Interview: Phil Collen of Delta Deep/Def Leppard
SoCalMusicToday’s Chris Loomis caught up with Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen to discuss his new Blues project Delta Deep. In addition to Collen on guitars and vocals, the band, consisting of Robert DeLeo from Stone Temple Pilots on bass, drummer Forrest Robinson (Engelbert Humperdinck, Joe Sample & The Crusaders) and vocalist Debbi Blackwell-Cook (former back-up vocalist for Michael Buble and Luther Vandross) uses their diverse musical background to explore, meld, and showcase a variety of original soulful melodies that merge rock and blues music into a colorful array of unforgettable songs.
Collen discusses the bands musical style and approach to songwriting, the guest vocalists on the album and expresses his excitement for their debut live performance on Wednesday June 17 at The Hotel Café in Hollywood. The debut album Delta Deep is set to be released on June 23 via Mailboat Records. Additional
Hello Phil thanks for taking the time to speak with SoCalMusicToday.
Delta Deep is your new project featuring yourself on guitar and vocals, Robert DeLeo on bass, Forrest Robinson on drums and Debbi Blackwell-Cook on lead vocals. The sound of Delta Deep is said to be deeply rooted in the blues. How would you personally describe the band’s sound?
Well there is no soul left in soul music today, everything is so corporate and commercialized. This band is a true return to the roots of the blues. We started with one thing and it turned into something else . . . when we started playing electric it almost sounded like Rage Against the Machine in certain areas – that wasn’t planned just a total expression. So yeah it’s bluesy, it’s a combination of soul, rock and blues.
Blues music historically has a melancholy and sadness to the lyrical themes often portraying a depressed mood. Is there any message you are trying to convey with this band and its music as I know both Forrest and Debbi have experienced some personal tragedy in their life.
Yes. The song writing was me, Debbi and my wife Helen. My wife lost two of her brothers, they were both murdered and part of that comes out in the writing. And Debbi lost one of her sons to gun violence two years ago, so all that comes out in the writing.
If you want to compare it to the original blues, you had slavery which created the need for an outlet and you had spiritual songs that turned into gospel and blues – you feel a lot of that still going on in this day and age still and certainly if you are African American.
Those types of things ended up being directly in these songs – that kind of expression about loss, pain and suffering so there is a direct correlation. I see very little expressional music today so I think it was wonderful to be able to do that. The music just turned out that way – very soulful, painful music. The song “Down in the Delta” is like a metaphor for hell and being snatched from Africa and forced into a life of slavery. So yeah it was all about writing some songs like that, songs relating to the original blues subjects.
Debbi Blackwell-Cook has an amazing voice and her sound adds a bit of authenticity to the blues sound of Delta Deep. How did you decide you wanted her as the lead vocalist for the group?
Debbi is my wife’s Godmother and she sang at our wedding . . . I knew she had a great voice. She would come over to the house and we would be sitting around playing guitar and singing and before you knew it we were writing songs (the three of us) and it turned into something – an expression. We were writing songs for the right reasons, it wasn’t like “hey let’s get together and form a band” – it wasn’t like a formed thing it just happened; it was just a very natural thing.
When we started playing music electric her voice changed from what is was before. It was like this Tina Turner / Chaka Khan style coming out and I have always loved that style – they are my favorite singers. When I was a kid I used to get goose bumps listening to Aretha Franklin, so that was the reason Debbi is singing.
Did you know Robert DeLeo prior to Delta Deep and how did you get Robert to be a part of this project?
I did not know him but I was always a fan and love Stone Temple Pilots. As a bass player he is phenomenal. A friend of mine Chris Epting told me that I should meet Robert as he loves the stuff you are doing; he was raised on Motown and funk but you wouldn’t really know it because of STP being such a hardcore rock band. So Chris introduced us and we just immediately clicked and when we started playing together he just took everything up to another level.
Your wife Helen is credited with writing the majority of the songs on the album along with yourself (and Debbi). Have you previously collaborated with Helen when it comes to creating music and what was the experience of writing together for Delta Deep?
It worked kind of strange really as we spend so much time together and talk for hours as we have since we met; we talk about everything, politics, what’s going on in the world, social injustice just everything. When you do that you think about the Yoko Onos and go “Oh my God” here we go with the wife . . . is that a good idea right.
