AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd's kill threat was just an 'angry phone call', says his lawyer

TAURANGA, NEW ZEALAND (AFP) - AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd on Tuesday made a surprise plea of guilty to a charge of threatening to kill, with his lawyer describing the veteran rocker's offence as "just an angry phone call".

Rudd had previously denied all allegations against him, but changed his plea on the first day of his trial at Tauranga District Court in New Zealand, also admitting two minor drug possession charges.

As a result, judge Robert Woolff adjourned the matter after just 10 minutes and extended Rudd's bail until a sentencing hearing on June 26.

While threatening to kill carries a potential jail term of seven years, Rudd's solicitor Craig Tuck said the 60-year-old would apply for a discharge without conviction.

"What we can see now is that this matter was essentially just an angry phone call that resulted in police getting a search warrant...that was it," he told reporters outside the court.

Rudd was arrested in November at his waterfront mansion in the North Island coastal town of Tauranga, with court documents revealing he was accused of threatening to kill a former employee.

He was allegedly upset about poor organisation at a function to launch his solo album Head Job in August, calling an associate four weeks later to say he wanted the ex-employee taken out, then phoning the man and threatening his life.

He allegedly offered the associate NZ$200,000 (S$206,000), "a motorbike, one of his cars or a house".

When the police raided Rudd's home, they found 0.478g of methamphetamine and 91g of cannabis, the documents said.

Rudd initially faced another charge of "attempting to procure murder", but it was dropped after prosecutors decided there was insufficient evidence.

A second charge of threatening to kill - relating to the ex-employee's daughter - was dropped on Tuesday.

Australian-born Rudd, who has lived in New Zealand since 1983, arrived at court in a luxury gullwing Mercedes and was dressed conservatively in a blue jacket and tie.

He said nothing to a waiting media throng, in contrast to previous appearances when he had dressed casually and made rude gestures to reporters.

His lawyers have previously said the dropped murder-for-hire charge caused "incalculable damage" to the drummer.

Asked on Tuesday how his client's reputation has suffered as a result of the case, Tuck replied: "We've got a team of lawyers looking at that right now."

Rudd first joined AC/DC in 1975 and left in 1983, only to return 11 years later.

He was part of the AC/DC line-up inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 and won a Grammy for best hard rock performance with the band for War Machine in 2010.

But the legal woes threaten to end his involvement with the hard rockers permanently, as a conviction would make it difficult for him to tour with the band.

Chris Slade - the band's drummer in the early 1990s - has replaced Rudd in recent appearances and is set to play on AC/DC's upcoming Rock Or Bust world tour.

It was the second major line-up change for AC/DC. Malcolm Young, the rhythm guitarist who founded the band with his brother Angus, was placed in a care facility late last year as he suffers dementia.