The Rocking Soul of
Sometimes there is a sound and a feel in your mind for your entire life and you don’t even think about it, until you find yourself busting your ass trying to keep your fitness in shape on the third set of burpies. You're hearing revved up Rock guitar, and it suddenly occurs to you, "This band and his guitar playing have been with me since I was a kid, they just nail it, all rock and feel." It is untimely and lasts. It's what legendary musicians do, they take hold in our memory beyond their rehearsing, recording and soundcheck. It is spiritual and they are an experience. AC/DC grabs you from the first note, spirit flying out of their sound.
It all began with Bon belting out soulful vocals, Angus Young's riffs and melodic playing that yanked the songs into wild abandon, and Malcom's rhythm and songwriting. This team of musicians had a distinct sound. You couldn’t get their tunes out of your head. The Australian rock band made many take notice in 1975 with their first album, High Voltage.
Angus Young (and brother Malcolm) were both born in Glasgow, Scotland. Since he was a young kid, he practiced guitar relentlessly and kept jamming alone or with his brother, Malcolm. Because of Angus’ playing and showmanship on his own gigs he was doing, Malcolm soon asked Angus to join the band that he was forming. At the start it was Malcolm and Angus on guitar, Bon Scott on lead vocals, Mark Evans on bass, and Phil Rudd on drums.
Angus Young was a show on stage, the schoolboy uniform, his own version of the Chuck Berry duckwalk, and intense jumps, or spins on the floor. Angus would climb on top of Bon Scott’s (or Brian Johnson’s) shoulders during concerts, making their way thru the audience with smoke streaming from a satchel on Young’s back, as he did his solos. Yet nobody can deny the choice riffs, rhythm and feel of a guitar voice as the strong backbone for their music. The AC/DC sound itself has been a trademark in rock.
In 1977 Evans was replaced by Cliff Williams. In 1979 Bon Scott died of alcohol poisoning. The band kept going, finding Brian Johnson as their new frontman. The first album with Brian was Back in Black in 1980, dedicated to Bon Scott. It had immediate widespread success, becoming the second best- selling album of all time. Unmistakeably, their music has been legendary. Think about it, “Back In Black,” “For Those About to Rock,” “TNT,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” songs that so many of us rock fans have had in our heads for a long while now. In 2003 Young and the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, something long overdue.
The past few years haven’t been the easiest for the band. After years of album success and hit singles, in 2014 Malcolm was forced to leave the band due to ill health. Stevie Young, Malcolm’s nephew stepped in and remained as the official rhythm guitarist for the band. In 2016 Phil Rudd also left the band, and another setback was Brian Johnson facing total hearing loss. Young recruited Axl Rose to stand in for Johnson and finish their Rock or Bust World Tour. By 2017 Malcolm Young passed away. In 2020 their new album, Power Up, paid tribute to Malcolm and featured the lineup of Angus Young, Stevie Young, Brian Johnson, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd. Angus Young has been ranked #24 in Rolling Stone’s Greatest Guitarists of All Time list, with a tremendous mark he and his brother and AC/DC have made in Rock music. A strong, beckoning rock sound. It was an honor to ask Angus some questions:
By Abbe Davis, July 2023
AD: It can’t be easy to not have Malcolm around for some years now. Are there still a lot of songs that he didn’t finish that you might want to produce (as a follow up to Power Up, an excellent album with a nod to him)?
AY: I don't know if we'd put them out on a stand-alone album but, as far as doing some sort of tribute album in his honor, that's something that's been thought of, like how Back in Black was a tribute to Bon. So, we'd have to see what is on tape.
AD: Wow, can't wait to see what turns up! At the start of AC/DC, when Malcolm finally asked you to be in his band, describe working with your brother, did you guys ever argue about the riffs, or how songs should go? How did you settle things?
AY: Argue? Me and Mal? Never! LOL Honestly, we had our bouts but most of the time, we always worked it out without any arguing. If I did a solo and he felt I should redo it, I'd redo it. And, I'd tell him the same. We got along very well. We were always honest with each other, and communicated what we felt. I looked up to him.
AD: That is good to hear, songwriting, shows, family, respect. Great for music and for both of you to have had that bond. As a teenager, your family moved from Scotland to Sydney, Australia. How was it in your teens? What was a typical day like for you at age 14 or 15 and was it easy to get used to life in Australia?
