From the Archive: AC/DC's Angus Young Discusses Bon Scott and the 'Bonfire' Box Set
From 1998: AC/DC's Angus Young discusses the late Bon Scott and the 'Bonfire' box set.
Was everything recorded essentially live, with all the instruments in the same room?
Yeah, everything was around you. For separation, you threw a bit of carpet over the amps. Over the years we worked there, we had figured out where the mikes should be, and barely any fiddling needed to be done.
Bonfire shows the great contrast between the sound that the band had when you were working with the production team of Harry Vanda and George Young, and the more polished results you achieved with Mutt Lange. Why was the decision made to move away from the Vanda/Young team, which had produced such good results?
To Harry and George, AC/DC was their baby. They worked with us from the beginning and showed us everything. But when we started touring around the world and gaining a foothold in different markets, the powers-that-be began to get more involved, and suggested that we try someone else. At the time George said, "Look, these guys want to try someone else. And for you, it's good. You'll gain experience."
The label hooked us up with all these hotshot producers, and all these guys would do is walk in a room and say, "Put some fuckin' echo on here and echo on the guitar and reverb on the drums…" And we were like, "That's it? That's your idea of production?"
Wasn't Eddie Kramer [Kiss, Jimi Hendrix] one of the producers you were "introduced" to?
Eddie seemed to know what he wanted from a sound point of view, but I think that, on the music side, he lacked input. He also really doubted what we were about. He used to point at Bon and ask, "Can that guy sing?" 'Cause there would be Bon, barely able to talk, let alone walk, huddled in some alcove with a girl he had picked up hitchhiking that day! We'd say, "Don't worry, he can fucking sing, man." And then he thought I was a fool, just there for a bit of image enhancement.
We wanted someone more in tune with what the band was, and we wanted someone who actually had ideas about the music. When Mutt heard the music, he said, "I can do this justice. I can do you guys justice." That's why we went with him, because he said the right things. We wanted someone who was still hungry, who wasn't "Mr. Professional" who had been doing the gig so long that he was on automatic.
It's true that, at the time, Mutt was not the super-producer he went on to become.
No, he wasn't. He had had a bit of success with a few things on the pop side, but he was a bit green when it came to the rock thing. Every now and then he would get a bit poppy, and we would say, "Fuck that. We didn't come half way around the world to be in a teenybopper band." We were never a band that girls really fucking screamed at, anyway! We were always conscious not to fall into that trap.
Your solos on the records you did with Mutt [Highway to Hell, Back in Black, For Those About to Rock] are more structured and, above all else, shorter than those on your earlier records. Did you initially feel resentful of Mutt for putting restraints on you?
Not really, as I understood what his objective was. I can compare it to when Malcolm or George would sit with me and we would do solos: I would tell George, "I'll work out a bit for these sections," and George would go, "No, just go. Fuck the bum notes if it's cookin.'" George was looking for energy, for the nice surprise. With Mutt, the operative was more to put it into a structure and keep it neat, so he'd keep going at you until it was right.
Sometimes, though, it was a useless exercise. He'd run off a few tracks with different ideas, and then he would come to you and say, "Well, what were you playing in the beginning? Let's go back to that." [laughs]
There were times where we would simply put a stop to it and say, " It's simply not us, Mutt.
We've got to keep it raw and dirtier for us to get what we want on the tape ." He was good in that sense. If you weren't happy with what you were hearing back, he would work with you. Mutt was never dictatorial. But as a band, we had a very strong idea of what we wanted to walk away with at the end of the day, and we wouldn't settle for anything else. And even today, if Malcolm is standing there -- because he works with me all the time -- if he goes, "Yeah," that matters more to me than the opinion of the guy who may have produced 20 Platinum albums.
Just before AC/DC and Mutt were to enter the studio to record Back in Black, Bon died. How was the decision to replace him and keep the band going made?
At first, we just put a block on the phones so that we didn't get managers ringing up and people saying, "What's going on? What are you doing?"
Finally, we got together with the guy who was managing us then, and he said, "Well, what do you want to do? Do you want to continue on or do you want to call it quits?" We said, "Well, we've written these songs. We should at least try with them." And from that decision came the need for a singer, because none of us sing -- maybe a backing vocal or a grunt, but no more than that. The only thing we didn't want was somebody who was going to clone Bon, because that couldn't be done.
What was it about Brian that got him the gig?
Well, first of all, he didn't walk through the door with any airs about him, and he seemed like somebody who would get along as a band member. We didn't even know that he was there to audition. He was sitting around, playing pool with a couple of our friends, thinking that they were waiting around to audition as well. Finally, Mal said, "What are you doing here?" because there were other bands rehearsing in the building. And he said, "I came down to audition for a singing gig." He came, sang a couple of our songs that he'd been playing in cover bands, and had a damn good crack at them.
In many ways, Bon sounded nastier and more sinister than Brian does. Do you think that Back in Black would have been as successful as it was if Bon had sung on it?
I think so. It might have been a little different with Bon, but basically, the music had been finished before he died. The bulk of the tracks were the same.
Are you working on another studio album?
Yes, Malcolm and I have been writing since we came off the road about a year ago -- strumming away, as usual.
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