Guitar God Ready to Unleash on South Florida

Famed guitarist Phil Collen performs in Pompano Beach on February 1st.

Collen talks about his multitude of projects including the highly-touted extreme Blues band Delta Deep, Joe Satriani’s all-star guitarist tour, G3, with John Petrucci and Def Leppard’s latest moves.

2015 photo by Ross Halfin

How great is it knowing that the torch is still burning, I mean you found success, not just with (Def) Leppard, but also with your extreme blues project Delta Deep and now you’re doing it with the G3 tour?
Collen- It’s wonderful, it really is a dream come true. I still really get a kick out of it. This tour is definitely fulfilling ambitions too so I am really appreciative of that and certainly of all the hard work people have done all around me along the way. It’s great to know that my work has paid off as well. And we just released the Def Leppard catalog on digital, which is a big deal since we were kind of one of the last bands to do it. It’s just really great, because it takes us into another area… another arena for our careers. I love the fact that we’re allowed to do what we want to do, we don’t play some other band’s songs. I write my own songs. Even during the Tesla album, I just produced that one and became part of the band…so instead of singing someone else’s thing, I actually joined the band for like a year-and-a-half and we made the best album we could. We wrote the songs together and it’s really lovely to be able to do that, to have that artistic expression come to fruition.

Tesla hasn’t really gone with outside producers or co-writers so it’s a pretty cool thing that you were able to really sit in on the entire album.
Collen- It was great and it turned out amazing. I actually can’t believe how great it sounds. It was just inspiring to do the whole thing and a lot of it we did while we were on tour.  We would just find a back room or a trailer or something like that a… bunker and play guitar. We’d record onto a laptop, then add the drums and vocals last, and we’d go to a real studio for that.

Yeah and speaking about diversity, you have some really diverse guitarists with Joe (Satriani) and John (Petrucci) of G3 playing alongside you so does that mean you’re kind of honing new skills these days?
Collen- Yeah, I really have to step my game up with those two; they’re monsters. They’re amazing guitarist, but also two of the nicest guys in the world. If there are any intimidations about playing with them, it is superseded by their wonderful personalities, because they are just the sweetest people you could ever meet. I’m having a blast with them. They are such mature musicians and when we get to do our jam session at the end, we don’t step on each other’s toes, instead we kind of create a mood, someone will play one thing and the other will play a different kind of scale. It’s just amazing how you can go off into these really surreal jams that make you go ‘wow,’ I’d like to get a CD of that somewhere.

So it’s definitely one of those where while many years have passed, you are still constantly learning and improving your craft.
Collen- Definitely, and on this one I can’t usually play this well, because I am playing every day and rehearsing, plus playing slightly different things. But, you know my playing has gotten way cleaner, technique is way better and it’s because I’m playing with these guys. In Def Leppard there’s so much more emphasis on vocals so the focus is different since I’m not as worried about singing. I am singing on this tour, but nothing close to what I do with Def Leppard.

Does that mean that we might get something new for the next Def Leppard album, maybe you guys kind of filter in something with what you’re doing with G3 or is Def Leppard kind of grounded in its roots?
Collen- No, we have to experiment, and I think that is the great thing about us, we never say not to that. Last year’s album was pretty diverse where we did something like Let’s Go, which is a pretty classic Def Leppard track, but then there were songs like Energize, which almost sounded like Imagine Dragons or some Top-40 Pop Rock band. I think it’s important to just follow your own instinct when you do stuff like that. Anything is possible, and everything does influence what you do next, especially being around other people. The new Delta Deep studio album, which comes out at the end of year, already has one track that’s like gospel hard rock, which I have never heard before. So, a lot of cool, different things still filtering in and I think this tour broadened our horizons without really having any limitations. That’s what we really want to gain, especially with me performing alongside with Joe and John.

What’s it been like sharing the road with these different bandmates since it’s got to be a totally different feeling while out on the road?
Collen- It is, but we also get to perform with our own bands while on this tour and I pretty much have Delta Deep with me: Debbi Blackwell-Cook and Forrest Robinson, but Robert DeLeo, our bassist, is currently back with Stone Temple Pilots and has some stuff with Joe Perry as well. While he’s been really busy and couldn’t come out on this tour, Craig Martini has been killing it every night in his place. Even the sound of the band is different…just a different energy to it. So, all three of us (Joe, John and I) do a set with our bands.

Do you hope this tour inspires other prominent guitarists like yourself to maybe try their rendition with Joe doing G3?
Collen- Yeah, I think so; it’s really nice to be diverse. A lot of the people I spoke to after the show love the fact that three rock-based guitar players have played so different from each other and that’s even from people who aren’t crazy about guitar.

If there was a perfect pairing that you could make happen with Joe outside of yourself and John, who would you like to see come together?
Collen- That’s a good one. The style of guitar playing would be someone like Slash, because he’d be drastically different with his Blues style or Steve Stevens would be great too. Maybe align them Myles Kennedy, the singer/guitarist of Alter Bridge.

Now with Delta Deep’s recent release of their sophomore album, East Coast Live, I got to say I was blown away. It’s not often bands capture the true essence of a live concert, let alone a rooted Blues sound, but you guys pulled it off and really then some.
Collen- Oh thank you.

Was the live album/DVD always the plan, because even the way the crowd responded to you on it was almost magical?
Collen- I felt after we recorded the studio album that we had a sound that we wanted to get out on tour. We did the West Coast and recorded all of that and when we got to the East Coast a few months later, it was just so much better. We recorded every night, but it really all came together that night (in Pawling, NY at Daryl’s House). The stage was lovely, the equipment was great, and the audience was killer. It just had such an amazing vibe that we thought it was like the old days when you got a true live album so… We were going to have different songs from different venues.

Yeah just from the very first track all the way through, it seemed each track carried seamlessly into the other, there was no fillers.
Collen- Oh thank you.

So I know you touched on it earlier when you mentioned Def Leppard’s catalog can finally be streamed and downloaded, was that kind of a thing that was long overdue or were you guys kind of unsure what to make of it?
Collen- No, we wanted to do it initially, but we didn’t like the rates they were giving artists. We put so much into those records and felt they were worth way more. You know Rich lost his arm and Steve lost his life, and we’ve done three of the most incredible rock albums of all time, so we felt we had more value than just being a part of some list, which was downloaded. It was annoying. We weren’t getting our dues paid. But, now we got a wonderful relationship with our label and a great plan in place moving forward with our tour and new Def Leppard album. We’re a real living, breathing rock band and we keep improving.

With so many projects, including your work co-writing and producing the next Tesla album, have you left room for anything else or is music life?
Collen- I’m so busy that I never really have the chance to do anything else, but I’d love to be in a jungle like one of the guys on those National Geographic shows. I just feel the more you’re working, the more you get inspired, the more music you create. It becomes the opposite of writer’s block. You get inspired by a book, a movie, a poem or even something like a painting.  It’s pretty exciting.

I guess that means there is no time to slow down, because once that happens then ultimately, you’ll slow down.
Collen- It is like that. We were given a real blessed gift. A lot of the other bands have disappeared and we’re still going strong. You see new bands and their motivation is to be famous and with us it’s always been about creating new music and sharing with people so that’s the big difference that we still have that going for us.

G3 and Delta Deep will be performing at the Pompano Beach Amphitheater on February 1st.

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