The following is a true story
Only the names have been changed
To protect the guilty
Well I left my job in my home town
And I headed for the smoke
Got a rock n’ roll band and a fast right hand
Gonna get to the top
Nothing’s gonna stop us no nothing
So if you’ve got the money, we’ve got the sound
You put it up and we’ll put it down
If you got the dollar, we got the song
Just want to boogie woogie all night long
I got holes in my shoes
I got holes in my teeth
I got holes in my socks
I can’t get no sleep
I’m trying to make a million
-From AC/DC’s ‘Ain’t No Fun (Waiting Round to be a Millionaire)’
(Lyrics by Ronald Belford Scott)
He was the youngest of 8 siblings, born in Cranhill, Glasgow, Scottland. At the age of 8, his father uprooted his wife and four of their children and emigrated to Sydney, Australia, in hopes of finding work. Two of his older brothers played the guitar; after two years of plonking away on a beat up banjo, his mother finally bought him a battered used acoustic. No formal lessons were ever taken; in fact, he dropped out of Ashfield Boy’s High School before his fifteenth birthday.
He soon ended up in a teen gang called the Town Hall Sharps, where he developed a love of Rock & Roll and Blues Music. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jery Lee Lewis were favorites. Before he turned 18, he worked overnights in a butcher shop and declined an apprenticeship as a typesetter. Possessing no marketable skills, his career prospects looked bleak. He bought his first ‘real’ guitar, a ’67 Gibson SG, from Chord Music in Burwood. Like his brothers, he taught himself how to play well enough to work with a few local bands. In 1973, he joined a band formed by one of his older siblings. It was 1973; he was 18 years old.
His chances at making it as a profesional musician weren’t good. For starters, his formal education ended with the 8th grade, and possessed no musical knowledge whatsoever. Secondly, the rock scene in Sydney, and in Australia in general, was desperately aping the UK Glam movement, a sound and style that he and his brother dabbled with but in the end, had very little time for. And finally, even if they were able to break into the tiny Australian music market, their prospects were even dimmer in the UK, where the real fame and noteriety was. And, of course, you never really made it until you made it in America, home to his guitar heroes Leslie West and Buddy Guy, as well as some of his favorite bands, like Cactus and ZZ Top. America… The biggest music market in the world…
But hey, even a uneducated punk from the tenements of Carnhill could dream.
Does your playing constantly progress? Do you ever get into slumps?
“I’ve never gotten in a slump as far as playing, because I never got that serious about it.”
It is a true test for Young to recall the types of picks and strings he uses. While he does know more than he owns up to, his description of himself as a guitar “illiterate” is not far wrong. He learned to solo mainly from watching his elder brother Malcolm play and the idea of scales and figures is foreign to him.
Do you have a fairly good idea of what you’re going to do with solos?
“No, I never work that out before. It’s mainly spontaneous. Soloing was pretty easy for me because it was probably the first thing I’ve ever done. I just used to make up leads. I never even knew any names of chords until Malcolm told me and then I picked it up from there.”
Do you know what you’re doing in musical terms?
“I haven’t a clue.”
You don’t work on scales.
Uncertain about scales and note names, he has never had difficulty in resisting the lure of the pedal. His sound is uncluttered and pure and one of the true milestones of rock guitar The only accoutrement engaged is a Schaeffer wireless system he obtained in 1977 and has been using ever since.
Do you use any effects?
“No. I found that pedals were too much to fool around with.”
How important is equipment?
“Well, I like it to work.”
Angus makes special visits to the Marshall factory outside of London to play through a series of amps before selecting the proper one(s). He says the units are then doctored to resemble the old-style amps which were very clean and have no master or preamp setting.
“I use a real lot of volume, I turn that up; I turn the treble and bass on about half and middle, the same. I don’t use any presence.”
Do you ever record with guitars other than SGs?
“No. I’ve just used the SGs.”
Young bought a secondhand Gibson SG as a teen. A brown 1967 model. The instrument was his ‘go-to’ guitar until just a few years ago, when wood rot (due to excessive moisture from sweat) and neck warp forced him to look for a replacement. Young liked the thin neck of his first guitar, and it took some searching to find another to his liking. Another suitable SG was finally located in a pawn shop in NYC; brown, 1967 model, same thin neck.
Of his three homes, the one he built for his wife in Aalten, in the east of the Netherlands, was his favorite. Perhaps for sentimental reasons; for decades he lived with his wife in the small house directly across the street from the just-completed multi-million dollar mansion. But it was time for an upgrade. The houses in Australia and the UK were fine, but he wanted to do something special for her in her home country. Indeed, it was especially for her, his wife of more than thirty years, as he wasn’t in Denmark for more than 10-12 weeks a year. His wife helped design and decorate.
And so, their new home was built in the quiet little village of Aalten, population 12,000. Aalten, where her parents ran the local blacksmith business. At first, neighbors complained about the building’s size. The local newspapers ran a few stories, but the villagers’ greivenaces didn’t amount to much. He was a very private man, but well-liked in the town by those who knew him. He knew that if he stayed the course, kept quiet about it, the hubub would pass. And so it did.
Villagers who were not acqainted with him personally must have wondered how their mysterious neighbor was able to build such an expensive home for his wife. When the home was completed, and its owner became an official resident of Aalten, Gelderland, all questions were answered, as the papers reported that their mysterious neighbor was one of the 500 richest men in the Netherlands, with a net worth of 140 million dollars. How in God’s name did this odd little man amass a fortune of 140 million dollars? The village blacksmith’s son-in-law? That little man who walks up the road to buy cigarettes at the local garage every morning?
Worldwide Album Sales: 200 million; US Sales: 71.5 million
‘Back in Black’: 50 million copies worldwide, 22 million copies US
‘Back in Black’ is the second highest-selling album in history.
AC/DC are the fifth-most-certified band in history.
AC/DC are the twelfth-best-selling artist in all of music history.
Not bad for a uneducated punk from the tenements of Cranhill.
(Contains material from interviews in Guitar Player and Guitar world, both from 1984)