AC/DC is about to play an important gig. It’s late May and THE Ahmet Ertegun, head of Atlantic Records, will be in attendance to check out the Australian band at Surrey University. The band can feel the excitement and they hit the stage with the same ferociousness that they have become so well-known for. And suddenly, nothing happens. The audience is dead, sitting and staring in a hollow-eyed bubonic plague afterglow. “The last thing we needed right now was to stiff a gig in front of Ahmet Ertegun,” Mark Evans wrote in his recent autobiography Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside of AC/DC. And then Angus Young takes over, out in the crowd, flailing around like a bat out of catholic school and starting “a chain reaction,” continued Evans. “They started cheering Angus on, clapping and hooting. It was as if they had all woken from their stoned stupor at the same time. The hippies went absolutely nuts.”
“Yeah, we got them at the end,” Evans laughed after I asked him about this particular incident which he recalled so vividly in his memoirs. Evans came into the band when a friend suggested he audition for the bass player position in 1975, thus beginning an albeit short but invigorating stint and playing on such albums as Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, High Voltage and Let There Be Rock.
The adventures Evans shares in Dirty Deeds range from the funny (Angus and Malcolm playing in the snow) to the strange (encountering a ghost in an old hotel), from the dark (the creeping onset of depression) to the darkest (the death of his daughter). These are the early days of AC/DC and for Evans, he just wanted to share his stories. Told in a manner of utter friendliness, as if you were sitting with him at a local pub, this fun and easy to read tome is like the relish on your favorite vendor hot dog. And Glide had the pleasure of talking with Evans on a warm spring night in America while it was already a beautiful fall morning (the next day) in Australia.
What is going on in your world today?
Well, I’m looking out in my backyard and it’s a very nice fall morning here in Sydney. It’s nice and early but I’ve got coffee so I’m good.
Your book is a wonderful read. You don’t want to put it down.
I’m glad you enjoyed the book. It took a while to get my head around to writing it. I’d been approached by a number of publishers probably since the mid-90’s to do it. But it just got to a situation to where it never felt like the right time till a little while ago. So I took a deep breath and just sat down and put all my thoughts on paper. It’s a very remedial thing to do, quite interesting actually. It’s a very interesting process writing a book.
How long did it take you?
Well, I did it in bits and starts. If I sat down and started this morning and just went straight through, I guess it’d take the best part of maybe eighteen months to write. But writing a book is much like writing a song. Sometimes it’s really easy and sometimes it’s really hard. And you can’t sort of like set a week aside and say, “I’m going to write this week” cause you might get to Monday morning and go, “I’ve got nothing to say.” But then you might go to bed one night and wake up at 2:00 in the morning and go, “Shit, that’s it” and you sit down and write for eight hours. I found sometimes I’d be sitting at the bar at the back of the house that sort of doubles as a writing area for me and sometimes I’d be sending some emails and it could be 11:00 at night, and I’d go, “Oh, I should write about that.” And the next thing I know my wife will be getting out of bed the next morning at 8:00 and I’d still be sitting there writing. You can’t really, or at least I couldn’t, put time aside to do the writing. It just comes when it does and you have to be ready.
When did you know you wanted to write a book?
Oh boy, I think it’s just a natural thing. I don’t think it’s anything you can actually force to do, you know. You just got to feel like it’s the right time for you. I had some things going on on the family front that made me really focus on what’s important in life and I think that was the main trigger for me. My priorities have always been pretty good but I had a couple of things that happened in my life that made me focus on what is really important and that was my motivation. The other motivation for writing the book was that over the years I’ve been shown so much support and kindness from fans of AC/DC, right. They’d come to the gigs and be supportive of the other things I did and after shows they’d say, “What was it like being on the road with the band and what was Bon Scott like?” It’s just a way of paying back all the support I’ve received over the years from the fans and 99.99% of them are really genuine and really lovely people. And the book has given me the chance to put those people on the inside of the band in those really formative years.
AC/DC as a band, they don’t tend to be very outgoing with information. Particularly Angus and Malcolm, they’re very private people in a business that doesn’t necessarily allow for a lot of privacy. So it’s just great to put the fans of the band on the inside of what it was like in the very formative years of the band; particularly with Bon Scott, you know. There are a lot of people interested in what Bon was like. I’ve read other books that have spoken about the period I was in the band and there have been a lot of inaccuracies in what was printed. Some of the stuff I’ve read about the time when I was in the band was like I was reading about another band. It was never really close to the mark. This was just a nice way of putting the fans on the inside of the band and just getting a bit more accuracy into the whole deal.
The way it was written is almost like how you’re sitting here talking with me now or like you were writing a letter to a friend. It had that very personal touch.
