AC/DC Without Brian Johnson Or Angus Young?

I was in the middle of writing a 2nd edition of«The AC/DC Strategy» (in German «Das AC/DC Prinzip» when the news about singer Brian Johnson having to stop hit. The major change to the 1st edition was to include the following thoughts, which arose already when rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young was replaced by his nephew Stevie Young. No true fan of AC/DC would have thought AC/DC could continue without Malcolm Young. But then they did and even released a new album, the first one without Malcolm. In my opinion «Rock Or Bust» is even one of their best albums ever. Can the members of AC/DC be replaced without damage to their brand?

The current discussion and wild rumors about AC/DC hiring a new singer made me wait with the 2nd edition and reconsider these thoughts and the discussion I had with the new (and former) rhythm guitarist Stevie Young in June 2015. I will not comment on any of the rumors but the question whether Brian Johnson can be replaced without AC/DC becoming their own tribute band is keeping the fan community busy and concerned.

If the band continues their current tour without Brian Johnson many of their most loyal fans – most of them since three decades – will either sell their tickets or go and watch the new band only as a reminder of «the real AC/DC» they once celebrated. Is there a way to replace Brian Johnson without such a «damage»?

As I have shown in my book «The AC/DC Strategy» AC/DC has a strong, simple and very clear concept of who they are, what music they play, how they interact with their audience and who their audience is. In general my analysis has shown that they follow the 14 Strategic Campaigning Guidelines, as far as one can tell from the outside.

But is AC/DC a concept band that has the power to replace Brian Johnson without damage to their brand and fan community? – I don’t think so, unless they change a few things, especially their current communication.

In my understanding a concept band would be a band following a clear concept of who they are, which music they play and how they interact with their fans, with members that can be replaced without damage to the brand. In a concept band individuals do not count; only the roles they play. These roles must be clearly defined.

In this understanding AC/DC as we know them cannot be a concept band. First of all, as Stevie Young expressed it when we talked: Angus Young cannot be replaced. If he stops, AC/DC stops.

Second there is the fact that AC/DC had more or less – with short interruptions – the same members for more than three decades now. And when in 2014 two members had to be replaced, the band came back with the same musicians who replaced them earlier temporarily.

Loyalty is a core value of the AC/DC brand. This does not mean that it is also a value of the band. A brand is more what an audience perceives about a company, organization or product, not what it truly is. However, if a brand value is not reflected by visible corporate behavior, the brand will be damaged.

As a consequence of loyalty being a brand value, it has become one of the core values of the AC/DC fan community. If being an AC/DC fan makes a person more loyal or if AC/DC simply attracts loyal people does not matter in this context. But true AC/DC fans are loyal as much to their friends as they are to the band’s individual members. We know who these members are and if there is another guy on stage this will not go unnoticed. Should Brian Johnson be replaced without transparent and understandable explanation, many fans will turn away from the band. This has been expressed in endless E-Mails and online discussions.

Can AC/DC continue to provide the world with AC/DC-style hard Rock’n’Roll music, even if the remaining members one day have to be replaced, can AC/DC turn into a concept band without damage to the brand and the fan community?

In order for this transformation to succeed, the following conditions must be met:

  1. AC/DC must publicly respect the value of loyalty: Ideally Brian Johnson should be the one to announce his successor. At least he must publicly express his support. This is the only way to assure acceptance by the most loyal part of the fan community and give the new singer the authority to step into Brian’s and Bon’s footsteps. It would also demonstrate respect to the value of loyalty and respect to Brian Johnson whose contribution to the band as their singer for 36 years cannot be denied.
  2. Should option 1 be impossible, due to heavy disagreements within the band, then the band must at least provide the fan community with transparent and understandable information – again as a sign of respect to the value of loyalty.
  3. The band should officially announce a new era of AC/DC as a concept band in which individual musicians can be replaced. There is enough understandable reason for this: even Angus has to stop one day and if the world wants to get more AC/DC music it is time to think about a future for the band without its founding members, of which only one is left anyway.

