Angus Young, legend of hard rock and poster boy of wild onstage antics, is one of the most hardworking, energetic rock guitarists around. The power he packs in that diminutive, five-foot two frame, sets the stage on fire and brings his young audience screaming to its feet.
In the opinion of many critics and contemporaries, Angus Young is one of rock and roll’s best and most under-rated guitarists.
The founder of the band AC/DC, Young was ranked #96 on its list of the top 100 great guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and the band was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
Born Angus McKinnon Young on 31 March, 1955 in Glasgow, Scotland, Angus was the youngest of eight siblings in a family inclined towards music. In the early 1960s, the family moved to Australia, just as the rock and roll revolution was sweeping Britain.
The Beginning Of AC/DC
Angus Young first picked up the guitar at the age of five, at a neighbor’s house and was fascinated enough to convert his old banjo into a guitar by restringing it. Young’s older brother George was already a successful musician with the band Easybeats and had the 1966 smash hit, ‘Friday on my Mind’ under his belt.
Inspired by their older brother’s success, Angus and another brother Malcolm also took up learning the guitar in earnest. They were tutored in the art by George, whenever he was home from tour. Young was impressed by the blues music of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, BB King, as also the music of blues based rock bands such as The Rolling Stones and The Who. He would be found practicing day and night on his guitar, which was a gift from his brother George. Eventually, Young decided that playing guitar was where his passion lay and joined his first band Kantukee.
In 1973, the Young brothers Malcolm and Angus finally decided to launch their own band, plans for which had been brewing since a few years. In search of a name for the band, they settled on AC/DC from the back of their sister’s sewing machine. AC/DC implied electricity with a hint of danger and was the perfect name for a band that meant business. The band revolved around the musical abilities of firebrand Angus Young as lead guitarist, who by then had established a distinctive stage persona. It featured Angus as lead guitarist, Malcolm on rhythm guitar, Bon Scott on vocals, Phil Rudd on drums and Mark Evans on bass.
A Schoolboy With Style
For his onstage look, Angus Young experimented with various get-ups like Spiderman, a gorilla, Zorro and even a parody of Superman calling himself Super-Ang. But none of them seemed gimmicky enough, till his sister suggested that he dress up as a schoolboy.
In the age of glam rock, when every rocker worth his name used lavish stage costumes, Angus Young stood out from the flock in his Ashfield Boys High school uniform complete with black tie, school cap and black shoes. It turned out to be a brilliant promotional trick as the uniform became the instant recall trademark of the band.
Angus Young is famous for his fluid, beautiful playing style which is very straight blues. He doesn’t resort to guitar gimmicks as in extra accessories and amplifier provided effects. Sometimes he is known to add touches of Scottish folk music to his playing – a tribute to his Scottish roots. He is especially known for his vibrato and his intricate improvisation in live shows.
His music is pure, unadulterated, honest to goodness rock and roll that aims for the gut. Energetic and a livewire on stage, he has always believed in giving his fans value for money. Even as the entire rock world is gravitating towards new age punk rock and pop, Angus Young and his band have admirably stuck to their unwavering devotion to good, old rock.
Although Angus Young has the undying loyalty of millions of his fans, he is sometimes criticized in the music press as being too repetitive. However, as Young stated in an interview with the Atlanta Gazette in 1979…
“Its just rock and roll. A lot of times we get criticised for it. A lot of music papers come out with: ‘When are they going to stop playing these three chords?’ If you believe you shouldn’t play just three chords it’s pretty silly on their part. To us, the simpler a song is, the better,’ cause it’s more in line with what the person on the street is.”
Another gem from Angus, effectively displaying his commitment to giving his all to his music…
“We can’t sit on our arses and say the world owes us a living because we’ve paid our dues. Me; I think if I fluff a note I’m robbing the kids. You’re gonna pour it all on until you drop, so even if they hate you they can still say ‘ At least they tried’.”
Angus On Stage
On stage, Angus is power personified. His concerts exude exuberance and unbridled energy. His act is peppered with high intensity jumps, running from one end of the stage to the other, and his trademark ‘bob’ in which he headbangs while tapping his feet in rhythm, all the while playing guitar. He has also perfected the ‘duckwalk’ of his idol Chuck Berry which he adds to his live shows.
In every live performance of the song ‘Rocker’, Angus would clamber onto Bon Scott’s shoulders, and they would walk down the aisle amidst the audience with smoke streaming out of a satchel on his back while he played an extended guitar solo.
The highlight of each show is always the ‘spasm’, in which he falls to the ground, kicking, writhing and spinning in circles, never dropping a note on his guitar. This trick never fails to bring the audience to a frenzy. Angus has also performed a strip act during some of his performances. Young’s stage antics are one of the reasons that each and every concert of AC/DC is a always a sell-out.
Awesome Angus Young Solo
The ‘spasm’ came to be, quite by chance. In the pre AC/DC days, Young was playing live with a band named Tantrum, at a small nightclub in Sydney. Things were going pretty badly and to make matters worse, while playing a solo Angus tripped on a cable wire and fell. He started writhing and shaking spasmodically on the ground while playing his guitar, to make it look like part of the act. That was the only clap they got that night, and since then, Angus has been ‘spasming’ in every concert.
The AC/DC Albums
The band has released albums consistently with High Voltage (1975), T.N.T (1975), Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976), Let There Be Rock (1977 – this album had a simultaneous worldwide release), Powerage (1978), Highway to Hell (1979 – their first million seller album), Back in Black (1980), For Those About to Rock – We Salute You (1981 – their first album to hit #1 in the US charts), Flick Of The Switch (1983), Fly On The Wall (1985), Who Made Who (1986), Blow up Your Video (1988), The Razor’s Edge (1990), Ballbreaker (1995), and Stiff Upper Lip (2000)
AC/DC’s latest album ‘Black Ice’ was released in October 2008, sold almost 2 million copies in the first week and made it into rock history by debuting at #1 in 29 countries on the album charts. Black Ice is Columbia Records biggest selling debut album of all time.
* Back in Black was released after the tragic death of vocalist Bon Scott in 1980 and went on to become a huge hit. To date, the album has sold 41 million copies worldwide and is the sixth bestselling rock album of all time. Brian Johnson was the replacement vocalist, selected after lengthy auditions.
* Who Made Who is the official soundtrack for the Stephen King movie Maximum Overdrive released in 1986.
* Thunderstruck – the opening track of The Razor’s Edge was based on a true life experience: lightning struck the small plane in which Angus Young was flying and the plane nearly crashed as a result.
AC/DC – Back In Black – Live
Angus Young Trivia
* Angus Young always uses a Gibson SG guitar.
* His wife Ellen is from the Netherlands.
* Angus does not drink alcohol in any form.
* He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ( as a member of band AC/DC ) in 2003.
* The five-foot two Angus was ranked #1 by Maxim on its list of 25 greatest short dudes of all time, ahead of such notable short dudes as Napoleon Bonaparte, Martin Scorsese and Yoda.
* Rock bands such as Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Def Leppard, Jackyl to name a few, have been influenced by Angus’s style of playing.
Angus Young continues to wow his multi-millions of fans and rule their hearts in the only way he knows best – with good, hard, uncompromising rock and roll.
By Scotty Smith | guitaristrock