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AC/DC's Angus Young: Let There (Still) Be Rock

Neither legal woes nor health issues can stop the legendary Aussie headbangers; guitarist Angus Young, 59, talks about the band’s new album, ”Rock or Bust”, hanging with Keith Richards, and where he stores Hells Bell

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This is the first album without your brother, founding member Malcolm Young. How’s he doing?
His physical health at the moment is very good. It’s just the condition with dementia. But he’s happy. His family’s there supporting him, and he’s getting the best care he can get. It’s a no-win disease.

You guys recently celebrated 40 years as a band, so Rock or Bust feels like a fitting album title.
When we kicked off in the ’70s, mainstream music had kind of gone soft. I mean, there were still some bands making rock: Zeppelin, the Who, the Stones. But they had grown big, so you were hardly seeing them. So doing rock music again, it was a kind of go-for-broke attitude.

AC/DC actually played some shows with the Stones over the past few years. What do you talk about backstage?
We have a few jokes. Keith Richards just says [in Keef voice] ”Good morning” and it sounds funny. You know what I mean? You’re just lucky seeing him in the morning.

What do you recall about the band’s very first gig?
It was going into the New Year night, so the audience had pretty much wiped themselves out by about 9 p.m. We were fortunate because a lot of clubs at that time were going, ”Oh, yeah, give us that band! They’re good for beer sales.”

That’s probably still true.
The hardcore fans have grown up with us, and we’ve been very lucky. Over the years, the critics go, ”Huh, they never change.” I always thought, ”Well, what were we going to change into? A jazz band? A keyboard band?”

Your drummer, Phil Rudd, was recently embroiled in a murder-for-hire case, but the charge has been dropped. What’s going on there?
I can’t speak for him. I don’t know what got in his head…. We’ve had our own issues with him. Even when we went to do the album, it was pretty tough to get him there…. And you can’t twist people’s arms, you know? So we’ll go ahead. There will be a good drummer there. I’ll say that much.

There must have been other points where you thought the band might not go on.
You mean in our whole career? Probably around the death of Bon. [Frontman Bon Scott died of acute alcohol poisoning in 1980 at 33.] At the time, the best therapy for us was that we just kept writing songs. And we were fortunate we got a great singer in Brian Johnson.

Are all your crazy tour props in storage somewhere?
Yes. That real bell [used for ”Hells Bells”] is something, too. It’s a real brass bell. It can be scary, because you’ve got it hanging over you. A couple of times I nearly had a new hat.

One of your 1991 shows drew an estimated 1.6 million fans. Are you used to huge crowds by now?
Every show you still get butterflies. You’ve gotta show [your fans], ”I’ve got a few new tricks now. I’m not just a pretty face.” [Laughs]

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