AC/DC’s undying influence on Vancouver rockers, record-store owners, and radio personalities


By Steve Newton

The members of AC/DC aren’t doing any interviews in advance of their two shows at the Pacific Coliseum on Sunday and Monday (April 22 and 23), but that’s okay, because if they were, they’d probably just want to talk about their latest album, Stiff Upper Lip. And quite frankly, apart from a couple of tunes, it’s not worth talking about.

No, it’s the classics that I’d want to discuss—timeless blues-metal discs like PowerageHighway to Hell, and Back in Black, which were devoid of the filler common to recent AC/DC offerings. It’s the undying strength of albums like those that still allows AC/DC to sell out arenas and stadiums, even though they haven’t had a hit single in 10 years. And if Angus Young and Brian Johnson don’t want to get in on the chat, there are plenty of other rock ’n’ roll types who will.

Like Matthew Good. Good grew up with Back in Black, which he ranks among the world’s five most perfect rock albums. “Let’s just put it this way, man,” says the typically up-front musician. “As far as I’m concerned, Back in Black is just a benchmark rock album. I think that for anyone who kinda missed the glory of the ’60s and early ’70s—you know, that whole Almost Famous kind of magical kingdom of rock ’n’ roll—for them that album is the early ’80s. When Back in Black came out, it’s kind of like… You know those samples of Tide that used to be left on your door at home? Well, Back in Black kinda came in the mail, if you know what I mean. Everyone got one, whether they liked it or not.”

When asked to pick his favourite AC/DC song, Good tries to sneak a few in, then settles for “Have a Drink on Me”. Of course, that’s a Back in Black track. Another local rocker who has a warm place in his heart for AC/DC’s 1980 masterwork is Mike Kischnick, lead guitarist and main songwriter with local prog-metal act Empyria, who’ve been garnering quite a following in AC/DC strongholds like Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

“I just recall it from lotsa parties and the slags on Surrey,” he says with a laugh. “Every Surrey pit party had AC/DC’s Back in Black; somebody was playin’ that.” Kischnick’s fave AC/DC album is Back in Black’s 1981 follow-up, For Those About to Rock (We Salute You), which also includes his fave AC/DC tune, “Evil Walks”.

J.J. Caithcart, owner of the heavy-metal specialty shop Scrape Records, is another Back in Black fanatic, although his top AC/DC tune is the title track of For Those About to Rock. “I remember playin’ a lot of football in the summer when I was younger and we listened to For Those About to Rock a lot of the time. We’d have the big stereo speakers outside the window of the living room when we’re playin’ in the front yard. We used that as sort of the energy/adrenaline music to get us goin’.”

After talking to various musicians and music fans about AC/DC, I got the impression that they’re divided into two camps: those who loved the band best when Bon Scott was the singer—before he drank himself to death in February of 1980—and those who love Back in Black so much they don’t care that Brian Johnson took his place after Highway to Hell. Stormin’ Norman Casler, local blues harpist and host of the CFMI Sunday Blues show, is a Bon Scott kinda guy. His favourite AC/DC album is 1978’s Powerage, and his favourite track is 1977’s “Let There Be Rock”.

“All I know is AC/DC reminds me of high school in Trail,” he says, “and the good old water tower, which is where we used to go all the time with AC/DC 8-tracks and our six-packs, you know, skippin’ outta school.” Unlike most of those surveyed, Casler has never experienced AC/DC in concert, but he’s hell-bent on seeing them this Monday. “They are the epitome of a rock ’n’ roll band,” he declares. “They party, they get naked, and they like it loud.”

Devin Townsend—former singer-guitarist with Steve Vai and current leader of local hardcore act Strapping Young Lad—also favours the Bon Scott era, which coincided with his hormonal awakening. “The first time I ever saw a porno magazine,” he recalls, “was at my buddy’s house where we were paging through a dirty one in his bedroom, and we had Highway to Hell playing in the background.” Not surprisingly, Townsend points to the unsubtle “Sink the Pink” as the top AC/DC tune on his personal chart.

While AC/DC has never been thought of as a punk band, the group has won favour among punk rockers. At least, so says local writer and musician John Armstrong, who performed as Buck Cherry with early-’80s pop-punks the Modernettes. He says that several members of seminal Vancouver acts such as D.O.A. and the Subhumans—including Joey Keithley, Wimpy Roy, and Dimwit—were big on AC/DC. While Armstrong admits that he’s not really a fan himself, he’s impressed by the fact that the band, like Chuck Berry, could keep finding new ways to write the same song. And he knows a pretty funny AC/DC story, concerning an employee of now-defunct local concert promoter Perryscope.

“One of the guys got the job of goin’ out to buy jeans and socks for AC/DC,” he explains, “because they hadn’t done the laundry and they were just like, ‘Fuck it, just go buy some.’ So they write their sizes down, and he goes to the Bay or Eaton’s or somethin’, and he’s lookin’ around, and the salesman goes ‘Can I help you?’ and he says, ‘Yeah, yeah, I gotta get four pairs of Levi’s this size, and 15 pairs of white cotton socks this size.’ And the guy says, ‘Oh, you want the boys’ department.’ ”

AC/DC may not be the world’s biggest band in physical terms, but there’s no denying their extreme popularity, and their universal appeal to everyone from ditch diggers to best-selling horror authors. Stephen King has often sung the praises of the three-chord Aussie headbangers, and so has Canada’s own best-selling fear merchant, Vancouver author-lawyer Jay Clarke, who has penned eight “horror whodunits”—with various cowriters—under the pseudonym Michael Slade. He was inspired by the band while writing his 1992 novel, Cutthroat.

“When I was writing Cutthroat I got lost in the middle of the book,” he relates, “because the plot was so difficult to bring together. But I went to see an AC/DC concert, and I was so pumped and powered when I came outta that, that I sat down and wrote myself right through the problem and pushed on to the end of the novel.”

In the author’s note to Cutthroat there’s a dedication to the band that reads: “AC/DC, for a jolt when juice was low”. Over the past quarter-century, millions of others have had their batteries recharged by the high-voltage shenanigans of a pint-sized guitar demon in schoolboy duds. Here’s hoping the current AC/DC makes good on that legacy someday, and produces another album as solid and unforgettable as Back in Black.

I’d even arm-wrestle the scrappy Matt Good over a copy of that.

To hear the full audio of the only AC/DC interview I ever did, back in ’83 during the Flick of the Switch Tour, subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can also eavesdrop on over 200 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover of Deep Purple, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Roy Buchanan, 1988
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001

….with hundreds more to come

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