That’s very interesting you say that because that’s come up since it’s come out here in Australia. I’ve been doing a constant stream of interviews since then and it’s amazing how many times after I’ve done interviews, or what you’ve just mentioned then, once people have actually spoken to me said, “Oh, this sounds exactly like the book.” (laughs). It’s interesting cause I really didn’t aim for the book to come out that way but I guess it had to come out that way because I’ve written it. I wanted it to be easy to read and I just wanted it to have the feeling as if I’m just sitting down talking with someone. I’ve never written a book before so I wasn’t too sure how to do that. But I’m just really happy how the way the book’s out cause there’s been a number of people who are really close to me that I gave a couple of the pre-production copies to and they all came back and said, “Oh man, it was like you were speaking with me.” So that’s a really, really nice thing that has happened and thank you for that thought cause that means a lot to me and that’s great that it comes across like that. It makes it worthwhile when you hear people say that it’s reached them like that. It’s really humbling too but it makes you feel good.
You’ve been doing a lot of interviews for this book. What have you found is the thing that everybody wants to ask you about the most?
Let me see, it’s been really wide-ranging but probably how I survived it all (laughs). Cause we used to party quite a bit. But I think the major question is probably about my friendship with Bon. A lot of people are very interested in that.
Are you surprised that it’s more about Bon and not Angus?
Not really. I don’t know, even after all these interviews, I’ve still got a fairly open mind on that. I think because, particularly here in Australia, Bon is almost like a mythical figure; in America too now. But Bon is like a god over here. So I’m used to people being very, very interested in Bon. And that necessarily didn’t surprise me. Obviously Angus is very much the front man of the band these days and that’s great too. I’m asked quite a bit too about the reasons I got sacked from the band of course. One of the things about setting the record straight, over the years it’s been pointed out there were a lot of personal differences between Angus and myself that caused me to get sacked from the band. And while that might have been a part of it, that certainly wasn’t the main thing. Angus is an amazing performer and an incredibly intense fellow.
But I wasn’t the only one that had the occasional run-in with Angus, everyone did, because he worked on such an intense level that there’s bound to be sparks flying all around the place. He also has that intensity when he’s on stage. He can’t just switch it off, it’s always going to be there. Along with Malcolm, it’s my belief that they were put on this Earth to create that band so they’re committed; their commitment to that band is just unbelievably strong and I think if I had any problem with them or viewed to have a problem with them it’s probably they viewed my commitment as not being strong enough. Now, I think they gaged everyone’s commitment by how they’re committed so it’s quite easy to be viewed as not stepping up to the plate strong enough. But yeah, the motivation to write the book is not to put the record straight but just get a bit more clarity and transparency into what has been written about the band, particularly the period I was with them.
When you left AC/DC, in your wildest dreams did you ever think that they would still be around today and be as monumental as they are today?
Oh you can’t actually see that, you know. When I got kicked out of the band I didn’t have my crystal ball plugged in (laughs). Maybe if I had had the crystal ball I would have tried to stay in the band a bit better. No, it’s like any band. I take it back to when I first joined the band and the guy that was running their road crew said you just have to remember two things – and he said this in 1975 – he said, “You must always keep in mind this is Malcolm’s band and number two, we’ll be living in London in twelve months.” That would have made as much sense to me if they would have said they would be playing a gig on the moon in twelve months. It just didn’t. I saw it as a great band, they’ve got a record out that is fantastic, it’s a good opportunity and I’ll see how we go. But to think here in 2012 that I’d be talking about a book I wrote about my time, about my life and a lot of it has to do with AC/DC and they were still going and coming up on their 40th anniversary, you’d have been put in a rubber room in a straightjacket. You can’t foresee something like that.
But I think it’s absolutely brilliant and I’m not trying to sound daft or anything but I’m really proud of two things. I’m really proud of the time I spent with the band and I’m really proud that the band is where it is. I think it’s so justly deserved cause those guys put so much work into it and so much commitment and dedication, they deserve to be exactly where they are. I just hark back to the time I was with them but, man, their commitment to what they do is just undeniable. I tell you, they really deserve to pick up all the marbles, particularly Angus and Malcolm and Phil, who I got firsthand knowledge of. Their commitment to what they’re doing is just unbelievably strong. You can be committed to the group but it’s not going to work unless you got the talent and the opportunity. So all those things came together in that period from the mid-70’s to the early 80’s and I think the band is reaping the rewards of all that hard work done very early on. And I don’t point to the particular time I was in the band, I’m just saying that during that time from say the mid-70’s to the mid-80’s, that ten year period, the work ethic was just amazing, second to no one. But like I said, I’m really proud of what has happened with them and they deserve it immensely.
Why did they tell you it was Malcolm’s band?
