You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy™
It’s the anthem of my youth.
It’s the hard driving rock and roll sermon that spoke to my soul and slapped my brain into unpredictable actions.
AC/DC was keg parties in the cove, a car race down Carmel Valley Road, a girl slapping me in the face.
AC/DC was the pregame smelling salts that ignited my competitive adrenaline before hitting the athletic field.
AC/DC was the sound track to high speed recklessness and wild stories that make me wince now that I think about them.
I don’t remember when I first heard any other band.
But I know exactly where I was when I first heard AC/DC.
I was in the back of Richie Winzlic’s Honda. I was 16 years old. It was 1979 and we were just hanging out. As I recall we were parked at the bottom of Ocean Avenue in Carmel, California.
There was a single street light illuminating the parking lot. Somewhere down the sand dune, in the dark of night, the Pacific pounded the beach.
I was a sophomore in High School and I was goofy like most teenagers.
“Have you ever heard AC/DC?” Richie said pushing a cassette into his new stereo.
I heard a scratch and the sound of a tape loading in the woofers he recently installed in the back seat behind my head.
Suddenly my head was hit with a musical mallet that crushed my ear drums, pushed my hair straight back and melted my auditory canal.
The sonic insanity of Angus banging his 6 string was a baseball bat to my skull.
I saw stars and I saw the light.
This is the moment I went from AM Radio to something more dangerous.
“I’m on a Highway to Hell,” Just spoke to me.
Bon Scott’s voice was broken glass, mixed with cigar smoke.
“Who are these guys?,” I shouted over the cacophony of thunder in the back seat.
And from that moment, I began a life long love affair with a band that would be the sound track of my life.
“No stop signs. Speed limits.”
The lyrics are simple but meaningful. The music is a wave that swells slowly, then crashes across the spectrum of your experience with a rhythmic ferocity.
I would immediately go out and buy the album.
HIGHWAY TO HELL.
I listened to it over and over and over.
I had the bug. I needed more.
Who were these wild men from Australia?
What else did they play?
There was no music on demand.
I went to the Recycled Record store in Cannery Row.
I went to the A bin and thumbed through Asia, Aerosmith. In the middle of this treasure trove of musical history, was AC/DC.
I retrograded back through the band’s discology paying as little as $2.00 for an entire album.
1975 HIGH VOLTAGE
1976 DIRTY DEEDS
1977 LET THERE BE ROCK
1978 POWERAGE was and is my all time favorite album.
Bon Scott sang with a playfulness that was infectious and fun. Angus wore a school boy outfit and skipped like Chuck Berry across the stage. Malcolm was a sea creature with long flailing hair that danced to the rhythm of his guitar. There was Cliff Williams on Bass and Phil Rudd banging the skins.
AC/DC was my anthem.
Walk All Over You. Do anything you want me to.
I probably listened to AC/DC every day after that introduction to Highway to Hell.
Life was good. Life was loud. All things were ahead of me.
And then came the news that rocked us.
Lead Singer Bon Scott had died.
February 19, 1980, Bon Scott, the flamboyant, hard partying, screeching frontman was dead. He was drinking booze and choked on his own vomit. At 33 years of age, with the band on the verge of greatness, one of the most engaging lead singers in Rock was dead.
I was working at KSPB radio at the time.
We were a 15 watt radio station. Rocking the Forest was our slogan.
We didn’t have much of a format. I came on after a kid from Korea. There was no transition between his show and my show.
It was simply fade down something Korean, and then pot up something screeching and obnoxious.
Choking on your own vomit.
What an ugly, inauspicious way to die. He was only 33 years old.
There was no internet back then. There were no iphones or apps or 24 hour news.
What we learned about the death, and the possible rebirth of the band was almost all word of mouth. Kid to kid. What was true. What was just bullshit?
Nobody knew anything.
ARE THEY DONE?
ARE THEY LOOKING FOR A NEW SINGER?
HOW CAN THEY REPLACE BON SCOTT?
It was 1980. It was my senior year. I was in the radio station with the station manager, Chris Lord.
“Look,” he shouted with enthusiasm.
The record company had just sent us the new AC/DC album.
BACK IN BLACK.
We looked at each other as we pulled the vinyl out of the dark sheath.
We put the record on the turn table and poised the needle over the first track on side one.
I turned up the control room volume and I signaled for Lord to drop the needle on the spinning disc.
