Behind the rock star swagger and black leather pants, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen is a vegan father of four who is in a book club.
But when he straps on the guitar, often his Jackson X-Stroyer, and steps onto the stage at MetraPark’s Rimrock Auto Arena on Wednesday night, be ready to see one of the most popular guitarists in the world.
It’s been 34 years since Collen joined Def Leppard during the recording of one of their biggest selling albums, “Pyromania,” which has sold 10 million copies. The band originated in England, and despite Collen living 26 years in Los Angeles, he still has a distinct British accent.
It’s 8:30 a.m. in Long Beach, and Collen is sitting in his car, chatting with The Billings Gazette while his fashion designer wife, Helen, is inside a salon having her hair done.
Collen said some rock musicians let their egos get to them, ultimately tearing bands apart, but he and his bandmates in Def Leppard don’t have a “false impression of themselves.” The current lineup, which includes lead singer Joe Elliott, bassist Rick Savage, drummer Rick Allen, and guitarist Vivian Campbell, has been together since 1992.
“We’re just musicians, and we just play in a band,” Collen said.
Def Leppard’s 2015 tour, which stopped in Bozeman, was one of the year’s highest-grossing tours. This time through, supporting acts are REO Speedwagon and Tesla, and the Live National tour stops in 55 cities, wrapping up on Oct. 10 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Collen said he never tires of playing a sold-out arena, like the Aug. 12 show in Atlanta, Ga., and the Aug. 27 in St. Louis. Collin said this tour is selling better than the 2015 tour.
“It’s been crazy; people are bonkers. What I still find amazing is when there are 20,000 people there and everybody is singing the words to a song, in our case, to a song off the new album.”
The 2015 self-titled album landed at No. 1 on Billboard’s Rock Album Chart in October, 2015. The single “Dangerous” is getting airplay at rock radio stations across the country and is a fan favorite live, Collen said.
One of his best shows this run was in late August in New York.
“My voice sounded the best it’s been for a year, then I got a cold the next day,” Collen said. “There are so many variables, but if the weather is right and the band locks in, the audience responds — it’s amazing.”
Collen said he pestered his folks to buy him an electric guitar starting when he was 14, and his cousin took him to see a Deep Purple concert.
“It blew me away. It was almost a spiritual experience.”
When he finally got that guitar two years later, Collen dropped almost everything, including school a year later, to master the guitar. A piece of equipment, a DiMarzio Super 3 pickup, he bought when he was 17 led to a lifelong friendship with Larry DiMarzio, who now lives in Bozeman.
“I’ve been using these pickups ever since then. It’s really nice to see him when I’m in Bozeman.”