Brian Johnson

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This article is about the singer. For other people named Brian Johnson, see Brian Johnson (disambiguation).
Brian Johnson
Brian Johnson.jpg
Brian Johnson live with AC/DC on November 23, 2008 in Saint Paul, Minnesota
Background information
Born (1947-10-05) 5 October 1947 (age 66)
Dunston, Gateshead, England
Genres Hard rock, rock and roll, blues rock, glam rock
Occupations Singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1971–present
Labels EMI, Epic, Atlantic
Associated acts AC/DC, Geordie, Sting

Brian Johnson (born 5 October 1947) is an English singer and lyricist. Since 1980, he has been the lead singer of Australian rock band AC/DC, with whom he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.

AC/DC lead guitarist and co-founder Angus Young once recalled: "I remember Bon playing me Little Richard, and then telling me the story of when he saw Brian singing." He says about that night: "There's this guy up there screaming at the top of his lungs and then the next thing you know he hits the deck. He's on the floor, rolling around and screaming. I thought it was great, and then to top it off – you couldn't get a better encore – they came in and wheeled the guy off!'" Johnson was diagnosed with appendicitis later that night, which was the cause of his writhing around on stage.[1] The band agreed immediately that Johnson's performing style fit AC/DC's music. Johnson's first album with AC/DC, Back in Black, became the second best-selling album worldwide.

Early life[edit]

Johnson was born in Dunston, Gateshead. He is of Italian descent and is the eldest of four siblings. His father, Alan, was a Sergeant Major of the British Army's Durham Light Infantry and a coal miner;[2] he died during AC/DC's Ballbreaker tour. Johnson's mother, Esther (née De Luca), was an Italian from Frascati.[3] When he was young, Johnson performed in various shows with the Scouts, and appeared in a play which aired on television, and joined a local church choir.[4]

Career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Johnson's first band was the Gobi Desert Canoe Club.[5] He was also in a band called Fresh.[6] From 1970, Johnson played with cabaret/club band The Jasper Hart Band,[7] performing songs from the musical Hair as well as soft-rock/pop songs of the time. He and other members of the band went on to form Geordie.

His first and only solo single, "I Can't Forget You Now", he released also as a member of Geordie in January 1976 on the Red Bus label. In 1982, a compilation including only Geordie's 1973–1976 ten songs was issued as Brian Johnson's solo album Strange Man on the MCA label. The US 1989 CD Keep On Rocking, with re-recorded versions of the band's twelve known songs was released under the name of Brian Johnson and Geordie as well as the Australian 1991 compilation CD Rockin' With The Boys 1972–1976.

AC/DC[edit]

Following Bon Scott's death, the remaining members of the band briefly considered quitting. They eventually concluded, however, that Scott would have wanted AC/DC to continue. Various candidates were considered for his replacement, including ex-Back Street Crawler vocalist Terry Slesser and Slade's Noddy Holder, before selecting Johnson.[8] AC/DC guitarist and co-founder Angus Young later recalled, "I remember the first time I had ever heard Brian's (Johnson) name was from Bon. Bon had mentioned that he had been in England once touring with a band and he had mentioned that Brian had been in a band called Geordie and Bon had said 'Brian Johnson, he was a great rock and roll singer in the style of Little Richard.' And that was Bon's big idol, Little Richard. I think when he saw Brian at that time, to Bon it was 'Well he's a guy that knows what rock and roll is all about.' He mentioned that to us in Australia. I suppose when we decided to continue, Brian was the first name that Malcolm and myself came up with, so we said we should see if we can find him."[citation needed] In March 1980 Johnson received a phone call inviting him to London to audition as the new vocalist for AC/DC. As a big AC/DC fan, he was happy to oblige. Malcolm remembers the day: "We were all sitting there going, Where's this guy Brian? He should have been here an hour ago. 'Oh him? He's downstairs playing pool with the roadies' – so we thought, well, at least he plays pool."

When someone fetched him to meet them, Malcolm recalls that Johnson, "had tears in his eyes. He was as sad about Bon as we were. Anyway, we said, Do you want to give it a go? And he said, 'I do Whole Lotta Rosie with Geordie,' and off he went. We went, fucking hell, this guy is cutting the mustard. Anything else you know? 'Nutbush City Limits?' OK, we can knock that out, and he sang that great too. It put a little smile on our faces – for the first time since Bon. So we just started working with him then." Within days, Johnson was in the band, the news being made official, amusingly enough, on 1 April. A week after that he was sent a plane ticket to the Bahamas (their management's idea, for tax purposes) where he joined the Youngs, bassist Cliff Williams, drummer Phil Rudd and Highway to Hell producer Mutt Lange in Compass Point Studios.[citation needed] The result was the album Back in Black, which was released in July that year. It was a worldwide success and went on to become the second best-selling album of all time. Their next album, For Those About to Rock We Salute You in 1981, also sold well. The raw, self-produced albums Flick of the Switch and Fly on the Wall were not as commercially successful as the previous two albums with Johnson. Who Made Who, released in 1986, was the soundtrack for the horror film Maximum Overdrive and brought back AC/DC's mainstream popularity. In 1986, Johnson appeared returned to Tyneside in the controversial music video for "You Shook Me All Night Long", and the video received significant airplay on MTV.[9]

Brian Johnson hangs on to a bell while performing the song "Hells Bells".

