On Saturday in Lisbon, Portugal, AC/DC played its first concert with Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose, who stepped in for Brian Johnson after Johnson discovered that he risked serious hearing damage if he continued performing live. In advance of the show, Rose and AC/DC guitarist Angus Young gave an exclusive interview to NME in which they discussed a variety of topics, including how Axl wound up getting the gig.
Rose revealed that it was he who reached out to AC/DC – through a production assistant named Obie who works with both Guns N’ Roses and AC/DC – to offer his services after he heard about Johnson’s hearing issues, which led the band to postpone 10 of its U.S. tour dates earlier this year.
“When I read the news about Brian I just called Obie to find out what they were going to do — not in the sense of like, ‘yeah, I want in!,’ it was more like, if I could help,” Axl tells NME. “I didn’t even know for sure what songs I could sing, I didn’t know what their dates were…[But] I found out Obie had already thrown my name in the hat!”
Young points out that Johnson’s hearing issue came up so suddenly that it forced the band to make a quick decision regarding moving forward. Angus also maintains that it was Johnson who decided to step away from the group, although the singer “was gutted” about not being able to finish the trek.
“It was his call, what he wanted. He made that decision himself. He didn’t want to be deaf,” Angus says. “And I perfectly understand that — when you stop doing this, you want to walk away with all your pieces!”
Meanwhile, Rose admits that he’s had to work hard to learn all the songs he’ll be performing with AC/DC.
“There’s a lot of challenges in the material — there’s all kind of different things that both singers [Johnson and the late Bon Scott] do that make each song special,” Axl notes. “Each song’s kind of etched in stone in how it’s done.”
As for his favorite AC/DC tune, Rose says it currently is ‘Hells Bells,’ because it’s the hardest song I’ve ever had to sing and it was the big challenge.”
Rose joins AC/DC for the rest of the European tour leg that runs through to a June 12 concert in Aarhus, Denmark, and the as-yet-unannounced 10 rescheduled U.S. shows.