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Dirty Deeds: Interview with former AC/DC bassist Mark Evans
13 March 2012
DIRTY DEEDS: AN INTERVIEW WITH FORMER AC/DC BASSIST MARK EVANS
Mark Evans is best known for his stint in AC/DC between March of 1975 and June of 1977 when he played on ‘T.N.T.’ (which was only released in Australia and formed half of the international debut ‘High Voltage’), ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ and ‘Let There Be Rock’. He is still an active musician and has just released his memoir ‘Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside Of AC/DC’ published by the New York based company, Bazillion Points. Evans remains a point of interest amongst AC/DC diehards and unlike some former members of the band, he is more than willing to take a stroll down memory lane.
Now based in Sydney, Fireworks writer Neil Daniels spoke to the very affable Evans about his entertaining book and his important role in the world’s biggest rock band…
What prompted you to write the book?
The idea’s been around for quite some time… Around 2008 it just became apparent to me to sit down and put it all down in words. Over the years so many punters have come up to me and said: ‘What was it like being on the road and what was Bon like?’ So it’s just me paying back all that support I’ve had out there. They’ve basically given me a career so it’s time for me to put something back in the pot and there’s never been a lot of information come out from inside the band so I said I’ll have time to do it.
Has there been any feedback from AC/DC? Has there been any resistance?
Not at all and I wasn’t expecting any. Because the guys play and sing pretty close to their chests, which is their want and their right to do it, I think people have thought, ‘Oh, what’s goin’ on in there?…’ But I think the bottom line is the guys like their privacy and working in a business were privacy is not necessarily the norm, I think they’ve earned the right to work the way they wish to. I wasn’t expecting anything from the guys. What I was very happy about [was] on the website – on acdc.com – when the book came out here in Australia it was [advertised] on the front page of their website for about a month and it pointed to the Australian version and when the American version had come, also, they would have an [ad] on there too which was very good. I was very pleased about it. You may or may not know we don’t have any contact at all.
So advertising your book on their official site was like an endorsement?
Yeah, I guess so. In the book it’s just straight down the line. It’s what happened. There’s nothing in there that’s [lies]; it’s just what happened. As with any story there are a lot of things that happened that were monumental and landmarks but there’s also a lot of shit that happens in your life that you wished never happened. I think the only way you can approach writing something like this is to put it all in there. If it’s not forthright I think it weakens the whole structure; it doesn’t make any sense.
You met Angus, Malcolm and Phil Rudd before meeting Bon Scott. What were they like?
That’s right. I was at my local pub in my hometown in Melbourne at the Station Hotel which is still a great live music pub in Melbourne. There’s a lot of great bands that’ve broken out of there. Playing there was my want back in those days as well as playing pool and drinking beer. An old pal of mine I used to play football with was there; a guy called Steve McGrath. He was actually working for the band and he said these guys are looking for a bass player. What got my attention was two of the guys in the band, their elder brother is George Young from The Easybeats. I was and always will be an Easybeats fan. I just love the band. That got my attention and I just went around and met them and got a copy of the record [‘High Voltage’] and went back and played it the next day. Two days later I was back with them at the Station Hotel. It all happened very quickly… Within a week of meeting Steve, he tells me about the band and then the following week I was on national TV playing ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go’ with Bon dressed up as a schoolgirl. Things moved really quickly.
What was Bon like when you first meet him?
Well, strangely enough I didn’t actually meet Bon until the first gig. It was obvious to me that he would split from the band and go off and do his own thing quite a bit. He liked his own space. There was quite a marked age difference between us; I was the youngest and Bon was the oldest. When you’re nineteen and someone’s 29; that’s a massive difference. It’s like having your old man on the road with you (laughs.)
