Rock Icons: Malcolm Young by Joel O'Keeffe

AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young
(Image credit: Fin Costello\/Redferns)

When I was very young and starting to play the guitar, I was influenced a lot by AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm Young.

Malcolm’s style of playing is actually how I learned to play. I’d listen to AC/DC Live at Donington and I’d pan to the left hand side of the stereo and just have that going as mono, so I’d only hear his guitar. I’d really listen to the way he played and just jam along to the whole gig.

That right hand and the simplicity that he has is what makes him so special: his riffs are simple yet so powerful and catchy. As soon as I hear him playing it just gets my fist pumping.

He really is the driving force behind AC/DC, too. He really is that cornerstone. When you see Malcolm play live, or at least when you used to see him play live, the whole band would be looking at him: he’s the timekeeper. Usually that’s the drummer’s job, but Malcolm was the guy that set the pace in AC/DC. It’s Malcolm’s band.

There are a lot of fancy guitarists out there, like Eddie Van Halen and guys like that, but there’s no one that hits a fucking A chord like Malcolm does. No one has that rhythm. He’s able to build and push and pull, and take a crowd up and down whilst Angus is out front doing the solo in the songs like Let There Be Rock. I think he’s just phenomenal.

He definitely doesn’t get enough credit but I think that’s all part of his coolness, and everyone who plays rock ‘n’ roll knows where the driving force in AC/DC is coming from. And Angus and Malcolm together work so great: you’ve got this rhythm machine, and then you’ve got this wild frenetic lead guitarist that’s able to do all that stuff that he does because he’s got that solid foundation behind him. Funnily enough, Malcolm can actually play all the solos and do all the other stuff that Angus does but he’s like, ‘No no, Angus you take the front and I’ll be at the back.’

I actually think their nephew Stevie’s doing a great job on tour It’s a really big thing for him and he knows the shoes that he’s got to fill. I saw an interview with him and he was saying how stressed he is about the gig and how he really wants to do the songs justice and do the best he can, and he is. I think him being a Young really helps too and he’s definitely carrying the torch. But obviously, Malcolm can never be replaced. I think he’s the most underrated guitarist in the world.

Joel was speaking to Matt Stocks. Airbourne will release their new album Breakin’ Outta Hell on September 16 through Spinefarm Records.