The 1988 album Blow Up Your Video was the last AC/DC album to feature lyrics from Johnson. Starting with The Razors Edge in 1990, guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young have written all of AC/DC's material. When asked by a fan during a radio interview why he stopped contributing lyrics, he laughed, "I ran out of words" and went on to explain that during recording he didn't always enjoy the pressure of having to come up with an album's worth of lyrics and was relieved when the Young brothers filled in during The Razors Edge. The band has since continued in that tradition for every album since. In 2008, they released their tenth album with Johnson, Black Ice.[10]

A symbol of the working class in the North of England, Brian Johnson customarily wears a newsboy cap on stage and frequently off.[11][12] Johnson has occasionally worn baseball caps as well. His brother suggested that the singer wear the cap onstage to prevent sweat rolling off his thick, curly hair into his eyes while singing. "He said, 'Put it on, at least you'll be able to see what the bloody freak you're doing!' So I put it on and after three songs in the second set, I looked at him, put my thumbs up – 'This is brilliant!' He never did get that hat back."[13]

Helen of Troy musical[edit]

Since April 2003, Johnson, who says "I love musical theatre, especially the classic stuff, like Rodgers and Hammerstein",[14] has been working on a musical version of Helen of Troy with Sarasota Ballet choreographer, Robert de Warren. The musical is a Les Misérables-style musical with rousing anthems, tender ballads and minimal dialogue. He conceived the project with writers Ian La Frenais, Dick Clement and Brendan Healy[15] after seeing Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, Cats and being underwhelmed at what he saw.

Malcolm McDowell, who made his recording debut singing one of the songs for the soundtrack in Brian's studio, has agreed to play Zeus. The Cranberries singer Dolores O'Riordan and Bruce Vilanch are also set to participate.[16] In 2004 Johnson travelled to Greece to film an episode of the television series Goddess Odyssey in which he researched the Helen of Troy myth. It was released on DVD in July 2005 and contains music from the theatre production.[17] Phil Carson, former chief executive of Atlantic Records, supported the project but it was never staged.[18]

Other activities[edit]

A car and racing enthusiast, Johnson currently enjoys racing his vintage race cars: a Royale RP-4 and a Pilbeam MP84, which he races in vintage and historic races throughout the United States. In 1997, Johnson recorded with the band Jackyl on their song "Locked and Loaded", and in 2002 wrote lyrics on the track "Kill the Sunshine" from their album Relentless. In the video game Call of Duty: Finest Hour, he voices Sergeant Starkey. He made a cameo appearance in the 2005 film Goal! where he appears as a Newcastle United fan in a bar in California watching a Newcastle game.

In 2006 he took part in car racing reality television series The Race, broadcast on Sky One in the UK. In 2007 Johnson and AC/DC bassist Cliff Williams took part in the Classic Rock Cares tour to raise funds for the John Entwistle Foundation which is run by Entwistle's long-time friend and drummer Steve Luongo.[19] They performed AC/DC songs as well as songs written by Johnson for the film Totally Baked. These were "Blood Alley", "Chain Gang on the Road" and "Who Phoned the Law".[citation needed]

On 26 July 2009, Johnson appeared as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car on the BBC television programme Top Gear. His time of 1:45.9 ties him with Britain's Got Talent judge Simon Cowell and Grand Designs host Kevin McCloud for the second fastest time in the Chevrolet Lacetti, just 0.1 seconds behind Jay Kay. He was introduced by Jeremy Clarkson as "a man who has sold more records than The Beatles, and I bet almost none of [the audience] have ever heard of him". Johnson subsequently appeared in the premiere of Top Gear series 20 and was the first star to record a time in their new Vauxhall Astra test vehicle, recording a time of 1:45.1.

His autobiography Rockers and Rollers was published in October 2009[citation needed], and was released in the United States on 29 July.[20] He raced in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona on January 29 and 30, 2012. He finished 12th in the Daytona Prototype class,[21] driving for 50+Predator/Alegra Racing, sharing the #50 Dinan/BMW Daytona Prototype with Elliott Forbes-Robinson, Byron DeFoor, Jim Pace, and Carlos de Quesada. He is competing in the 2012 Silverstone Classic Celebrity Challenge race. In 2013, Johnson appeared as a guest singer on two songs on Sting's The Last Ship. CD.

In May 2014, Quest broadcast "Cars That Rock with Brian Johnson", a documentary series fronted by Johnson where he explores his favourite iconic motor cars. The first episode looks at the history of the Mini, with Johnson driving a big selection of the car, including the cars from The Italian Job and the worlds fastest Mini. It concludes with Johnson racing a Mini Cooper at Brands Hatch, and finishes with him stating he has bought the car he raced.

