The Early Days
In 1987, Def Leppard released their fourth opus, Hysteria, and with that came the only official Def Leppard biography ever published, Def Leppard: Animal Instinct written by David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine. Here are some passages transcribed from that book.
Phil Collen picked up his first guitar at the age of three. It was a big acoustic monster, roughly the same size as he was. He couldn't play it and he could barely hold it up in his tiny hands. But his mother Connie has a picture of young Phil with that guitar, indisputable proof that from an early age there wasn't much in Phil Collen's life except guitar playing.
Born December 8, 1957, the son of a truck driver, Phil grew up in London's East End, in a rough'n'tumble neighborhood called Hackney. It was, in Phil's words, "a s#!tty neighborhood with slummy houses, about as s#!tty as you can get in London." He was very good at sports in school, especially swimming and soccer, but he invested most of his extra-curricular time in music. "The only alternative to playing the guitar, something creative like that, was going out and beating the s#!t out of Asian immigrants. I thought playing the guitar was a better way to let off steam."
As a little boy, Phil and his best friend Terry, who lived next door, would climb on top of the garden shed in Phil's backyard, don plastic Beatle wigs and pretend to play air guitars. It wasn't much, but it was a start. At 14, he went to his first rock concert, Deep Purple at the Brixton Sundown, and was completely smitten by Ritchie Blackmore's freakout fretwork. He pestered his parents for an electric guitar of his own and, on his sixteenth birthday, was given a brand new Gibson SG model. Phil immediately started taking private lessons from the masters--Blackmore, Jan Akkerman of the Dutch group Focus, jazz axemen like Larry Coryell and Al DiMeola--by listening to their albums and creating his own interpretations of their recorded solos.
Phil spent so much time studying the finer points of hard-rock guitar that his school work suffered drastically. When Phil left school at 16, he got a job at a burglar alarm factory. "I used to wire up the alarms. But I'm colorblind. Certain shades of brown and green are bad for me, so I kept screwing up the wires." Not surprisingly, Phil only lasted a year at the burglar alarm factory, after which he landed a job as a delivery man for a London printing firm, Profile Typesetters. "That was great because I'd started playing in bands by then and I'd come in pretty tired in the morning from playing the night before. But the guys at the company were really sympathetic."
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(Excerpts and pics were assembled from internet and personal resources.)