But it was all very natural; we both had something to say . . . it was exciting. There was a muse out there and we kept following it. We speak so much and have such a repertoire of stuff we can talk about. Our arsenal of subject matter is immense due to traveling and all the people we meet.
What is the meaning of the name Delta Deep and how did you come up with that as the name for the band?
Helen came up with the name. She suggested it as it is thick, swampy and expressive – she just came up with it right off the bat and it felt right.
That’s a short simple story . . . sometimes simple is good.
Yes – Absolutely
Delta Deep is obviously a departure from your sound in Def Leppard. How do you approach playing a different guitar style and are you playing different guitars than you typically would with Def Leppard?
Sometimes . . . I play this red fender strat and then I play the same strat on tour with Def Leppard sometimes. My playing is the same but the context is different. When I do a Def Leppard song it is a bit more structured, it’s a very different approach as there is a lot going on. But the guitar playing is just me playing exactly the same.
With Delta Deep, I have a bit more space to breath as a guitar player, actually a lot more space. This is a bit more expressive but the playing, the style and the equipment is pretty much the same. Even my singing style is the same – it’s a lot more upfront but the same.
With Def Leppard things are a bit more refined but with Delta Deep it was a lot more of getting things on the first take. We didn’t have to worry about “weaving the sonic tapestry” as Keith Richards used to say with multiple guitars so it’s exciting in that respect.
You have several guest vocalists that also contributed to this album with one of them being David Coverdale from Whitesnake who does a duet with Debbi on “Private Number”. How did this collaboration come about?
Well I have known David for years; we have toured together (Def Leppard and Whitesnake). I just thought he would be a great addition as he is such a soulful singer. Originally he was going to do “Mistreated” (which we covered anyway) but he was releasing The Purple Album with Whitesnake which had that song on it so he didn’t do that one but he wanted to be on the album so I said OK what song do you want to do then and he said “Private Number”. We had just done a version of that which kinda had that early 90’s Chili Peppers meets Jimi Hendrix, kind of that soulful, funky flare and he and Debbi did a duet over that and they just sound fantastic. It’s funny how things turn-out.
Your Def Leppard bandmate Joe Elliot also does a duet with Debbi on the song “Mistreated” (Deep Purple cover). Was that as simple as just saying hey Joe – will you do some vocals on a project of mine?
It worked exactly like that . . . I asked Joe to sing on “Mistreated” and his vocals turned out phenomenal – some of his best vocals in years.
Delta Deep’s debut live performance is Wednesday June 17 at The Hotel Café in Hollywood. Do you get nervous playing for the first time with a new band? What can be expected of the live performance?
I don’t get nervous and I think I get less nervous with more experience (obviously). Stage fright is you do a sound-check and rehearse and everything then all of the sudden you go onstage and everything sounds completely different, you can’t hear the drums, your guitar sounds like crap and you go “Oh my God” so you have a little moment of adjustment and I think stage fright is a result of that moment – people freeze and they don’t know how to deal with it. Then all these people are looking at you as well so I have learned to get over all that.
Playing a small club is going to be great. When we started playing together live it felt like a force, a living breathing entity that we were all part of. A weird way to describe it but it was just so powerful. I am so looking forward to being onstage and playing with this band. With Def Leppard everyone sings, you have two guitars, Rick has an electronic drum kit so there is a lot going on and a lot to not hear, whereas with Delta Deep it is just me and Debbi singing and me playing guitar and this force of the bass and drums so you can hear everything. We just get locked into a grove which is different than many rock bands today. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
You have quite a busy couple of months coming up with Def Leppard. Will there be any future Delta Deep live performances once you get off the road with Def Leppard?
Absolutely . . . we want to do a tour really bad and we want to do a lot of these big festivals. It would be really cool to get on Coachella or something like that – something out of context of what I usually do. There are a lot of Jazz festivals and blues festivals; I think doing that would be great.
It would be really great to take this on the road and we are excited about that; it’s just a matter of getting the time.
Phil I sincerely thank you for the conversation regarding Delta Deep and best of luck with the first live performance and all the best going forward with Delta Deep and Def Leppard.
Thank You this was really great!