AC/DC axeman Angus Young is a highly influential guitarist. Fusing the musicianship of traditional blues with the more upbeat and aggressive guitar playing of the kind that Jimi Hendrix became known for, Young cultivated an unmistakable style. As soon as an AC/DC track comes on, you know it’s them often because of the opening riff. Be it ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, ‘T.N.T.’ or ‘Thunderstruck’, the number of legendary guitar moves that Young has penned is mind-blowing.
A hard-rock hero, there’s no surprise that budding guitarists today hail him as a God-like figure. The ease with which he plays is something to aspire to, as is the ferocious tone he gets from his classic Gibson SG. Given that he is such a revered player hearing Young discuss his favourite guitarists, has always been a source of interest for fans. To get to know his playing in more detail is vital for all of those wanting to reach the heights of their idol.
While he has mentioned many guitar heroes over his career, three stand out, whose playing you can hear colouring all of Young’s most important creations.
The first of these is the original Seattle guitar hero, Jimi Hendrix. In a 2021 interview with Guitar magazine, Young recalled first hearing the track where Hendrix properly arrived, 1967’s ‘Purple Haze’. He said: “I could play guitar a little bit, but I really got focused on it around the years when I was about 12 into my teenage years, I started to focus more on it.”
Expanding on that formative experience (pardon the pun), Young said: “And around when I was about 13-14, that’s when Jimi Hendrix appeared on the horizon. And when I first heard the song ‘Purple Haze,’ I was totally enthralled. ‘How’s he doing that?’ I was just so impressed with it. When along came Hendrix, you kind of went, ‘Woah! This is another level on guitar.’ So I was very much a fan of that.”
Young took himself to the local newsagents to find more about Hendrix, and there he found a picture of the six-stringed pioneer. Entranced, he knew he wanted to look as good as rock’s king of cool. Much like every guitarist from his generation, Young was also massively influenced by Chuck Berry. Bestowed the title ‘The Father of Rock and Roll’, this gives you an idea of Berry’s importance in developing all things rock. Tearing up the rulebook, and rebelling against the established order, Berry Galvanised an entire generation, including The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and The Who, and they’d go on to create popular culture as we know it.
Instantly, just by mentioning Berry’s iconic ‘duckwalk’, you understand just how any cues Young took from the ‘Memphis Tennessee’ singer, as he borrowed this onstage move and moulded it in his own image. Interviewed by the BBC, Young explained just how greatly Berry inspired him: “Chuck Berry was probably one of the great guitar people for rock and roll. He combined a lot of elements — he combined blues, a bit of jazz and his own unique style.”
Young said: “He melded all these kind of different genres of music, but he seemed to bring it together and bring it out and it (came) out in that rock and roll style — so plain and simple, but it was so effective. I saw him live once when I was younger. I just loved his stage presence and how he performed. He was one of those people, when he got on a stage, he owned it.”
The last guitarist of the triptych who inspired Young was Chicago blues pioneer, Muddy Waters, who is perhaps the most consistently overlooked bluesman of all time in the mainstream. Talking to Total Guitar, Young said: “It’s the emotion in those old blues records. I’ve never really been into the depression stuff. I’ve always liked the happy sort of blues music, like Muddy Waters. Even though he might have been singing about his woman running off with a nineteen-year-old bus driver from Florida, there would be an element of humour in it. That’s what I’ve always loved.”
Exploring these three guitar heroes, you can extrapolate the critical parts of Young’s legendary style. Hendrix gave him that cool edge, alongside the visceral power of his soling, and Berry showed him how to strut his stuff on stage, as well as the ability to blend styles. As for Muddy Waters, the dynamic side of Young’s playing was clearly influenced by him alongside the fun and lighthearted element that is key to AC/DC’s artistry.
Angus Young’s three favourite guitarists:
- Jimi Hendrix
- Chuck Berry
- Muddy Waters