AY: Actually, my brother George first introduced me to the guitar and my brother Alexander is the one who got me started on the guitar. An old acoustic. I was probably about 5 or 6 years of age. Mal began playing too. After school, Mal and I would both sit around and play the guitar for hours and try to write some songs. Eventually, we both played in bands and started working. I'm a big Australian football fan, obviously with my size I don't play the sport. LOL I worked as a printer for a bit. I remember us telling our parents we were quitting our jobs to form this band. They weren't too happy about that, but I think it all worked out in the end though.
AD: Ha, yes it did! I asked Brian this in our interview, but I want your take on that initial jam session. When Brian Johnson first showed up to audition for you guys, did you notice he was downstairs playing at the pool tables for a long time? Did you mind waiting for him, or was it more, “What is going on with him?”
AY: We really didn't know what the hold up was. We knew he'd be there and figured, "You know, maybe he took a cab or a bus and there was traffic. Maybe he had to walk." The guy has a bit of ADD so looking back now, it doesn't surprise me. LOL! I can't remember if he won the game though. But, once he finally made his way to us, we knew he'd be in the band. Fortunately, we'd known him a bit before then, too.
AD: HA! I love it! You guys really wanted him to be the frontman! Tell me musicians that get to your soul:
AY: BB King, Hendrix, Albert King, Chuck Berry, Tony Iommi. Albert King and Hendrix were both left handed. So is Tony Iommi. I'm actually left handed but I play right handed.
AD: Great list, that is wild that you play right-handed! Your favorite Jazz guitar player?
AY: Jazz? Hmm? How do you pick just one? I'd say Wes Montgomery or Charlie Byrd. Oh, you've got to throw Al Di Meola into the group, too. There are so many wonderful guitarists. It's not fair to just choose one. How about Jazz musicians? Let's put Louis Armstrong into this. I actually got to see him live. My sister, Margaret, was a huge music fan. She loved everything, especially Jazz. She took Mal and I to see Louis Armstrong at this big open-air event. I was just a little kid and didn't really know what was going on at the time as far as who Louis Armstrong was, but as I got older, I really appreciated that experience. I mean, who now can say that they saw Louis Armstrong play live?
AD: Whoa! You got to see Satchmo!? This is amazing. I love Pops! That is beyond! OK, so, who is your favorite Blues guitarist?
AY: That would be Albert King. He was really special.
AD: Without a doubt, the man! Your favorite rock guitarist of all time?
AY: See, there you go again. LOL. Me! Me! I'm my most favorite rock guitarist of all time! LOL. Favorite rock guitarist? Hmm. I could get off easy and say Hendrix, like everyone else. Well, definitely Hendrix. Tony Iommi, Eddie Van Halen, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Page, Clapton. Prince, too. He could play anything and everything.
AD: LOL! But of course, you! Yes! You just took us through decades of path pavers and styles in Rock, thanks! What a list.! Aw yeah, Eddie, also a showman like yourself. I have no idea why most people think of the "pop icon" Prince, yet not enough know what an amazing guitar player he was. I have more here, the best Rock singer you ever heard before AC/DC was formed?
AY: Oh man, that's a tough one. Buddy Holly is one of them. Little Richard. Jerry Lee Lewis. They all had this vibe. Now, if you want a singer who has the soul and a voice, Robert Plant, Paul Rodgers.
AD: Aw wow, yeah,great performers, excellent singers. I could imagine Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and you on stage together. I'd be mesmerized by the whole "Rock n Roll, take over my body!" Can you recall one specific hilarious AC/DC band touring story from the road that shocked even you?
AY: I did read the interview you did with Brian, and what he said about our drummer, Phil. "Motivation!" True story. That's a great one! I always remember a story about Bon. He disappeared for a week. Our tour manager went to the airport to pick him up. He gets there and he's waiting and waiting, and no Bon. He's not there, hadn't been on the flight, but he was supposed to be. A week later, he gets a call, it's Bon. "Hey, it's Bon. I'm here." Our manager asks him, "Here? Where's here?" He says, "I'm at the airport." So, he goes to the airport, you know, to collect him, to pick him up. He gets there and there's Bon, walking around in just a pair of jeans, no shirt. LOL It's freezing out. Our manager asks him where he's been. He looks at him and says, "I don't know." LOL His mom swore she watched him get on the plane a week before. LOL Bon has no idea where he's been for the whole week. He thinks he followed some girl off the plane in Bangkok, but he honestly had no idea where he'd been.
AD: So crazy! LOL, ya can't say he didn't live in the moment!? Let’s imagine this, if Malcolm were sitting right here, if I asked him, which story about AC/DC on the road do you think he would recall?
