in other ways.
A lot of music has gotten so clinical so it’s refreshing to get out there and stir it up a little bit.
Do you think part of it is that all of these styles have been combined with each other, thus diluting them a bit?
I think in a lot of cases, everything’s been done to death. Led Zeppelin was essentially a blues band and were session musicians. They started up as a bluesy things, as did the Rolling Stones. And being the creative guys in those bands, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page, they took it somewhere else. I think you can do that. You should never limit yourself to just a genre or style. If you’re a true artist and are expressing yourself, there shouldn’t be any boundaries.
A lot of what blues came from, it went to spiritual, gospel, blues, R&B, soul, funk … it added all those elements to it. I do see when people are in a blues band they just try to copy the blues part or just try to copy the funk part, and that’s not real. If you’re a real artist and a real performer you’re included all those things and are aware of all those things. If you’re a true blues player, you have a bit of soul in you and vice versa. I think it’s important to get away from restrictions. It feels very refreshing to be able to do that.
Was there something in particular that made you start feeling that way?
Yeah. I think even in Def Leppard we weren’t just a rock band. When the success really kicked in was when we starting blending different styles into rock. It was a rock-pop hybrid. With Michael Jackson, most of the fans that bought Thriller were white. So it crossed over. If you’re open-minded as an artist and add genres, you can let more in than let more out. That’s a very important thing to know.
As a guitar player, I never really just listen to guitar players. You listen to either Aretha Franklin or Ella Fitzgerald or something like that, or Indian music, that’s inspired me to do other stuff. Really hardcore punk music—I like the idea of that as well. It’s just a combination of everything, and I think it’s important for growth as an artist. People get frustrated if they don’t allow themselves to experience all these things and get up and live and express through all these experiences. I think you’re way better off if you have all these things.