Rick Savage was born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. Savage was educated at Tapton Secondary school in Sheffield. In his youth, he learned to play guitar along with his older brother. They played songs like Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" and Don McLean's "American Pie." Savage also pursued a career as a professional football player with Sheffield United, despite his devotion to rivals Sheffield Wednesday. Savage ultimately chose music and formed a band with a few schoolmates including Tony Kenningand eventually Pete Willis. As Atomic Mass they mostly played Queen, Slade, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, and other popular covers of the time.
At one point, they decided that Willis was the better guitar player so Savage picked up the bass guitar. Needing a singer, the band auditioned an acquaintance of Pete's, Joe Elliott. They subsequently picked up guitarist Steve Clark and changed their name to Def Leppard.