Malcolm Young

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Malcolm Young
Young performing in 2010
Young performing in 2010
Background information
Birth nameMalcolm Mitchell Young
Born(1953-01-06)6 January 1953
Glasgow, Scotland
Died18 November 2017(2017-11-18) (aged 64)
Elizabeth Bay, New South Wales, Australia
Instrument(s)Guitar • vocals
Years active1969–2014
Formerly ofAC/DC

Malcolm Mitchell Young (6 January 1953 – 18 November 2017) was an Australian musician who was the rhythm guitarist, backing vocalist and a founding member of the hard rock band AC/DC. Except for a brief absence in 1988, he was a member of AC/DC from its inception in 1973 until retiring in 2014 due to health reasons. As a member of AC/DC, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.[1] Rolling Stone named Young as the 38th best guitarist of all time along with his younger brother and fellow AC/DC member Angus.[2]

Though Angus was the more visible of the brothers, Malcolm was described as the driving force and the leader of the band. In 2014, Young stated that despite his retirement from the band, AC/DC was determined to continue making music with his blessing.[3]

Young left AC/DC in mid-2014 to receive treatment for dementia.[4][5] In September 2014, the band's management announced that he would be retiring permanently. He died from the effects of dementia on 18 November 2017.[6]

Early life[edit]

Malcolm Mitchell Young was born on 6 January 1953 in Glasgow, Scotland. Young's father, William Young (1911–1985), lived with his family at 6 Skerryvore Road in the Cranhill district of Glasgow.[7] William worked first as a wheel boy in a rope works and then as a machine and saw operator in an asbestos and cement business. In 1940, he joined the Royal Air Force and served in World War II as a flight engine mechanic. After the war, he worked as a yard man for a builder and then as a postman. He married Margaret (1913–1988; maiden name also Young), who was a housewife.[7]

The "big freeze" of 1963 was one of the worst winters on record in Scotland, with snow 8 feet (2.4 m) deep.[8] A TV advertisement shown in Scotland at that time offered assisted travel for families to start a different life in Australia.[8] Fifteen members of the Young family left Scotland in late June 1963,[8] including fifth son George (1946–2017) and younger brothers Malcolm and Angus (b. 1955).[7][8] Also in tow were his eldest brother Stephen (1933–1989), his only sister Margaret Horsburgh (1935–2019) and brother William Jr (b. 1940).[9]: 6–7  Another elder brother, Alex (1938–1997), who was a member of Tony Sheridan's backup group The Bobby Patrick Big Six,[10] stayed in Europe and was later a member of London-based group Grapefruit.[11]: 6–7  Another brother, John (b. 1937), had migrated to Australia separately.[9]: 6–7 

Malcolm later detailed the family's musical background: "All the males in our family played, Stevie, the oldest played accordion, Alex and John were the first couple to play guitar, and being older it was sort of passed down to George, then myself, then Angus."[9]: 6–7  Initially staying at Villawood Migrant Hostel (a site later turned into Villawood Immigration Detention Centre) in Nissen huts, George met and became friends with another migrant, Harry Vanda.[8] The Young family then moved into a semi-detached house at 4 Burleigh Street in the Sydney suburb of Burwood.[12]


Both Angus and Malcolm Young were in a band with their brother George and his music partner Harry Vanda called Marcus Hook Roll Band. The project released an album in Australia called Tales of Old Grand-Daddy.[13] Malcolm Young played guitar on the 1974 release "Evie" by Stevie Wright, written and produced by Vanda and Young. The song is 11 minutes long and has three parts. Young played the guitar solo in Part One of the song.[14] Malcolm Young was in a short lived Newcastle-based band The Velvet Underground (not the well-known 1960s band).

Malcolm Young was 20 when he and younger brother Angus formed AC/DC in 1973. Angus was on lead guitar, Malcolm on rhythm guitar, Colin Burgess on drums, Larry Van Kriedt on bass guitar and Dave Evans on vocals.[11] "Can I Sit Next To You Girl", their first single, was later re-recorded with Bon Scott as their vocalist.[11] They decided upon the name AC/DC after seeing the letters "AC/DC" on the back of their sister Margaret's sewing machine.[15] In 1975 AC/DC had moved to Melbourne.

In early 1977 they returned to Britain and began a European tour with Black Sabbath. While Bon Scott and Ozzy Osbourne quickly became friends, some other members of the two bands did not get on so well. In one incident, Young alleged that Geezer Butler pulled a knife on him,[16] although Butler has since refuted that.[17]

Towards the end of 1977, bassist Mark Evans was fired; Evans cited disagreement with Angus and Malcolm as a contributing factor. He was replaced by Cliff Williams.[11]

In 1988, Young missed the majority of AC/DC's Blow Up Your Video World Tour to address alcohol abuse issues.[11] He eventually became sober and returned to the band. During his absence he was replaced by his nephew, Stevie Young.[18]

Playing guitar in AC/DC from 1973 until his last live gig with the band in June 2010, Malcolm Young toured the world with few breaks on a 37-year run with the band. He continued to write songs in AC/DC until he left the band in 2014,[19] being replaced once again by his nephew Stevie.

