Musical genius and sheer graft alone didn’t make AC/DC the biggest rock band in the world. It is also required the support, commitment and individual talent of key people behind the scenes.
1. MUTT LANGE
The perfectionist producer behind Highway To Hell, Back In Black and For Those About To Rock (We Salute You). AC/DC never sounded as consistently good as it did on those three key albums, Lange conspicuously improving background vocals (“Highway To Hell” a prime example) and bringing to the recording process a new emphasis on “space”. The dynamics on those albums have never been bettered and listeners agreed: Back In Black is the second-biggest selling album of all time. It wasn’t enough to save Lange from the chop. He was axed after For Those About To Rock (1981) and has barely said a word about AC/DC since.
2. GERARD HUERTA
The designer (or co-designer, according to Atlantic Records art director Bob Defrin) of AC/DC’s iconic logo: one of the great logos of all time, not just in rock music but also big business. Based on the letterforms of the Gutenberg Bible and inspired by a similar logo he did for Blue Öyster Cult, Huerta produced the logo for the US issue of Let There Be Rock in 1977 — for which he got a one-off fee. AC/DC went away and used another logo for 1978’s Powerage then came back to Huerta’s logo for If You Want Blood and Highway To Hell. It’s been used on anything to do with the band ever since. Huerta has not received a cent in royalties for its use in any of the band’s merchandising and is still waiting for his first phone call from a member of the Young family.
3. MICHAEL KLENFNER
A senior vice-president at Atlantic Records during the key years when AC/DC was trying to break in America, Klenfner (pictured with former wife Carol Klenfner and Pete Townshend of The Who) was regarded by many who worked with him at the record company as the band’s biggest champion. The support was crucial: AC/DC was at one point in danger of being dropped altogether. However his “bull in a china shop” manner didn’t endear him to some colleagues and ultimately would see him butt heads with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway To Hell. Klenfner wanted Eddie Kramer. Greenberg wanted Lange. Klenfner came off second best and was fired after having a verbal altercation with Lange’s manager, Clive Calder. Klenfner died in 2009.
4. TONY CURRENTI
The drummer for every track but one on AC/DC’s first album, High Voltage, and the single “High Voltage” which came afterwards. Three Currenti drum tracks featured on the band’s first American release, High Voltage (1976), a combination of their first two Australian albums. Three Currenti drum tracks also appeared on the 1984 EP ’74 Jailbreak. Sicily-born Currenti was asked to join AC/DC but turned down the offer because he feared being conscripted into the Italian army if he travelled with the band to England. A friend of Bon Scott, Currenti has not been credited on any AC/DC albums and today runs Tonino's Penshurst Pizzeria in Sydney, Australia. After 38 years away from music, he returned to playing drums in early 2014 and now regularly performs with tribute bands in Australia, Italy, Spain and England. He’s a superb drummer: the Italian Charlie Watts.
5. PERRY COOPER
Klenfner’s lieutenant at Atlantic — indeed he came to the record company from Arista with Klenfner as a team in 1977 — head of artist relations Cooper was a popular figure with AC/DC and was the name on Bon Scott’s emergency-person-to-contact card, according to his daughter Renée. Cooper was a driver, along with Judy Libow and Barry Bergman, of the Live From the Atlantic Studios promotion in 1977, engineered by future Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake engineer Jimmy Douglass, that went out to American radio stations and helped get the band critical airplay before they broke with 1979’s Highway to Hell. Cooper remained close to the band after Bon Scott’s death in 1980. He died in 2005.
6. MARK EVANS
Bass player Evans is commonly regarded by fans as part of the “classic” line-up but was unceremoniously dumped before their maiden tour of the United States in July 1977. Between 1975 and ’77 Evans played live with AC/DC in Australia, the United Kingdom and Europe and on many of the original recordings that make up AC/DC’s “greatest hits". That wasn’t enough, though, for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When AC/DC was inducted in 2003, Evans wasn’t there to celebrate with them on stage, despite being initially invited. The Hall of Fame withdrew the invitation, claiming he was ineligible. Evans stills plays music – he recently joined Rose Tattoo – and runs a guitar shop in Sydney.
7. BILL BARTLETT
The first man to play AC/DC on the radio in the United States. Jacksonville DJ and program director Bartlett came to Australia as a foreign-exchange student in the early 1970s and got on to the mailing lists of Australian record companies. Bartlett took it upon himself to promote Aussie music on WPDQ/WAIV and not only gave AC/DC its first break on the airwaves well before they released their first American album, he also did the same for Little River Band. When Bartlett went to Seattle in June 1977 to become program director of KISW, he suggested to Steve Slaton that he play AC/DC. Claims that Slaton was the first DJ to break AC/DC on American radio should thus be treated with some skepticism.
