Grant Walmsley: Malcolm Young was the heart of AC/DC

Angus Young (left) holds a guitar as the casket of his brother AC/DC co-founder and guitarist Malcolm Young is carried to a hearse in Sydney on Tuesday. Picture: Dean Lewins
Angus Young (left) holds a guitar as the casket of his brother AC/DC co-founder and guitarist Malcolm Young is carried to a hearse in Sydney on Tuesday. Picture: Dean Lewins

WHEN I lived in Los Angeles, I heard a great story from guitarist Waddy Wachtel (backing musician for Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Everly Brothers, Jackson Browne, Keith Richards etc).  

On a tour bus once with Keith Richards and The X-Pensive Winos, he says, “Hey Keith you need to hear this”. Now you need to understand nobody tells Keith what he has to hear; it’s his play list … he’s the teacher.

But he allowed Waddy to put on an album that day. It was AC/DC’s Powerage. Imagine Keith Richards’ jaw hitting the ground? That’s right: “The King of Riffs”, “Keef Riffhard”, “The Human Riff’ was floored by this band from Australia.

More particularly, he was floored by the rhythm guitar of Malcolm Young.

And as ol’ Keef says, “the rhythm guitar is the lead guitar”. Take all else away and that role makes or breaks the song and the band. AC/DC was Malcolm Young as much, if not more than, younger brother and lead guitarist Angus. He achieved world domination, and then some, with his humble yet totally focused approach. His foundation of songs, riffs, groove and his unshakable belief in the absolute purity of what it takes to be a great band - not just a good band - cannot be overstated.

Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters performs in Mexico City on November 18 a giant image of Malcolm Young as the backdrop. Picture: Eduardo Verdugo

Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters performs in Mexico City on November 18 a giant image of Malcolm Young as the backdrop. Picture: Eduardo Verdugo

I saw the great man play many times. In Paris I saw Metallica open for Acca Dacca as they launched their mega-selling Black album with the single Enter Sandman.  More than 100,000 Parisians were in rock raptures! “How could anyone follow this?” I asked myself. But out came AC/DC and they wiped the stage with them. I’m sure Metallica’s James Hetfield learned a lot from Mal too, as another great “riffmeister”. Even if you don’t know it, if you are in a rock band with two guitarists, you are following the Malcolm Young model. Jump aboard the steam train locomotive and see you at the end. He was the master.

AC/DC was Malcolm Young as much, if not more than, younger brother and lead guitarist Angus.

There I am touring with Aussie super group Blood Sweat and Beers a few weeks ago and we finished a show with the AC/DC anthem Long Way to the Top.  Former AC/DC member Mark Evans is on my left playing the same bass as he did in that iconic video. Angry Anderson is up front, belting out a song that can only be delivered by someone who has lived this life (as we all have in this band).

We walk off stage and hear the news of Malcolm Young’s passing and we all stop. I can see Mark is rocked. He toured and lived as the AC/DC bassist through the 1970s, recording and touring some of the greatest rock moments in history. I feel so blessed to have got even that close to Malcolm’s legacy and greatness.

It was like how privileged we felt in the Screaming Jets when recording our first album demos at Albert Productions, the legendary label home of older brother and iconic hit-maker George Young, who found fame himself with The Easybeats before producing everyone from AC/DC to The Angels and John Paul Young to Ted Mulry.

George Young, at age 70, died on October 22. Malcolm, 64, joined him on November 18.  We all feel the heaviness when a true king of rock passes. Here, we lost two of the same blood in less than a month.  

Malcolm was the musical equivalent of the “last of the V8 interceptors”! It was so cruel to see such a giant of his craft taken down so horribly (he reportedly retired from the band to battle dementia). His death marks the beginning of the end of what has arguably been the greatest era in rock history.  

Make no mistake this man and his brothers achieved what mere mortals cannot. Up there with the Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, the greatest of the rock greats. Vision and a relentless dedication to develop such greatness is what Malcolm Young epitomised, and it’s why his music and legacy will live on. To hell with pop culture, reality TV and so-called instant stardom. Who will fill the void? A loop machine? Auto-tuned pop stars? Sequenced choreography? Pfft … yeah right … whatever … lol.

Let there be rock!