The needle scratched that anticipatory crackle.
Then there was a gong. Then another Gong. Then another.
It was haunting. It was alluring. It was menacing.
I felt the hair on the back of neck stand up.
I watched the vinyl spin around as the sounds grew in ferocity.
The guitar was simple and rhythmic. Pure Malcolm.
Then Phil Rudd on the drums, crashing symbols joined the fray.
It was pleasurable, teasing.
And then the soul picking styles of Angus joined the haunting refrain.
As the anticipation grew, as the needle cut deeper and deeper into the record, still no vocal.
It was a brilliant way to introduce the man who would replace a legend.
BRIAN JOHNSON? WHO IS BRIAN JOHNSON?
Another rotation of the disc and we would find out.
His voice was raspy and throaty like a rancid sandwich of rat poison.
He was like Bon Scott, but also completely different.
I didn’t know what he looked like yet, but his vocals were so powerful, almost to the point of combustion.
How could someone hit that note with so much anger, so much power without their neck blowing a blood vessel.
My eyes were wide open.
I looked up at Chris Lord. He smiled a wild child smile.
We knew that our dream was real.
AC/DC had not vanished into the musical abyss. They had suddenly risen, a rat a tat machine gun blast of exhilaration.
I know I smiled back. Wow is all my brain could muster.
Lord picked up the needle and dropped it on the second track. Shoot to thrill.
It was pure rock and roll magic.
It was old school AC/DC but somehow more crisp, more focused.
Then we flipped the album and Back in Black exploded from the over head speakers in the tiny studio.
It was like a dumpster load of greatness being poured over our heads.
The song was catchy and poignant. We both immediately realized this song was the band’s power chord homage to lead singer to Bon Scott.
Electricity. Noise. Thunder. It was like a tomb opening and something diabolical emerging from the spinning disc before our eyes.
BACK IN BLACK. I HIT THE SACK. BET YOU KNOW I’M GLAD TO BE BACK.
I GOT 9 LIVES. CAT’S EYES. USING EVERY ONE OF THEM AND RUNNING WILD.
One track at at time. We listened for a moment, smiled, and then placed the needle on the next track.
It was like driving a Ferrarri as fast as possible on a road with no other cars.
It was pure speed, pure amazement, pure adrenaline.
I knew I was listening to something masterful.
When Bon Scott died, I was sad. I felt like I lost someone important to me.
When I saw that album show up in the studio, I wanted it to be great. I wanted AC/DC to rise from the ashes of Bon Scott’s death.
And as this album spun around in the control booth of KSPB in 1980, I knew that the band had just saluted their old mate, and launched themselves into a meteoric orbit around greatness.
It’s been 40 years since this album went on to be one of the most celebrated albums in the history of mankind.
40 years from that moment when Richie Winslick first introduced me to the booming sounds of a group that would take me to places that I had never been.
And then out of nowhere, in 2019, I catch a rockumentary about BACK IN BLACK.
The film makers talk to producers who worked in the Bahamas making Back in Black. They talk about the process and nuances of grueling through a 10 song masterpiece. They interview rock historians who talk about the album as something that deserves to be enshrined. They talk to musicians about the band and the album and how certain chords are used to make a sound that is inventive and unique to the band.
They go through the album track by track dissecting the vocals, the producing by Mutt Lange, the unspoken musical bond between the Young Brothers, Malcom on rhythm guitar and Angus on lead.
The rocumentary brought me back to that day in 1980 when I first heard Back in Black.
One of the historians described how he listened to the album for the 1st time. As if he was reading from my script, he talked about laying the stylus down in the groove of each track and hearing something extraordinary.
They described the album as “Brute Power.”
They said Brian Johnson’s vocals on Shake a Leg were actually dangerous to his vocal health.
“We watched the veins on the side of his neck pulse,” the engineer smiled during the rocumentary.
It’s Sonic Majesty, one of the men says.
AC/DC has never produced an album with the overall greatness of Back in Black. It was the band’s trip to the rock and roll mountain top.
They touched the hands of the Rock and Roll Gods and created an album that continues to draw in new generations who can’t help but hear these timeless songs on Classic Rock Radio.
For many AC/DC is just music.
For me, AC/DC is the sound track of my youth. It’s driving too fast and caring too little and acting irresponsibly. It’s musically infused insanity that opened a door into a time that forged much of who I am, even today.
Life’s Crazy ™