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Bon was a bit older than the rest of the band—is that why he
often kept to himself and didn’t live in the AC/DC house?
The age gap was certainly quite noticeable. When you’re 19 and working with someone who’s 29, that’s a big gap—especially given Bon’s music experience and my being so green when I joined the band. I also think Bon needed other things outside the band to keep him happy. Being in that band, there was a fairly rigid format and schedule, and with Bon being a bit of a rebel, he could feel a bit suffocated. After a gig, if there was something happening outside the band, he’d just pack a bag and take off. There would be no “Hey, I’m going to a party. Do you want to come?” He was always eager to put some space between himself and the band, and he was the first to set up domestically outside the band, too.
And the rest of the band actually lived together in a variety of
houses, right? Do you think that helped or hurt band chemistry?
I think it helped in the early days, since we had such a siege mentality— we didn’t let people into our circle very easily. Initially, it was a great thing, but once we got to England, Bon split pretty early to live on his own. I’ve always looked back and wondered if I should have done the same thing. It may have given me a bit more longevity with the band, y’know?
The book kind of hints that most of the conflicts with the
brothers occurred when you all weren’t playing music.
You’ve got it exactly, man. When we were on the road gigging, AC/ DC’s work ethic was just amazing. There was never any gut-aching about a particular gig—you just did it and had to be committed to the nth degree. Sure, there would be some punches thrown on the road, too, but that’s part of being in a band [laughs]. You just can’t play at that level, in that type of band, and play that type of music without getting fired up. But any issues we had on the road would end the moment we stepped onstage.
It sounds like there wasn’t much time for the studio, given the
relentless gigging. What was the songwriting and recording process
like for all those classic albums?
Anytime we’d go in to record an album, our manager would basically try to get as much time as our schedule would allow. The three albums I worked on with the band—T.N.T., Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and Let There Be Rock—were each recorded in less than two weeks. That was as much time as we could afford to take off the road. So we’d go in the studio, where Angus and Malcolm would knock together some guitar bits, but we wouldn’t be presented with much more than a soundcheck where we’d mess around with a couple of grooves.
All the songs would be written during the studio time—[back then] I didn’t even know about the concept of demo recordings. The first week, Malcolm, Angus, and George would get all the songs written, and then we’d go into a band situation to get the structure of the grooves right. So everything would be written and recorded in a period of a week—which is pretty mind numbing, when you think about how things are recorded today.
The second week would be all about vocals and guitar solos, which was the favorite part for Angus, of course. He’d love having a couple days in there to just do solos—and he’d be itching and scratching to get in there, man. The whole process really says a lot about how the three brothers worked together. To have a mentor and record producer like George Young, you’re blessed, and I was always a bit envious about their working relationship. You’d look at them working and think, “That’s a gang I want to be part of.” That said, there was certainly a wall around them, and it was apparent you weren’t going to get on that team, y’know? But George Young is a hero of mine, man. Great bass player, too.
Did you contribute your own bass lines, or did the Youngs
take care of that?
They used to work out all the parts on the piano, including the bass. There would always be a grand piano in the recording room, and the three Young brothers would sit alongside each other to work the songs out. It was so funny, because they’re such tiny guys. Seeing Malcolm in the middle, Angus on the right, and George on the left, plunking away on the piano, was like something from the Marx Brothers.
Wow—most of us would have never imagined AC/DC songs
being composed on piano!
It was a good way to get the bass parts going, and then the chords. Phil and I would be around in the studio, so we would definitely get the flavor of the songwriting beforehand. Phil would get on the drums, Mal and Angus would grab their guitars, and on the first album, yeah, George would show me some bass parts. He really took me under his wing. That said, even with the limitations imposed on the songwriting, it ended up being a real plus for the band. Everything was written there and recorded once, so there would be a real time capsule of what was going on at the time. I think all the early recordings that I was a part of were very honest. With the exception of the solos, they’re essentially the band playing live in the studio.
