Bleak Days and Black Rock
Without AC/DC, rock’n’roll would be pretty drab. Virtually everyone has been inspired — directly or indirectly — by the infectious tendencies of their anthemic party rock. Throughout their illustrious 35-year career, these Australian wildcards have left us chortling at the randy humour of "Big Balls,” drunkenly wailing along to the stirring chorus of "You Shook Me All Night Long,” trying to cop the riff to "Back In Black” and simply watching in awe as spastic guitarist Angus Young flits about the stage. Nevertheless, while AC/DC has one of popular music’s greatest track records, selling 200 million copies of their 15 studio releases (16th effort Black Ice is to be released by Columbia Records on October 20) and a catalogue filled with innumerable live albums, box sets, bootlegs, videos, films and so on, life has been more of a highway to hell than even this undemanding blues-inspired boogie band ever expected.
1963 to 1972
William and Margaret Young move from Glasgow, Scotland to Sydney, Australia with their eight kids including George (age 16), Malcolm (ten) and Angus (eight). George readily assimilates into Australia’s music scene, joining the Easybeats as a rhythm guitarist. One of the first Aussie rock bands to secure an international hit with "Friday On My Mind,” the Easybeats eventually become the country’s most successful act of the ’60s. Witnessing his older brother succeed, Malcolm quickly picks up the guitar with similar aspirations, with Angus not far behind. Angus worships and frequently mimics Malcolm, who is in turn merely idolizing George. "Hearing a lot of early rock’n’roll records from a very young age was a huge influence,” says Angus now. "With seven boys and one sister, there was always a lot of music in the house. A few of my brothers were playing instruments so it was from hearing that, coupled with discovering early rock, which triggered me to pick up a guitar and try to pick out the notes.” The brothers ramble through a variety of garage bands, honing their chops.
While Angus remains content with the odd pick-up gig, Malcolm grows weary of contributing to other bands and wants to form one of his own. Indelibly influenced by the blues and straightforward rock teaching of George, the musical direction is obvious: no-frills, four chord rock’n’roll. He enlists local musicians Larry Van Kriedt (bass), Colin Burgess (drums) and Dave Evans (vocals) to realize that goal. Hoping to flesh out the overall sound, Malcolm approaches Angus, who accepts immediately. "Malcolm was playing in a lot of local bands so he had good experience,” Angus says. "One day he was putting together a new band and wanted another instrument. He said, ‘Why don’t you come and play the lead work?’ I felt kinda chuffed, ‘cause normally the two of us fought like cat and dog. My father said that with the two of us together, we’d be lucky to last a week. Malcolm used to spend most of his time kicking me out of his room whenever I’d go in there to see what records he had.” Hunting for a name, the brothers inadvertently stumble across a common acronym for an electricity (alternating current/direct current) on the back of older sister Margaret’s sewing machine. They feel this reference to power and energy is symbolic of their musical intentions. By November the line-up is finalized and the newly dubbed AC/DC is slotted for their first performance at a pub on New Year’s Eve.
The Young brothers, searching for the right band chemistry, continually replace members, a setback to the band’s tightness. But having abandoned other employment prospects, they’re depending on the band’s success. "Because the two of us quit our jobs, we realized we’d better make it work,” Young reflects. "We really went at it to make sure we’d have a really good rock’n’roll band. Along the way you just try to find like-minded people. That’s the hardest part. We all have that one thing in common: the band. We try to do everything as a band. We all have to kind of agree what we want to do, be it tour or make records.” It’s also a period of transition in terms of the band’s overall look and style, and they bandy about a variety of stage costume ideas. In biographer Clinton Walker’s 2001 book Highway to Hell: The Life and Times of AC/DC Legend Bon Scott, Angus admits to donning a Zorro mask, a gorilla outfit and a Superman parody "Super-Ang” outfit before eventually being prodded into his now-iconic uniform from alma mater Ashfield Boys High School. "My sister inspired me to get into the school suit,” he says. "She was saying, ‘You know what’d be really cool? You should get into your school suit. That would be a great gimmick.’ I was going, ‘Whoa…I don’t know about that,’ but of course Malcolm thought it was a great idea and then my older brother George heard it and thought it was wild. I had to do that. I was always very shy when I played. I’d try to sneak back to the amplifiers; more introverted. But the first time I put on that school suit, I thought I’d better get out there and keep moving, more out of fear than anything. I thought if I just stood there in that school suit and I mess up, I’m gonna look like the biggest jerk in the world. So I just kept moving, especially playing in a bar. I thought, ‘If I look like a mug, they’re gonna bottle me!’ Little did I know I’d have to wear it for the next 35 years. But I’ve saved the problem of what to wear onstage… I just have to pick a colour.” The rest of the band steps back when Angus comes out of his shell; he inevitably becoming the show with Three Stooges-esque floor spins, audience mooning and Chuck Berry-inspired duck walking, which become as memorable as the uniform itself.
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