It’s been nearly four decades since Malcolm Young invited his kid brother, Angus, to join a new band he was putting together. Who could have imagined, at that time, that all these years later AC/DC would still be churning out some of the world’s greatest riff-rock?
Through the years, legions of guitar players and fans have delved deeply into Angus’ background, perhaps looking for the secrets behind his artful riff-making. Still, we managed to uncover some biographical facts that might have escaped all but the most diehard followers.
He still owns the very first Gibson SG he bought – 42 years ago.
Young purchased a late ’60s Gibson SG from a music shop located within walking distance of his family’s home in Sydney, Australia, when he was just 16 years old. To this day, it remains one of his main go-to guitars. “I think it was the little devil horns [that sold me],” he told the New Zealand Herald, in 2010. “I’ve still got it and it’s still my favorite guitar of them all.”
His main pre-AC/DC job prepared him well for the band’s bawdy lyrical content.
Young left school before his 15th birthday. Not long afterwards, he took a job working as a typesetter at a “men’s” magazine that sported the title, Ribald. Malcolm, incidentally, had by then put in a couple of years doing sewing machine maintenance for a company that manufactured bras.
His older sister, Margaret, suggested something even more important than Angus’ trademark schoolboy uniform.
Most AC/DC fans know that it was the Young brothers’ sister, Margaret, who encouraged Angus to wear his schoolboy get-up on-stage. But fewer fans realize that it was also Margaret who christened her siblings’ band “AC/DC” after noticing the letters on a vacuum cleaner. According to biographer Susan Masino, Angus and Malcolm liked the fact that the letters denoted power and electricity.
He’s a closet fan of jazz great Louis Armstrong.
In a 1992 interview with Guitar magazine, Young hailed Louis Armstrong as “one of the greatest musicians of all time.” He went on to explain: “I went to see [Armstrong] perform when I was a kid, and that’s always stuck with me. It’s amazing to listen to his old records and hear the musicianship and emotion, especially when you consider that technology, in those days, was almost nonexistent. There was an aura about him.”
He regards solos as the easiest part of what he does.
Young once told Guitar Player that, while he couldn’t fill Malcolm’s shoes as a guitarist, Malcolm could likely fill his, at least with regard to solos. “That’s the easy part,” he said. “There’s no great thing in being a soloist. I think the hardest thing is to play together with a lot of people, and do that right. I mean, when four guys hit one note all at once – very few people can do that.”
He was “totally shocked” when Malcolm asked him to join the band.
“In the beginning, we never used to play together, even at home,” Angus told Guitar, in 1992. “Malcolm would be in one room with his tape recorder putting tunes together, and I would be in the other room pretending I was Jimi Hendrix. When I’d walk in to see what he was up to, he’d go, ‘Get out!’ I was amazed when he asked me to come down to a rehearsal and play.”
His riffs helped oust former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega from power.
In 1989, American government officials bombarded Manuel Noriega’s embassy refuge in Panama with “Hells Bells,” “Highway to Hell” and other choice riff-rockers. The tactic worked so well with Noriega, who was known to be an opera lover, that it’s since been employed by U.S. officials in other similar situations.
He’s always been a teetotaler.
Bon Scott was known for his prodigious consumption of alcohol. Through the years, Malcolm Young has imbibed his share of booze as well. Not so with Angus. “Angus was always drinking a big glass of chocolate milk or coffee,” Nantucket guitarist Tommy Redd once recalled, years after touring with AC/DC. “Malcolm, however, used to walk around with Jack Daniels in a bottle that was as big as he was.”
One of his closest friends during the making of the Back in Black album was … ELP’s Keith Emerson.
In the wake of Bon Scott’s death, AC/DC traveled to the Bahamas to recover from the shock, and to record Back in Black. Especially therapeutic were the afternoons when Emerson, Lake and Palmer keyboardist Keith Emerson, who lived in Nassau at the time, took Angus and the other band members out on his fishing boat. “I think it was great excitement for them, and kind of introduced them to my way of the Bahamian life,” Emerson later said. “I think they grew to like it and it [helped them] settle into recording.”
He expects he’ll still be wearing his schoolboy outfit on-stage well into his 60s.
When asked by Guitar if he would still be donning his trademark “get-up” at age 64, Angus described his attire as distinguished and “classic.” “Have you seen what some of the younger [artists] are wearing nowadays?” he asked. “They look like they’ve stolen their mothers’ skirts! If that’s fashionable, then you could say I’ve maintained a distinctively classic look.”