8. DAVID KREBS
The co-principal of Leber-Krebs, the one-time management company of AC/DC, Aerosmith, Scorpions and Ted Nugent, the publicity-shy Krebs (pictured here with Adam Bomb) was absolutely pivotal in getting AC/DC important support slots for their roster of headline acts, especially Aerosmith. When Michael Browning was discarded as AC/DC’s manager in late 1979, Leber-Krebs underling Peter Mensch took over at the direction of Krebs, who had his hands full managing Aerosmith and Nugent. Mensch would go on to manage Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers and amass a considerable fortune but he cut his managerial teeth on AC/DC and by reliable accounts did a very good job. Again, it wasn’t enough for the Youngs. Both Mensch and Krebs were cut adrift by AC/DC and in my opinion it was a mistake. What immediately followed was a dark period creatively and financially for the band.
9. TONY PLATT
AC/DC has had a bunch of engineers over the years (the great Mark Opitz and Mike Fraser among them), but Platt probably stands tallest with credits on Highway To Hell, Back In Black and the underrated Flick Of The Switch (which he co-produced). It was the task of Platt to deal with the ultra-finicky, almost obsessive Lange in the studio and he must have had the patience of Job to do it without going mad. Platt was more into the “feel” of a take whereas Lange wanted it to be perfect. You can hear more of that “feel” on Flick Of The Switch and it’s thanks to Platt we have ripsnorters like “Nervous Shakedown” and “Bedlam In Belgium”. Whatever he did with Lange on their albums together (which also included Foreigner’s 4), they were an amazing double act.
10. HARRY VANDA
It might seem strange to nominate one half of Vanda & Young, the legendary Australian songwriters and producers who helmed a stack of classic AC/DC albums, but Vanda was an integral part of creating the Aussie rock sound with Angus’s and Malcolm’s elder and late brother George. It was there in The Easybeats, the band Harry played in with George and which gave the world the all-time classic “Friday On My Mind”. It was there in Marcus Hook Roll Band. It was there in Stevie Wright’s solo work. It was there in Rose Tattoo and The Angels. But with AC/DC they perfected it. What I love about early AC/DC is the groove: the handclaps and the percussion. That’s Vanda & Young all over. If Vanda’s name were “Young” he’d be a whole lot better known by fans outside Australia.
BON: THE LAST HIGHWAY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BON SCOTT AND AC/DC'S BACK IN BLACK is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia, FNAC and hundreds of other retailers around the world.
CHARLIE STARR is the lead singer and guitarist of what I regard as the greatest Southern rock/country rock band playing today, Blackberry Smoke. They've recorded with AC/DC production alumni Mike Fraser and Brendan O'Brien and a lot of their harder edge songs have a distinctly AC/DC feel. They've covered 'Highway To Hell' on stage. He's a big Bon fan.
Bon's songs make up so much of the setlist AC/DC (what’s left of it) still performs. What do you think is special about Bon's songs?
They are special simply because they were so damn good. Bon was a gifted lyricist and composer of melodies. Just a natural, apparently. No one could turn a phrase like Bon at that time. Just genius use of double entendre and innuendo. Completely witty and confident.
What do you think Bon represents to you and other fans of AC/DC? A rock legend who lived for the day or a guy who even 37 years on from his death is still a bit of a mystery? Or something else? What spirit does he embody to you?
I’ve always been fascinated with Bon. His voice, songwriting, prowess as a frontman… the whole thing. Obviously, dying young can seem to deify most rock stars, but that’s not really the case with Bon. He didn’t carry himself like a complicated, tortured genius, but a fireball powerhouse who lived life to the hilt. People like him are the most influential to rock and roll musicians because he was frighteningly real.
Bon was a major Southern rock fan. What attracted you to Southern rock? The music itself, the people, the heritage, the rebel spirit? All of it?
The music and the freedom that those bands took advantage of. Funny that a single genre could contain elements of so many other genres. All the other stuff was cool, but it became ‘cartoonish’ after a while.
‘Bon didn’t carry himself like a complicated, tortured genius, but a fireball powerhouse who lived life to the hilt. People like him are the most influential to rock and roll musicians because he was frighteningly real.'
– Charlie Starr
What's special about the Southern rock of the 1970s and is it something you try to carry over in spirit and tone in your own music?
Those were just great bands who wrote great songs that will live forever. We really just aspire to do the same thing. I think we are lucky to enjoy a bit of the musical freedom they did.
BON: THE LAST HIGHWAY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BON SCOTT AND AC/DC'S BACK IN BLACK is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and hundreds of other retailers around the world. Blackberry Smoke's new album, FIND A LIGHT, is out now.
Jesse Fink is the author of Bon: The Last Highway: The Untold Story of Bon Scott and AC/DC's Back In Black and The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC. For more information about Bon, click HERE or click the book covers below to be directed to editions in your preferred territory and language.