Why Brian Johnson almost turned down AC/DC

Brian Johnson

Following Bon Scott’s death, AC/DC faced an impossibly difficult task. Even though they were already on their way to becoming one of the most dangerous bands to play live, their mouthpiece went silent when Scott was discovered dead in a car in 1980 from severe alcohol poisoning. Once Brian Johnson entered the picture, life after death became possible. However, when he initially received the call, he wasn’t sure he had what it took to succeed Scott.

Johnson wasn’t exactly replacing some random pinup star, even though he could light up a stage when he wanted to. Although the Young Brothers wrote all of the songs, Scott took everything and transformed it into blazing hard rock, serving as the glue that held it all together. He gives songs like “TNT” and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” an enormous amount of impact.

Not that Brian Johnson couldn’t sing those songs; it was just that they weren’t in the same comfortable range as his typical material. Johnson arrives through sheer intensity, fusing the sound of a rabid rottweiler with all the elements of rock and roll. Scott, on the other hand, exudes charisma from the minute he opens his mouth.

Bon Scott himself had indirectly recommended Newcastle native Johnson to the Aussie group. Even though Scott had seen Johnson the night his appendix burst, he came in one day raving about his ability to sing in his old band, Geordie, while the group was working on their next records.

Johnson told Louder that he wouldn’t have taken the audition if it hadn’t been for a chance vacuum cleaner commercial. “I wasn’t gonna do it, but a friend of mine, Andre, phoned us. He said: ‘Brian, I have an advert I think would suit you fine,” Johnson said. The amount is £350. That sum of money was quite large. Hoover did a proper job at it. And I thought, hang on, I could probably go down and do the AC/DC thing on the same day. I just thought, I hope I get this ad thing.”

Even though it’s funnier than anything else to hear Johnson sing about the benefits of keeping your hardwood floors and carpets in good condition, when he sat down with the rest of the band, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. At least he was getting along well with everyone, but he still needed to be tested.

Johnson recalled that the recording of songs like “Back in Black” and “Hells Bells” pushed him to the utmost. Sometimes he believed that AC/DC would abandon the entire project once they discovered a suitable vocalist. But as soon as the first mixes arrived, everyone could stop worrying.

Johnson sounded like the ideal frontman for rock and roll. He also had the opportunity to pay tribute to the man he replaced by making a song like “Hells Bells” an enduring hit. This song was in memory of the frontman who passed away. Johnson may not be giving himself enough credit for the influence he had on the band. In terms of AC/DC’s success later on, no one would have objected if the band had quit after Highway to Hell.

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