High Voltage: Keiraville author Jeff Apter looks at the life of AC/DC's Angus Young

Keiraville author Jeff Apter's new book High Voltage is the first biography of AC/DC guitarist Angus Young (inset). Picture: Adam McLean
Keiraville author Jeff Apter's new book High Voltage is the first biography of AC/DC guitarist Angus Young (inset). Picture: Adam McLean

AC/DC's guitar god Angus Young is the subject of a new biography from Jeff Apter. The author talks with GLEN HUMPHRIES about school uniforms, stage personas and the band's recent tragedies.

Jeff Apter didn’t talk to Angus Young for his biography on the AC/DC guitarist.

But the Keiraville author is pretty sure it wouldn’t have made much difference if he had.

That’s because he says the last original member of the Australian hard rock act is more interesting in playing music than talking about it.

It’s the early years that are pivotal for Apter – the bulk of High Voltage follows the story up to the 1980 release of Back in Black.

Apter’s book High Voltage: The Life of Angus Young hits the shelves on August 28 and will be launched on the weekend of August 26-27 at the Thirroul Readers and Writers Festival.

He has written at least 15 music biographies – both authorised and unauthorised – on subjects including Marc Hunter, Johnny O’Keefe, Silverchair, John Farnham and the Gibb brothers.

In each case (at least in those where the subject is still alive), Apter has approached the subject to let them know what he was doing and to see if they would submit to an interview.

He followed the same process when it came to the Young biography, but the answer was a no.

Which came as no surprise to Apter, who described the Young clan as “very closed”.

“You’d never get access to them, they never do interviews,” Apter says.

Picture: Amy Harris

Picture: Amy Harris

“And they’re not the best interview subjects either. They’d much rather talk by playing their guitars than they would in an interview.

“I’ve interviewed him once when I was at Rolling Stone and even then … it was fine, but he’s no Bruce Springsteen.

“He’s not going to sit there and pontificate on the seriousness and the worthiness of rock and roll. It’s just not his thing.

Angus Young on stage with Bon Scott during the band's heyday.

Angus Young on stage with Bon Scott during the band's heyday.

“He would rather just bang away on his guitar. So even if you did get access I don’t think you’d get that much of a story to be honest. It’s just not what he’s about.”

Apter had previously worked on two AC/DC related books – the autobiographies of the band’s early bassplayer Mark Evans (Dirty Deeds) and one-time manager Michael Evans (Dog Eat Dog) – so he did have a lot of material to draw on about the band’s early years.

Apter says he used material that didn’t make it into either of those books in High Voltage and also dropped emails to both men to check up on other details.

Angus Young during a sound check in Sydney for the 2015 Rock or Bust tour. Picture: Brendan Esposito

Angus Young during a sound check in Sydney for the 2015 Rock or Bust tour. Picture: Brendan Esposito

It’s the early years that are pivotal for Apter – the bulk of High Voltage follows the story up to the 1980 release of Back in Black.

While that album was a huge success, Apter says it marked a point where they essentially began to tread water.

“The essence of my theory is the making of AC/DC was 1974 to Back in Black and everything since then has been [about] trying to maintain that level of success, which we’ve they’ve done amazingly well – especially as a live band,” he says.

“But if you look at their set list it’s all songs from pre-1980 essentially.

“Those were the songs, back when they were a creative force. Now they’re a performance act, a brand.”

The schoolboy outfit allows the mild-mannered Angus Young to play a wild character onstage.

The schoolboy outfit allows the mild-mannered Angus Young to play a wild character onstage.

It’s no longer clear whether they're still a “performance act” any more – or even a band – following a long streak of bad luck that has left Young as virtually the last man standing.

Phil Rudd – who occupied the drum stool from 1975-83 and again for just over a decade from 1994 – found himself in trouble when, in 2014, he was charged over attempting to procure a murder.

In 2015 he was sentenced to eight months’ home detention – the same year he was replaced in the band.

Singer Brian Johnson quit in 2016 on his doctor’s advice that he risked complete deafness if he continued and Cliff Williams – the bassplayer since 1977 – retired the same year.

But the greatest loss – and the greatest tragedy – of them all happened in 2014 when founding member and Young’s brother Malcolm retired because of dementia.

After playing on stages around the world, the influential rhythm guitarist ended shuffling around a nursing home in Sydney.

Apter was originally drawn to focusing on Malcolm rather than Angus but changed his mind after he left the band.

“It’s heartbreaking to think that a guy who was such a powerhouse is in a nursing home,” Apter says.

“Malcolm was the brains of the band. He was the one who made the key business decisions, he was the one who kept their shit together.

“Angus just wanted to play the guitar, Bon just wanted to have a big party and the other guys were sort of hired help.

“And he formed the band – so for him to fall by the wayside is really heartbreaking. 

“I ponder in the book how they can continue without him being involved because he was so instrumental in everything AC/DC.”

But from the many music fans’ point of view Angus Young would be the focal point of the band – in no small part due to his now iconic schoolboy outfit and wild performances that often saw him flat on his back scuttling around the stage while still playing.

“Take him away from the stage and he looks like a little old man,” Apter says.

“Yet he plugs in and puts on that school uniform and something happens. Suddenly he’s transformed.

“He says that the uniform gives him the freedom to be a different character, to not be Angus Young, to be someone else entirely.”

When he’s not onstage, when the schoolboy outfit is locked away in the closet, Angus Young is miles away from the hard rock god in the short pants.

“Offstage he’s a bit of an introvert,” Apter says.

“He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t do drugs. His biggest indulgence is pot of tea that he drinks after shows to stave off dehydration.

“He doesn’t hang out, he disappears to his hotel room after gigs. He’s been married to the same woman for 35 years.”

Apter reckons Young’s biggest vice is AC/DC – which leaves his future looking a bit cloudy.

“It’s why we haven’t heard if they’re going to break up –  because I don’t think he knows how to retire or what else to do,” Apter says.