As we approach the notable  Back in Black   fortieth anniversary this Summer 2020, AC/DC has a secret, and until the In the Studio series of exclusive classic rock interviews, you didn’t find it in the myriad of magazine articles, on-line biographies, books, and fansites dedicated to the band. Sure, you’d see tons of photos and references to lead guitarist Angus Young’s frenetic stage energy while performing in his schoolboy short pants. But understand this : AC/DC was  always  his big brother Malcolm Young ‘s band.

My initial hunch that this was true came during my first interview with the band, as Angus, singer Brian Johnson, and I were discussing the breakthrough album Highway to Hell   (the last with colorful ruffian singer Bon Scott, who died of alcohol poisoning shortly after) and the follow-up with Brian singing, Back in Black .  Numerous times during the conversation, both Angus and Brian alluded to what Angus’s older brother, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young,  thought, said, or did. It became increasingly apparent as the stories unfolded that, musically and spiritually, Malcolm Young was to whom the others looked. Angus Young may have been chosen early on to be the focal point of AC/DC, but big brother Malcolm was always  the heart and soul of this band, becoming even more so after the death of Bon Scott in 1980. (That’s a young Young: Malcolm left, then Atlantic Records promo veteran Michael Prince center, and even younger brother Angus Young right)

So a few years later when another AC/DC interview opportunity arose, I insisted that Malcolm be included, and my hunch was quickly confirmed. Malcolm was plain-spoken, unpretentious, wise, and doggedly determined. And while the excellent biographers at correctly note that AC/DC’s popularity and sales waned from the mid-1980s through the end of the decade, they fail to grasp why: Malcolm’s drinking had increased to a debilitation whereby it was affecting not only his health but his creative leadership of the band, and Mal wisely  took a leave of absence for over two years. So it was then no coincidence  when a clean and sober Malcolm Young rejoined AC/DC  for 1990’s The Razor’s Edge   that it became the quintet’s biggest seller and best-reviewed album since Back in Black  a decade earlier. We are saddened to report that AC/DC co-founder Malcolm Young has passed after a long bout with dementia. Nevertheless, it’s Malcolm’s band. –Redbeard