The untold truth of AC/DC

AC/DC has been filling stadiums, getting fans to pump their fists, and making some of the best headbanging music since the 1970s. The band has come a long way, from their early days in Australia to their international tours and record-breaking album sales. Currently, AC/DC has sold more than 200 million albums worldwide, including 50 million of Back in Black, making it the second-highest selling album of all time, just behind Michael Jackson's Thriller. They broke the rules of the genre by teaching fans you can still be rock 'n' roll while wearing a schoolboy outfit and have been an inspiration to many famous rock bands. AC/DC would eventually become a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 and would keep rocking, well into their older age.

While the band has had many highlights over the years, they've also had their fair share of problems to overcome. From never-ending lineup changes to brawls with fans and other bands, AC/DC has had to power through and evolve bigger and stronger each time. They've also had to deal with the deaths of their core members, such as lead singer Bon Scott, and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young. Very few bands have had such electrifying success, gone down such dark paths, and remained together for such a long span of time. And it all started with two brothers: Malcolm and Angus Young.

The Young Family forms AC/DC

In 1973, brothers Malcolm and Angus Young formed AC/DC in Sydney, Australia. However, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Angus credited his brother with the whole reason for the band's beginning, saying: "He's the founder of this whole thing, AC/DC. At the very beginning [of the band] I said to him, 'What are we going to do?' He said, 'I know what we're going to do. We're going to do some rough, raw rock & roll.'" According to the New Yorker, Malcolm and Angus' older brother, George Young, also had a big influence on how the band's sound developed. George had been playing in a rock band called the Easybeats which gained moderate success but eventually left the band to work with his brothers. George, along with former Easybeats bandmate, Harry Vanda, mentored Malcolm and Angus and would become producers on AC/DC's albums.

The band would go through a series of lineup changes in the 70s. After moving to Melbourne, both drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Mark Evans would join, as per AllMusic. Bon Scott, who had been working as the band's chauffeur, would become the new singer, replacing Dave Evans, who refused to go on stage. AC/DC would release a series of albums during this time, from their debut LP High Voltage in 1976, to Let There Be Rock in 1977, among others. Bassist Cliff Williams would replace Mark Evans as the band secured their lineup.

Angus Young develops his on-stage moves by dodging thrown bottles

AC/DC's lead guitarist, Angus Young, developed a style of his own by wearing a schoolboy uniform and dancing around on stage with his Gibson SG. Angus would try a series of outfits — from a gorilla to a Zorro-like mask and cape — before his brother Malcolm would have him wear the schoolboy outfit during a show, as per Louder. Angus would keep the schoolboy look but would have to dodge flying beer bottles while breaking in his new threads. "All you can do is play – and pray," Angus told Guitar World. "You put your head down and hope a bottle doesn't come your way. That became part of my stage act. I learnt to duck and keep moving." Angus would combine his on-the-move shuffle, dodging bottles, and would pay homage to legendary rock 'n' roll guitarist Chuck Berry, doing a faster version, called the duckwalk, as per The Guardian.

Angus still suffers from stage fright to this day. However, it would be his schoolboy uniform that would go from making him a target on stage to calming him down before a show. "Sometimes it is frightening," Angus said. "But you've got to psych yourself up a bit, give yourself a good kick up the a**. Usually, once I've got the uniform on, I'm okay. I'm on edge, nervous, but I'm not in a panic."

AC/DC's long, hard road to success before Highway to Hell

AC/DC would release their debut LP, High Voltage, in 1976, and an alternative, international version a year later of the same name which would receive mixed reviews from critics. Rolling Stone's review would trash the album, and later appear on an article released decades later called "10 Classic Albums Rolling Stone Originally Panned." The review would go on to say: "Those concerned with the future of hard rock may take solace in knowing that with the release of the first U.S. album by these Australian gross-out champions, the genre has unquestionably hit its all-time low." 

AC/DC would keep putting out albums that would receive more favorable reviews, such as Let There Be Rock and eventually Highway to Hell, which would go 7X platinum. The band would also expand its fan base on an international level and tour extensively while putting together its final lineup of Bon Scott, Malcolm Young, Angus Young, Cliff Williams, and Phil Rudd.

The knife-wielding incident at an AC/DC and Black Sabbath Show

According to Malcolm Young, as per Blabbermouth, in the late 70s, the bassist of Black Sabbath, Geezer Butler, pulled a knife on him at a hotel after a show. Malcolm went on to say, "Geezer was in the bar, crying in his bear, '10 years I've been in this band, 10 years — wait till you guys have been around 10 years, you'll feel like us.' I said 'I don't think so.' I was giving him no sympathy. He'd had many too many [drinks] and he pulled out this silly flick knife." Malcolm said that Ozzy Osbourne ran in and broke up the fight.

