AC/DC Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide
AC/DC‘s musical formula hasn’t changed much over the years, and for good reason: For 40 years and counting, Australia’s loudest musical exports have decisively proven that you don’t need much more than a couple of guitars, a couple of chords and a dirty mind to make great rock ‘n’ roll. But while the band’s sound has remained steady over the decades, the names and faces behind the music have undergone their share of turnover, and that’s where this installment of Lineup Changes comes in. We’re taking a chronological look at the ins and outs of life in AC/DC, from their earliest days as struggling unknowns to their current status as one of the reigning kingpins of rock. Grab your amp and your schoolboy uniform, because it’s time to get started with our most ball-breaking Lineup Changes yet.
1973-74: Angus Young / Malcolm Young / Larry Van Kriedt / Dave Evans / Colin Burgess
Guitar-slinging brothers Angus and Malcolm Young founded AC/DC in November 1973, enlisting bassist Larry Van Kriedt, drummer Colin Burgess and singer Dave Evans to help round out the group. And although this section’s heading says the lineup lasted for a year, longtime fans know that isn’t really the case — we only wrote it that way because there wouldn’t be enough room to account for the flurry of personnel that passed through the band before things finally started to solidify the following year. Suffice it to say that AC/DC’s first months were an experiment of sorts, and that the group’s distinctive sound didn’t truly begin to coalesce until singer Bon Scott entered in 1974.
1974-77: Angus Young / Malcolm Young / Mark Evans / Phil Rudd / Bon Scott
Although they managed to record a single with original singer Dave Evans, AC/DC didn’t really get rolling until Bon Scott entered the lineup in September 1974, quickly contributing lyrics and vocals to the band’s debut album ‘High Voltage,’ released the following month. ‘T.N.T’ followed the next December, and although both albums were released only in Australia and New Zealand, they helped pave the way for a deal with Atlantic Records, which quickly yielded the hit ‘High Voltage’ compilation (consisting of cuts from the first two LPs) and 1976’s ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,’ which hinted at the worldwide success the group would soon enjoy. ‘Let There Be Rock’ followed in 1977, putting AC/DC on the Billboard charts for the first time.
1977-80: Angus Young / Malcolm Young / Phil Rudd / Bon Scott / Cliff Williams
Although the band’s rising fortunes didn’t completely solidify AC/DC’s lineup — bassist Mark Evans was abruptly fired in 1977 — they were definitely a reflection of the way the group’s sound had started to cohere around Scott’s vocals and the Youngs’ guitars. Unfortunately, they were never able to discover just how far they could have taken this incarnation of the group; Scott passed away from acute alcohol poisoning on Feb. 19, 1980, leaving his former bandmates to mourn what might have been while deciding whether to carry on as AC/DC.
1980-83: Angus Young / Malcolm Young / Phil Rudd / Cliff Williams / Brian Johnson
Replacing a singer as distinctive as Scott was a tall order to say the least, but AC/DC lucked out in a big way when they hired Brian Johnson. Scott had actually been a fan of Johnson’s work with the British band Geordie, and from the opening strains of 1980’s ‘Back in Black,’ it was easy to see why — Johnson not only had a wail every bit as distinctive as Scott’s, but he also had a knack for the sort of charmingly filthy double entendres that made up such a large portion of the AC/DC lyric book. ‘Black’ was a worldwide smash, and this lineup cranked out two more hit records (1981’s ‘For Those About to Rock We Salute You’ and 1983’s ‘Flick of the Switch’) in short order.
1983-89: Angus Young / Malcolm Young / Cliff Williams / Brian Johnson / Simon Wright
A steadily growing rift between Malcolm Young and Phil Rudd came to a head in 1983, ending with Rudd being replaced by 19-year-old drummer Simon Wright. Unfortunately for Wright, his arrival coincided with something of a fallow period for AC/DC; the band started taking longer breaks between records, and for a portion of the ’80s, their albums failed to dominate the charts the way they once had. ‘Fly on the Wall’ (from 1985) earned middling reviews, and 1986’s ‘Who Made Who’ was mostly repackaged material, compiled as the soundtrack to the Stephen King-inspired movie ‘Maximum Overdrive.’ It wasn’t until 1988’s ‘Blow Up Your Video’ that the group’s commercial fortunes started shifting back into high gear — and by that point, Wright was just about on his way out, off to join Dio in 1989.
1989-94: Angus Young / Malcolm Young / Cliff Williams / Brian Johnson / Chris Slade
Although Wright’s departure was solved with the addition of session drummer Chris Slade, AC/DC had other problems to deal with in 1988 and 1989, including Malcolm Young’s temporary departure to enter rehab (he was replaced by the Youngs’ nephew Stevie) and Johnson’s divorce-prompted absence during the songwriting sessions for their next LP, 1990’s ‘The Razor’s Edge.’ But once they got all the kinks out, the band’s chemistry proved as lethal as ever, as evidenced by the record’s multi-platinum sales and Top 40 status of the single ‘Moneytalks.’
1994-2014: Angus Young / Malcolm Young / Cliff Williams / Brian Johnson / Phil Rudd
Decades into a hugely successful career, AC/DC started to slow their output during the ’90s — and as the Young brothers’ creative juices started to mellow, so did the old feuds that led to Rudd’s split from the lineup. In 1994, he was invited back to the group and reclaimed his seat behind the drum kit, where he’s remained for the better part of the past 20 years, playing on AC/DC’s latest trio of bestselling records: ‘Ballbreaker’ (1995), ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ (2000) and ‘Black Ice’ (2008). However, soon after the band’s 40th anniversary passed, it was revealed that founding rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young was suffering from an unspecified illness. He was unable to join the band for the recording of their 2014 album ‘Rock or Bust,’ and in September of that same year it was announced he would not be returning to AC/DC.
2014- : Angus Young / Cliff Williams / Brian Johnson / Phil Rudd / Stevie Young
Although not confirmed as an official member of the group, Malcolm and Angus Young’s nephew Stevie joined AC/DC for the recording of ‘Rock or Bust,’ and will be accompanying the group on their planned 2015 world tour. He briefly served in that same role back in 1988, when Malcolm sat out part of the ‘Blow Up Your Video’ trek in order to treat an addiction problem.
Bonus: You Think You Know AC/DC?
Test your knowledge of all things AC/DC with this video filled with little-known facts…