Well, it is, it’s Malcolm’s band. Malcolm runs the band. Put it this way, that was the way it was working then and I shouldn’t think it’d be anything different. Malcolm put the band together. There’ve been very, very few successful bands that are democracies. That just doesn’t work. You’ve got to have a leader and Malcolm’s the leader. It may be a little bit different now, there may be a partnership between Angus and Malcolm, but I don’t know that. But from my knowledge and my period in, it’s very much Malcolm’s band. And that’s normal for a band, you know. Someone has to be captain of the ship and when I was there it was most definitely Malcolm.
Do you find that he is not given enough credit for his guitar playing?
I don’t think he’s underrated. Anyone that I speak to directly recognizes him as an amazing guitar player. He’s a guy if you think Malcolm Young, the biggest one I can compare him to would be the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards. I think Malcolm’s credibility amongst guitar players is probably second to none. He’s an amazing songwriter and he’s the guy that starts most of the tunes off and he’s the guy that sets the whole thing up and a band has got to have that set-up guy and Malcolm, I believe, is the best in the world at what he does.
Do you find that fans tend to like the Bon Scott era, old school AC/DC, the best?
Sometimes I used to think that people are being kind or being generous towards the period I spent with the band. I love the band, what it does, but I’m probably the worst person in the world to comment about this cause I’m biased but I really dig that stuff, the Bon era stuff. But to qualify that, my two favorite AC/DC albums, albums that Bon was on and I wasn’t, are Highway To Hell and Powerage. So I think that puts the proper light on it cause I’m not saying I prefer the Bon era stuff cause I was there but my favorite rock & roll album is Highway To Hell. I love that. It’s just a perfect rock & roll record. I put it up there with like Exile On Main Street and Who’s Next and all those other great rock & roll records. So the short answer is yeah, I prefer the Bon era stuff too. But it brings me to another point too was the way that the guys handled the transition from Bon into Brian, I thought was amazing. Brian walked into an area where, man, that was a big job to walk into and for them to sort of navigate their way through that which must have been an unbelievably difficult time for the guys and to just buckle up and get on with it and make a record like Back In Black is just phenomenal. I’ve got so much respect for the way they made their way through that transitional period, I thought it was brilliant. I got a lot of respect for the guys for doing that. They did it in true AC/DC fashion: just shut up and get on with it. I don’t think there’s been a better transition when someone’s ever changed singers. I don’t think anyone’s ever done it successfully on that level before. Maybe you could look to maybe Van Halen or something, but with all due respect to Van Halen you’re talking about bands pretty much on a different level here.
I started listening to AC/DC before Bon Scott died and I remember having his picture on my wall when I was a teenager.
No wonder I like you, you’ve got good taste (laughs). Well done, Leslie, excellent. I like rock & roll too, mate.
I go to a lot of concerts and “Highway To Hell” is the only song where I have seen people in the arena stand up and sing to the pre-recorded music before the concert starts.
It’s amazing, you know. As you probably know from the book, I’m a real fan of Australian football and I’ve been to a couple like Grand Finals, which is like the Super Bowl, and they’ll play before the game “Long Way To The Top” or “TNT” and it’s just such a weird feeling being in a stadium with like a hundred thousand people and then Bon comes powering out of the PA. It’s like, fuck, how’d he get here (laughs). Also this year for the promo for the national campaign for the Australian Football League over here they used “Long Way To The Top”; that’s a whole national advertising campaign for the game and it’s amazing they used that song which is now getting close to forty years old. It’s incredible but it still sounds current, it still sounds like it could have been recorded last week. It’s bizarre. Yeah, it’s weird to go to a football game and you hear some of your stuff come out of the PA. It makes my daughter laugh and go, “Hey Dad, they’re playing one of your songs” and I’m like, “shhhh” (laughs), no one knows who I am, please keep it quiet.”
One of the things that surprised me when I read your book was that Bon was almost thirty years old when he was in the band. He was remarkably older than the rest of us. When I joined the band I was nineteen. He was twenty-nine. He was ten years older than me, and I’m fifty-six now, and I can’t believe that. But when someone is forty-six or when someone is sixty-six, that ten year gap between me now, it doesn’t seem all that much. But when you’re nineteen and you’re working with a twenty-nine year old, they’re from a completely different generation. I grew up as a kid, being like thirteen, fourteen years old, buying the rock & roll magazines and newspapers in Melbourne and I knew Bon from his bands before then. I used to follow him. I thought he was really cool. And then to parachute into a band where Bon was the singer was just weird.
What do you think has been the biggest misconception about Bon Scott?