Great guy, man, I’ve gotta tell you. I suppose when I first met him it would have been absolutely impossible for Bon not to be welcoming. He was just a really warm guy. He was generous and there was just a lovely way about him. He was probably a little bit different from his onstage persona. The onstage persona was definitely a part of him but was just a great guy with impeccable manners. A very warm soul. Bon himself admitted he was a great a bunch of guys. That onstage persona was just larger than life. It was a party of Olympic proportions too and you could say I’ve known people that partied harder than what Bon did and there’s definitely something driving them to do that. There has to be some sort of unhappiness or something. I’ve never worked that out. I know that Bon like most of the guys on the road would suffer points were you get lonely; it’s just the nature of the beast. We all used to drink quite a bit and there was some pretty high standard dope smoking (laughs.)
Malcolm had been playing bass when you joined. Did that have an impact on the way you played and how you fitted in?
It’s interesting because I mostly saw Malcolm play bass with the band at the gig at the Station Hotel. What actually happened is I went and saw the band; they played the first set as a four piece and then I played the second set with ‘em which was a major part of the ‘High Voltage’ album. I watched Malcolm play bass and I’ve gotta tell you he is a knockout bass player, man. I don’t think people realise how deeply versed he is in guitar playing. Malcolm is very good at selecting and sticking at what’s right for the band. He’s one hell of a guitar player. He could knock out all that jazz stuff like you wouldn’t believe.
The style of bass playing that has become known as the AC/DC style of bass playing was very different from Malcolm’s style. I always thought Malcolm’s style of playing was influenced by Andy Fraser. The most perfect bass player for that band Free you can ever imagine. Malcolm was very “notey”; a lot like George was with his bass playing. On the early albums you hear George play on some of the stuff. I played on some of the stuff. George played bass on the single ‘High Voltage’ because that was recorded before I joined the band. It was very loopy, almost Ronnie Lane [Small Faces] sort of bass playing. It didn’t influence me but I think that once the rhythm guitar was back in there that’s AC/DC completely. Malcolm gave me a lot more latitude and I don’t think he could get back on that rhythm guitar fast enough.
Do you gel with Phil Rudd straight away?
Pretty much. For the life of me I can’t understand why he is so [underrated.] If you ask guys who are good rock ’n’ roll drummers that I’ve paired up with over the years like Simon [Wright] who was playing with AC/DC for a while [they’d say] there are guys that should be mentioned in the same group like Simon Kirke, Charlie Watts and Phil. I know Simon Kirke was a massive influence on Phil. He is highly underrated. I know he is the best drummer I’ve ever played with. I know he’s important because the times I’ve seen the band when Phil wasn’t with them – with all respect to Simon and Chris [Slade] – it’s a very different band from when Phil wasn’t there. It was always great but it’s like taking Charlie Watts out of the Stones. The part would be missing without Charlie and I think it’s the same with Phil.
Were the Young brothers’ intensive people to work with?
Yeah, I think the infrastructure of the band was the intense part. It came with the band. If you look at the complete timeline of the band it’s a fairly brief period but I think it’s a very intensive and formative period because we went from zero to a hundred miles an hour in ten seconds. When I joined the band we were playing to like ten people a night and then it just took off because of the national TV coverage. Malcolm and Angus are pretty intense guys. They had a very strong vision for the band. It’s not like a couple of brothers’ start a band and they go, ‘Oh right, I wanna go and get some gigs. What are we gonna call it?’ It’ll take a lot to get your band together; to get the line-up together; get a recording deal and so on.
What seemed to happen in Malcolm and Angus’ situation was they had a blueprint from when they were kids; from when they were in primary school. They watched what happened with George when George was in The Easybeats. They were massive in England. They had a Top 5 hit in the States. They looked like at one stage they could have been the next Kinks. What’s a better rock-pop song than ‘Friday On My Mind?’ It was completely normal for them to envision being in a successful and international rock band. The idea was not alien to them. There wasn’t so much desperation as an expectation. I’m sure they couldn’t guarantee that it was goin’ to happen but they had a pretty good idea how it all worked and where it was going to go. Having George involved and Albert Productions was certainly the easy way through but the talent was there too. It’s obvious to me that the band really did start when Bon joined. Previous to Bon joining there was a whole bunch of line-ups. I tried to count the bass players before me and I think it’s something like eight and that was in a twelve month period. It happened quickly and they had about three or four drummers and there was another singer. The band’s timeline starts in October 1974 when Bon joined the band. They were in the studio the month after that working on their first album so it happened very quickly.
