This week’s Guitar God is pocket rocket Scottish-Australian icon Angus Young, still going strong in the studio and on the road at age 60.
Everyone’s favourite duck-walking, overgrown schoolboy is best known as the sensational shredder of Australian mega hard rockers AC/DC.
Famous albums include High Voltage, T.N.T, Back in Black, Highway to Hell, Dirt Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Let There Be Rock, Black Ice, and the list goes on and on and on. With 17 studio albums to their name and a diehard following around the world, Acca Dacca are still one of the biggest rock bands in the world, and they started right here in Australia.
Born in Glasgow and the youngest of eight children, Angus and his family immigrated to Sydney, Australia in 1963. His first guitar (a Gibson SG) was bought second-hand in 1970 from a music shop down the road, and thus, a legend was born.
Along with his older brother George Young (rhythm guitarist of The Easybeats and one half of the successful songwriting duo Vanda & Young), Angus was quick to form a band. He was 18 when he and his older brother Malcolm Young formed AC/DC in 1973. ‘Can I Sit Next To You Girl’ was their first single, and was re-recorded with Bon Scott as their finalised vocalist.
After Scott’s untimely death in 1980, fellow screechy singer Brian Johnson took over as frontman. The band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2003, had a Melbourne lane named after them the following year, were picked to headline Coachella this year, and the rest, as they say, is (rock n roll) history.
Angus has always played and preferred the Gibson SG, which first appealed to him due to its light-weight (important because he is only about 5′ 2″ tall) and simplistic playability.
He has used SG’s in various forms (his original, and the basis for his current signature model, was a 1968 – ’70 SG Standard) throughout his career. He also used a modified version of the SG called the Jaydee SG, for a brief time too.
In the early years, Angus’ SG was a bright red model with a dark neck. These days, he tends to play a deep burgundy bodied version with signature lightning bolt inlays on the fretboard.
He is also a user of Ernie Ball Super Slinky strings and Marshall amplifiers.
Young’s playing style is influenced by straight blues playing in both the minor and major pentatonic twelve bar blues-type progressions. In AC/DC’s catalogue, power chords between hard rock solos are prominent.
He also utilises touches of Scottish folk in his playing, and pull-off arpeggios are a popular trick, appearing in songs such as ‘Who Made Who’, ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ and ‘Let There Be Rock’ (live).
A common criticism of AC/DC is that their songs are excessively simple and formulaic. In reply, Young stated in an interview: “It’s just rock and roll. A lot of times we get criticised for it. A lot of music papers come out with: ‘When are they going to stop playing these three chords?’ If you believe you shouldn’t play just three chords it’s pretty silly on their part. To us, the simpler a song is, the better, ’cause it’s more in line with what the person on the street is.”
AC/DC have many head-banging moments in their rock repertoire. To nut it down to riffs and solos, there are some stand-outs.
‘Let There Be Rock’ has great repetitive licks, ‘For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)’ is satisfying with its deep bends and clean chords, and the howling extended notes of ‘T.N.T.’ paired with the chant “Oi! Oi! Oi!” is equally fun. The bluesy riff of ‘Highway to Hell’ is a fan favourite, ‘Thunderstruck’ is a jaw-dropping series of arpeggiated opening notes (which I’m proud to say, I can play), and ‘Back in Black’ has an instantly recognisable riff as does ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top’ and some new ones like ‘Play Ball’ and ‘Rock or Bust’ also have nice little lick-laden intros.
Luckily for us, AC/DC have many good quality DVDs to document their active years.
Family Jewels is a compilation DVD and features the group’s music videos, live clips and promotional videos from the years 1975 to 1991. Live at Donington was released in 1991 and depicted their third performance at the Monsters of Rock festival in England. Live at River Plate (2011) documented 3 shows from the band’s 2009 Black Ice world tour in Buenos Aires. And this year, the ABC broadcast the new music documentary Blood + Thunder: The Sound of Alberts, following the musicians (most notably, The Young’s) who kick-started Albert Productions in Australia in the 60s and 70s.
Below is bombastic 1991 live music clip for ‘Thunderstruck’. Clock Angus’s fingers working overtime in the intro – just amazing: