Malcolm Young—one of the greatest rock-and-roll rhythm guitarists of all time—died today at age 64. The AC/DC co-founder was diagnosed with dementia in 2014, when he was forced to retire from the band.
"Today it is with deep heartfelt sadness that AC/DC has to announce the passing of Malcolm Young," AC/DC wrote in a statement on their Facebook page.
"Malcolm, along with Angus, was the founder and creator of AC/DC. With enormous dedication and commitment he was the driving force behind the band. As a guitarist, songwriter and visionary he was a perfectionist and a unique man. He always stuck to his guns and did and said exactly what he wanted. He took great pride in all that he endeavored. His loyalty to the fans was unsurpassed."
Angus Young, Malcolm's younger brother, added: "As his brother, it is hard to express in words what he has meant to me during my life, the bond we had was unique and very special. He leaves behind an enormous legacy that will live on forever. Malcolm, job well done."
In a bonus statement, the band later added that Malcolm died peacefully with his family by his side. "Malcolm was a songwriter, guitarist, performer, producer and visionary who inspired many," it read. "From the outset, he knew what he wanted to achieve and, along with his younger brother, took to the world stage giving their all at every show. Nothing less would do for their fans."
Malcolm's skills as a guitarist—and his importance to AC/DC—have never been underestimated—at least not by the rest of the hard-rocking Australia-based band.
Throughout AC/DC’s 45-year history, Angus always wrote and recorded the band’s albums in close collaboration with Malcolm, whose monumentally solid rhythm guitar playing and gift for playfully dirty lyrical innuendo has been the band’s backbone. But when Malcolm fell victim to his debilitating condition a few years ago, Angus found himself alone at the helm of a band that has become a much revered rock and roll legend.
“Especially for guitars, Mal was always my best critic,” Angus told us in late 2014. “No matter what producer we worked with, I always looked to Mal at the end if I played a guitar solo or a little break here and there. And he was always the one to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’ ”
"People like Malcolm, Steve Cropper, Chuck Berry and Keith Richards—they're all doing something better than the rest of us," Angus told Guitar World about 15 years ago. "I can't deny that Eric Clapton's and Eddie Van Halen's lead stuff has influenced a stack of people, but for me it's the rhythm thing that's way more impressive and important to a band. Malcolm is a big inspiration to me; he keeps me on my feet.
"Even when I'm tired from running around the stage for two hours, I'll look back at what he's doing and it gives me that boot up the backside I sometimes need. [laughs] Also, he can always tell me if I'm playing well or if I'm not. Mal's a very tough critic, and I know that if I can please him, I can please the world.
"A lot of people say, "AC/DC—that's the band with the little guy who runs around in school shorts!" But I wouldn't be able to do what I do without Malcolm and the other guys pumping out the rhythm. They make me look good.
"Mal is really a great all-around guitarist. I know it says 'rhythm guitar' on the album jacket, but if he sits down to play a solo, he can do it better than me. Not a lot of people have picked up on this, but in the early days he used to play lead. But then he said to me, "No, you take the solos. I'll just bang away back here." And what's more, he actually plays rhythms. He just doesn't make a noise; he works them out, and he knows when not to play."
"Angus just always played lead," Malcolm told us in 2008. "He never bothered with chords—he just wanted to solo. And I used to sit there and figure out tunes—the chords and all. I was playing guitar ever since I was about four, strumming along to Elvis or whatever. And, of course, when the Beatles came out, I was around 10 or 12. So I was trying to learn their tunes, with the chords. Angus played at an early age as well, but by the time he got to 10 or 11, it was Hendrix and things like that. So he was already hearing the guitar in a different way.
"There’s no doubt that when Angus is playing lead, he’s got the sound. He had it all there. But he’d say, “Mal, you should play some leads as well.” But I just felt so uncomfortable with it, you know? So I said, “The band’s rockin’. Let’s just keep things as they are.” All we wanted was to make a noise, to be honest. And it was always when the guys just let go and started ripping it up that the excitement was created. So we just stuck to that…that’s where the band’s essence came out of."
For about Malcolm's guitar playing, check out AC/DC's Angus Young on the Rhythm Guitar Playing of Malcolm Young.