Malcolm Young, the AC/DC founder whose driving guitar rhythms and musical direction helped the Scottish-Australian band earn a place among the most successful in rock history with albums such as “Back in Black” and “Highway to Hell,” has died. He was 64.
Young died in Sydney after suffering from dementia for several years, his family said in a statement. “It is with deepest sorrow that we inform you of the death of Malcolm Young, beloved husband, father, grandfather and brother,” his family said.
For more than four decades, Young provided the raw backing to the lead breaks and on-stage antics of younger brother Angus, instantly recognizable in his schoolboy’s uniform. Together, they created a signature sound and brand name that made AC/DC one of the top five best-selling bands ever in the U.S. and pushed the group’s global record sales to more than 200 million. They entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
“As a guitarist, songwriter and visionary he was a perfectionist and a unique man,” the band said in a statement on its Facebook page. “He always stuck to his guns and did and said exactly what he wanted.”
Supported by charismatic front-man Bon Scott and his successor, Brian Johnson, the Young brothers matched catchy melodies with provocative lyrics while churning out hard-rock classics, including “It’s a Long Way to the Top,” “Hell’s Bells,” “Thunderstruck” and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” all of which Malcolm Young co-wrote.
“Sometimes I look at Malcolm while he’s playing and I’m completely awestruck by the sheer power of it,” Angus Young said in a January 2014 interview with Guitar World magazine. “He’s doing something much more unique than what I do, with that raw, natural sound of his.”
After the Young family migrated to Sydney from Scotland when he was 10, the long-haired rhythm guitarist in jeans and tucked-in T-shirt used his 1963 Gretsch Jet Firebird guitar to
develop a distinct sound that earned industry recognition.
In 2011, Malcolm Young joined Chuck Berry, Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix among Guitar Player magazine’s 50 greatest rhythm guitarists.
Australian Rich List
“Learning an instrument has to be natural,” Young said. “If you stop to think about playing, the feeling just goes.”
With an income stream from royalties, licensing and world tours, the Youngs — including eldest brother George, who co-produced or produced a half-dozen AC/DC albums — had assets of A$255 million ($238 million) in the rich Australian families list published by Business Review Weekly in July 2013.
Their Black Ice tour, which ended in 2010 after about 170 stadium gigs over almost two years, was the third-highest grossing concert tour of all time, according to the magazine. Known for their relentless touring, the band once played to an audience of almost half a million in Rio de Janeiro in 1985.
Founded in Sydney in 1973, AC/DC was remarkable for its enduring appeal, carving out a market niche for fans of different generations, some of whom weren’t even born when Scott, the band’s first lead vocalist, died of alcohol poisoning in 1980. After selling more than 22 million copies of “Back in Black,” the U.S.’s sixth-best-selling album ever, AC/DC won over young followers with “Stiff Upper Lip” (2000) and “Black Ice” (2008), which was nominated for a Grammy. Their soundtrack to “Iron Man 2” (2010) sold more than 2 million copies.
“Malcolm was the founder and Angus became the image and talismanic figure,” biographer Malcolm Dome said in the 2013 documentary “The Story of AC/DC Dirty Deeds.” “And they’re very controlling; it’s very much their focus and their vision.”
Malcolm Mitchell Young was born on Jan. 6, 1953, in Glasgow, Scotland, to parents William and Margaret Young. The family moved to Sydney in 1963.
While attending Ashfield Boys High School, whose uniform his brother later wore on stage with AC/DC, Malcolm Young developed his guitar skills with the help of older brother George, who had his own success as a songwriter and member of the Australian band The Easybeats, known for its 1966 hit song “Friday on My Mind.”
Malcolm then formed AC/DC and asked his brother Angus to join. The name of the band was taken from the sewing machine of his older sister, Margaret, equating the rock group’s sound with electrical currents.
Sydney Bar Scene
The Young brothers began playing in the bars of Sydney and tried out various band combinations before settling on the one that made them famous. Scottish-born Bon Scott, who played bagpipes on “It’s a Long Way to the Top,” replaced lead singer Dave Evans in 1974. English-born Cliff Williams became the bass player, and Phil Rudd, the only Australian-born band member in the final lineup, was the drummer.
“Gettin’ robbed, gettin’ stoned, gettin’ beat up, broken boned, gettin’ had, gettin’ took, I tell you folks it’s harder than it looks, it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ’n’ roll,” Malcolm Young wrote with his brother and Bon Scott in the 1975 anthem to every struggling rock musician.
The band had its first successes in Australia with the albums “High Voltage” (1975), “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” (1976), “Let There Be Rock” (1977) and “Powerage” (1978), and signed an international contract with Atlantic Records. Gaining worldwide recognition with “Highway to Hell” (1979), they followed up with “Back in Black,” with English-born Johnson as singer, only months after Scott’s death. They had their first No. 1 album in America with 1981’s “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” selling more than 1 million copies in the first week, according to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website.
Young was treated for alcohol addiction in 1988. In April 2014, AC/DC announced that Young was taking a break from the band for health reasons. In recent years Scott was cared for in a Sydney nursing home specializing in dementia..
With his Irish wife, O’Linda, he had two children, Ross and Cara, and three grandchildren.
“We’ve always been a true band,” Malcolm Young said. “You won’t find one any truer. AC/DC will always be AC/DC. Sometimes we’ll do well, sometimes not so well, but the music of AC/DC will always be the same.”