How did the songwriting happen?
Ideas were brought up on the road… As far as the songwriting goes it could have been done by fairies in the middle of the night as far as Phil and myself were concerned. A couple of ideas might’ve got thrown around. I can always remember Angus walking around reciting the words to ‘T.N.T.’ That’s one of the things I will point to, also; Angus and Malcolm have a history of writing a lot of lyrics right back to ‘Can I Sit Next To You, Girl’ and ‘Rock ’N’ Singer.’ It’s completely natural; they’re used to coming up with a lot of ideas. When they used to work with Bon with the lyrics there are these people that say the lyrics after Bon are somewhat similar, well, the reason is that they are similar is that they have a long history of writing lyrics before Bon. All the albums I was involved with – ‘T.N.T,’ which is half the international ‘High Voltage,’ ‘Dirty Deeds…’ and ‘Let There Be Rock’ – all those albums were recorded under a two week period.
Basically, the songs would be deconstructed and put back together with George, Malcolm and Angus so the whole thing was not only recorded in the first week but written too. That’s a hell of a work load. We did all the backing tracks as they were getting completed. Those albums were all recorded within an eighteen month period, which will give you an idea of the work the band had and we were doing up to ten gigs a week too. That’s why when we landed in the UK after a solid year on the road people would say, ‘God, they sound like they’ve just done 500 gigs.’ Well, yeah!
What was it like coming to the UK?
I can’t comment directly for them what it was like but I can tell you directly what it looked like to me: it looked fantastic. They were having a ball. With Angus and Malcolm they can be at times a little guarded but I’ve gotta tell you when we stopped off at Stirling Castle [in Glasgow] it was just great. They were in to it, man. It meant a lot to them. We did at gig in Glasgow at the Usher Hall and there were signs from people saying, ‘WELCOME HOME.’ Those boys are Scots. Seeing them reconnect with Scotland was a joy, let me tell you.
What was it like for you travelling outside of Australia for the first time?
Loved it! Ever since I was little I’ve not been intrigued by the travelling per se but I was intrigued by other countries and how countries can be so different from what I was used to in Melbourne. I was also intrigued by the Pyramids or Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower. It would be great to see those sorts of things. It’s something I always wanted to do. [Touring] was a great way to do it. We spent time in Europe and it was great. I’m from a generation of Anglo-Australians – I’m an Aussie – where there are ties to Britain so to get there was just a blast. I love London. We went to places like Manchester and Liverpool.
‘Let There Be Rock’ set the benchmark for the classic AC/DC sound. Would you agree?
Yeah, I’d agree with that. To me, I could put my finger on the timeline and say, well, ‘Let There Be Rock,’ that’s where the band started. It sounded like AC/DC before, of course, with ‘T.N.T.’ and ‘Dirty Deeds...’ but that’s where they stuck the whole thing down to a fine point. They’d lost a little bit of that whimsical sort of thing. One of the things I love about AC/DC is there’s a sense of humour to it. With Bon’s stuff there was a sharp sense of humour. It was just funny stuff; very witty and great lyrics. ‘Let There Be Rock’ is the point for me where it starts. It’s because the tour before that we were in London and touring around Europe supporting Rainbow and Black Sabbath. We got a sense of what’s going on in London which wasn’t a normal thing in Australia.
Why was there distance between you and the Young brothers’?
I don’t think there was any distance particularly between me and the guys per se; I just think that it’s just the way they are. There were a lot of times were we just had a ball. We were really good mates. The way I can best explain it is I really do believe those guys were put on this earth – especially Malcolm – to be in a band. Both of ‘em – especially when I was in the band – their commitment level was just unbelievable. They’re so committed to the cause. They made it really clear about what should be going on; they were very firm about what direction the band should take. It had a lot to do with Phil too. You were in the band for the band’s common good. We were all good mates but there was a time when you were down to business and that’s how it’s gonna be. We had a night off, let the guards down and go out and have a ball. The relationship was faceted in that respect. Their work ethic and the way they applied themselves to what they did was second to none. It’s an unbelievable achievement.
