AC/DC’s Brian Johnson discusses the “free fall” of being replaced by Axl Rose

Brian Johnson, the frontman of rock heroes AC/DC, has reflected on the time he was replaced by Guns N’ Roses vocalist Axl Rose in 2016 due to severe issues with his hearing.

Johnson had no choice but to leave the band’s ‘Rock or Bust’ tour due to his hearing struggles, and famously, Axl Rose entered the fold for a run of shows. Now, writing in his memoir The Lives of Brian, which is released today (October 25th), he has discussed the period and revealed just how down it made.

The ‘Back in Black’ singer explains that when he was initially receiving treatment for his hearing issues, he intended to fulfil his contractual obligations. However, things were not as straightforward as he had hoped, and it all changed when a doctor told him that he had to stop performing immediately or lose the remainder of his hearing.

“I called Tim, the tour manager, on my mobile right there in the room to tell him that I just couldn’t continue,” Johnson writes in the memoir. “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 explained that he started to blame himself for his problems, as that’s what you get for being in “the loudest band in the world”. Despite reports from those close to him that Rose was doing a “great job”, he still couldn’t watch his performances. “It’s like finding a stranger in your house, sitting in your favourite chair,” he writes. “But I bear no grudges.”

The most surprising part of Johnson’s account is how he felt at the time, explaining that mentally it was “something close to despair” rather than depression. He says: “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.”

Luckily for Johnson, and all AC/DC fans, things would start to improve for his hearing. A specialist offered him new technology that allowed him to return to the stage again, and he rejoined the band for the 2020 album Power Up. Interestingly, though, the band haven’t played live since the 2016 tour.

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