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"Rock music is just one of those things," explains Angus Young, lead guitarist for AC/DC, in a recent phone interview. "When people look for something new, especially these days, the pressure is on -- especially when there's that much media that likes to be one step ahead and jump on what's the new thing. But I think the public itself is a pretty stationary thing, or at least it moves slower than what the media thinks. And when they do get into something, they might go and see it once; they might get hyped up about it. But then they go, 'OK, we saw that --now can we have our rock music back again?'"
AC/DC has lived through its share of next-big-things, consistently giving back the rock & roll music. They've been doing it for more than 25 years. The original bass player, Mark Evans, left the band in 1977 and was replaced by Cliff Williams. The original singer, Bon Scott, died in 1980 and was replaced by Brian Johnson. Drummer Phil Rudd left in the early '80s, but came back in the early '90s. Guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young have been leading this band since 1973. Despite the adversity and the lineup-juggling, their philosophy is as sound as one of their classic riffs: "Can we have our rock music back again?"
"Malcolm, my older brother, formed the band," says Angus Young. "He got myself involved as he was doing rehearsal things, looking to audition guys. He came in after a couple days of doing that, and he said, "Hey, why don't you come down and play the second guitar?""
As anyone who's ever seen AC/DC knows, Angus is not the type to stand in back playing second guitar. Brian Johnson may be the vocalist, the hardworking howler, but Angus Young is the focus, dressed in the funny Australian schoolboy outfit, one that he was actually wearing every day, gig or no gig (he was still in school), when the band was formed. He dominates the stage with his spastic presence: running in place and in circles, rocking back and forth while soloing, making the most amazing and distorted facial expressions in the business -- at his best, he looks like a chimpanzee chewing bubble gum.
Young continues reminiscing: "The two of us used to play lead guitar together, but then Malcolm said it was interfering with his drinking." As he says this, Young explodes in deep, rhythmic laughter, a laughter that appears frequently throughout the conversation; clearly Angus Young enjoys talking about his band. "He actually used to push me up to the front. He'd say, 'You've got to do your thing, you do it so well.'
"And what he does!" exclaims Young. "(Malcolm) had played guitar solos and stuff when he was younger, but for him, he thought the real art was elsewhere. He used to say there are so many guys who could sort of diddle on guitar. He felt what was lacking a lot was the good old solid rhythm that you used to get in the '50s bands.
"He's got a unique thing. I notice if he starts a song with a rhythm, it chug-chugs all the way through there. You think you can put your finger on it and try and copy it, but when you sit down and try it, it's a whole different game. I always look at it as he's got this great gift, between the guitar and him. It looks so simple, but actually when you get in there and analyze it, it's a complex thing. But he makes it look so simple."
Malcolm Young and bassist Cliff Williams stand toward the back of the stage, on either side of Rudd's drum kit. The three form what is perhaps the most formidable rhythm section in rock. Everything they do is in lockstep, square to the 4/4 rhythm, with little or no variance, no hint of syncopation, no essence of funk. AC/DC mean to hit you in the gut with their rhythm, and they tell you when you're going to be hit, and it feels damn good when you get hit there.
Malcolm's guitar riffs are among the most exhilarating of the last two decades. The classic AC/DC songs -- "Highway to Hell," "Back in Black," "You Shook Me All Night Long," "For Those About to Rock," "Flick of the Switch," "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," "Whole Lotta Rosie" -- all are based on a few notes or chords, endlessly cycling yet building up an energy that requires Angus' guitar explosions as tension release.
"I've always been a fan of the Chuck Berry thing," says Angus Young. "He gave some of the great guitar intros. When I grew up, you knew immediately that that was a Chuck Berry song when it kicked off with a couple of those licks in the first bar. And you had it with the Stones' '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' -- they would do the same thing. Just those little guitar-based things that people know straight away: 'Ah-ha, here comes those guys.' With us, it's pretty much the same. We do it with tracks like 'Highway to Hell' or 'Back in Black.' We've got that one note. You hear the first note, you know it's us." He laughs that laugh again. "We took great pride in that."