Called to recharge AC/DC, Brian Johnson found the switch! PHONE INTERVIEW


(NOTE FROM MR. MEDIA: I recorded this interview with AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson on November 26, 1983 for a St. Petersburg Times print interview [published December 4, 1983] when I was the pop music writer for the newspaper. You can read the story below; the conversation itself is not my best work, although maybe it was for 1983 when I was a year out of college. (I could also blame a painful sore throat.) But the future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee was a prince through it all, and even through the less-than-optimal recording quality, I think that still comes across. Stick around – the first music my son, Charlie, ever heard was “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC as we drove home from the hospital! No kidding. — Bob Andelman)

Flick of the Switch (Vinyl) by AC/DC, Brian Johnson, Mr. Media Interviews
Flick of the Switch (Vinyl) by AC/DC. Order it on vinyl by clicking on the album cover above now!

Brian Johnson faced more than the usual challenges when he joined the rock band AC/DC: He was the replacement for singer Bon Scott who had died in an accident.

Since so much of a group’s image and sound comes from its singer, Johnson was on the spot.

The surviving members of the band called Johnson one night in 1980. He was an obvious choice for at least an audition because Scott had himself admired the singer’s voice.

“It was one of them things,” Johnson recalled last week in an interview before AC/DC’s concert in Lakeland Nov. 26. “A million to one chance.”

BRIAN JOHNSON podcast excerpt: “I came from a big family and couldn’t afford to buy a kit of drums or a guitar. It was cheaper to buy a microphone.”

His longtime band Geordie, which had attained a measure of fame in Britain, had broken up and he was playing around his hometown of Newcastle in semi-professional bands.

“That was one of the lucky circumstances which led to me getting the gig. Bon’s band had supported Geordie about seven years before. He’d told the guys something about me and it was one of the things they remembered. That’s why they tried to track me down,” Johnson said.

Performing on stage for the first time with AC/ DC was a nerve-jangling experience. It was in a small Belgium nightclub, Johnson recalled: “Me heart was racin’, me pulse and adrenaline was goin’; it was probably the same feeling you get for a moon shot. I was terrified.”

Much faster than anyone might have hoped, the audiences took a liking to Johnson.

“I was really lucky. They held up banners that said ‘Good luck, Brian.'”

Back In Black, the first album featuring Johnson, was a smashing success. For Those About To Rock We Salute You went even further, re-establishing AC/DC as a leader in heavy-metal rock.

Johnson’s vocal talents have been described by critics as howls, screams – everything but singing. He agrees. “I always think of myself as another instrument in the band.”

BRIAN JOHNSON podcast excerpt: “Joining AC/DC was one of them things. A million to one chance.”

The first time Johnson sang was as a member of his church choir at the age of 11. He was on his way to making a career of it by 15.

Let There Be Rock by AC/DC, DVD, Mr. Media Interviews
Let There Be Rock by AC/DC. Order the Blu-Ray Limited Collector’s Edition by clicking on the above DVD now!

“All the guys wanted to start bands. I came from a big family and couldn’t afford to buy a kit of drums or a guitar. It was cheaper to buy a microphone.”

Economics forced the choice of career, Johnson laughed.

Parents of today’s teens worry needlessly about the effect of raucous groups like AC/DC on their offspring, according to Johnson.

“Some of the parents are worse than the kids, kicking up a stink in the first place, concerned about something that’s not really important. The same thing used to happen when Elvis Presley toured. It’s just the kids’ way of letting loose. The first thing they should do in America is worry about stopping the kids taking drugs. Rock ‘n’ roll has got nothing to do with it. You’ve got a real bad drug scene here.”

Flick of the Switch, AC/DC’s new record, takes its name from “how a really gorgeous woman can turn somebody on. Where the switch is, you’ve got to find out,” Johnson said. The band is performing three songs from Flick on its current tour and rather than cutting back older material to accommodate the new, Johnson said AC/DC is extending its set to nearly two hours a night.

“We’ve got to. You don’t know what to pick. There’s always somebody who’s got a favorite song and it’s getting harder and harder to leave them out,” he said.

Key interview moments:

• 3:00 Brian Johnson, who considers his voice one of the instruments in the band rather than declaring himself a singer, explains why he took up singing in the first place;

• 10:15 What did it feel like the first time he took the stage (in Belgium) to front the already legendary AC/DC?;

• 19:50 Johnson explains the reasoning behind the rock anthem “{For Those About to Rock We Salute You.”

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Kicking Through the Ashes by Ritch Shydner, Mr. Media Interviews
Kicking Through the Ashes: My Life As A Stand-up in the 1980s Comedy Boom by Ritch Shydner. Order your copy today by clicking on the book cover above!

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