Malcolm Young: AC/DC’s god of thunder

It was with some incredulity I read news that Malcolm Young, founding member of AC/DC, was battling ill health.

Rumours began circulating on Monday about Malcolm’s health, with speculation he was suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

I suppose that’s the stage of life I’m entering – when the rock stars I grew up with are living longer than 27 and battling real-life problems like dicky hips and degenerative neurological conditions.

Sure you could imagine his brother Angus coming to some grief, falling off the stage during one of his manic solos, or Brian Johnson crashing one of his racing cars. But Mal?

Malcolm is the pulse, the heartbeat, the guy who stands beside the drummer and lays down the groove with no frills but gallons of feel.

As far as rock and roll rhythm guitarists go, Malcolm Young is Zeus and the thunder gets delivered by a 1963 Gretsch Firebird, with strings like train tracks, and a 100-watt Marshall head.

To borrow a line from Mark Knopfler, Mal isn’t interested in making it cry or sing, but rather making it stomp.

Angus, whose screaming pentatonic solos and schoolboy schtick garnered the headlines, is aware that in playing alongside Malcolm he is standing in front of a special talent.

“Sometimes I look at Malcolm while he’s playing, and I’m completely awestruck by the sheer power of it,” Angus said in an interview with Guitar World magazine.

“Mal’s the band’s foundation. He’s rock solid and he pumps it along with the power of a machine.

“He doesn’t play like a machine, though. Everything he does grooves and he always seems to know exactly what to play and when to play it.”

It was Malcolm Young that inspired me, and millions of others, to first pick up a guitar – it was the main riff in Hells Bells, two bars of fearsome power in A-minor. That was it. Sold!

The great American guitarist Joe Satriani described listening to Jimi Hendrix for the first time and walking towards the stereo in a trance. My experience with Hells Bells was similar – only my head was bobbing up and down like a yoyo. By the time I’d listened through, and rewound the tape to listen again, I’d already subconsciously started growing my first mullet. My short back and sides died that day.

It was a ghetto blaster and a copy of Back in Black that Christmas, and a Samick Korean Stratocaster and practice amp the next.

It took me a few months before I was able to take the first tentative steps to playing some AC/DC, but Highway to Hell was a revelation.

My neighbours want to thank you, Mal.

Bad Boy Boogie, Overdose, Thunderstruck, Back in Black – Malcolm powered them all, with relentless precision, a master of the ancient rhythmic art of syncopation.

If Malcolm or AC/DC never play again, it won’t matter. The legacy of great riffs they leave behind will be more than any one band, or one man, deserves to be responsible for.

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