The brand new issue of Classic Rock is a star-studded celebration of 50 years of AC/DC. With gathered together a roll call of rock’s finest musicians to celebrate their favourite AC/DC albums, including Paul Stanley of Kiss on Back In Black, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott on Powerage, Saxon’s Biff Byford on High Voltage and Airbourne’s Airbourne’s Joel O’Keeffe on The Razor’s Edge and Ballbreaker.
But few bands have ever jammed onstage with AC/DC, and Cheap Trick are one of the. In this exclusive interview taken from the new issue of Classic Rock, Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen looks back on his long friendship with the Australian legends, salutes the genius of Highway To Hell and remembers the time the two bands ended a gig with an impromptu Chuck Berry jam.
Rick Neilsen: “AC/DC’s guy at their label, Atlantic, was the brother of our guy at our label, Epic, which is how I first heard about them. I guess we were both starting to break through around the same time – seventy-five/seventy-six. I heard those early albums and immediately liked them. Highway To Hell felt like their shot at the big time. The song Highway To Hell itself is the perfect ‘Howay the lads!’ anthem. It’s a great, great record.
“Cheap Trick played with AC/DC a lot in the late seventies. We did flip-flops – sometimes we headlined, sometimes they headlined. They were just so good – the only band where I watched every show every night. There was no funny stuff, they weren’t trying to be something they weren’t. The guitars were perfect, the rhythm was perfect, the singing was perfect. They were a bar band, but better than any bar band I’ve ever seen. The ultimate bar band.
“Angus and Malcolm weren’t trying to be flash, they weren’t doing the shenanigans a lot of other guitarists were doing at the time. I’m not pretty when it comes to playing guitar, and neither are those guys. And Phil Rudd is the perfect drummer.
“We played with AC/DC on July 4, 1979 in Illinois, forty thousand people or something there. The next day I took Angus and Malcolm over to this big house from 1854 I’d bought in Rockford, Illinois, just because I love designing things and doing it up. They couldn’t believe it. They’d only ever seen me playing guitar on stage, and now I’m taking them around this house I was rehabbing. Every time I’d see them afterwards, they’d go: ‘Hey Rick, you still living in Rockford?’
“I’ve never seen AC/DC jam with anybody else before, but they got up with us one time to do Johnny B Goode [at the Sioux Falls Arena in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on July 7, 1979]. I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but I gave Angus a guitar, and Bon Scott and Robin [Zander, Cheap Trick frontman] were switching lines.
“Bon was a pirate. He had the snarl, he had the attitude, he had the tough-guy appearance, but he had a wink in his eye too. He reminded me of Alex Harvey, who had the same thing going on. I guess it must have been a Scottish thing. They were the kind of guys you’d see drinking and fighting on the docks on a Friday night. I was the first person to ever take Bon out for Mexican food. He’d never tried it before. I remember he had tacos and Scotch. The same day that Bon died, there was a fire at the house I’d bought that Angus and Malcolm came to. The house burnt down, but I cared more about Bon than the building.
“I’m jumping forward, but a few years ago I flew to Nashville to see them. They had all these country people who wanted to come meet them, but they didn’t want anybody backstage. But they knew us and gave us passes. When Angus and Malcolm came in the room they said: ‘Hey Rick, you still living in Rockford?’ I love those guys.”
Read our full 50th anniversary tribute to AC/DC in the brand new issue of Classic Rock, out now. Order it online and have it delivered straight to your door.