Of course, there will be more things to consider, like legal issues etc. but as far as the brand is concerned and the loyalty of the band’s fan community these few recommendations would serve to make the transformation possible. As a result AC/DC would stand for an idea, for a concept of Rock’n’Roll music that can be further developed and continue to provide the world with the music and emotions that AC/DC stands for.

Should AC/DC replace Brian Johnson without respect to loyalty there is a huge risk of the band becoming a shadow of themselves and touring smaller venues, perceived as their own tribute band – like so many bands did before and are still doing.

It’s a lot about respect. And writing about this: I do respect a lot what Angus, Brian, Bon, Chris, Cliff, Malcolm, Mark (Evans), Phil and the others have done for AC/DC, for us fans and for the heritage of Rock’n’Roll. And out of this respect the world should stop speculating about potential successors for Brian and wait for official information instead.

AC/DC without Briand Johnson and Angus Young? – Hard to imagine but not completely impossible.

Frechheit!

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How it came that I talked with AC/DC about quantum mechanics

It’s no big secret that I’ve been a hard-boiled AC/DC fan for 35 years. And of course I always wanted to meet them in person, but that seemed unattainable.

Last October, the goal seemed within reach. I learned a week in advance that they would be in London to shoot the video for the new album Rock Or Bust. Many of my friends would fly there and can now be seen among the 500 fans who attended the film shoot. But I stayed with my wife, who had her birthday on the same  day and wished herself a motorcycle tour with wellness and hiking, so I surprised her with that. (However, I dreamed all night of AC/DC).

To save our marriage, I told her, she would have to make sure that during the next tour I can snap a selfie of Angus and myself. Of course I could not really expect it, but our marriage had to be rescued.

And so two friends and I took a first attempt on 21st May in Munich. We left the concert before the end and drove to the hotel where the band was supposed to stay. But other than that we got to know Paul Panzer (a famous German comedian), who also stayed there and also waited for AC/DC, nothing happened. It turned out that they were at another hotel.

Well I grabbed the ambition. I put our investigator on the issue, in which hotel they would be in Zurich. However, he was not as fast as my mate André and I together. Two days before the concert we walked around the venue and looked at the stage setup. André met a tour photographer who said AC/DC were going to be at the same hotel as during the last tour. I again knew where that was.

So the next day André drove quite early there and waited outside the hotel. In fact he saw Angus and his wife, but they were shielded. Approximately an hour later he called me again to tell me that he had just received an autograph from Angus. I cursed, because I thought that tis was it now. But André said singer Brian Johnson was still out somewhere and maybe we could meet him when he comes back.

So I rode my Harley there to see what would happen. In fact, Brian came back shortly afterwards. He was immediately surrounded by a dozen fans who wanted autographs and pictures, but then were too pushy, so he left very soon.

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We thought that tis was it now, stayed briefly, but when we were about to leave, I discovered Stevie Young, as he was smoking a few yards away from us and was talking to two people, one apparently from the crew.

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Although he kept looking over at us, he made no move to come over. I thought he might be just too shy. So I waved at him, he waved back, I waved him over, he said goodbye to the two and came to us. We chatted for an hour with him. When he learned that I am a physicist, he showed himself as a physics fan and we talked about interpretations of quantum mechanics and other physical phenomena, about the possibility that we create the world with our expectations and the mythology of the Australian aborigines.

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Of course, his role as a successor to Malcolm Young was an issue, too. He told us how Malcolm had asked him to replace him, but first he asked Angus for his approval. Sad Story …

I told him about my book, «The AC/DC Strategy». This interested him very much. I had tried at noon to deliver to the band five copies, via the hotel reception. But the staff refused to take them, on the grounds that they would admit that AC/DC stayed with them if they would accept the books. Stevie called someone from the crew and asked him to take care of this. What I found especially funny was that he did not want to give him my business card, maybe because the flash in our logo stands not only for interventions, but also for AC/DC. This pleased him particularly well.

