Q&A: Brian Johnson

It's a sunny Monday in July, and Classic Rock has finally managed to pin down Brian Johnson in London. As soon as AC/DC released Black Ice last year, the affable singer has been spending nearly all his time on the rock'n'roll train traipsing all over the world. But he isn't here to talk about his all-conquering band today - although he can't help himself - no, he's here to chat about something entirely different. Brian, y'see, is about to publish his autobiography - a book that has given him the chance to wax lyrical not about music, but rather about the other love of his life...

Your new book Rockers And Rollers is subtitled ‘An Automobile Autobiography’. Why?

Well, it’s mostly about cars. And at the start it was very difficult to put that across. People are saying, “So the book is about the band?”, and I said, “No, no…”. I’m not one for autobiographies. I hate them, there’s too many of them. Nobody gives a flying fart! But with cars… I’m just nuts on them. I have been since I was a kid, there’s something wrong with us. My brother’s the same. And what I found was, when somebody said, “You know, Brian, remember when you were in 1974 and you were going out with that girl?”. And I’m like, “I cannae remember!”. And they say, “You had the Ford Granada?”. “Oh, I remember!”. It’s true. I suddenly thought of all the cars I had, and the book came from there. Every time I thought of the different things that happened, it was through the car I had and the fun I had.

When did you decide to write it?

It was just before I went off to do the Black Ice album. I was having lunch with Jimmy Nail and his manager Tarquin. I was telling stories and tales and Tarquin said [adopts posh voice], “You should write it down!”. But everybody says that!

How did you write the book?

I wrote it just by hand. Scrawled it down. I’m not a good typist. I just wrote the fucking thing and then scanned it and sent it off to these fellas [his publishers] as I was writing it. I wrote it in no order, just how I remembered it. And to be honest, my memory’s dreadful. A lot of it might not be exactly factual, but it’s the way I remember it. In my mind, that’s the way it came to us. It’s just meant to be fun. There’s nothing malicious. There’s not a twat list or a shithead list. It’s not a getting-back book.

Have the other guys in AC/DC seen it?

Well, I haven’t even read it myself yet! But I said to the boys in the band, I said to Mal, Ang, Cliff, Phil, youse are all in this book. And I showed Cliff what I’d written about him…

About how Cliff is just as mad about cars as you are?

Aye, it’s true! He was in Newcastle with me and he saw this classic sports car. He was just taken by this thing. The funny thing was, he said, “I’ve gotta have it!”. And I said, “But you live in Hawaii! This is Newcastle!”. But he was gone. Like I say in the book, he was like a man in the middle of a blowjob – that was the look on his face. I just could not get him away from it. So he bought it – and the fucking thing broke down! But Cliff loves his cars. He’s had a lot of them. Angus doesn’t bother, it doesn’t interest him. Malcolm loves his Jags. And Phil, he’s just a complete nutter petrol-head, a fanatic. He bought all the super-cars in the 80s, and he still races in Australia in one of them big V8 Commodore things. I race a lot, too. It’s my passion.

What’s the worst car you’ve ever driven?

I had a Maxi, which was like a matchbox on steroids. The only reason you knew it was a car was ‘cos it had a steering wheel. It was the most basic form of frickin’ transport! But it could have been worse. My next-door neighbour had a Lada. What’s the difference between a Lada and a sheep? It’s not half as embarrassing getting out the back of a sheep!

What’s the best car you’ve ever had?

A 1928 Bentley, the 4.5-litre Le Mans. The first time I saw it, everything went north on us, except me jaw, that went south. I just had to have it. That car, I think, is a masterpiece. But it’s got nae windscreen, man! The goggles have to go on, the leather flying jacket, the hat’s on backwards. All I need is a stick-on moustache!

You’re obsessed, aren’t you?

Oh, I’m dreadful! That Bentley was ludicrously expensive – I mean, just crackers. But I thought to myself, you’re 61, and it’s the old saying: you might as well spend it – if you don’t, the kids will! And they will! So bollocks to them!

What does the future hold for AC/DC?

Well, we were talking about the end of the tour and I said, “We’re finishing in May and that’s me done!”. But Malcolm [Young, rhythm guitarist] said, “What are you talkin’ about? We’re not gonna let you retire!”. And now they’re talking about next year. I’m going, “What do you mean next year? We’re finishing in May in Japan, I’ll be tired!”. And they said, “Well, we’ve been offered some festivals…”.

So there’s no end in sight?

It’s a tough one. It’s not me – it’s just my age. I try to keep myself fit, and I love it being in this band. But it’s not just me – Cliff [Williams, bassist] is knocking on a bit more than the others. The other lads are in their early 50s. I’m the old dog in the regiment. It’s a purely selfish thing. I don’t want to look a prat if I try to push it too far. I don’t want for people to see me on stage and say, “Oh, poor old fucker – the band’s carrying him!”.

Well, nobody is saying that!

Aw, thanks, my son! You know, we’ve been out on the road since September [2008], but it never gets boring. They’re just the best rock band, and just to listen to them every night, it gets me. Every time they kick in, you think, ‘What the fuck!’. You’re on again and you’re thinking, ‘This is ridiculous! I’m still grooving!’.

This was published in Classic Rock issue 138.

Neil Jeffries

Freelance contributor to Classic Rock and several of its offshoots since 2006. In the 1980s he began a 15-year spell working for Kerrang! intially as a cub reviewer and later as Geoff Barton’s deputy and then pouring precious metal into test tubes as editor of its Special Projects division. Has spent quality time with Robert Plant, Keith Richards, Ritchie Blackmore, Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore – and also spent time in a maximum security prison alongside Love/Hate. Loves Rush, Aerosmith and beer. Will work for food.