I think that everyone just assumed he was like his onstage persona, that sort of hell raising, drinking, crazy wild-eyed guy. That certainly was a part of his character, cause it had to be part of his character to project that on stage, but it’s very rare that someone’s onstage persona is exactly who they are. While it was a part of Bon, he was more a laid back, hippie sort of guy than the rock & roller. But by his own admission, Bon used to say he was a great bunch of guys. And he was. There was that hell raising, dope smoking guy you used to see on stage. By the same token, he was just a very sort of laid back, hippie sort of guy. Impeccable manners, he was just a really warm-hearted, lovely soul, a very caring guy, and he loved female company too, and not purely from the stereotypical rock & roll side of things. He just really liked hanging out with one lady and was looking for somebody to sort of settle down with. He was just a great guy to be with and you figured he’d be that rock & roll thing out drinking late at night, chasing all the women all the time; he wasn’t like that at all. He was certainly a lot more laid back than that. But once he got a few drinks in him or a few whatevers, he could be like the rest of us too. I think he spent so much time on the road before he was in AC/DC, I think he sort of flattened his batteries with all that partying and stuff.
Do you remember where you were when you found out he had died?
Oh yeah. I was at home here in Sydney and the guy that was managing the band at the time just called me up and said, “Can I come around and bring a bottle of Scotch around?” And I said, “What are you talking about? It’s 3:00 in the afternoon. Why are you bringing a bottle of Scotch around?” He said, “Haven’t you heard?” And I said, “Heard what?” cause I was just at home with the Tv and the radio turned off. I was reading a book – I read a lot of books – and he said, “Bon’s dead, mate.” Even talking about it now, I feel empty. This is one of those weird things. I still have trouble wrapping my head around it now, you know. Without sounding cold about it, while it was a terrible shock, it wasn’t necessarily a surprise. It’s just the way he used to do things. I think he felt a duty to his own stage persona and that rock star sort of lifestyle, so it caused him to push the edge of the envelope way out sometimes. And that seems contrary to what I just said before but that was one part of his personality and while he wasn’t out of control, it wasn’t necessarily a surprise to a lot of people how it ended up. It’s very, very sad and just awful, awful to this day. It’s just one of those things that happened. At the end of the day, essentially it was just an accident that could have happened to anyone. Have too much to drink and fall asleep in a car. It’s just one of those things, you know. It’s just a shitty accident and accidents happen.
You had a really good partnership in rhythm with Phil Rudd. What do you remember most about playing with him?
He was just there all the time and just a great, great drummer. He was built to be in AC/DC. He just understands what it took to be the drummer in AC/DC. I’ve seen the band play a couple of times when Phil wasn’t there, and I’m probably the worst one to comment on this, but it just didn’t seem right not to have Phil there. It sounded like it just wasn’t breathing correctly. And with Phil there, he’s just as much a part of AC/DC as Charlie Watts is to the Rolling Stones. Phil is an incredible part of the band, just an amazing drummer and lovely guy too. But as far as a rock & roll drummer, he’s the best drummer I’m ever going to play with, no doubt about that.
In your book, you talk about your depression out on the road. Was it more loneliness or tension within the band? What brought you down when you were out there?
I still get lonely in hotel rooms when I’m by myself now (laughs). But it’s just who I am. It’s just weird, especially when you’re in a band and you can be playing to like ten thousand people, twenty thousand people, and you’re going crazy and in forty-five minutes you’re back in your hotel room sitting by yourself. And you go, “What the fuck happened there?” (laughs). It’s just odd.
When you first joined AC/DC, things were going pretty fast: you were doing the TV show and then you started touring. Was that more nerve-wracking on you and stressful or just more a part of the adrenalin and excitement of it all?
You know when you’re in a band like that, your bunch of buddies are around you and a road crew, you’re sort of cocooned in it and everyone’s sort of going through the same experience. So you don’t feel like you’re on your own. Everything is just normal. You’re traveling around to different towns and different states and different countries. Everyone is having the same shared experience, you’re not isolated, you’re with a group of people, if that makes any sense. We were working like three shows a day when we were here in Australia. But cause everyone is doing the same thing, it becomes normal to you. Now if I knew that right now I’d have to go through the same workload now, man, I’d be falling over cause I’m like, let’s face it, thirty-four years older. When you’re dedicated to something like that, you can be working really hard and because you love what you’re doing it doesn’t feel like work. That’s the best way I can explain it. And because you’re doing it with a bunch of guys you really dig and you want to be with, it’s a team spirit and that lifts you through the hard times.
So when you joined, you just walked right in and felt at home.
I just walked straight in and it was like getting put in a space shuttle and blasted off (laughs). It was great fun but a heavy workload; but it didn’t seem like a heavy workload because you were working towards a common future.
Do you remember the first show you played with them live?
Yeah, there was about fifteen people there (laughs) but we got paid sixty dollars. But that was very, very early on.
Out of the new era AC/DC, what song do you think you would have liked to have played on? It was a single off the album Black Ice called “Rock N Roll Train” and it’s fantastic. I love that song.
So what are you going to do for the rest of this year? Keep promoting the book?
I’m promoting the book and I’ve got a new CD out [Brothers In Arms] with a guy called Dave Tice and we’re out there promoting our new CD and you can get it on itunes. I’m a busy boy (laughs)