“Here today gone, later today.”
Dave Lee Roth
There are so many reports swirling about AC/DC nowadays. For example, some say that former G ‘n R frontman Axl Rose is AC/DC’s new frontman, or at least he will be for the remaining 10 shows that have to be rescheduled on the current tour following a leave of absence by long time frontman Brian Johnson. (Johnson’s leave of absence stems from a warning from doctors that continued touring will lead to Johnson allegedly going deaf). Then there is the debacle with comedian Jim Breuer (a friend of Johnson) where Breuer remarked that Johnson had felt “kicked to the curb” after it was announced that Johnson was told by doctors not to tour anymore and the band reacted by choosing to immediately replace him. (Breuer would later retract that statement essentially saying that those were not not Johnson’s words and that they were exaggerated). Regardless of whether Johnson really remarked what Breuer had originally claimed or not many news sources–even Newsweek–picked up the story and ran with it.
Despite all the innuendo and confusion one thing seems for sure; Brian Johnson’s stint with the band is done. This is disturbing if you consider what Johnson did for the group from day one. Consider these facts.
Bon Scott–AC/DC’s one a kind frontman–died 36 years ago on February 19, 1980. At that time many wondered how AC/DC would continue without Scott who sported one of the most unique voices in rock. Scott’s personality also oozed “mischief” which then fit AC/DC’s M.O. like a glove. Therefore, all eyes were on the group to do something after Scott suddenly died. To say that the frontman following Scott was under real pressure is an understatement; virtually everyone in music at that time was anxious to hear what the “new guy” would sound like.
Enter Brian Johnson. Johnson was announced as the band’s new lead singer on April 8, 1980, just weeks following Scott’s death. The band then began to immediately record Back In Black under sometimes difficult conditions in Nassau, Bahamas. The record took 7 weeks to record and it was released on July 25, 1980. However, here’s what makes that timetable so impressive.
Back In Black sported 3 major singles; You Shook Me All Night Long (perhaps the band’s most well known song); Hells Bells; and, Back In Black. The album also wound up selling 50 million copies worldwide and in the end, it is 6th on the list of all time albums selling in the U.S. behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-75), Led Zeppelin IV, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and, Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Vols. I & II. As far as Australian bands, it is the greatest selling album of all time.
Beyond the facts and figures and sales records, Johnson was also brilliant from the start in terms of how he handled the situation. Johnson made no effort to mimic Scott or sound or look like him. In fact, Johnson was the antithesis–in many ways–to Scott. Indeed, Johnson brought his own unique voice. So, to not only follow Scott but also follow him with an album like Back In Black is nothing short of astonishing. Add to that decades of great records, sold out tours, and an entree into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Not too shabby.
Fast forward to 2016 and exit Brian Johnson; suddenly and without much warning. Regardless of what really happened or what medical advice Johnson really got, did he have to go so soon? Was salvaging this tour or any tour really worth losing Johnson over? Doesn’t the last 36 years starting with Back In Black mean anything? Couldn’t something have been worked out?
We may never know what really happened. It would be nice to find out directly from the source and not third parties as well. Nevertheless, it appears relatively clear that Johnson is out and since neither Johnson nor the band has appeared together to make an amicable announcement, it can be reasonably presumed that these parties are not on the same page. That’s sad, really sad, and it’s even sadder that 36 years of working together hasn’t held the line.
It’s not often that a second lead singer comes along in an already very popular band and he builds a body of work that is arguably as good or even better than the body of work that was developed under the first frontman. And, that is not a knock on Scott at all. Instead, the point is that Johnson was brilliant in his own way. Although music is subjective, imagine a lead singer following Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin and succeeding as much if not more than Plant? In the case of Journey, yes, other frontmen followed Steve Perry but they were never able to achieve the same original success as Perry; indeed, their stint has been singing Perry’s tunes.
Here’s the point. Yes, music is a business. But, after a certain point–where you have toured for decades, sold millions of records and even been inducted to the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame–does the “show must go on” mantra still apply or should a band make exceptions–in terms of moving forward–for band members in need? Hasn’t the group proven enough? What difference does one more mega tour make? Should a 36 year long member be cast aside because he can’t finish a tour or even embark on another one? Maybe we will never know the whole story but would the AC/DC legacy or body of work have been tarnished at all had the band taken some time to work this situation out even if it meant just giving Johnson time to leave on his own terms?
We would like to think that there is some modicum of loyalty left in the music business. This whole experience with AC/DC, however, makes us wonder. Musicians need to remember that our industry is only as good as we make it. We can’t look to outside sources or technology to infuse things like loyalty into the business; that has to come from us, from within. The sooner we learn that, the better and for those who are about to act like that, we salute you.
Ken “K Bo” Biedzynski, Editor