By Daniel Kreps November 19th, 2017
Malcolm Young, guitarist and co-founder of AC/DC, died Saturday at the age of 64. Young had been suffering with dementia for the past three years, an illness that forced his retirement from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted band he founded with his brother Angus Young in 1973.
“Today it is with deep heartfelt sadness that AC/DC has to announce the passing of Malcolm Young,” AC/DC wrote in a statement. “Malcolm, along with Angus, was the founder and creator of AC/DC. With enormous dedication and commitment he was the driving force behind the band. As a guitarist, songwriter and visionary he was a perfectionist and a unique man. He always stuck to his guns and did and said exactly what he wanted. He took great pride in all that he endeavored. His loyalty to the fans was unsurpassed.”
Angus Young added, “As his brother it is hard to express in words what he has meant to me during my life, the bond we had was unique and very special. He leaves behind an enormous legacy that will live on forever. Malcolm, job well done.”
The Young brothers lost their older brother George Young, the Easybeats guitarist and AC/DC’s longtime producer, in October at the age of 70.
In an additional statement from Malcolm Young’s family, the band said that Malcolm Young died peacefully Saturday with his family by his side.
“Renowned for his musical prowess, Malcolm was a songwriter, guitarist, performer, producer and visionary who inspired many,” the statement said. “From the outset, he knew what he wanted to achieve and, along with his younger brother, took to the world stage giving their all at every show. Nothing less would do for their fans.”
As rhythm guitarist for the legendary rock band, Malcolm Young served as an indispensable foil to Angus Young’s arena-stuffing riffs. After forming AC/DC in 1973, the Young brothers would be credited as co-writers on every song the band recorded from their 1975 debut High Voltage through 2014’s Rock or Bust. That final album marked AC/DC’s first without Malcolm, who announced in September 2014 that he would permanently leave the band due to dementia.
“We miss Malcolm, obviously,” AC/DC singer Brian Johnson said in July 2014. “He’s a fighter. He’s in [the] hospital, but he’s a fighter. We’ve got our fingers crossed that he’ll get strong again… Stevie, Malcolm’s nephew, was magnificent, but when you’re recording with this thing hanging over you and your work mate isn’t well, it’s difficult. But I’m sure [Malcolm] was rooting for us.”
Malcolm Young last performed live with AC/DC when their tour for 2008’s Black Ice concluded in June 2010 with a concert in Bilbao, Spain.
Malcolm Young, like his older brother George and younger brother Angus, was born in Glasgow, Scotland before the whole Young family emigrated to Sydney, Australia in the early Sixties.
Malcolm and Angus’ first brush with rock stardom came courtesy of their brother George, who found global fame thanks to his band the Easybeats and their song “Friday on My Mind.” Although Malcolm’s two older brothers found success in the music industry, their father still made Malcolm work as a mechanic in a bra factory after leaving school at 15.
“I’ve never felt like a pop star – this is a nine-to-five sort of gig,” Malcolm told Rolling Stone in 2008. “It comes from working in the factories, that world. You don’t forget it.”
In 1973, Malcolm recruited Angus to form a new band, which the brothers named after the “AC/DC” electrical current marker they spotted on their sister’s sewing machine. After a few lineup changes, the Young brothers were introduced to singer Bon Scott by their brother George, who would serve as AC/DC’s producer on their early albums.
Throughout AC/DC’s tenure, Malcolm and Angus Young served as the band’s main creative force, crafting the unmistakable riffs that would make AC/DC one of the biggest bands in music. Together, the brothers would create the music for hits like “Back in Black,” “Hells Bells,” “Highway to Hell,” “Thunderstruck,” “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” “You Shook Me All Night Long” and dozens more rock staples.
However, Malcolm’s time in AC/DC was not without strife: A heavy drinker, he briefly left AC/DC in 1988 during the Blow Up Your Video Tour – his only absence from the band up to and until his dementia diagnosis – to go to rehab to curb his drinking problem. After a few months, Malcolm returned to the band and remained sober ever since. “I was not surprised,” George Young said of his younger brother’s sobriety. “When Malcolm puts his mind to something, he does it.”
E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt said in a statement to Rolling Stone, “Malcolm was the essential rhythm guitarist of the world’s greatest working class Hard Rock band. An irreplaceable loss.”
Guns N’ Roses’ Slash told Rolling Stone, “Malcolm Young was one of the best ever rhythm guitarists in Rock n Roll. He was a fantastic songwriter and he had a great work ethic too. I toured with AC/DC on their ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ tour. I found Malcolm to be a really cool, down to earth fellow. The entire rock n roll community is heartbroken by his passing.”
Heart’s Nancy Wilson told Rolling Stone, “Malcom Young was the embodiment of rock itself. His rhythm guitar style needed no embellishment. He laid down the simple solid guitar truth that taught us all about the ‘less is more ethic.’ The wild power of simplicity and the head banging hair flipping joys of turning it up really loud and dancing with the vibrations. Thank you, Malcom for being the real deal. We are all going to miss that shredding music that only you and your brother could make together.”
Eddie Van Halen wrote following Young’s death, “It is a sad day in rock and roll. Malcolm Young was my friend and the heart and soul of AC/DC. I had some of the best times of my life with him on our 1984 European tour. He will be missed and my deepest condolences to his family, bandmates and friends.”
Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, who regarded Malcolm as one of rock’s greatest rhythm guitarists, tweeted Saturday following Young’s death, “I have to go…I am losing it that Malcolm is gone. I hate this…” Kiss’ Paul Stanley added, “The driving engine of AC/DC has died. A tragic end for a sometimes unsung icon. One of the true greats. RIP.” Tom Morello praised Young as “#1 greatest rhythm guitarist in the entire history of rock n roll.”
Foo Fighters’ leader Dave Grohl honored Young by writing about how, at age 11, watching a live AC/DC performance from Paris in 1979 in the movie theater was life-changing. “That film … was the first time I lost control to music. The first time I wanted to be in a band. I didn’t want to play my guitar anymore, I wanted to smash it,” Grohl wrote. “Thank you, Malcolm for the songs, and the feel and the cool and the years of losing control to your rock and roll.”
The Young brothers and AC/DC were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. With over 110 million albums sold, AC/DC is also the best-selling Australian act of all time.
When Rolling Stone asked the Young brothers in 2008, Who runs AC/DC?,” Malcolm replied, “We both do, because we were there from the start.”