While he's of course best known as the longtime front man for AC/DC, or perhaps the rocker with the most consistent wardrobe, Brian Johnson is also a very serious gearhead, a collector/tinkerer of classic cars and a competitive race driver who has seen the checkered flag on tracks all over the world. As a young man, he also had this fallback job in auto repair - you know, in case the singing gig didn't work out.
Johnson writes about his dual heavy-metal loves in Rockers and Rollers: A Full-Throttle Memoir (224 pp, $24.99, It Books). Rocks Off spoke with the extremely jovial author - and it helps to hear his answers in your head with that distinctive, whiskey-ragged brogue - about fast cars, fast Texas dancing, and the legacy of Bon Scott.
Rocks Off: I know you've done a ton of interviews already.
Brian Johnson [chortles]: Well, I'll try not to bore ya too much, me son! But this is new to me. I'm usually with the band and the boys. This is tiring! Getting up at 6:30 a.m. and talking all day! I got back to my room at 11 o'clock last night. I don't remember if I even had lunch! But I had a little whiskey, and then it was all right.
RO: What is the one thing you haven't been asked about this book that you want somebody to?
BJ: Well, I think it's about this chapter where I'm a little cheeky. It's about a man I used to play with, Tom Hill, [bassist] in my band Geordie. He was very, um, tight with his money. And I wrote this thing that I thought was very funny but nobody got it. I said "Every band has one, ours was called Tom Hill." Um, we're not on the radio, are we?
BJ: Good! OK, so, when you see a band, someone will walk up to their friend and say 'OK, which one up there is the cunt!' (laughs) Because every band has one! So I didn't really say anything bad about him, but nobody got it! Ah well, I know you can't print that anyway.
RO: Actually, yes I can.
BJ: Oh! (laughs) Well!
RO: I think it's fascinating that for the book, you jog memories by what you drove at the time.
BJ: Well, me memory's bad, and that's what I had to do. You should try it yourself! Think of the car you had at a particular point. And then all these memories will come back. It works!
RO: For someone who isn't into driving fast cars, can you describe what the thrill is?
BJ: Well, the thing about being in a fast car is that you have to go fast in it. A lot of people have fast cars, and they just want to sit in it and look good and look cool, a bit of a lad. Whereas racing them and driving them fast is a different thing.
One of the things about America is that you can see a young girl, 16, in her brand new boss Mustang that Daddy's bought her and she's got her earphones in and she's texting somebody and you look at them and think what the heck is she doing? If she's going to try and take a corner, fast, she's gonna kill herself! It's an endless source of amusement for me.
RO: Do you think sometimes that this band thing gets in the way of your driving?
BJ: Oh, yea. Well, the two years we were [on tour], I couldn't do it. So when I came back, I was all rusty. But it just takes you a couple of races, and you're back on the podium again! You don't just get in the car and point it, you've got to keep you wits about you. The only good thing about racing is that nothing is coming at you the other way.
RO: How have the book signings been going? Being on stage for two hours having people stare at you and sitting behind a table with a pile of books for two hours is pretty different.
BJ: I tell ya, it's good, because you can actually meet the fans. I've quite enjoyed it, even though my hand was dropping off! You see such a cross section of people. I had this granny the other night and she said [Johnson affects a thick New York accent, which is pretty damn funny] "Hi. This is for my two grandsons! It's a present for them." And I thought what a lovely woman, to have the balls to get into the line and do that. But I'm about knackered!
RO: You told Howard Stern the other day that your favorite song was "Low Rider" by War.
BJ: Well, it's the best driving song of all time. I love to put that on when I drive. Try it sometime, me son!
RO: Well, since I'm in Houston, I see a lot of real low riders.
BJ: But I would never drive one of those, because it looks like you're having a pretty quick one off the wrist when you're driving with bad suspension and jumping up and down. That's not driving, that's just showing off. But it's a work of art.
RO: Do you have any particular memories about being in Houston?
BJ: Houston is always fun, ya know? Everyone has a grand time in Houston. I learned to do that dance, um, what was it called?
RO: "Cotton-Eyed Joe"?
Yeeeeah! Now I remember! And I remember all the women I danced with were like six-foot-seven and gorgeous!
BJ: Yeah, you just never expect anything. And when we got the phone call to say it was No. 1 in 32 countries...God! We all just looked at each other and couldn't believe it.
RO: It was interesting how Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy came out at the same time, and it was a completely different story. I think it's a testament to how your fans feel about you.
BJ: Well...I don't like to speak ill of anyone. We do love our fans and respect them. You must respect them, because they spend their money on you. You can't pretend they're not there when it's time to deliver the goods.
RO: Even though you've been in the band far longer than him, you always acknowledge and pay tribute to what Bon Scott did with AC/DC. That's very gracious.
BJ: Oh, no, it's a natural fact. The guy was a genius with his lyrics and his presence. And I loved him and appreciated him before I joined the band, and I still talk to his family. He helped get that band to where they were. And his unfortunate demise it's just...he paid the price for rock and roll. We all do daft things when we're young. Some of us get away with it, some of us don't, you know?
RO: I understand you're happy with the new DVD, AC/DC Live at River Plate.
BJ: Oh yeah! We know, we never look at ourselves, but this one, I was stunned at how good it was! There's 21 cameras that recorded everything, and the Argentine audience was unbelievable.
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RO: So, what's in the future for AC/DC? Is there a future?
BJ: Well, we never say never. We just get together when it feels right. There's no planning. We do what we fancy doing and off we go! Then we go out, say hello to the audience, then it's like 1-2-3-4. It's like sucking on your mommy's tit. You just fall into it! Hoo-ah!