5 October 1947 |
Dunston, Gateshead, England
|Genres||Hard rock, rock and roll, blues rock, glam rock|
|Labels||EMI, Epic, Atlantic|
|Associated acts||AC/DC, Geordie, Sting, Hollywood Vampires|
Brian Johnson (born 5 October 1947) is an English singer and songwriter. Since 1980, he has been the lead singer of the Australian rock band AC/DC, with whom he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
Johnson was one of the founding members of the rock band Geordie formed in Newcastle in 1971. After a few hit singles, including UK Top 10 "All Because of You" (1973), the band split up in 1978. Following the death of AC/DC frontman Bon Scott on 19 February 1980, Johnson was asked to audition for the band in London. AC/DC lead guitarist and co-founder Angus Young recalled: "I remember Bon playing me Little Richard, and then telling me the story of when he saw Brian singing [with Geordie]." 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. 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.
Johnson was born in Dunston, Gateshead, North East England. He is of partial Italian descent and is the oldest of four siblings. His father, Alan, was a Sergeant Major of the British Army's Durham Light Infantry and a coal miner; he died during AC/DC's Ballbreaker World Tour. Johnson's mother, Esther (née De Luca), was an Italian from Frascati. 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.
Johnson's first band was the Gobi Desert Canoe Club. He was also in a band called Fresh. From 1970, Johnson played with cabaret/club band The Jasper Hart Band, 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.
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. 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." 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. 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.
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 2014, they released their eleventh album with Johnson, Rock or Bust.
A symbol of the working class in the North of England, Brian Johnson customarily wears a newsboy cap on stage and frequently off. 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."
Helen of Troy musical
Since April 2003, Johnson, who says "I love musical theatre, especially the classic stuff, like Rodgers and Hammerstein", 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 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. 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. Phil Carson, former chief executive of Atlantic Records, supported the project but it was never staged.
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. They performed AC/DC songs as well as songs written by Johnson for the film Totally Baked.
On 26 July 2009, Johnson appeared as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car on the BBC's Top Gear. His time of 1:45.9 tied 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. 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. In April 2015, Johnson stated it was a mistake for the BBC to sack Jeremy Clarkson after the Top Gear presenter punched a colleague: "I know Jeremy and I know the lads [Richard Hammond and James May] and it’s [the punch] just totally out of character."
His autobiography Rockers and Rollers was published in 2000. He raced in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona on 29 and 30 January 2012. He finished 12th in the Daytona Prototype class, 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 competed in the 2012 Silverstone Classic Celebrity Challenge race. In 2013, Johnson appeared as a guest singer on two songs on Sting's album The Last Ship which features artists with roots in the northeast of England.
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 1969 British caper film The Italian Job and the world's 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.
In July 2009, Johnson was interviewed by Classic Rock magazine, and stated that he is thinking about retirement. In November, he clarified his comments, saying he did not wish to retire but would if he could not perform an entire concert.
Johnson married his first wife, Carol, in 1968. and they have two daughters: Joanne (born 1968), and Kala (born 1973). They divorced during the writing of The Razors Edge album. He is now married to Brenda and resides in Sarasota, Florida. He is an avid supporter of Premier League football club Newcastle United, and was asked to make a substantial investment in the club around 1981/82 after being invited to meet the board by club legend Jackie Milburn.
In September 2009, Johnson was diagnosed with Barrett syndrome. This caused AC/DC to cancel several shows on their 2010 tour in support of Black Ice; however, doctors were able to successfully prevent the disease from developing into cancer. According to The Sunday Times Rich List of British millionaires from the world of music, Johnson was worth £50 million in 2011.
On 9 July 2014, Johnson was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Music by Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne in recognition of his significant contribution to the music industry. In October 2014, Johnson became a supporter of the Yorkshire Dementia Charity based in the village of Topcliffe.
|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|
|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|
|Stiff Upper Lip||February 2000||Elektra||1,000,000||4,000,000|
|Black Ice||October 2008||Columbia||2,500,000||6,200,000|
|Rock or Bust||November 2014||Columbia||500,000||TBA|
|National Lampoon's Totally Baked: A Potumentary Soundtrack||April 2007|
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