Sheffield known for producing steel than rock stars but here I am at the grave of one who lived and died as one (drugs and booze.) He was a songwriter of co-lead guitarist of rock band Def Leppard. I can remember seeing him on television when I was in my early twenties and thinking...blimey, a group who are still popular and commercial today...from Sheffield....Sheffield!
Steve was born nearby in Hillsborough. At six he saw Cliff Richard and the Shadows and at 11 he got his first guitar. His dad it bought it for him on the condition that he learned to play. He did this for about a year, learning classical pieces but at a friend’s house he heard a Led Zeppelin album and started to play stronger music. He had a small group called Electric Chicken then met Pete Willis of Def Leppard, auditioned for them (playing all of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird) and was accepted aged 18. They practiced in a derelict warehouse and did their first gig for £5. At the time Steve had started a four-year apprentice as a lathe operator in a factory but never finished it as the group signed a record deal.
Unusually Steve was a co-lead guitarist with Phil Collen, both without ego, both friendly, both swapping rhythm and lead guitar. As the group gained commercial success Steve carried on drinking whereas Phil stopped. Soon Steve was addicted to it.
Financially the group was super-successful through the 1980s and 1990’s selling millions of albums in America alone. Though heavy rockers considered their music ‘poppy’ their catchy songs tickled than tore the ear drum.
Sadly Steve’s alcoholism worsened and spells in drying out clinics failed. Even though he bought an apartment in Chelsea and had haystacks of money to spend he was in the pocket of the booze. Following the hugely successful Hysteria album the band wanted to crack on with the next album but Steve’s often had “the shakes” and was a mess. He was given six months leave of absence. He probably knew he couldn’t surmount the alcoholism and this broke his will. One Christmas he left his apartment in Chelsea and returned home to Sheffield, his haggard appearance shocking the family. When his dad warned him the booze would kill him if he didn’t stop he replied, “I don’t care.”
Aged 30 he was living with girlfriend Janie Dean. One night he visited a pub in Chelsea with a friend and they returned drunk to watch a video. Sometime through the night his body could not cope with the elixir of chemicals and gave up. He died from a codeine overdose though the autopsy added that his blood also contained alcohol, prescription drugs, Valium and morphine.
After the body was released the family buried him in Sheffield near their home. I found the cemetery to be in a semi-rural location and the entrance was easily missed. Normally there’s a church to guide in a grave-seeking geek. The cemetery is down a slant and a circular road goes round the cemetery wheel-like (see aerial view.)
I had a coffee in the car thinking I may be an hour looking for the grave. However I was eating a flapjack and listening to Desert Island Disks when I saw one grave broadcasting more flowers than others. I walked over – this was it. It’s a nice clean grave that doesn’t look 25+ years old. Moving flowers aside I found letters and guitar bric-a-brac. Had they been left by fans or family?
I saw the other Def Leppard members on television the other day and there were in the mid-fifties. Steve would be about 55 now. Would he have become addicted to booze had he remained working in a factory? Probably not. Was this quiet, shy, softly-spoken lad of weaker metal than struggled to handle worldwide success and outrageous amounts of money? He left no will, about 75 guitars and millions of pounds of income.
Later that night, back at home, I looked in a drawer for a C90 cassette with Hysteria on one side and Adrenalize on the other. I don’t have a cassette player to play it on these days but I just can’t throw the tape away for some reason (reminds me of brill times.)
Steve was ranked No. 11 on Classic Rock Magazine's "100 Wildest Guitar Heroes". That’s pretty good for a lad from Sheffield.
You’ve just got to do some air guitar…