Possible retirement[edit]

In July 2009, Johnson was interviewed by Classic Rock magazine, and stated that he is thinking about retirement.[22] In November, he clarified his comments, saying he did not wish to retire but would if he could not perform an entire concert.[23]

Personal life[edit]

Johnson married his first wife, Carol, in 1968.[24] They divorced during the writing of The Razors Edge album. They have two daughters: Joanne (1968), and Kala (1973).[25] He resides in Sarasota, Florida. He is also an avid supporter of Newcastle United, whom he once attempted to buy.

In September 2009, Johnson was diagnosed with Barrett syndrome.[26] This caused AC/DC to cancel several shows on their 2010 tour in support of Black Ice. However, doctors were able to prevent the disease from developing into cancer.[26] According to The Sunday Times Rich List of British millionaires from the world of music, Johnson was worth £50 million in 2011.[27]

On 9 July 2014, Johnson was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Music by Northumbria University in his hometown of Newcastle upon Tyne in recognition of his significant contribution to the music industry.[28]

Discography[edit]

With Geordie

Title Release date Label
Hope You Like It 1973 Repertoire Records
Don't Be Fooled by the Name 1974 Repertoire Records
Save the World 1976 EMI
No Good Woman 1978 EMI

With AC/DC

Title Release date Label U.S. Album Sales Worldwide sales
Back in Black July 1980 Atlantic 22,000,000 50,000,000
For Those About to Rock November 1981 Atlantic 4,000,000 7,000,000
Flick of the Switch September 1983 Atlantic 1,000,000 4,000,000
Fly on the Wall June 1985 Atlantic 1,000,000 4,200,000
Who Made Who May 1986 Atlantic 5,000,000 10,000,000
Blow Up Your Video January 1988 Atlantic 2,000,000 4,000,000
The Razors Edge September 1990 Atco 5,000,000 12,000,000
Live October 1992 Atco 5,000,000 8,000,000
Ballbreaker September 1995 Elektra 2,000,000 6,000,000
Stiff Upper Lip February 2000 Elektra 1,000,000 4,000,000
Black Ice October 2008 Columbia 2,500,000[29] 6,200,000

Solo

Title Release date
National Lampoon's Totally Baked: A Potumentary Soundtrack April 2007

References[edit]

  1. ^ "ACDC Biography". ACDC Biography. Retrieved 2012-01-02. 
  2. ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/10771266/Brian-Johnson-cars-give-me-the-same-thrill-as-music.html
  3. ^ "Brian Johnson biography". IMDb.com. 
  4. ^ "Johnson biodata". Bedlam in Belgium. Retrieved 21 December 2006. 
  5. ^ Rockers and Rollers : An Automotive Autobiography pg. 7
  6. ^ Rockers and Rollers : An Automotive Autobiography pg. 107
  7. ^ "A History of The Jasper Hart Band". Retrieved 1 August 2009. 
  8. ^ Classic Rock magazine, June 2009, p.41
  9. ^ You Shook Me All Night Long Allmusic
  10. ^ Italian Rock Hard magazine, January 2004
  11. ^ Anthony Bozza (2009). Why AC/DC Matters. p.54. HarperCollins, Retrieved 30 November 2011
  12. ^ Katie Wales (2006). Northern English: a cultural and social history. p.26. Cambridge University Press, 2006
  13. ^ "AC/DC Lead Singer Brian Johnson – Black Ice and U.S. Soldiers – Celebrity Drive – Motor Trend". Motor Trend. Retrieved 10 April 2010. 
  14. ^ "Bruce Vilanch Added to Cast of Helen of Troy Musical Reading". Playbill. 
  15. ^ Stephenson, John-Paul (13 October 2012). "Interview:Brendan Healy". Giggle Beats. Retrieved 14 October 2012. 
  16. ^ Classic Rock magazine, October 2003
  17. ^ "Helen of Troy – Brian Johnson Ballet". Crabsody in Blue. Retrieved 24 March 2010. 
  18. ^ http://www.popmatters.com/feature/184155-the-youngs-the-brothers-who-built-ac-dc-riff-raff/
  19. ^ "Classic Rock Cares". Crabsody in Blue. Retrieved 24 March 2010. 
  20. ^ "Rockers And Rollers By Brian Johnson! | News | The Official AC/DC Site". Acdc.com. 2000-02-28. Retrieved 2012-01-02. 
  21. ^ "2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona results from Racing Reference". racing-reference.info. 2012-01-29. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  22. ^ "AC/DC frontman on retirement.". Ultimate-Guitar. 
  23. ^ "AC/DC singer Brian Johnson on the highway to Melrose". Scotland On Sunday. 14 November 2010. 
  24. ^ Rockers and Rollers : An Automotive Autobiography pg. 100
  25. ^ Rockers and Rollers: An Automotive Autobiography, pp. 84, 106
  26. ^ a b Ac/Dc's Johnson Opens Up About Cancer Scare
  27. ^ "The top 50 richest people in music: Sunday Times Rich List"'. This is Money. Retrieved 22 October 2012
  28. ^ "AC/DC rock singer becomes Doctor of Music". Northumbria.ac.uk. 2014-07-09. Retrieved 2014-07-25. 
  29. ^ "AC/DC add stadium dates to the Black Ice World Tour". LondonNet. Retrieved 16 January 2009. 

External links[edit]