Rick Allen, the drummer for Def Leppard, will appear at Wentworth Gallery in Phipps Plaza on May 4 to discuss his artwork.

Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen talks new art showcase in Atlanta, Rock Hall induction

Rick Allen’s momentous year kicked off last summer with a massive stadium tour. Then came the March induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and now, the drummer for Def Leppard is hitting a few cities with his new series of artwork, “Legends and Dreams.”

The collection, which Allen will showcase in person at Wentworth Gallery at Phipps Plaza on May 4, spotlights deceased musical icons such as David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix, as well as his distinctive blend of Union Jacks, American flags, angels and hearts.

Although Allen, 55, lost his left arm in a car accident in 1985, he remains a model of robust spirit, both as a drummer and an artist. As with his past art collections, he will donate part of the proceeds from any sales to the Warrior Resiliency Program, which supports the personnel who care for wounded service members. 

The affable musician called in from his home on the central coast of California to talk to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Kaedy Kiely of 97.1 The River (listen below) about his upcoming visit to Atlanta, Def Leppard’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and what diehard fans can expect from the band’s upcoming residency in Las Vegas.

Q: You were here in 2017 with your first art show. What was that experience like? 

A: It was fantastic being down there for the first time as an artist; I had a great reception. It’s interesting, and a different way for me to engage with people. With Def Leppard backstage, you say hello to people briefly, take a photo. But this I get to hang out with people a bit longer. It’s been really special to me. And I like doing the art. It keeps my mind off the street corners!

Q: What is the background on your new art series, “Legends and Dreams”? Why did you decide to focus on artists such as Tom Petty and Janis Joplin? 

A: I want to get through all the people we’ve lost along the way. Unfortunately, given these last few years, I’m going to stay pretty busy. One of my new pieces that I thought I would get completed for Atlanta was…Prince. And then I started working on Freddie Mercury. With everything surrounding the (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) movie, I thought I’ve got to do Freddie. But unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll be seen in Atlanta.

Q: How long does it take you to complete one of these works?

A: The sketching is the most time consuming. I would say on and off, probably a month. I’ll manipulate some stuff on computer. Photography is my passion, so normally something starts as a photo and then inspires me to put it on canvas. I’ll take photos of the original piece and create mixed media pieces.

Q: What did some of these artists - Bowie and Joplin and Hendrix mean to you as a young musician?

A: Tom Petty, I particularly love. I got into him years ago and it was one of my wife’s first concerts so I had a real connection to his music. And the way he can tell a story, it’s so beautiful. One of the first Legends pieces I did was (original Def Leppard guitarist) Steve Clark. I took a photo of it and sent it to my mother who still keeps in touch with Steve’s mother, and she just loved it. Steve was the obvious first piece for me to do. He was a friend, he inspired me and still inspires me to this day. The John Lennon piece, same thing. How influential was he? He showed me so many things; his music was in my DNA. 

Rick Allen's Tom Petty portrait.

Q: Is it a good assumption that Steve Clark is often on your mind (Clark died in 1991 at the age of 30)?

A: Being with him is like it was yesterday. I remember everything about him. When you spend that much time with a person, you literally grow up with him. We were young when we started out. When you lose someone that young, I call it the illusion of permanence. You think someone is going to be around forever, and they’re not. 

Q: What is your artistic process with these pieces?

A: I take a photograph I really like of the person and I’ll poster-ize it and sketch the poster-ization onto the canvas and that’s when I can come up with my whites, blacks and grays. After I do the under painting, I’ll start to choose colors. When I do the “Legends,” I normally listen to the music of the artist I’m painting.

A painted drum from Def Leppard's Rick Allen.

Q: It’s very cool that you’re still working with the Warrior Resiliency Program.

A: It’s the least I can do, really. In 2006, I went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and held it together while I was there, but I really experienced a lot of suffering and also a lot of hope. When I got back, I told my wife we need to refocus (our) Raven Drum (Foundation) and make it more about our veterans. From every piece we sell, I put 10 percent into the Warrior Program. I suffer from PTSD myself, and when I get together with the Warriors, I learn a lot from them and they from me. 

Q: Congrats on the recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What was your reaction to the news?

A: When I first heard, it was a bit of an inconvenience (with the timing) because I just got home! I wanted to enjoy northern California and groove on the weather. And then Brian May agreed to get involved, and we went to New York five or six days before the event so we could do press. As it got closer to the day it became a bigger deal, and then standing on stage and looking out at basically at the while industry - wow, this is really the first time we’ve gotten recognition form industry. It was the largest fan vote in history, and it’s a very exclusive club and we’re now in it. (But) I think its code for, we’re on the endangered species list (laughs).

Rick Allen (center) and the rest of Def Leppard.

Q: What is the band’s history with Brian May?

A: We met him years ago, in 1983, at the Forum in L.A. and we just kept in touch with him ever since. He and Joe are in touch with each other on a regular basis. We’re just happy that an iconic person (wanted to induct us). What he represents as a person and a musician is just off the charts. 

Q: Any special moments from the induction?

A: Brian May’s speech. And I thought Joe’s speech was really cool. People do tend to waffle on a little bit, (but) Joe kept his speech really short. It was great. Everybody really enjoyed it. I think the whole moment was captured really well. 

Q: Def Leppard is hitting Europe and Canada this summer before the Vegas residency starts, so I guess we won’t be seeing a U.S. tour this year?

A: We kinda hammered it last year. I think the idea that we haven’t done a full Canadian tour in a long time was appealing to us. We’re more popular in Canada than we are in the States. European festivals are great way for us to play to a lot of people all at once, so we’re doing a few shows with Kiss and Bon Jovi. All in all, it’s going to be a fun summer. 

Def Leppard, Journey and The Pretenders entertained a crowd of close to 40,000 fans on Sunday, July 1, 2018 at SunTrust Park. Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com
Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video/

Q: Speaking of last year’s tour, that was quite a summer with Journey. You played to more than 1 million people and made almost $100 million. Did the success of that outing surprise you?

A: I was a little surprised at first, but I was like wow, I could get used to this! I got to know (Journey drummer) Steve Smith really well. All the bands we go out with, whether it’s Cheap Trick or Tesla, our whole thing is no drama, just get on with it.

Q: And how about that Vegas residency – have you started making plans yet?

A: It’s basically just learn every song we’ve ever done. It’s probably gonna change as the residency goes through. I think the idea is that every night isn’t the same. It’s normally really super huge Def Leppard fans who go to these things. The cool thing about Vegas, the (stage) doesn’t have wheels. It’s nice to bring the crowd to us.

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ART PREVIEW

“Legends and Dreams” by Rick Allen of Def Leppard

5-8 p.m. Saturday. Free. Wentworth Gallery, Phipps Plaza, 3500 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-233-0903, wentworthgallery.com

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About the Author

Melissa Ruggieri
Melissa Ruggieri
Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for the AJC. She remembers when MTV was awesome.  
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