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Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson (born 5 October 1947) is an English singer and lyricist who, since 1980, has been the lead singer for the rock band AC/DC, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 along with the other members of the band.

In 1972, Brian Johnson became one of the founding members of the glam rock band Geordie. After a few hit singles, including UK Top 10 "All Because Of You" (1973), the band split up in 1978 then to be reformed by Johnson in 1980. But after signing a new record deal, Johnson was asked to audition for AC/DC, whose charismatic frontman, Bon Scott, had died on February 19, 1980. A fan in Chicago sent a tape of Johnson performing with Geordie to the band's manager Peter Mensch. Mensch recommended him to the band. With the support of his bandmates in Geordie, and following advice from popular radio host James Whale, Brian Johnson joined AC/DC. In an A&E television biography on AC/DC, Angus Young said that the group saw Johnson howling and writhing on the floor during a Geordie concert. They agreed immediately that Johnson's performing style fitted AC/DC music. Johnson's first album with AC/DC, Back in Black, is the second best selling album of all time, and the best selling album by any band.


Brian Johnson was born on Dunston, Gateshead, England. He is of English and Italian descent and is the eldest of four siblings. Johnson's father, Alan, was a Sergeant Major of the British Army's Durham Light Infantry and a coal miner; his mother, Estherina De Luca, was an Italian from Frascati. When he was young, Johnson performed in various shows with the Scouts, and appeared in a play which aired on television, and joined a local church choir.

Early career

Johnson's first band was the Gobi Desert Canoe Club. He was also in a band called Fresh. From 1970, Johnson played with cabaret/club band The Jasper Hart Band, performing songs from the musical Hair as well as soft-rock/pop songs of the time. He and other members of the band went on to form Geordie.

His first and only solo single, "I Can't Forget You Now", he released also as a member of Geordie in January 1976 on the Red Bus label. In 1982, a compilation including only Geordie's 1973-1976 ten songs was issued as Brian Johnson's solo album Strange Man on the MCA label. The US 1989 CD Keep On Rocking, with re-recorded versions of the band's twelve known songs was released under the name of Brian Johnson & Geordie as well as the Australian 1991 compilation CD Rockin' With The Boys 1972-1976.


In March 1980 Johnson received a phone call inviting him to London to audition as the new vocalist for AC/DC. Their previous vocalist, Bon Scott, had died from a night of heavy drinking on 19 February and the band wanted to continue. At the audition, Johnson sang the AC/DC song "Whole Lotta Rosie" and Ike & Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits". In early April, Johnson was announced as the new vocalist of AC/DC.

Johnson and company finished the work they had begun under the late Bon Scott, and the result was the album Back in Black, the first AC/DC album to feature Johnson, which was released in July that year. It was a worldwide success and went on to become the second best selling album of all time. Their next album, 1981's For Those About to Rock We Salute You also sold well. The raw, self-produced albums Flick of the Switch and Fly on the Wall were not as commercially successful as the previous two albums with Johnson. Who Made Who, released in 1986, was the soundtrack for the horror film Maximum Overdrive and brought back AC/DC's mainstream popularity.

The 1988 album Blow Up Your Video was the last AC/DC album to feature lyrics from Johnson. Starting with 1990's The Razors Edge, guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young have written all of AC/DC's material. When asked by a fan during a radio interview why he stopped contributing lyrics, he laughed, "I ran out of words", and went on to explain that during recording, he didn't always enjoy the pressure of having to come up with an album's worth of lyrics and was relieved when the Young brothers filled in during The Razors Edge. The band has since continued in that tradition for every album since. In 2008, they released their tenth album with Johnson, Black Ice.

On studio albums, Johnson performs all lead vocals and some background along with Malcolm Young and Cliff Williams. The same applies live on stage, but on some songs, such as Dirty Deeds done Dirt Cheap, lead guitarist Angus Young also sings backing vocals.