You mention in the book that Bon was planning a solo album too?
He did. I would think from how he spoke to me about it and he would have spoken to other people. He had a lot of acquaintances but not too many real close friends. When we started talking about it it was probably about 5 a.m. in the morning. The way he was speaking to me about it [it sounded like] in his own mind he knew a few guys that he wanted to play on it and I know that he had a couple of studios in mind and all that. I guess it would have made for a very interesting band. When he brought it up you don’t know what the future would have held if he’d been around. It was something he wanted to do. He was very much into those bands like Little Feet, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Allman Brothers type stuff. He really liked that stuff. It was goin’ to be something like that crossed with Little Richard, I guess. There were certainly no concrete plans to do anything about it. He wasn’t being whimsical about it. It was certainly something he wanted to do if time would have allowed it. It would have been great but it was one of those things that never happened.
Do you any Bon Scott anecdotes that stand out?
There’s quite a few (laughs.) With Bon he’d just do things off the cuff. I remember one night we were stranded at our hotel at a place called Freeway Gardens Motel in Melbourne. It was like serviced apartments and it was cold; it was winter and his apartment was on the third floor and we’re up there drinking. It was fuckin’ freezing and this guy says, ‘It would be great to jump from here into the pool down from the third floor.’ And Bon said: ‘I’ll bet you ten bucks.’ He Swan-dived straight into the pool! It was 3 a.m. in the morning.
Another time we were rehearsing near an ice rink and I thought he’s goin’ go on there and be like a Giraffe on ice skates. He took off. He could ice skate like a genius. He did these things you didn’t know he could do. He was just a great guy.
I think it’s normal when you lose someone like that at a relatively early age they grow in stature. It’s bound to happen because the input stops and so it’s up to people to pump it up. I’ve gotta tell you I don’t see anything in Bon’s voice or his spirit that’s not right. He was a genuine guy. It was just a matter for the rest of the world to catch up with it. He was just your real Scots-Aussie and a great guy to be around. It’s funny because you expect him just to walk through the door because his image is still very much with us because of all the videos and pictures. He was a wonderful, warm guy. I think he felt a very strong duty to his image which knocked him around a bit. That was all part of the guy. What a frontman. You can tell I’m a bit of a fan.
Finally, congrats with the book and good luck.
Yeah, it’s goin’ well. I’ve got a new CD coming out. I play a lot of acoustic guitar too. Maybe I’m growing up (laughs.) I’m playing with this guy called Dave Tice who’s a great blues singer; he’s an English guy. It’s called ‘Brothers In Arms.’ I now that title’s been used before but it’s a song Dave’s wrote. It’s such a strong song we’ve used it as the title-track and it’s available on iTunes. You can get all the info on my website markevansblues.com. There’s a lot of old archive stuff on there too.
Visit www,bazillionpoints.com and www.markevansblues.com
Sydney Airport “Welcome Home” press conference, December 3, 1976. Bon looks thrilled.
Worse was yet to come on tour. [Patrick Jones]
Getting a warm London welcome at WEA Records: Bon and myself trying a pincer movement on Cherry
from the PR department (unsuccessful), April 1976. [Dick Barnatt]
Our first major London gig:
Angus and me at the Hammersmith Odeon, November 10, 1976. [Dick Barnatt]
In the band room, very early days, Melbourne, April 1975.
Left to right: Malcolm, Angus, Bon, Phil and me. [Evans Family]
Copenhagen, Denmark, April 19, 1977. Angus and me with my 1954 Fender Precision Bass.
Didn’t know it, but it was my last gig with the guys. [Jorgen Angel]
Record reception, Melbourne, December 6, 1976. That’s our den mother and PR person, Coral Browning,
holding a platinum record for T.N.T. while we are holding her. Nice work if you can get it. [Fairfax]