Megadeth‘s Dave Mustaine had an auspicious introduction to AC/DC: At a record store at a California mall near where he grew up, he’d trade drugs for free records. One day, a female employee named Willow gave him a copy of the band’s 1977 album Let There Be Rock. “God bless her for that,” he recalls. “It was like someone had unscrewed the lid off something evil. The guitars sounded so demonic. It was something I’d never heard before.”
Mustaine devoured the band’s catalog (preferring the original, Bon Scott-era lineup) in subsequent years, played AC/DC songs in a band, and, with Megadeth, had the chance to open for AC/DC on tour. Along the way, the late Malcolm Young, who died over the weekend of dementia and other complications, became, in Mustaine’s words, “a hero of mine.” Here are Mustaine’s thoughts and memories of Young.
Most people don’t know AC/DC was Malcolm’s band and that they weren’t Australian; they were Scottish. Tidbits like that are part of what made them unique. I was in a band that did a bunch of AC/DC covers and doing those songs introduced me a totally different approach to playing, where you don’t have billions of layers. It’s all based on the riff. Prior to that, rock and roll was all strumming chords and not playing riffs. A riff is a cyclical melody, and if it isn’t good, you’ll know. A good riff you can play over and over again, and Malcolm wrote a lot of that music. “Kicked in the Teeth” and “Walk All Over You” are two of my favorite songs of theirs.
Malcolm allowed Angus and Bon [Scott] to do their job. He knew he was the best there was at rhythm guitar. He and other guys held down the fort and anchored the rhythm. That was his role, and he loved it.
We went on tour with them a couple of years ago. I didn’t know them well. We’d see them once in a while at catering, but they were one of those bands who came in right at showtime and then were gone as soon as the show ended. So Malcolm and I were just acquaintances and exchanged pleasantries, but I would have loved to have been friends with him. He and Angus were so shy. Someone said, “Can I get you a bottle of something?” and someone else said, “All they do is drink tea and smoke cigarettes.”
During that tour, I’d stand by the side of the stage and watch. The guys were so little, but the volume was so loud. Pure Marshall amplification. It was mind-blowingly loud. If you wanted to be deaf, you shouldn’t stay there for more than a short time. Malcolm would go back by the speakers and then go up to the front and sing and then go back to the amplifiers and just stand there, instead of staying up at the front like someone who doesn’t know what to do. That was brilliant.
The morning I heard about Malcolm, I was goofing around on Twitter. Somebody posted about it and said they didn’t know if it was a hoax or not. I saw that and went into shutdown mode. I said, “I gotta go” and pushed myself away from the computer. I had to walk away from what I was doing. My eyes filled up with tears, since one of my favorite people in the world was now gone.
A few years ago, my mother-in-law had Alzheimer’s and wandered away from a campsite. We found her almost two months later. Her husband had dementia and he went a month later. So hearing about Malcolm was bittersweet. I believe in heaven, and I figure he’s in heaven now with Bon and [Malcolm’s brother] George.