Brian Johnson says that he couldn't bring himself to watch Axl Rose filling in for him at the end of AC/DC's "Rock Or Bust" tour.
AC/DC postponed the last 10 dates of its spring 2016 North American trek after Johnson was advised to stop playing live or "risk total hearing loss." The band went on to complete the European and North American legs of its "Rock Or Bust" tour with the GUNS N' ROSES frontman as a "guest vocalist." At the time, Johnson had been AC/DC's singer for 36 years, ever since replacing the late Bon Scott in 1980 and making his debut on the classic "Back In Black" album.
According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Johnson writes in his autobiography "The Lives Of Brian" that he has never seen any of the widely circulated videos of Rose's performances in the band.
"I'm told that he did a great job," Johnson said, "but I just couldn't watch — especially when you've been doing it for 35 years. It's like finding a stranger in your house, sitting in your favorite chair. But I bear no grudges. It was a tough situation. [AC/DC guitarist and co-founder] Angus [Young] and the lads did what they felt they had to do. That said, after the band released a statement confirming that I was leaving the tour and wishing me all the best for the future, I couldn't relax or concentrate on anything. It was just always there.
"Part of the pain of it was that I blamed myself," he admitted. "For most of my career, I'd been in the loudest band in the world. I'd flown constantly. I'd flown even when I knew I wasn't well.
"For a while, people would ask me if I was depressed, but depression is treatable. My hearing loss wasn't. What I was feeling wasn't depression. It was something closer to despair."
Johnson also wrote about the circumstances that led to his decision to withdraw from AC/DC's tour nearly seven years ago.
"I called Tim, the tour manager, on my mobile right there in the room to tell him that I just couldn't continue," Johnson said. "It was one of the most difficult conversations of my life — the pain of it made worse over the weeks that followed when the tour simply went on without me. It was a sheer cliff. I didn't tumble down, I was in free fall."
Johnson credited messages of support from friends and fans with getting through the most difficult period while he was battling his hearing issues. At the time, he began spending more time on "the other thing I've always loved: racing cars. I found myself winning more than usual. People would come up to me afterwards and say, 'Brian, you're fearless!'" Johnson wrote, "but I wasn't fearless. I just didn't fucking care anymore. I'd always thought that the best way to go out would be at 180mph, flat-out around a corner. You'd hit the wall and boom, it would be over, just like that. Don't get me wrong, I didn't want to die. … I just wouldn't have minded all that much."
AC/DC's North American tour ended in Philadelphia in September 2016, and despite initial fan trepidation, Axl got generally good reviews for his performances. Angus said at the time: "I mean, under the situation that we had, it was very good that he volunteered and said, 'Hey, if I can help, let me try.' So he's been very good. And he had to learn a lot of songs very quickly, and he's done a great job."
Last year, Angus said in an interview with Germany's Rock Antenne that the prospect of a new studio album with Rose on vocals "never really came as a point in question. Axl helped us out," Angus explained. "He had actually volunteered, because — I'll be honest — at the time, we didn't really know what we would do in that situation. And he, very early, had volunteered. He said if he can help out — he had his own commitments to do — and he said if it didn't interfere with what he was doing, he would gladly, if he can help, he would be involved. So it was a case of that. We didn't know if it would come together, so we did a little bit of rehearsing with him. And it worked out. He broke his foot when he had been working with his own project, but he certainly gave it his all to get through. So that was very good of him. I've got a lot of respect. And how he did it — he was very pro. And he was very hungry. He's very much a fan of especially a lot of our earlier stuff with Bon. So he was excited to be doing it. As a band, I'll always be grateful to him for that."
To enable him to perform live with AC/DC again, Johnson worked with audio expert Stephen Ambrose, who said he could help resolve the singer's hearing problems.
Ambrose, who invented the wireless in-ear monitors that are widely used by touring artists today, claimed to have invented a new type of ear-bud that would allow Johnson to perform without causing further damage to his eardrums. After three years of experimenting and "miniaturizing" the equipment, Johnson said the technology could allow him to tour again.
"Whatever magic he used, it worked. I could hear again — even in my deaf ear, meaning I was able to enjoy stereo [again]," Johnson wrote. "Suddenly, I felt something that I hadn't felt in what seemed like an eternity: Hope."
AC/DC's comeback album, "Power Up", was released in November 2020. The LP was recorded over a six-week period in August and September 2018 at Warehouse Studios in Vancouver with producer Brendan O'Brien, who also worked 2008's "Black Ice" and 2014's "Rock Or Bust".
In a 2020 interview with Apple Music, Johnson stated about the technology that enabled him to return to performing live: "I've gotta tell you, it was just lucky. When this wonderful gentleman came up and was looking for me; he was an audio professor. And he wanted to try this new technology. And he said, 'Listen, we could do it together, if I can come down and visit you.' And I thought it might have been all smoke and mirrors, somebody trying it on, but he was the actual, genuine article, and he did fly down all the way up from Denver, Colorado. And we sat there for two days, and I just couldn't believe the results. But, unfortunately, it was the size of a car battery, so we spent the next two years basically miniaturizing, which is the hard thing. And anyway, it worked well.
"When we'd done the album and we'd shot a video in Amsterdam, Angus said, 'Do you wanna do a rehearsal?' Because I didn't wanna go through what I went through again. I said, "Yeah.' And then Angus put the whole backline up. And they were saying, 'Well, we're gonna start quietly,' and we said, 'No, no. I want full battlefield conditions.' And we put it in, in the ears, and we were expected at least maybe two days of screwing around with, but boy, oh boy, it worked straight away… I don't have the words. I really don't have the words to tell you how I felt. But I know 'happy' was one of them. It was really good."
"The Lives Of Brian" will arrive on October 28.