He’d been forced to bow out of AC/DC’s world tour in 2016 after his hearing issues became so bad that he faced complete deafness if he continued to perform. Since then, he’s been working with pioneering scientist Stephen Ambrose on a new approach to deafness technology, which offered him the chance to play live again. He’s made a handful of appearances in recent years, but the Wembley show on Sept. 3 was by far the biggest. In a recent interview with Spin, Johnson recalled his last few shows with AC/DC. “I don’t think they could tell,” he said.
“But I was talking to [sound tech] Pab asking, ‘Am I in tune? Am I in key?’ It was horrible. … I wasn’t enjoying it because I like to sing and to jump up and down and have a fun time, and here I was desperately using muscle memory with my mouth and neck to get through a song. This couldn’t go on. It was absolute agony.”
He said he had no hearing in his left ear and about 40% remaining in his right, and in his worst moments, the band’s instruments sounded “just monotone.” “And the horrible thing about it is there’s no blood, there’s no visible sign,” he explained. “You’re just deaf. You suddenly realize when it involves your job you’re pretty much fucked and there’s not much you can do.” He described the five-year process of Ambrose’s technology as a challenging period. “But never give up!” he asserted. “And [then] I walked onstage at Wembley in front of 100,000 people with Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters.
“There I was, [facing] a real audience. Stephen Ambrose was there, Pab … was there, who does me, and Paul McCartney – we’re the only two he does. I said, ‘Well, it’s shit or bust. If these [hearing aids] don’t work in front of the world and all the music world … .’ I walked out there, the roof lifted up off Wembley and I sang my little heart out. I did two songs and the place went absolutely crackers. I think I floated off. It was absolutely wonderful. So we knew it worked. We were absolutely jumping for joy at the side of the stage. It was something special.”
Johnson – who recently said he hoped AC/DC would regroup to make more music – confirmed he’s been approached by other artists who want him to sing for them. “But you’ve got to be careful with Sony Records or whoever it may be – they don’t like you just wandering around,” he explained.
“But this time with Dave Grohl and all that, as long as it’s onstage, that’s OK, but as soon as it comes to putting down records, they get all funny.” He added that he’s “got some songs that aren’t out yet that I’ve written with a couple of people, which I think are pretty damn good. In fact, I know they’re good. And one day I’ll put them out when everything’s finished. I don’t know when, but I think they deserve an airing, you know? I wrote this wonderful line in one of them: ‘Home of the brave / Land of the free / National pastime: me, me me.’ That’s America.”
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