During production of their album Power Up, a source inside the band leaked that they were working with tracks from as far back as 2003 that Malcolm had recorded.[20]

History with Gretsch Guitars[edit]

Young in the 1990s

Malcolm Young owned and played several guitars throughout his career with AC/DC, however, he is most commonly known for his use of Gretsch guitars:

  • 1963 Gretsch Jet Firebird – This is his very first Gretsch 6131 which became known as "The Beast". This guitar was heavily modified between 1976 and 1978, during this time, Malcolm removed the neck FilterTron and middle Gibson PAF, leaving only a rewound bridge FilterTron, the firebird red finish was removed and a matt clear lacquer was applied, he also removed the Burns vibrato unit and Space-Control bridge and installed a Badass wraparound bridge. Some time during 1988 during Malcolm's absence from the Blow Up Your Video tour, the guitar was refinished in a yellow lacquer and the Badass was replaced with a Schaller 455 wraparound bridge. In 1996 he removed the Schaller bridge and reinstalled a Burns vibrato and Space-Control bridge, the bridge pickup ring was also removed, The Beast has not been modified since.
  • 1963 Gretsch Jet Firebird #2 – This guitar was used extensively over Malcolm's career as his number 2 guitar, this guitar, like The Beast, started life as a standard 1963 Jet Firebird finished in Firebird red, the finish was stripped and a clear satin lacquer was applied, a middle pickup cavity was also cut to accompany the removal of the neck pickup to mimic the number 1 guitar. Malcolm also rewired the guitar much simpler than The Beast, leaving only the bridge pickup and volume pot connected to the output jack. This guitar also has a Burns vibrato unit along with an Adjusto-Matic bridge. The guitar also features black hole plugs instead of silver as is seen on The Beast. Stevie Young presently has possession of this guitar as his number 1.
  • Gretsch Jet Firebird with Burns Vibrato, black, left-handed, year unknown - This guitar was rewired into a right-handed configuration similar to Malcolm's other guitars, with the neck pickup, pickup selector, and tone control removed. This guitar was given to Stevie Young, and was his main recording and stage guitar with Starfighters in the early 1980s. This guitar is currently his number 2 stage guitar with AC/DC.
  • JayDee Jet "White Arrow" – This guitar was made for Mal some time around 1977/78 and was seen most prominently during the Powerage and Highway to Hell tours. It was originally fitted with two FilterTron pickups and a wraparound bridge, however Malcolm later installed a Gibson tune-o-matic bridge and tailpiece, removed the neck pickup and filled the switch and wraparound bridge holes. Stevie Young also has possession of this guitar as his number 3.
  • 1959 Gretsch White Falcon Project-o-Sonic – This guitar was used by Malcolm for Back in Black and For Those About to Rock, as well as respective tours. It featured a Cadillac G wire tailpiece and two FilterTron pickups. At some point after the For Those About to Rock tour, it was "fixed" by someone other than his guitar tech and it lost its signature sound. It was sold shortly after the For Those About to Rock tour and has changed hands several times, it is now owned by the Hard Rock Cafe.
  • Gibson L6S – Malcolm purchased this guitar in early 1975 while The Beast was getting repaired after a headstock break. It featured a natural finish, two humbucker pickups, a tune-o-matic bridge and tailpiece and a black pickguard. Upon AC/DC's arrival in the UK during 1976, it was modified to a double cut and had the neck pickup and pickguard removed. This guitar was used by Angus briefly as a backup, it was then given to Stevie Young in 1980 who sold it in 1982, before it resurfaced in 2015.

