Brian Johnson Says Malcolm Young ‘Never Missed a Trick’
Singer Brian Johnson hasn't said much about AC/DC since leaving the band last year. But he paid tribute to the band's rhythm guitarist and co-founder Malcolm Young after his death on Nov. 18, and now he's opened up to Rolling Stone about his former bandmate.
"Malcolm never missed a trick," he told the magazine in his first interview in two years. "He paid attention to everything. Onstage he was always watching, taking in things and making sure it wouldn't happen again if he didn't like the look of some lights or something. ... Malcolm gave rock 'n' roll a fist. He'd give it a kick in the ass."
Young died following a lengthy battle with a number of illnesses, including dementia, lung cancer and a heart condition. Johnson himself has had medical issues lately too, including one involving his hearing that contributed to his exit from AC/DC and has involved surgeries. "You got to take it like a man, but when it hurts, you know that's it – you're done, pal," he said. "But Malcolm had it way worse – another invisible thing. I call it the invisible disease that nobody can see or touch."
The singer referred to Young as "a catalyst. It was Malcolm that got a hold of Angus and said, 'Just go f---ing crazy [on guitar].' Malcolm taught everybody in the band how to be in a band."
Johnson recalled auditioning for AC/DC in 1980, following the death of Bon Scott, and how Malcolm Young made him feel welcome. "They had asked singers to come in and do a couple of songs," he recalled. "The smallest guy in the room stood up and walked towards me. Pulled out a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale, because that is where I am from, and said, 'There you go, mate, just make yourself at home.' It was Malcolm."
Expecting nothing to come of the audition, Johnson was surprised to get a call from Young a month later asking him if he'd "like to come down." Dumbfounded, he asked why. "You know, we got to do an album." Still not quite getting it, Johnson asked if that meant he was in. "Oh, f--- yeah!"
"When I first joined them and went to Australia, he took me to meet his mother and father," Johnson said. "Then he came up to Newcastle to meet me mom and dad, just to say, 'Hey, I am Malcolm and this is the band.' He was just such a thoughtful man."
Even as both of their careers were winding down, the two remained close. Johnson was in the hospital in Australia for surgery a couple years ago when he learned Young was in another wing of the same hospital. "I said, 'I would love to see him,' and they said, 'No, you can't see him. He is in a bad way now,'" Johnson said. "He had just had a pacemaker put in and was pretty weak so the doctors didn't want to excite him. I was lying there and couldn't move, and there was me pal next door. It was f---ed up. That was a toughie. Maybe it is good I didn't see him, because that would have broke me heart."