Vivian Campbell is known most notably for playing guitar in Def Leppard, but prior to joining the band 24 years ago; he was in Dio and played on their first three albums. Together with vocalist Ronnie James Dio, drummer Vinny Appice, and bassist Jimmy Bain they co-wrote three of rock’s most definitive metal albums – Holy Diver, Last In Line, and Sacred Heart. The three bandmates came together again to form Last In Line, working alongside vocalist Andrew Freeman.
But then, just weeks before the band’s release of Heavy Crown on February 19th by Frontier Music, bassist Jimmy Bain passed away suddenly. Bain had been undergoing treatment for pneumonia; after he died, doctors discovered he’d been battling an undiagnosed case of lung cancer.
We spoke with guitarist Vivian Campbell about the recent passing of his friend and bandmate, Jimmy Bain, the status on his own battle with Hodgkins’ Lymphoma, and the release of Last in Line’s new album, Heavy Crown via Frontiers Music.
Following the passing of Bain nearly a month before the release of Heavy Crown, the band decided to release two videos, Blame It On Me and Starmaker, on YouTube in Bain’s honor. Campbell said, “They were scheduled to come out a few weeks later around the release of the record but we just felt it was more appropriate if we put them out earlier. We had recorded those with Jimmy back in October of last year and it’s really sad about this whole record because this album was ready for release last April in 2015 and we all decided together with our record company to shelve it. To push the release back to 2016 because we all wanted to be available to promote it. We waited for our schedules to align so we’d have an opportunity to go out and tour for this record and promote it. We believed in it that much. It’s just particularly sad that we get to the eleventh hour and Jimmy passes away essentially a month before the record comes out. It’s a strange kind of situation because we were all so invested in this and now we find ourselves in this very bizarre, very peculiar crossroad when this album is about to come out. We have to walk a very fine line here to be respectful to Jimmy’s memory. But we also owe it to him and to each other to work this record.”
After a 27 year hiatus from Dio, what began as a casual and fun reunion jam in a Los Angeles rehearsal room in 2011 turned into a full-fledged recording project that has taken on a life of its own. The band Last In Line derives its name from the Dio’s second album released in 1984. “That was really our original plan. To just play some of those shows for fun and that happened for a couple of years on and off. Then in 2013, we got a call from Frontiers and they wanted to see if we’d be interested in writing and recording an album with the material. The fact that somebody presented us this opportunity to do that, we decided to take it. We started writing the album much like we had approached the Holy Diver record with Dio in the early 80’s. We’re very proud of this record. It far exceeded our own expectations. It was a joyous, organic experience free from drama and pressure. It was great to reconnect with them again,” said Campbell.
For the past few years, Campbell has also undergone an on and off battle with Hodgkins’ Lymphoma. While the cancer recently came out of remission, Campbell says he is feeling comfortable and confident in the status of his health. “I’m feeling great! My health is the least of my concerns, to be honest,” Campbell stated. “It’s been three years now since I first got diagnosed and I’ve done three different rounds of chemotherapy. It just kept coming back and then late in 2014, I did a stem cell transplant. I was really hoping that would take care of it and it did for a while and then it came back. I’m perfectly at ease with it. At this point forth, for the rest of my life, it’s just maintenance basically. My wife and I did a little bit of exploring and we found a class of experimental drugs. There’s a few of them that are on clinical trials. So I ended up talking to my doctor about it and turns out I’m the perfect candidate for Pembrolizumab. So I’ve been taking this for about seven or eight months and it’s holding the tumors at bay. I’m one of the lucky ones. The sad thing is Jimmy Bain died of cancer and he didn’t even know he had it. Jimmy, we knew he was suffering from pneumonia but he had lung cancer that was eating way at his body and apparently he’d had it for years and years.”
Campbell stated that the most important part in finding a treatment has been finding one which does not interfere with his music. “Most importantly for me, I can continue to work while I take this and work is very, very important to me. It’s very much a part of my cure. It’s very cathartic for me and I couldn’t imagine anything being worse for me than sitting at home and just focusing on being sick. With cancer, there are two roads you can take. One of them is to just succumb to the cancer with self-pity and the other one is to say ‘f— you, I’m going to continue living my life.’ And I’m definitely going on that one,” continued Campbell.
From first listen, it becomes apparent that Heavy Crown holds many of the same heavy metal elements from some of the earliest Dio albums. There are heavy riffs and melodic vocals a-plenty from the opener Devil to the final track, The Sickness. Campbell says that these similarities grew out of the rich history Bain, Appice, and he shared in their days with Dio. Even so, he says there are also new sounds to be discovered. “We just went in and whatever came out, came out. In regards to the early Dio record sound, that’s because Jimmy, Vinnie and I were 75% of the original Dio band. When we play together, that’s the sound we make,” Campbell reminisced. “The only thing that really separates it is that it’s Andrew singing and writing the lyrics, and not Dio. They not only have very different sounding voices but they also have very different styles of writing. Andrew is a tremendous lyricist, along with being a singer, so I was very impressed with the standards of his lyric writing in this album. I also have to give a shout-out to Jeff Pilson, who produced this record for us. It was a really great combination for us to work with Jeff. He’s a really talented producer, in particular, with how we worked with Andrew. Jeff is a singer and I always thought he really understands the mentality of a singer and he was really able to get into Andrew’s head and I thought he was able to bring out the best in him. Some of the songs Andrew was actually in the room with us and it took us in a different direction. Like in the song, I Am Revolution, which would have been an entirely different song if Andrew hadn’t been in the room with us. It was Andrew’s flirtations with the punk genre that took us in that direction. He picked up my guitar and said we needed to play double speed like this. Jimmy, Vinnie, and I would never have thought of playing like that without Andrew so every song has a different story but the entire process was effortless.”
According to Campbell, the band still has some decisions to make about their next steps as a band and what the future holds for Last in Line and a succeeding bassist. “We were supposed to go on tour starting in a couple weeks and we decided not to do that. We feel it would just be disrespectful to Jimmy’s memory to get some guy to play bass and play on tour with us right now. However, we do have a couple of high-profile shows coming up in the next few months that we were committed to and we are going to honor those commitments. We will perform in April at the Frontiers Rock Festival in Italy and we will perform at Rocklahoma Memorial Day weekend. I doubt that we’ll do anything else at this point in time and then we’ll just take it from there and see what happens with the record and what the future brings, said Campbell. “I don’t even know who’s gonna play bass with us. We have to find someone to stand in there and whoever it will be, it’s not gonna be a replacement. It’ll very much be a temporary stand-in kind of thing. But we were so enthusiastic about this record and so proud of it that we will work this record for Jimmy.”