In the studio, was Angus anything like what we’re used to
Not while we were recording the the backing tracks, but when he went into solo mode, he’d be bouncing around the place, let me tell you. It would be like asking Mick Jagger to stand still while singing a Stones song. What a great guitar player, though. As far as solos go, I don’t think he’s gotten the credit he deserves as a writer. I think the two guys who construct solos better than anyone else are Angus Young and David Gilmour. And Pink Floyd isn’t even my cup of tea—I wouldn’t look over the back fence to see them. But yeah, both those guys are amazing builders of solos.
You mention in the book that you bought your first bass
because no one else wanted to play bass. Did you start on guitar,
or was bass your first instrument?
Initially, I had the idea to play bass, and it was my first instrument. Pretty early on, I caught on to the relationship with the guitar and how they work together—not necessarily [with] the drums. I’ve been playing guitar for many years, but I always come back to the bass. I love the bass and will always be a bassist first. I just love the sound and everything about it.
Let’s talk about gear. How much importance would say each
member of the band placed on their gear?
I think we all gravitated to what we liked and what felt good. Malcolm and Angus found the instruments that were right for them very early on. Malcolm’s sound was very dependent on his Gretsch Jet Firebird, and in the case of Angus, he ended up playing that Gibson SG Standard because he’s a tiny guy and the guitars are super light. They are both super-smart guys, great guitarists, and were heads-up enough to know which guitars’ sounds would click together for the sound they were going for. And now, you can’t think of either of those guys playing anything different. I get blown away when I go to a gig and see people trying to play AC/DC songs with these big, heavy-metal, high-gain guitar sounds—it’s just so wrong [laughs].
What was your go-to bass on those albums and tours?
Early on, I was playing Fender P basses. I had trashed one during a gig the first month I was with AC/DC, and I went to a repair shop to have some work done when I came across a cherry-burst Gibson Ripper that I fell in love with. The moment I picked it up, I thought it was such a cool bass. I went back to the Precisions for a while, but I also used a couple of [Gibson] T-birds. Just like guitars, basses are very instinctive things. If you pick one up and don’t know in the first minute if it’s for you, it’s not for you.
You bought your first bass from a pawnshop for $22. What
kind of bass was it, and do you still own it?
[Laughs.] Oh, it was terrible, man. It was the world’s worst bass, and it’s really amazing that I kept on playing. It was some generic, P-bass-looking thing with no brand on it except for “Made in Japan” on the back. And back then, that was a bad thing. I really have no idea what happened to it—I think it got lost, and that’s probably a good thing [laughs].
Bon Scott passed away a couple of years after your time in the
band—the same week that Highway to Hell went gold in the US.
Was his passing a complete surprise to you?
Not a surprise, but certainly a shock. You can’t lose someone like that and not just be completely leveled by it. Given his lifestyle, there were so many people who knew him who would say, “If Bon went tomorrow, he really had a great time.” That certainly put him in some risky situations, if you get my drift.
What did you think when Brian Johnson was brought aboard
so soon afterward?
I respect the way the guys handled it by getting right back to it. It was pretty incredible. I don’t think there’s ever been a greater transition between singers in an already successful band, ever.
It appeared that you would be included in AC/DC’s Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2003. At the last minute, that
fell through. What happened?
I was actually kind of surprised when I first heard I was part of the nomination. My initial reaction was to not accept the nomination, knowing it would be a bit uncomfortable since we hadn’t spoken in so long. The Hall of Fame, for whatever reason, chose to review my nomination and decided I didn’t qualify. That’s really it. I do think AC/DC should have been inducted much earlier, but they certainly did it right by including Bon.
What was your most memorable show with AC/DC?
It was a homecoming, outdoor-amphitheater gig in Melbourne when we first got back from London, and the reaction from the crowd made us feel like we were the [expletive] Beatles. It was really the start of something else for us, and we knew then that there was a lot more work ahead of us.