AY: There were too many. Almost all tours back in the day with Bon, you never knew what was gonna happen. I mean, the guy was an emotional monster. LOL The drinking he did was incredible. I was never a drinker. I've never been drunk, don't drink, never have. My high is from being on stage. But, what would Mal say? He'd probably say the one about Bon and Big Rosie! LOL There's this woman, at a show, we called her Big Rosie. After the show, she grabs Bon and tells him he's going with her for the night. So, he does, doesn't hesitate. That was Bon. He wakes up the next morning and he's all squeezed between Big Rosie and the wall, can't move. Stuck there. Can't feel his arm because it fell asleep from being all pushed against the wall. LOL He's finally able to squirm about and she wakes up, grabs him, says, "You're not going anywhere." I mean, Bon was a tough drunk guy, but he was outsized at the time and sober. He gives her money for a meal and then he's on his way. He eventually finds his way back to us and tells us what happened, what he could remember and says, "We gotta write a song about this!" And, that's how "A Whole Lotta Rosie" was written! LOL
AD: LOL! I thought you guys just made up a character! OMG this is a riot, like Bon just went here and there a lot. "Okay, sure, just put me wherever." LOL! Has there been any book about AC/DC or yourself, that you have read where you felt they got it right? If not, do you plan to write one?
AY: There's been a few. 'The Youngs' is pretty accurate, for the most part. There are a few others that are pretty good, but tend to be a bit over the top at times. The new one, '50 Years of High Voltage Rock n Roll'. We endorsed that one.
AD: Okay good, I want to read them, so I'd rather ask you which ones and skip over the over the top nonsense. When you’re not touring, how do you spend your time, any hobbies or new things in life that you’d like to try?
AY: I spend time with my wife and play golf. I love playing golf. It relaxes me. I listen to jazz, try to catch up with friends and family. Take a trip with my wife. Can't really think of anything new I'd like to try.
AD: That's great. Also cause then you rest up, and after being well-rested, you can tour and make more music and keep playing Rock music for all of us, long live AC/DC! Alright, I'll stop, wait, can you quickly complete these next sentences? Let’s go at it, first thing that comes to the top of your head:
The wildest person to tour with in AC/DC has definitely been_____________ because of ___________________ .
AY: Bon because you never knew what the guy was going to do next.
AD: The Best Rock song I’ve ever heard, besides our music, is definitively the one song __________
AY: Anything by Chuck Berry.
AD: My marriage has lasted a long time with my wife because ___________________
AY: Because Ellen and I love and respect each other. Neither of us drink and we just enjoy being together. Been married for 40 years now.
AD: That says a lot about both of you, it's great. If there was an Exodus, and I could only carry one guitar out of it, it would be my _____________
AY: Gotta go with my Gibson SG Standard. Hopefully during this exodus there's electricity. Gotta be able to plug it into an amp.
AD: LOL! Nobody has ever said that before. You're really thinking ahead, LOL! Very cool. OK, back to this game: I get tears in my eyes anytime I hear this tune: _______________.
AY: Hmmm. I don't know. OK, "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong. I mean, who doesn't get choked up at that one?
AD: Truth! A beauty! OK, another one, AC/DC can be summed up as the following: ______________________
AY: A bunch of lucky blokes who got along well enough to make some music that enough people enjoyed to help us pay our bills!
AD: Too modest! I have to catch you guys live soon, so tell us, Is there anything, shows, new music, you wanna share with everyone about AC/DC? What’s ahead this year for the band?
AY: We'll be back on the road at the end of the year starting in October at the Power Trip Festival in California with Ozzy. No new music yet.
AD: Power Trip sounds great! Thanks for being a good sport with my questions, ha. I’ve always loved your performing, the band, and of course your guitar playing (please know that you guys kick my butt into gear every single time I workout each morning, those guitar riffs push me on).
AY: Thank you Abbe, and I'm glad we can be a part of your morning workout. Let's chat again soon. This has been fun.
AD: It has been an honor and a blast! Thanks for the kick butt riffs of motivation on workouts. I hope to hear you and AC/DC live very soon. I look forward to chatting again, Angus.
Abbe Davis, Editor of TRR / Musician
Abbe Davis is a singer/songwriter and the editor of Tru Rock Revival magazine. She has performed alongside legendary Blues artist, Buddy Guy, at the Riverwalk Blues Festival. Abbe recently played at the Parkland Memorial concert in South Florida. Her band is currently performing at the Tru Rock Revival Day of Rock shows in Asheville, and is recording singles, which will be released in Winter. Abbe is also an intuitive healer at One of Asheville.