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36 Years Ago DEF LEPPARD's JOE ELLIOTT Apologises For EL PASO Comments

Def Leppard 1983. Joe Elliott 1983

Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott flew to California on this day in 1983 to apologise for comments he made during their US tour.

The notorious "El Paso" incident took place on 7th September 1983 during a show at the Community Center in Tucson, AZ.

They had played a show in El Paso, NM the night before at the El Paso County Coliseum where a small group of youths who Joe had identified as Mexican were throwing things at the band on stage.

At the Tucson show during the participation section of 'Rock Of Ages' Joe used the phrase "Greasy Mexicans" when trying to get the audience fired up and telling them last night's crowd had made much more noise.

Joe believing at the time he was using the humour of comedians Cheech And Chong and everybody would get the joke. Sadly for him a journalist in the crowd, who was not aware of who his comments were actually aimed at, took offence and told local reporters and DJs in El Paso.

The result was Joe Loya (El Paso director of the League of United Latin American Citizens) calling for a boycott of Def Leppard's music and Arin Michaels (program director for radio station KLAQ) being pictured ripping up the 'Pyromania' LP cover.

The boycott called for all of Def Leppard's music to be banned from the airwaves in El Paso and for them to not be allowed back to the city for any concerts. Mayor Jonathan Rogers also supported a permanent boycott in early October.

In the end, after Joe had called in to local radio stations to try to apologise, he ended up travelling to El Monte in California on 23rd November 1983 to attend a press conference.

This took place at the Town Hall. Joe had not flown in from France as it states in 'Animal Instinct' as the European tour had ended on 16th in Antwerp. Belgium. The band were taking a couple of weeks off before their three UK shows in early December.

The incident was covered heavily in local papers and later recalled by Joe in the official Animal Instinct biography and various interviews.

Some locals were still not happy in February 1988 when the band had scheduled a show at the same venue on the Hysteria tour. After threats of disruption to the concert it had to be replaced with a date in Albuquerque, NM.

The band eventually played El Paso again in January 2000 at Don Haskins Center. Their first Mexican shows took place in September 1993 without incident and now have a large and loyal fanbase in the country.

View some photos below.

Animal Instinct - Biography Quotes

On September 26, Joe, Phil and Cliff Burnstein touched down in Japan for a few days of press and promotion in anticipation of a forthcoming Far East visit. Everything was hunky dory - doing sixteen interviews a day, partying all night with John and Roger Taylor of Duran Duran who happened to be staying in the same hotel - until Cliff received a phone call from America at 6:30 one morning, It was George Knemeyer, his assistant.

"They're burning Def Leppard records," he told Cliff, "and breaking them over the air in El Paso".

It had been a passing remark. During the September 16 [actually 7th] show in Tucson, Arizona, while exhorting the audience to clap along during Rock Of Ages, Joe tried to whip up a little competitive enthusiasm. "Last night we played in El Paso, that place with all the greasy Mexicans," he yelled. "and they made a lot more noise than that.".

Steve, Phil and Sav were backstage during the drums and chanting part of the song. They didn't find out about the remark until later when all hell broke loose. But Rick Allen cringed when he heard the words 'greasy Mexicans'.

"I tried to crouch lower into my drum kit, looking over the tops of the drums, thinking 'No you didn't say that. You couldn't have'. Fortunately nobody in the audience seemed to notice it."

Nobody, that is, except a journalist who reported the incident in the Arizona Daily Star. When word of the racial slur reached KLAQ, an El Paso radio station which had promoted the band's appearance there, Def Leppard's records were quickly yanked off the playlist and local Hispanic leaders called for an immediate apology and a nationwide boycott against Leppard. KLAQ program director Arin Michaels was pictured in the El Paso Herald-Post holding a Pyromania cover ripped in half in protest.

