Personalities | Malcolm Young | Power Behind the Throne | Guitar Heroes

Hailed as one of hard rock’s greatest rhythm guitarists, Malcolm Young (b. 1953) was born in Glasgow, Scotland. When he was 10, the family emmigrated to Sydney, Australia, where Malcolm and younger brother Angus were taught to play guitar by elder sibling George, a member of The Easybeats.

Malcolm founded AC/DC with Angus in 1973. The recruitment of vocalist Bon Scott the following year provided the catalyst for the band’s unstoppable rise from their early Australian-only albums to international stardom with Highway To Hell (1979). AC/DC survived Scott’s death from acute alcohol poisoning in 1980, bouncing back to even greater success (and excess) with new frontman Brian Johnson.

Although less visible than the band’s charismatic singers and ostentatious lead guitarist Angus, Malcolm Young is the power behind the throne of AC/DC; he is chief decision-maker and co-songwriter. Providing the foundation for his younger brother’s guitar heroics, Malcolm nails down the rhythm on his 1963 Gretsch Jet Firebird, although for the tours in support of Back In Black (1980) and For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) (1981), he played a Gretsch White Falcon. His long association with Gretsch guitars was recognized by the introduction of the Malcolm Young signature model, based on the Firebird.

His style is simple, direct and brutal; he plugs straight into the amps and shuns the use of effects. AC/DC standards like ‘Highway To Hell’ and ‘Problem Child’ are built on his insistent three-chord riffs, creating a powered-up version of Chuck Berry’s rock’n’roll blueprint. AC/DC’s guitar sound influenced the new wave of British heavy metal that arose in the late 1970s; bands like Saxon and Iron Maiden have acknowledged their debt to the expatriate Scots, while Malcolm Young’s riffs have inspired speed metal, thrash and grunge.

The rock’n’roll lifestyle caught up with Malcolm when he was forced to miss the band’s 1988 tour because of problems with alcohol. Lookalike nephew Stevie Young substituted until Malcolm resumed his rightful place as the unassuming general in AC/DC’s engine room. In 2014, it was reported that Malcolm was taking a break from the band due to ill health.

Essential Recordings

AC/DC: Highway To Hell

AC/DC: Back In Black

AC/DC: For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)

AC/DC: Black Ice

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