Butler has a slightly different version of the events that night and says he never actually pulled a knife on Malcolm; flicking knives was a casual activity he'd learned and just happened to be arguing with Malcolm at the time his knife was out. According to Rhino, Butler would say: "I always had flick-knives when I was growing up, because everybody used to go around stabbing each other in Aston. ... I was really excited to get one again. I was having a drink, flicking my knife, when Malcolm Young came up to me and started slagging Sabbath. And he came over and said, 'You must think you're big, having a flick-knife.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' And that's it. Nobody got hurt."

AC/DC's Bon Scott passes away

AC/DC's lead singer Bon Scott would, unfortunately, pass away at the age of 33 on February 19, 1980. After a night of drinking with friends, Scott was found dead the next day in his car after choking on his vomit. There has been a debate as to what Scott's condition was the night before his passing. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, in Murray Engleheart's band bio AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll, the band's original drummer, Colin Burgess, felt something was up. Burgess said he'd remembered Scott "leaving and he was alright — like he wasn't drunk at all. And we went home, and the next day he's dead! To me, it's just a really, really strange thing."

According to AntiMusic, in the book Bon: The Last Highway, author Jesse Fink spoke with Roy Allen, one of Scott's friends, who said that Scott was planning on leaving the band and quitting drinking back in 1979. Allen would recall Scott allegedly saying: "Roy, I want to come to Texas. I'm coming into a good bit of money soon. I've had it: the living on the road, the shows, the drinking. I'm ready to leave the band. I've got to get out. It's all killin' me and I know it. I want to know if I came to Texas, I could stay with you. We could try to quit drinking together."

Brian Johnson becomes the new singer of AC/DC

After Bon Scott passed away, AC/DC was faced with a hard decision: Should they continue or end the band? Months later, AC/DC would push forward, and after a strange set of circumstances, Brian Johnson would end up becoming their new singer. According to an interview with the New York Post, Johnson said Bon Scott first saw him perform while suffering from appendicitis. "I went down on my side, kicking and going, 'Ooh!'" said Johnson. "But I kept on singing. Apparently, [Bon later] told the boys, 'I saw this guy Brian Johnson sing, and he was great. He was on the floor, kicking and screaming — what an act!' Of course, it wasn't an act. I was really ill."

Angus and Malcolm remembered the story Scott told them and added Johnson to a list of possible singers. After a great audition, Johnson would get the gig and the band would continue working on their album, Back in Black. Once hired, Johnson would be asked to write lyrics to a riff the band was working on, saying: "They had a very basic riff, and said, 'We were thinking of calling it, Shook Me All Night Long.' I sat down that night with this blank piece of paper and within about 15 minutes, I had this song written." Back in Black would become the band's best-selling album and the second best-selling album ever, right behind Michael Jackson's Thriller. Finally, AC/DC would tribute the album to their fallen friend and bandmate, Bon Scott.

AC/DC reaches new heights

AC/DC's career would keep going uphill as they would release more top-selling albums and tour larger venues. In 1991, while promoting their album, The Razor's Edge, the band would be selected to play at a concert with one of the biggest crowds on record. According to St Mary's University History Media, just before the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia held a heavy metal concert featuring AC/DC, Pantera, and Metallica. The concert would eventually draw over 1.5 million people and would help bring more Western music to the country.

The band would also lend their music to film soundtracks and even record a song specifically for the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, The Last Action Hero, called "Big Gun." After the release of 1990's The Razor's Edge, AC/DC would release Ballbreaker in 1995, and Stiff Upper Lip in 2000, and in 2003, would become inducted by Steven Tyler into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Stevie Young takes his uncle's place in AC/DC

In 2014, Malcolm Young announced that he'd been diagnosed with dementia and would be leaving the band for good to take care of himself, as per USA Today. Filling in for Malcolm would be none other than his nephew, Stevie Young. Stevie subbed in for Malcolm in 1988 while on tour and he fit seamlessly into the band in 2014, Rolling Stone reported. "Stevie has done a great job because he grew up playing that style of the music, the same as Mal," Angus told Rolling Stone. In an interview with USA Today, Bassist Cliff Williams also spoke well of Stevie, saying: "He plays just like Malcolm, which is unique. There are not many players like that. He has the same personality as well."

