Joe Elliott Reflects on Jamming With Ian Hunter and Brian May: Exclusive Interview
When Def Leppard were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, they had an ace up their collective sleeve.
After rolling through a four-song set of some of their biggest hits, they brought out Ian Hunter as a surprise guest to close out the evening with an all-star jam on the Mott the Hoople classic “All the Young Dudes.”
Queen's Brian May, a longtime friend whose speech inducted Def Leppard earlier in the ceremony, came out to play guitar, and the stage quickly filled up with additional performers from the 2019 induction class.
As Leppard singer Joe Elliott is quick to note, dedicated fans probably connected the dots beforehand. “You know, they all know," he tells UCR. "Me and Phil [Collen] did it with Queen and [David] Bowie and [Mick] Ronson and Hunter at the Freddie Mercury tribute show. I’ve gotten up and done it with Ian dozens of times, whether it be him solo or with Mott. He’s done it with Def Leppard two or three times. That song is kind of connected to us. It’s a distant cousin. ... We don’t really have any rights to it, other than the fact that we stole it, so nine-tenths of the law, possession is."
Elliott says "All the Young Dudes" has "always been my favorite-ever song, it always will be. It’s written in my will that it will be played at my funeral. It never gets old hearing it on the radio -- in fact, I enjoy hearing it on the radio, because I know that thousands of other people are hearing it at the same time.”
At the outset, Elliott and the members of Def Leppard thought playing the song would take care of a potentially thorny issue: the traditional “clusterfuck jam at the end” of the ceremony, where like-minded artists get onstage together.
Watch Def Leppard, Brian May and Ian Hunter Perform 'All the Young Dudes'
“That was never going to happen with us and Roxy Music and the Cure and Radiohead -- it just wasn’t,” he says. “We kind of said, ‘Look, we’re not going to do some all-star jam with a bunch of people that we don’t have anything in common with. It would be fake.’ I said, ‘How about we just get Ian up to do ‘Dudes’?’”
May joining Def Leppard and Hunter was another obvious “family tree” connection that helped strengthen the idea, he notes. “Queen supported Mott the Hoople, the only band that Queen ever supported," Elliott points out. "They toured together in 1974. Ian and Brian go back decades. So the two of them getting up to do that song -- Brian was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do it!’ Our two guys didn’t even question Brian playing the lead lick at the beginning of the song! Of course we were going to give that to him!”
“All the Young Dudes” again became the rock 'n' roll social equalizer that brought everyone to common ground back in March. Word started to get around to the other inductees, and they wanted to join in too.
“[Roxy Music’s] Phil Manzanera wants to get up there and sing it, Rod Argent wants to get up and sing it, Colin Blunstone, Susanna Hoffs, Stevie Van Zandt -- “Miami” Steve wants to get up and do it!" Elliott recalls. "All of these people were like, ‘We want in on this.'"
In the end, Def Leppard found things coming full circle in ways they didn't expect.
“What we had in our own way was all of these guys that we grew up listening to as kids -- Queen, Argent, the Zombies, [Bruce] Springsteen, Roxy Music, Susanna Hoffs from the Bangles -- all wanting to be in on it, because this song meant something to them as well,” Elliott says. “They recognized its impact. For us to be able to close that show with that was like licking the envelope closed for good. This is all a part of everything that led us to here. It kind of started with that song, and it’s a great way to finish it with that song.”