Joe came to greatly regret the "greasy Mexicans" remark, for several weeks during October and November, those two words eclipsed the euphoria of Def Leppard's sell-out tour and threatened to destroy the goodwill the band had built up in America during the past three years. The slur, Joe Insists, was the result of trouble in the front rows at the El Paso Coliseum during Leppard's September 6 show there. "That comment, I swear, was aimed at five Hispanic kids who were spitting at us, throwing Jack Daniels and kung fu stars at the band. It was aimed at those five kids, not at anybody else in El Paso itself. I was slagging off those five bastards." The 'greasy Mexicans' reference sprang to mind "purely because I'm a Cheech and Chong fan and they use it all the time."

According to Joe, the El Paso show had been a nightmare from start to finish. The trouble makers were harassing other fans as well as the band, trying to steal T-Shirts. Half a dozen Jack Daniels bottles had landed on stage and after the show the road crew found a five-point metal star embedded in one of the amplifiers. Someone was spinning them across the stage "and I instantly linked it to those five kids.".

That might have been the end of it, except that the Tucson show was also marked by unnecessary violence. A security guard at the foot of the stage punched a teenage girl in the face, which angered Joe so much he picked up his mic stand, poked it in the bouncer's back and threatened to go one-on-one with him if he tried it again. Joe says he later received a letter from the head of security at the Tucson facility apologising for the guard's behaviour. But the cumulative effect of the aggressive tension in both El Paso and Tucson was too much.

"Greasy Mexicans" was the result. The same day George called Cliff with the bad news. Joe dialled KLAQ from Japan and apologised for the remark on the air. "It wasn't intended as a harmful thing,." He told Arin Michaels, "It was the same way as we get called Limey tea bags...Being an English person I really didn't understand that it was such an insult...if I've offended anybody, then I'm, very sorry about it." He offered to send albums and T-Shirts to the station for giveaways and promised to fly two KLAQ listeners to an upcoming European show, all expenses paid.

Joe Loya, El Paso district director of the League Of United Latin American Citizens, called the offer an insult. "a pay off" and pressed for the boycott. When Joe offered to come to El Paso and apologise in person for the incident, Loya refused the offer "LULAC basically told us we should never show our faces there again" Cliff says.

At the same time civic leaders in Southern California informed Cliff that Hispanics there were also riled up about the slur. It was particularly frustrating, he claims, "because a lot of our biggest fans are Mexican-Americans, and that's no bullshit. I didn't want to ruin our relationship with Mexican-Americans and I didn't want the band not to be able to play Southern California any more".

Together with California state senator Joseph Montoya, Cliff scheduled a press conference for November 23 in El Monte, California. Joe flew in from France, where the band was touring, and apologised again. He also contributed $15,000 of his own money to local charities and posed for photos with representatives of Latin youth groups. "The last thing Mexican-Americans need as they try to rid themselves of the stereotype is for me or anyone else to make such statements." he told the assembled reporters. "It was stupid of me to make such a false accusation.".

"We did our best to right a wrong," Cliff says in retrospect, "And Joe knew what he said was wrong, I always felt the passage of time would help people forget. But I know it will come up again when we play the Southwest on the next tour. There will be reporters who have been saving their questions for two years."

September 26th 1983 KLAQ Radio - Joe Elliott Interview Quote

"I do not live in El Paso, so I don’t actually understand what is and what is not a good or bad thing to say. And, obviously, that night I made a big mistake. It was unintentional, and supposedly just, you know, a bit of playful chit-chat with the audience. That’s all it was supposed to be. And, if I’ve offended anybody, then I’m very, very sorry about it."

November 23rd 1983 - Joe Elliott Press Conference Quotes

"This is a lot harder to do than a gig. I would like to publicly apologise. The statement was entirely unintentional and was said during a highly emotional part of the concert when I was trying to increase audience participation. It was patently false."

"My only excuse, although I am English and have spent most of the last three years in this country, is that most of what I have learned about Americans is through the media."

Boycott Ends On 31st December 1983 - (El Paso Herald-Post 28th December 1983)

Def Leppard’s rock albums are still selling well in El Paso despite an Hispanic organization’s attempt to boycott the group, several record stores reported.

But Joe Loya, El Paso director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the boycott - which started in October after Def Leppard’s lead singer Joe Elliott referred to El Paso as “that place with all the greasy Mexicans” - was a success. He added, however, that after the boycott ends Saturday, he is willing "to let bygones be bygones."

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