Illness and death[edit]

At the conclusion of the Black Ice World Tour in 2010, Young was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was treated at an early stage, so surgery was successful and the cancer was removed. He also had an unspecified heart problem and had a pacemaker.[21]

In April 2014, Young became seriously ill and was unable to continue performing.[22] On 16 April 2014, AC/DC released a note stating that Young would be "taking a break from the band due to ill health".[23] However, singer Brian Johnson stated that despite earlier reports, AC/DC are not retiring: "We are definitely getting together in May in Vancouver. We're going to pick up guitars, have a plonk and see if anybody has got any tunes or ideas. If anything happens we'll record it."[24] In July, Johnson revealed that Young was in hospital receiving treatment for an unspecified condition and during May recording sessions had been replaced in the studio by guitarist Stevie Young, his nephew.[4] On 24 September 2014, the band's management announced that Young was officially retiring and would not be rejoining AC/DC.[25] Stevie Young continued to fill in for Malcolm on the band's 2015 Rock or Bust World Tour and eventually became his full-time replacement.[26]

On 26 September 2014, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Young had been diagnosed with dementia and had been admitted to a nursing home where he could receive full-time care. A source close to Young was quoted in this article as saying that he had "complete loss of short-term memory".[27] Young's family confirmed four days later that he had dementia, saying that Young "is suffering from dementia and the family thanks you for respecting their privacy".[5]

In subsequent interviews, Angus stated that his brother had been experiencing lapses in memory and concentration before the Black Ice project and had been receiving treatment during the Black Ice World Tour which ended in 2010. Angus confirmed that although his brother did not play on the 2014 Rock or Bust album: "He still likes his music. We make sure he has his Chuck Berry, a little Buddy Holly." He added that AC/DC would continue according to his brother's wishes and standards: "Look, even with his health, Malcolm was touring until he couldn't do it anymore." In that same interview, Angus stated that Young was rehearsing AC/DC's songs repeatedly before every concert just to remember how they went.[28]

In an interview with Guitar Player about Young's songwriting credits in Rock or Bust, Angus stated:

Mal kept doing what he could until he couldn't do it anymore, but I have all the material he was working on. There were a lot of riffs, ideas, and bits of choruses. I'd fill things in to see if we had a song. Every album we've ever done has been that way. There was always a bit from the past, a bit from what we had that was brand new, and, sometimes, just an old idea that either Malcolm or myself had worked on but we never finished. The songwriting process didn't really change, except for the fact that Mal wasn't physically there. So when it came to writing and putting stuff together, I had Stevie [Young] there with me. You see, Malcolm was always a great organizer. He always kept track of the stuff we were writing together. He'd record it, date it, make notes. My records — if you can call them that — are always chaotic. So, this time, Stevie helped me organize a lot of what was there.[29]

Young died from the disease on 18 November 2017 at the age of 64,[30] at Lulworth House in Elizabeth Bay.[31] His funeral was held at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, on 28 November.[32] Young's elder brother George died a few weeks before him, on 22 October 2017.[33]

Legacy and influence[edit]

A street artist painting a Young portrait one day after Malcolm died

Influenced by 1950s rock and roll and blues-based rock guitarists of the 1960s and 1970s, Young was regarded as a leading rock exponent of rhythm guitar.[34]

Guitar Player magazine has stated that the secret to Young's guitar technique was playing open chords through a series of Marshall amplifiers, set to low volume without high gain. This is contrary to a common belief of many rock guitarists that rhythm guitar should involve loud and overdriven power chords.[35]

Dave Mustaine of Megadeth stated in a 2004 interview that he considered himself, Young, Rudolf Schenker of The Scorpions, and James Hetfield of Metallica to be the best rhythm guitarists in the world.[36]

In 2006, he was the subject of a song (and album) title by Australian punk rock band Frenzal Rhomb: "Forever Malcolm Young".

In 2017, Gretsch guitars reissued the Gretsch G6131MY, a signature guitar based on Young's modified 1963 Gretsch Jet Firebird.

On the day of Young's passing, several of the biggest names in rock and metal sent out tributes to Young, including Eddie Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Guns N' Roses, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, Billy Idol, Paul Stanley of Kiss, Joe Walsh, Joe Satriani, Def Leppard, Scott Ian of Anthrax, Foo Fighters, Alice Cooper, Muse, and Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe and many more. Many of these artists covered an AC/DC song at their concerts on the day of or around the time of Young's passing as part of their tribute, including Foo Fighters and Guns N' Roses.[37][38]

Awards and nominations[edit]

APRA Awards[edit]

The APRA Awards are presented annually from 1982 by the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), "honouring composers and songwriters". They commenced in 1982.[39]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
1995 "Big Gun" – Angus Young, Malcolm Young[40] Most Played Australian Work Overseas Won
2001 "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" – Bon Scott, Angus Young, Malcolm Young[41] Ten Best Australian Songs Ninth
2006 "Highway to Hell" – Bon Scott, Angus Young, Malcolm Young[42] Most Played Australian Work Overseas Nominated
2007 "Highway to Hell" – Bon Scott, Angus Young, Malcolm Young[43] Most Played Australian Work Overseas Nominated
2009 "Highway to Hell" – Bon Scott, Angus Young, Malcolm Young[44] Most Played Australian Work Overseas Won
2010 "Rock 'n' Roll Train" – Angus Young, Malcolm Young[45] Most Played Australian Work Overseas Won
Angus Young, Malcolm Young[45] Songwriters of the Year Won
2011 "Highway to Hell" – Bon Scott, Angus Young, Malcolm Young[46] Most Played Australian Work Overseas Won
2015 "Play Ball" – Angus Young, Malcolm Young[47] Song of the Year Shortlisted
"Rock or Bust" – Angus Young, Malcolm Young[47] Song of the Year Shortlisted
2022 "Shot in the Dark"[48] Most Performed Rock Work Nominated
"Realize" – Angus Young, Malcolm Young[49] Song of the Year Shortlisted