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After about an hour there was a photo session and autographs. Someone asked him about a plectrum. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of them, all seemingly unused, and he distributed them. Then he got one that seemed particular, because he paused, looked at the plectrum and then at me and gave this plectrum to me with the words, «I used this to play For Those About To Rock at the last concert in Madrid. It is totally worn out».

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Then he left us. We thought for a second time, this was it, kept chatting a little further and wanted to leave, as André suddenly said, «Here comes Angus».

In fact, Angus was just very relaxed strolling from the hotel lobby, probably to smoke, saw us, came straight to me and asked, «Are you back again?». I laughed and replied that I had not been there before, but it was nice to finally meet him and shook his hand. After that we chatted for two hours about everything under the sun.

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Of course, I talked with him about my book and about physics. He wondered how I can apply physic in my current job. I replied that the logical-analytical, and creative thinking is very helpful. Others asked him several questions, including about his favorite guitar. Of this he had two, that were built in the late sixties or early seventies, both Gibson SG. He uses them almost exclusively in the studio. One,however, fell during the opening of a cabinet during a tour in Japan, the neck broke, and although it was mended, he can barely use it because it sounds different now. While an electric guitar wood body should have no effect on the sound, Angus thinks that the timber body has an impact on how you play the guitar and therefore an indirect influence on the sound.

Another issue discussed was the radio transmitter between guitar and amp, and how Malcolm in New York tested the first  one and was thrilled because it enabled them to play even louder than with a cable. The company that produced it, no longer exists today. He had 11 pieces of it, but with time, the sweat made them all broken.

Then we still came to the special sound of AC/DC which no other band can imitate properly. In my opinion next came only the band ’77 from Barcelona, in their original composition. Angus did not know them, although the band once knocked on his doorstep and gave their albums the Angus’ wife Ellen. Angus confirmed what his wife had said back then, that he wouldn’t listen to music younger than the seventies, because he does not want to be influenced by it. Then however, he got curious and I played Big Smoker Pig for him. His comment: «Very close, but they use smaller amps». It continued with stories of how they composed during the seventies in the rehearsal room until exhaustion, so long that actually permanently at least one of them was asleep. Of course, the my other three friends talked to Angus as well. He then signed autographs and we made a photo session and then he left.

IMG_0210 IMG_0216What was I particularly impressed by, was how normal this encounter was. I can now confirm what is written in my book: there is no difference between these world class Rock’n’Roll stars  and their fans, except that the band is on the stage and the fans are in front. Other bands of this caliber would not take so much time for their fans and would not be so easy going. The AC/DC strategy relies very heavily on modesty, loyalty and service mentality. Perhaps this has to do with Melbourne, the place that accelerated their career, and where the common saying of service personnel, which one hears, reads: «Wer’e here to serve you.»

After that I saw the two during their stay in Zurich only during the concerts on Friday and Sunday.

But on Monday morning at 7:11 clock in the morning (!!!) – for a rock band surely in the middle of the night – Stevie sent me an e-mail, that at the reception deck an autographed copy of my book was ready for collection. So it was. In the evening when I picked it, the hotel staff told me that the band had left in the morning. Next time I’m going to see AC/DC it will be in a different light. But above all, my marriage is saved 🙂

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Was eigentlich ist AC/DC?

