AC/DC’s Brian Johnson Talks About Race Cars and the Importance of Good Dinner Company
“Full throttle” doesn’t even begin to describe the energy level of the voice that comes thundering through the phone line as a big, jovial “It’s Brian Johnson, me boy" opens our conversation with the legendary frontman of AC/DC.
His distinctive vocals have been the fiery fuel lighting the pyro behind the Australian-bred rock giants for more than 30 years. ‘Black Ice,’ their most recent studio album to date, went to No. 1 in nearly every country where there was someone present to buy it. You could forgive Johnson if he had just a bit of an ego as a result.
But Brian Johnson is just about the coolest, most down to earth gentleman that you could ever hope to meet. Florida is his chosen home base, and he's not against mingling with the locals. Spontaneous moments have found Johnson taking the stage with one of the area’s bar bands -- hell, that’s one way to keep your voice in shape.
And as we’ve come to know, he loves cars a lot. Specifically, he loves to race cars and is an all around voracious automobile lover and collector. ‘Rockers and Rollers: A Full Throttle Memoir’ gathers a colorful mix of stories including vividly animated recollections of some of his best automotive adventures, strung together with anecdotes involving life both on and off-stage with AC/DC, and the friends and family who have further enriched his life.
With Johnson’s book making its debut in paperback form, we spent a few minutes catching up and finding out what his future plans are:
You hear about piano players who have their hands insured for millions of dollars. So I can imagine that there might be some people in your world who might not be too thrilled about your love of auto racing as a hobby. Have you gotten any flak about that over the years?
Yeah, I think they tried at the start. You know, the people in New York brought it up and put on that serious look, “Oh Brian, we’re concerned about your behavior” and I just went “oh, bollocks” and they’ve stopped bothering me now. Tomorrow, we’re off to Watkins Glen to race, one of the most beautiful parts of America. There’s a wonderful place to race, a wonderful track, and there will be about 300 or 400 cars there from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.
Car nuts always have that list of dream cars that they’d love to have. Is there one on yours that got away?
Yeah, I think there’s one car, which I do love and [which] are very difficult to get -- a Facel Vega Mark III 500. I think the other one is the Ferrari F40, which I’m in pursuit of as we speak. That would be a good one for me.
How many cars do you have in your collection?
I haven’t got a huge collection. I’ve got about 14 or 15 cars.
That’s pretty reasonable.
Well, five of them are race cars. So they never see the light of day until we take them to the track.
'Rockers and Rollers' is making its debut in paperback and what I love about it, is the way it is laid out as a series of conversational anecdotes. It feels like any number of these could have been heard during an evening at “Brian’s place.” It has a really good flow to it.
Oh, thanks very much. That’s my first attempt at it and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I just wrote it down in longhand, you know? So it’s a bit all over the place, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
From your closing words, it would seem that there’s room for a sequel. Do you think you have another book in you?
I don’t know. I just thought I would wait and see what people thought of this one. There’s enough books coming out without me throwing another into the tomb. It’s just a fun book as you probably realized. You can stick it in the toilet and read it every now and again. If you went cover to cover, I think it would take you two hours to read, not even.
There’s a lot of different characters connecting the stories in this book and one of those is Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, who of course, passed away recently. It sounds like he was at your place a fair amount over the years. What sort of common ground did you have with Donald?
We were neighbors and we loved that soul music. It was awful last week, I had to be a pallbearer at his funeral and there was Eddie Floyd, Anton Fig, Booker T., Steve Cropper, all of these greats from the past. One of the proudest moments of my life and saddest, was walking up with June, his widow, up Beale Street in Memphis, with the jazz band behind us.
It was just such a tear-jerking moment. He was just probably one of life’s biggest characters, he was just wonderful.
All of those people you just mentioned, contributed so much to our musical landscape.
Oh, you can’t believe it. I mean, people still don’t believe it. Even I’m....every now and again I get a surprise and I’ll go “Steve Cropper wrote that? Good God, I didn’t know that!” When I first heard Steve Cropper wrote ‘Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay,’ I went “What? Jesus!” It was a sad day, but ‘Duck’ was always larger than life. ‘Duck’ used to come here for dinner with, I mean, Robert Plant was here, [he's] a good friend. We all had a big dinner and Jerry Wexler was there and that was a night to remember.
We’re all sitting after dinner and talking and it was strange, because of the talk about all of the old times. I remember one night, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn said to Jerry Wexler, “Jerry” [imitating Dunn’s speaking voice] “did you ever meet Elvis Presley?” and without even blinking, he [Wexler] went “the dumbest white man I ever met!” [Laughs]
Me and Robert Plant just fell to the floor laughing! He’s talking about Elvis here! But it’s just lovely when you’re in the company of giants of the music industry. I remember Robert just saying that "that was probably the most fascinating meeting I’ve ever had in my life, it was just wonderful." All stories come from great friends, you know? I think sometimes when you look at your friends, you’ve gotta look at yourself. If you’ve got good friends, you should be happy with yourself, you know?
Of course the world is itching for a new AC/DC album. What’s the status on that?
Well, the status is that I’ll be seeing Malcolm and Angus this year, when I get back to London. We’re just going to have a sit down and talk, which is what we always do before things start happening. [Laughs] That’s our modus operandi, “oh, we’re just sitting around and having a talk!” I think, well, let’s talk [and see if] we’ve got something in the bag. I’d like to take it to the studio and I hope we do it with Brendan O’Brien again, because he was just exceptional on ‘Black Ice.’