Interview - Angus Young's Rockin' Roots
Angus Young ain't Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, but there's a reason why a recent EBAY auction for a guitar lesson with him generated over $28,000. Young's playing is unmistakable - simple, edgy and tastefully blustery. And while numerous guitarists have copped his style, none have ever nailed it convincingly. Since he was actually a little boy in a school uniform, Young has cherished the legacy of great rock 'n' roll. He thrilled to the raucous sound of Chuck Berry, the hedonistic glamour of the Rolling Stones and the classic melodies of the Beatles and the Kinks. But rather than assimilate these influences directly into his own playing, he fed off their energy, using it to create his ragged, unmistakable sound. With his red Gibson SG and his schoolboy uniform providing equal parts of his rowdy image, Young has provided some of the most electrified guitar moments of the past 20 years. Guitar.com sat down the fidgety guitarist long enough time to talk about influences, originality, simplicity and that venerable SG.
Guitar.com: Who were your greatest guitar heroes?
Young: Keith Richards was a big one. The Stones made some great rock 'n' roll. But probably Chuck Berry was the biggest. I've seen all the emulators, and especially when I was growing up, all the bar bands you ever saw had a lot of guys trying to emulate what he did. But hell, only Chuck sounds like Chuck.
Guitar.com: You'd had a lot of emulators as well. Do you get mad when you hear people copping your riffs?
Young: Well, I don't really get into it that much. To me a guitar is a guitar. Probably someone would say that about me if they heard that about me. Well, I can assure them they're wrong (laughs.) I love Chuck. I love the way he created a signature sound. When he started a song, you knew straight away it was Berry. Richards with the Stones is the same. He's got some great opening parts. And I've always loved people like that. With blues, I love Elmore James' slide work.
Guitar.com: You're playing is very clever. It's simple and repetitive, but it never gets dull and you always keep the music spacious enough that you can solo without the songs sounding cluttered.
Young: I don't like a blur of notes. On Stiff Upper Lip, [Producer] George [Young] was great with me. I'd be playing a guitar, and he'd just point at me and say, "Right, you're on. Give me something with some flash." And then it's like, "C'mon, give us something right away that drives and pushes the song." If it's one note or 20 notes, it's gotta suit the song.
Guitar.com: On several songs on the new album you swell the volume, tweaking the knob as you play to give you a smooth, wavering sound. Is that something you tried to cultivate for this album?
Young: No, I just did what worked naturally. Sometimes you might want something that sounds freaky and a bit different, so you just try something. So, that's what I did.
Guitar.com: How old were you when you started playing?
Young: I was little, teeny. I would sort of dabble around five or six years old. That's when I started hearing Little Richard.
Guitar.com: You cultivated your style without every having a guitar lesson, right?
Young: Yeah, that's probably why I ended up getting my own thing happening. I knew I couldn't emulate other players. I've never been a note picker. I didn't have the patience to sit and listen to some of these guys that do-hickeyed about with it too much and were too fiddly. I always found they were into what they were doing and it was nice and stuff, but I always figured, hell, given a little bit of fingerwork, you could get something that was yourself and your own. And you could say, "Hey, at least it's me. It's not somebody copying something else note for note."
Guitar.com: So you never learned to play by playing along with the songs of your heroes.
Young: Nah, as I said, I love Chuck Berry, but I can't play like Chuck, so I just play how I think. And if it's a blues lick or something, I can only play it how I think of it. I just go for a good groove and try to come up with something that's my own thing.
Guitar.com: When did you discover the Gibson SG, which has become your trademark guitar?
Young: When I was about 15. I used to go in the guitar shop and hold the Les Pauls. They're big guitars, and then I saw the SG and I liked it because it was little. And I used to always pester the guy in the store to give it to me cheaper. And then he did one day. I think I paid $350 Australian for it.
Guitar.com: Was that your first guitar?
Young: No. Malcolm had given me a Hofner, which her got off my other brother George. I played about with that for a while, and then I decided to go out and get the SG. Because I had a Gibson catalog, and I would look at it and go, "Hey, that's got me all over it." Because it was red and it had to two horns in the cutaway, so to me it was like a red devil. So, if there's anything devilish about me, it's all the guitar's fault.