Diese Frage beschäftigt mich vermehrt seit die Band wieder auf Tournee ist.
In meinem Buch «Das AC/DC Prinzip» hatte ich Ende 2012 zum Strategischen Campaigning Grundsatz Nr. 4 (Aufbauen auf bestehenden Stärken) geschrieben:
«Aufbauen auf bestehenden Stärken kann man dann, wenn man sich seiner eigenen und wichtigsten Stärken überhaupt bewusst ist, und dann gezielt darauf aufbaut, sie pflegt und weiter ausbaut. «Konzentration auf Symbole», «permanente, strategische Ausweitung von Vernetzung und Terrains – unter Beachtung der „Konzentration der Kräfte”», «offene und selbstkritische Auseinandersetzung mit den eigenen Stärken und Schwächen, ohne Rücksicht auf Verluste», «Wiedererkennbarkeit und Redundanz in der Kommunikation», «never change a winning Team», sind weitere, im Zusammenhang mit AC/DC relevante, Interpretationen dieses Strategischen Campaigning Grundsatzes.
«Never change a winning team» ist die offensichtlichste der Interpretationen. Seit 1980 hat es – mit Ausnahme der mehrjährigen Auszeit von Schlagzeuger Phil Rudd und einer kurzen Auszeit von Malcolm Young – keinen Wechsel in der Band gegeben. Und Phil kam zurück.»
Wer die Musik von AC/DC versteht, weiss auch, wie wichtig das war. Oberflächlich betrachtet scheint es, wie wenn Lead-Gitarrist Angus Young und Sänger Brian Johnson die Hauptrollen spielen. In Wahrheit jedoch könnten diese beiden ihre Jobs bei weitem nicht so gut erledigen, wäre da nicht die Rhythmus-Sektion, bestehend aus Phil Rudd, Malcom Young und Cliff Williams. Jeder einzelne von ihnen spielt eine sehr individuelle und wichtige Rolle. Die Musik von AC/DC wäre einfach anders, würde man sie austauschen. Wer genau zuhört, stellt zum Beispiel fest, dass Malcolm niemals genau auf den Takt anschlägt. Es gibt immer eine ganz leichte Verzögerung zwischen Schlagzeug und Rhythmus-Gitarre. Diese Verzögerung gehört zu dem, was die Musik von AC/DC so einzigartig und gleichzeitig wiedererkennbar macht. Sie baut auch die Spannung auf, durch die die Musik getragen wird. Diese Verzögerung ist einer der Gründe, warum es nur wenigen Bands gelingt, so zu klingen, wie AC/DC, obwohl viele es versucht haben.
Keine drei Jahre später stimmt diese Aussage nur noch teilweise. Denn der Gründer und «Kopf» von AC/DC – Malcolm Young – befindet sich mit Demenz in einem Pflegeheim und kann sich angeblich nicht einmal mehr daran erinnern, dass es AC/DC überhaupt gibt. An der Rhythmus-Gitarre steht nun sein drei Jahre jüngerer Neffe Stevie Young. Schlagzeuger Phil Rudd muss sich wegen Drogenbesitzes und Mordandrohung vor Gericht verantworten und wurde wieder durch Chris Slade ersetzt. Sowohl Chris als auch Stevie waren schon einmal für Malcolm und Phil eingesprungen, in den achtziger Jahren, als diese wegen Alkoholproblemen jeweils eine Auszeit nehmen mussten.
ACDC and RosieIn Nürnberg, an meinem ersten Konzert während dieser Tournee, konnte ich deutliche Unterschiede hören und dachte, AC/DC sind nun halt nicht mehr wie ich sie kenne, sie sind Teil der Geschichte und das war’s. Doch schon beim nächsten Konzert in Dresden änderte ich meine Meinung. Es war kein Unterschied mehr zu hören und auch in der neuen Besetzung – genau genommen ist Angus nun das einzige verbliebene Gründungsmitglied – wird die Band bis in die hinterste Reihe fast manisch gefeiert.
Die Riten der Konzerte haben sich ein wenig geändert. The Jack wird nicht mehr gespielt und Angus macht auch keinen Striptease mehr. Aber trotzdem ist jedes Konzert identisch. Auf AC/DC ist Verlass.
Was würde passieren, wäre auch Angus nicht mehr dabei? Oder Brian? Könnte die Band weitermachen, indem sich die Neuen die bekannten und eingespielten Rituale zu eigen machen, darauf aufbauen und sie höchstens nur langsam weiter entwickeln? Sind die Menschen ersetzbar, weil die Band etwas Grösseres verkörpert, das über die Summe der Personen hinausgeht? Was eigentlich macht AC/DC aus?
Ich werde diese Frage mit Michel Philipona diskutieren, der für das Brand Identity Angebot bei  business campaigning GmbH verantwortlich ist. Mal schauen, was er dazu sagt. Seine Antworten werde ich dann wieder hier veröffentlichen.
For those about to rock, we salute you!