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  3. ^ Roberts, Lesley (19 October 2014). "WHOLE LOTTA ROYSTON: WRITER HAILS ROCK BRUVS AS HOME CITY URGED TO HONOUR THEM; How Glasgow Forged Superstar Rockers' Heavy Metal". Sunday Mail. p. 36.
  4. ^ a b "AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young is in hospital, says bandmate Brian Johnson". The Guardian. 10 July 2014. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  5. ^ a b "AC/DC's Malcolm Young Has Dementia". People. 30 September 2014. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  6. ^ "AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young dies at 64". BBC News. 18 November 2017. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
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  10. ^ Warburton, Nick. "The Bobby Patrick Big Six". Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  11. ^ a b c d e Wall, Mick (2012). AC/DC: Hell Aint a Bad Place to Be. London: Orion Publishing group. ISBN 978-1-4091-1535-9.
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  13. ^ Baker, Glenn A. (14 March 1981). "Vanda and Young: AC/DC and the Young Brothers". Billboard. Vol. 93, no. 10. p. VY-4, VY-11.
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  21. ^ Wilkening, Matthew (8 January 2015). "Lung Cancer, Pacemaker: More Malcolm Young Health Woes Detailed". Ultimate Classic Rock. Townsquare Media. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  22. ^ Vincent, Peter; Boulton, Martin. "AC/DC to split over sick band member, according to rumours". The Sydney Morning Herald.
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  26. ^ Grow, Kory (1 October 2014). "AC/DC's Malcolm Young has dementia, family says". CNN.
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  28. ^ "Hard Rock, Harder Times: AC/DC Return Without Two Key Members". Rolling Stone. 14 November 2014. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  29. ^ Molenda, Michael (May 2015). "Unbroken & Victorious". Guitar Player. 49 (5): 48–52, 54–56, 58, 60–61.
  30. ^ "AC/DC co-founder and guitarist Malcolm Young dead at 64". Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  31. ^ "AC/DC co-founder Malcolm Young dead at 64". The Sydney Morning Herald. 19 November 2017. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  32. ^ "Malcolm Young Funeral Held In Sydney –". 28 November 2017.
  33. ^ "AC/DC co-founder Malcolm Young dies aged 64". The Independent. 18 November 2017.
  34. ^ Stafford, Andrew (1 November 2015). "AC/DC: without rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, AC have lost their DC". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  35. ^ Gold, Jude. "Beginner Lesson! AC-DC'S Crushing Chords". Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  36. ^ "'I'm Over My Metallica Demons,' Says Dave Mustaine". 25 August 2009. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
  37. ^ Dave Grohl - Foo Fighters Tributo a Malcolm Young - AC DC, 19 November 2017, retrieved 20 March 2024
  38. ^ Whole Lotta Rosie (Malcolm Young Tribute) - Guns N' Roses @The Forum (11-29-2017), 30 November 2017, retrieved 20 March 2024
  39. ^ "APRA History". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) | Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS). Retrieved 25 April 2022.
  40. ^ "1995 Winners". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Archived from the original on 8 March 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  41. ^ "The final list: APRA's Ten best Australian Songs". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). 28 May 2001. Archived from the original on 16 April 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  42. ^ "Nominations – 2006". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Archived from the original on 18 September 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  43. ^ "Most Performed Australian Work Overseas nominations – 2007". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Archived from the original on 19 September 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  44. ^ "2009 Winners – APRA Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Archived from the original on 12 January 2010. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  45. ^ a b "2010 Winners – APRA Music Awards". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Archived from the original on 1 July 2010. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  46. ^ "2011 Winners". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) | Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS). Archived from the original on 7 December 2011. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
  47. ^ a b "APRA's Shortlist Of The Top Aussie Songs Of 2014 Is Hereng of the Year!". Music Feeds. 15 January 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2022.
  48. ^ "Nominees Revealed for 2022 APRA Music Awards". The Industry Observer. 7 April 2022. Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  49. ^ "2022 Peer-Voted APRA Song of the Year shortlist revealed!". APRA AMCOS. 3 February 2022. Retrieved 26 April 2022.

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