Brian Johnson customarily wears a cap on stage and frequently off. Originally, he wore a flat cap, once regarded as a symbol of his native Tyneside, but has occasionally worn baseball caps as well. His brother suggested that the singer wear the cap onstage to prevent sweat rolling off his thick, curly hair into his eyes while singing. "He said, 'Put it on, at least you'll be able to see what the bloody freak you're doing!' So I put it on and after three songs in the second set, I looked at him, put my thumbs up — 'This is brilliant!' He never did get that hat back."

Other activities

A car and racing enthusiast, Brian Johnson currently enjoys racing his vintage race cars: a Royale RP-4 and a Pilbeam MP84, which he races in vintage and historic races throughout the United States.

In 1997, Johnson recorded with the band Jackyl on their song "Locked and Loaded", and in 2002 wrote lyrics on the track "Kill the Sunshine" from their album Relentless.

In the video game Call of Duty: Finest Hour, he voices Sergeant Starkey of British forces.

He also made a cameo appearance in the 2005 film Goal! where he appears as a Newcastle United fan in a bar in California watching a Newcastle game.

In 2006 he took part in car racing reality television series The Race, broadcast on Sky One in the UK.

In 2007 Johnson and AC/DC bassist Cliff Williams took part in the Classic Rock Cares tour to raise funds for the John Entwhistle Foundation. They performed AC/DC songs as well as songs written by Johnson for the film Totally Baked. These were "Blood Alley", "Chain Gang on the Road" and "Who Phoned the Law".

On 26 July 2009 Johnson appeared as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car on the BBC television programme Top Gear. His time of 1:45.9 ties him with Simon Cowell and Kevin McCloud for the second fastest time in the Chevrolet Lacetti, just 0.1 seconds behind Jay Kay. He was introduced by Jeremy Clarkson as "a man who has sold more albums than The Beatles, and I bet almost none of [the audience] have ever heard of him".

He performed the vocals for the fictional band " Vesuvius" in the movie "The Rocker".

His autobiography Rockers and Rollers was published in October 2009, and was released in the United States on 29 July.

26 April 2010 Reuters reported that the soundtrack from the movie "Doonby" was to include music from AC/DC singer Brian Johnson.

Possible retirement

In July 2009, Brian Johnson was interviewed by Classic Rock magazine, and stated that he is thinking about retirement.

In November he clarified his comments, saying he did not wish to retire but would if he could not perform an entire concert.

Personal life

Johnson married his first wife, Carol, in 1968. They divorced during the writing of the The Razors Edge album. They have two daughters, Joanne (born 1968) and Kala (born 1973). He is now married to Brenda.

He currently resides at his home in Sarasota, Florida. He is also an avid supporter of English football team Newcastle United, and once attempted to buy the club.

Brian states in his autobiography that he has "never believed in God as such, but if there has to be one, then let it be the one who looked after me."

In September 2009, Johnson was diagnosed with Barrett's Syndrome. This caused AC/DC to cancel a few shows in their 2009 tour of Black Ice. However, doctors were able to prevent the disease from developing into cancer.


With Geordie

Title Release date Label
Hope You Like It 1973 Repertoire Records
Don't Be Fooled by the Name 1974 Repertoire Records
Save The World 1976 EMI
No Good Woman 1978 EMI

With AC/DC

Title Release date Label U.S. Album Sales Worldwide sales
Back in Black July 1980 Atlantic 22,000,000 49,000,000
For Those About to Rock November 1981 Atlantic 4,000,000 7,000,000
Flick of the Switch September 1983 Atlantic 1,000,000 4,000,000
Fly on the Wall June 1985 Atlantic 1,000,000 4,200,000
Who Made Who May 1986 Atlantic 5,000,000 10,000,000
Blow Up Your Video January 1988 Atlantic 2,000,000 4,000,000
The Razors Edge September 1990 Atco 5,000,000 12,000,000
Live October 1992 Atco 5,000,000 8,000,000
Ballbreaker September 1995 Elektra 2,000,000 6,000,000
Stiff Upper Lip February 2000 Elektra 1,000,000 4,000,000
Black Ice October 2008 Columbia 2,500,000 6,200,000


Title Release date
Totally Baked Soundtrack April 2007

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