Only three years later, Malcolm Young would pass away, just three weeks after the death of the Youngs' older brother, producer, and mentor, George Young. "My brother George was a very big part of AC/DC, especially in our early years," Angus told Rolling Stone. "George and Malcolm were always the two guys I relied on. It didn't matter if we were in a studio or wherever, I always asked for their advice on whatever I was doing."

AC/DC's drummer gets caught up in murder-for-hire plot

In 2015, things took another dark turn for the band. According to the New York Daily News, AC/DC's drummer Phil Rudd was arrested and sentenced to 8 months of home detention for trying to have his former personal assistant killed as well as for possession of drugs. Rudd had just released a solo album, called Head Job, which didn't do well in sales and felt like it was everyone's fault but his own. Rudd was so mad that he fired almost all of his staff and wanted his former personal assistant "taken out," as per Rolling Stone.

The dirty deed would not be done cheap. Rudd phoned an unnamed Australian associate and offered them $200,000, a car, a motorbike or a house, in exchange for the hit. The day after the call, Rudd called his former assistant and said, "I'm going to come over and kill you." The victim then phoned authorities and said he was "fearful of his safety," which led to the police showing up at Rudd's house. Police also found 91 grams of marijuana stashed throughout Rudd's house, as well as methamphetamine. Drummer Chris Slade would fill in while Rudd would deal with his legal battles.

Brian Johnson begins suffering from hearing loss and leaves AC/DC

Between 2015 and 2016, Brian Johnson began noticing issues with his hearing. "I couldn't hear the tone of the guitars at all," Johnson told Rolling Stone. "It was a horrible kind of deafness. I was literally getting by on muscle memory and mouth shapes. I was starting to really feel bad about the performances in front of the boys, in front of the audience. It was crippling. There's nothing worse than standing there and not being sure." AC/DC tried to continue with Johnson who did the best he could, but eventually, his doctors warned him that he could go deaf.

Johnson would be forced to leave and the band would again find itself in search of a new singer. In 2019, in an interview with Dan Rather, Johnson would explain what it was like having to leave the band, as per Rolling Stone. "It's like being shot on the battlefield; it's just your turn," he said. "I'll be quite honest with you, I went in my office and buried my head in a bottle of whiskey, good whiskey."

Axl Rose takes Brian Johnson's place in AC/DC

AC/DC started looking for a new singer with a strong enough voice and stage presence to fill in for Brian Johnson. Thankfully, they had a friend from another band who was ready to help out. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Angus said, "There was a list of people that might fill in. Out of the blue, Axl Rose contacted and said he could help out, which was very good." With Rose filling in for Johnson, the band was able to finish out the rest of their 2016 Rock or Bust tour.

While Axl Rose was chosen as the band's new lead, there was another popular musician who almost ended up as AC/DC's new singer. In an interview with Classic Rock magazine, Irish singer of Blackwater Conspiracy, Phil Conalane, said he'd auditioned for the band just before the role was offered to Rose. "Long story short, he tells me that Brian has had to 'step away' from AC/DC for medical reason, and that [guitarist] Angus Young would like me to come over to the U.S. for a bit of a jam," Conalane said. "Would I be interested?"

After all was said and done, the band went with Rose; however, with a little luck and help from some doctors, Brian Johnson would return, along with drummer Phil Rudd, and bassist Cliff Williams who took a break from the band. Doctors were able to create a device that would help Johnson with hearing so he could sing. Following the good news, AC/DC would plan to tour again and work on a new album.

AC/DC releases Power Up as a tribute to Malcolm Young

AC/DC would go on to record Power Up between 2018 and 2019. The recording process was very close to all the members of AC/DC, especially Angus. "This record is pretty much a dedication to Malcolm, my brother," Angus told Rolling Stone. "It's a tribute for him like Back in Black was a tribute to Bon Scott." Power Up would be the first album the band would work on without Malcolm, however, during the recording process, the iconic guitarist's presence would be felt by all members.

"Malcolm was always there," Johnson told Rolling Stone. "As Angus would say, the band was his idea. Everything in it ran through him. He was always there in your minds or just your thoughts. I still see him in my own way. I still think about him. And then in the studio when we're doing it, you have to be careful when you look around because he seems to be there."

Power Up was produced by Brendan O'Brien, who worked on AC/DC's two previous albums and will be released in November 2020. Due to COVID-19, the band had to stop their plans of touring, but whenever the pandemic clears up, they hope to return.