Power behind AC/DC

Malcolm Young, a founding member of the Australian rock band AC/DC, has died, the band announced in a statement on Saturday.
Malcolm Young

Guitarist Malcolm Young, who founded AC/DC with his brother, Angus, churned out the driving rhythms and chords of their hits

MELBOURNE • Malcolm Young, a guitarist whose crashing chords provided the power source for AC/DC, an Australian family band that practically came to define rafter-shaking hard rock, died last Saturday. He was 64.

His death, of complications from dementia, was announced on the band's website. The location was not disclosed. Young retired from the band in 2014.

Often proclaimed as one of rock's greatest rhythm guitarists, Young founded AC/DC with his younger brother, Angus, in 1973.

They soon built a loyal following with their stripped-down sound of thundering guitars and drums, a throbbing bass line and screaming lyrics about hard living, lust and the spirit of rock-and-roll.

That formula made AC/DC one of the world's most popular bands, with great commercial success despite waiting until 2012 to release their music catalogue to iTunes.

AC/DC reportedly sold more than 200 million albums, with 1980's Back In Black accounting for almost a quarter of that total. Other hit albums included T.N.T (1975), Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976), Highway To Hell (1979), For Those About To Rock We Salute You (1981) and Stiff Upper Lip (2000). The group were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.

The band's basic sound was built on the twin guitars of the Young brothers, who were 20 and 18 when they formed AC/DC and played their debut show at a Sydney club on New Year's Eve.

I've never felt like a pop star - this is a nine-to-five sort of gig. It comes from working in the factories, that world. You don't forget it.


Despite rumours that AC/DC stood for "anti-Christ/Devil's Children" or for bisexuality, the band's name came from the electrical label on their sister's sewing machine.

Malcolm started out playing lead guitar, but he soon yielded the spotlight to Angus, whose schoolboy uniform - knickers, coat, tie and cap - became his signature stage costume.

While Angus hopped across the stage in a Chuck Berry-inspired duckwalk, playing heady guitar solos, Malcolm stayed in the background, churning out the driving rhythms and chords that formed the framework of such infectious hits as Hells Bells, You Shook Me All Night Long, Let There Be Rock and Thunderstruck.

The Young brothers wrote most of the band's songs, with help from singers Bon Scott (who died of alcohol poisoning in 1980) and Brian Johnson, who joined soon afterwards.

For years, critics dismissed AC/DC as unpolished and crude, and the band won just one Grammy Award, in 2009, long after its heyday.

But fans - and the band members themselves - did not care. "People say it's juvenile music, but pardon me - I thought rock 'n' roll was supposed to be juvenile," Angus said. "You sing what you know. What am I going to write about - Rembrandt?"

Last Saturday, musicians and fans shared their memories of Malcolm on social media. "I had some of the best times of my life with him on our 1984 European tour," guitarist Eddie Van Halen wrote on Twitter.

Musician Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Slash, horror writer Stephen King, Kiss bassist Gene Simmons and Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello also paid tribute to Young.

Malcolm Mitchell Young was born on Jan 6, 1953, in Glasgow, Scotland, one of eight children. The family moved to Sydney in 1963. His father was a gas fitter.

Several family members became musicians, including Malcolm's older brother George, who was a member of the Easybeats, which had a hit in 1966 with Friday On My Mind. George, who died last month, produced many of AC/DC's albums.

Malcolm left school at 15 and held factory jobs while trying to launch a musical career.

"I've never felt like a pop star - this is a nine-to-five sort of gig," he told Rolling Stone in 2008. "It comes from working in the factories, that world. You don't forget it."

He took a leave of absence from AC/DC in 1988 to overcome an alcohol problem. According to other bandmates, he never drank again.

By 2008, Angus began to notice his brother had difficulty remembering songs he had played for 30 years. Malcolm's last performance with the band was in 2010 in Bilbao, Spain.

At the time, he was having cognitive problems, but decided to keep performing during the tour, oftentimes having to relearn guitar parts that he had written, Rolling Stone reported. His nephew, Stevie Young, replaced him in 2014.

Malcolm had homes in London and Sydney. Survivors include his wife, O'Linda; two children, Cara and Ross; his brother Angus; a sister; and three grandchildren, according to a statement on the band's website.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2017, with the headline 'Power behind AC/DC'. Print Edition | Subscribe