AC/DC’s Cheap Trick Connection: Malcolm Young Was the ‘Main Man’
For Cheap Trick legend Bun E. Carlos, the late AC/DC rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young ranks among the best of rock's best.
"All of us thought Malcolm was the main man in the band," Carlos said in an exclusive interview on the day Young's death was announced. "His guitar peers were Chuck Berry, John Lennon and Keith Richards, I thought."
And Carlos didn't arrive at that opinion simply by listening to AC/DC's best albums. No, he got to see it up close and personal, as Cheap Trick shared the spotlight with Young countless times on joint tour dates, collaborative encores and personal after-show moments.
Some of the memories are funny, while others are outrageous, but all of them point to the deep connection between AC/DC and Cheap Trick.
"Malcolm, Bon and Angus sat in with the band one night," Carlos remembered. "Malcolm used [Cheap Trick singer] Robin [Zander]'s guitar and amp. While [AC/DC frontman] Bon [Scott] and Robin and [Cheap Trick guitarist] Rick [Nielsen] and [AC/DC guitarist] Angus [Young] created havoc and mayhem on the stage, Malcolm walked back and forth along the amp line looking down for most of the time. After the show, I asked him, 'What were you doing up there?' Malcolm replied, 'I was looking for the amp the guitar was plugged into. I couldn't figure out where my sound was coming from.' Robin's amp was under my drum riser, hidden by a black scrim! Malcolm never found where it was hiding onstage."
Maybe their most famous musical moment was actually captured on Bun E.'s Basement Bootlegs, Volume 1: Gigs '79-'94, as Cheap Trick joined Scott and the Youngs in 1979 for a raucous take on Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." It recalls a different time, when the biggest rock bands in the world would show up, sometimes unannounced, and jam.
"That was in like Omaha or Sioux Falls or something," Carlos told Ultimate Classic Rock in 2016. "They were doing another gig that night and they showed up at our gig. They got in early on a day off, and the night before at the same venue, Kansas had been playing and me and Rick showed up and hopped up onstage with those guys for the encore. We didn’t even tell them that we were coming. We just walked out and started jamming with them. It was a lot of fun."
By then, AC/DC and Cheap Trick were enjoying regular intersections out on the road. (On another memorable evening, Michael Schenker joined in, too.) It was easy to see why they became so close so quickly, Carlos said.
"There was a common bond," he said. "We were coming up in the same group of bands, we both had a band with a wild guitar player and a cool singer and a solid rhythm section, so we did have a lot in common. We both had a few albums out and neither one of us had a massive hit at that time."
So, when Bon Scott, Angus and Malcolm Young showed up ready to play, nobody thought twice about it. "We toured with AC/DC on and off for a couple of years and we spent time overseas and stuff, so it was like, 'AC/DC is here and they want to play on the encore,'" Carlos added. "They got up and did 'Day Tripper' and 'Auf Wiedersehen,' and a couple of other tunes with us, too. It was a lot of fun."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the late Bon Scott served as court jester, keeping everyone's spirits up. "It was a short-lived life and he was in full party mode," Carlos confirms. "I remember that by the end of that gig, Robin ended up on a tour manager’s shoulders and Bon ended up on someone else’s shoulders, and the crowd was just going nuts. It was pretty cool. I wish there was video footage."
Eventually, AC/DC and Cheap Trick began to spend time together on stage and off. "It was always fun hanging out with those guys," Carlos said. "If we were at an airport together, we’d start flipping coins for money and stuff like that. If it was a day off, we’d end up in the hotel bar shooting the breeze and talking about touring and stuff. Jamming with those guys was just a gas."