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Twenty Years Ago: In Memory of Steve Clark

Twenty Years Ago: In Memory of Steve Clark

by Alex Barbieri
Staff Writer

January 8, 2011 marks 20 years since the premature passing of Def Leppard guitarist, Steve Clark. This holiday season, raise a pint in honor of “Steamin’ Steve” and the musical legacy he left behind.

To Def Leppard, Clark was family; a mate who they practiced with in a garage in Sheffield, England, and went on to conquer the world with. To Clark’s girlfriend Lorelei Shellist, he was the love of her life. In her memoir, “Runway Runaway,” Shellist describes Clark as a brilliant musician and songwriter tortured by insecurity, alcoholism and the suppressed need for his father’s approval. If only Clark knew how much he was and still is loved.

From a songwriter’s perspective, Clark was known as a “rif master” with an uncanny ability to pull musical “bits” out of nowhere. His influence on Def Leppard’s greatest moments are many: The intro to “Gods of War,” the solo in “Hysteria,” and of course the instrumental that has become his posthumous soundtrack, “Switch 625.”

Live, Clark’s playing was all feel: white Les Paul slung low, chords a bit sloppy ala “Keef;” a rock god in the ‘round in tight cropped jacket, scarves and blond mane flowing; “White Lightning.” Was there anything more rock ‘n roll? In his own cool, quiet way, Steve Clark contributed more to rock ‘n roll than he will ever know.

The memory and music of Steve Clark remains strong for a simple reason: his authenticity. In our digital download world, Clark’s playing represents real feel and talent largely missing in music today. You wanna rock? Or better yet teach your kids to rock? Turn up Def Leppard’s High ‘n’ Dry. Rock school is in session.

One hopes the result will be that Clark’s playing inspires budding guitar heroes to back away from the Pro Tools, work on writing songs rather than being famous, close their eyes … and just play. And above all, have confidence that they are talented and loved.

On Jan. 8, 1991, Stephen Maynard Clark, aged 30, died from a fatal combination of prescription drugs and alcohol. We miss you, Steve. Cheers, mate.

Watch Steve do what he did best: “Hysteria” live on YouTube:

Memories of Steve Clark and “Switch 625” by Def Leppard:

Read a page dedicated to Steve on

Read the tribute page from Lorelei Shellist’s “Runway Runaway”:

Visit, a well-done website in loving memory of Steve:


7 Comments on Twenty Years Ago: In Memory of Steve Clark

  1. So now it’s twenty one
    Rest in peace rock’s beloved son

  2. steve was one of the greatests of rock music and he always be..

  3. Tonya Post // May 31, 2011 at 1:14 am //

    I started loving music at a really early age. when most children were playing in the sandbox, I was listening to the top 40 countdown on my handheld radio with a broken antenna. The band I first fell in love with was Def Leppard and Steve Clark was my world. Seeing as how we didn’t have the internet back then and the only way of hearing about the “music world” was through rock magazines and MTV…I got my hands on all printed material I could find. I bought everything Def Leppard from singles to posters to articles sold mostly from other readers selling their Def Leppard stuff through Metal Edge. I remember the first video I saw (because my family didn’t have MTV earlier in the 80s) with Steve Clark…Rocket!!! With his scarves and long blonde hair, the way he played, his presence…I fell as much in love as you can with someone that out of reach. Then one day I was doing my homework on my bed (I was in 8th grade), in my room…it was so dreary out and had just stopped raining. I was listening to the radio when the news came on saying Steve Clark of Def Leppard was found dead in his home earlier that day. I felt so hollow inside, so confused, so hurt…I couldn’t believe he was gone. For awhile I thought maybe I’d misunderstood what was said on the radio that day. Then all the articles came out about his life…the alcohol, the problems going on stage, his insecurities. Of all the musicians in the world, why did it have to be him. I always loved more than his guitar rifs, more than his looks, there was this presence about him….or maybe it was everything combined.
    I have continued loving Def Leppard but when I heard something new or see them in concert…there’s always a presence that’s missing.
    I love you Steve and will never forget you!!!

  4. Christine Richman // May 11, 2011 at 4:08 pm //

    I was a senoir in High School when he passed. I still remmeber the day. I still think of him. The last few days I can’t get him out of my head. When I hear “Hysteria” I swear I can feel him in the room. I miss him and his music, will always love him. To much talanet. RIP Steve. \m/

  5. After watching this tribute to Steve,all i can say is how much i miss his Guitar Playing. He was such a big Influence on myself and my style of playing, and just a remarkable talent. I still have relics of early Def Leppard with Steve and Pete Willis at the helm, it was so raw but yet some awesome Guitar playing, Its hard to believe 20yrs has gone by and i am now happily married and have four wonderful children, but i still have my black Gibson Les Paul and still love to play, probaly always will still a true blue Rocker at heart. Thanx to Hardrock Haven for this awesome Tribute to Steve Clark, His sound still Echoes and always will for all Eternity, and that can,t be taken away.

  6. RIP Steve, gone but never forgotten! Here’s my small tribute to him:

  7. sue wenzelow // December 29, 2010 at 9:33 am //

    You said some nice things about steve.He Is a music legend and my favorite guitar player of all time.

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