Revealed: the secret and dangerous life of AC/DC's Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson standing next to a Ferrari
(Image credit: Brian Johnson Racing)

For Florida-based AC/DC singer Brian Johnson, a perfect day involves watching the sunrise, winning a motor race, having some of the lads round for a barbecue then watching the sunset. 

In 2003 Brian Johnson told Classic Rock all about his days away from the day job. 

Alt

"I live in Sarasota, Florida, these days. I like it there, I’ve got a lot of friends down there. There’s not many tourists. It’s just a little town, you know, not even the size of Gateshead. But it’s a lot prettier and the weather’s nicer. 

“I run a race team down there. I’ve got a big factory that builds race cars and engines. I race meself – champion three years running, you know. We’ve done very well. Basically that’s where you’ll find me – at a race track, racing. I just fuckin’ love it. Basically that’s all I do – write music and race cars. 

“I’ve been into racing since I was about fuckin’ five. I’ve always wanted to do it, and I started nine or ten years ago at a celebrity race before the Cleveland Grand Prix. Funnily enough I’m not mechanically minded. I can change plugs and all the basic things. And I rebuilt an engine once, but that was it for me – the most terrifying ordeal of me life. There was a bucket of nuts and bolts left when I’d finished and I’m thinking: ‘Where the fuck did they come from?’ But it ran all right. But I’m more interested in the driving and the racing. And I still try to keep driving English cars, if I can get me hands on them, but there ain’t many left.

“The Hard Rock Café in Orlando are getting a new exhibit of some of my shit – me old race helmet and the back end of me car. I was racing at Daytona in February, and I went out for a test about 9.30am. I came into a turn, flat out at 145mph, and the whole back end of me car just lifted and snapped off and I started spinning. 

"And I could see the wall getting closer and closer, and I somehow managed to wrestle the car onto the infield. We’ve got it all on camera. I was like: ‘What the fuck?!’ The guys from the Hard Rock are like: ‘Can we have the back of your car?’ And I’m like: ‘What the fuck for? There’s nothing left of it!’ 

“AC/DC’s management didn’t know I was doing it for the first four years. I didn’t dare tell ’em. And there is no insurance, cos the insurance companies won’t touch you. You can die out there, they don’t want to know. Once you’re on the track, that’s it, you’re your own insurance. That’s why you have to sign a waiver. I’ve had a couple of nasty spills and had to be cut out of the wreckage, but they’re built so well these days you’re fine. I’m made of rubber, me."

“At home I’ve got me little office where I like to write me songs. I can’t write music, I just use me little recorder and hum a tune. Or if I think of a few lines I just whack ’em down, and maybe later on I’ll pick ’em up and start writing. But it’s fun, you know, creating something from nowt. It’s just a good laugh. 

“As far as films and books and stuff, I’m pretty much the same as every other person. I read me Harry Potter books, ya know, ha-ha. Military history is something I’m pretty big on. I’m a freak on that. First World War and Elizabethan are my big things. I find it fascinating and it really interests me. But I just never seem to have enough time to do anything and I can’t figure out why, cos I’m a lazy cunt. I’m always looking at me watch and going: ‘Fuck me, is that the time?’. 

“I love cooking. Me cousin Maura lives in Italy – cos I’m half Italian – in Castel Gandolfo, near Frascati, which is near Rome. And she’s a Contessa, believe it or not. And she cooks once a month in this huge cellar they’ve got, to 120 invited guests who come from all over Italy and Europe. And Maurice, me brother, is the chef for the band. So cooking runs in the family. I make a mean Osso Bucco, and I’m very proud of me pasta sauce. You cannot get a good pasta sauce in England. I’ve searched everywhere. You try in Newcastle. Fuckin’ hell, they all taste like gravy with a bit of red in it! But I try to turn me hand to owt when it comes to cooking – barbecuing, steaks… owt. 

“I love to get up early, cos I’m dead lucky having one of the best sunrises in the world. I get up at eight, which isn’t that early. I used to get up at five when I used to go to work. But I get up and like to have me cup of coffee sitting on the step outside and watch the sunrise. That’s about it. Then I go inside and scratch me arse. And read me Daily Mail, which I get daily over here. Not that it’s any good, mind – I only get it for the football. We’ve got the satellite TV so I have all the games on. It doesn’t feel like you’re thousands of miles away."

“I might live near the sea but I fucking hate fishing. A fucking waste of time. I’d rather pull me own teeth than go fishing. I cannot figure out the fascination of standing with a stick in your hand. You can go to the bottom of me garden and I’ve got a small dock – no boat, mind. But people come down and look in the water and they’re like: ‘Fuckin’ hell, Jonna, look at the size of them fish’. And I’m like: ‘Catch one, then’. So they all run out and buy a rod and they’ll say: ‘Oh, look at this one’. And I’m like: ‘Aye, that’s the fourth one. Are you not bored yet?’ 

“There’s alligators all over the place, but it’s funny, you kind of get used to them. They banned hunting them in 1984, and once you start fucking with that kind of shit they just start to multiply. So three years ago they started hunting them again. There’s a huge one at a golf club near us called Gator Creek – fucking well named an’ all. He’s called Maurice, and he’s fuckin’ huge and he just sits on the fairway all day. But it’s the little fuckers you’ve got to watch for. They just lie there and you cannot see them, and you go anywhere near ’em and they go for you. 

“The size of the fucking insects, too. When I saw me first fuckin’ cockroach I nearly jumped out of me fuckin’ skin. The fuckin’ size of ’em! I once opened me fridge and there’s one inside going: ‘Howay Brian. We’re fuckin’ out of milk!’. 

“Me perfect day? Jeez... winning a race. Dunno. A great barbecue with good pals, a ride on me bike afterwards, watching the sunset. Good music, good pals, good food. You couldn’t wish for more.” 

This interview originally appeared in Classic Rock 58, in October 2003. Brian Johnson was speaking with Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock, as well as sleevenotes for many major record labels. He lives in North London and happily indulges a passion for AC/DC, Chelsea Football Club and Sydney Roosters.