AC/DC co-founder Malcolm Young dies at 64

AC/DC in the early 1980s: Malcolm Young, Brian Johnson, Angus Young, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams.
AC/DC in the early 1980s: Malcolm Young, Brian Johnson, Angus Young, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams.

Malcolm Young, guitarist and co-founder of AC/DC, died Saturday at 64, his band mates and his brother said.

Malcolm Young death(2)
A March 3, 2003, file photo of AC/DC co-founder and guitarist Malcolm Young at an event in London. The 64-year-old Young died on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, the band announced. Yui Mok AP

The musician had been suffering from dementia for the past three years, which had led to his retirement from the group he founded in 1973 with his lead guitarist brother Angus — whom fans recognize as the visual embodiment of the classic hard rock band. Angus Young’s English schoolboy uniform is one of rock’s most indelible images.

But Malcolm Young’s rhythm guitar acted as a counterpart to his brother’s riffs and helped give AC/DC’s music — such as “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” and “Highway to Hell” — much of its forward thrust. Angus was the visible member but Malcolm was credited by his musical colleagues as the group’s leader.

The siblings co-wrote all of the songs on their catalog from the memorable debut album “High Voltage” in 1975 to “Rock or Bust” in 2014 — a lackluster collection Young had to sit out because of his illness. Nephew Stevie Young filled in for Young on that release.

Angus Young, 62, said of his brother on a Facebook post: “As his brother it is hard to express in words what he has meant to me during my life, the bond we had was unique and very special. He leaves behind an enormous legacy that will live on forever. Malcolm, job well done.”

The rest of the group added in the post: “With enormous dedication and commitment he was the driving force behind the band. As a guitarist, songwriter and visionary he was a perfectionist and a unique man. He always stuck to his guns and did and said exactly what he wanted. He took great pride in all that he endeavored. His loyalty to the fans was unsurpassed.”

Many of AC/DC’s hard rock contemporaries like Kiss and Aerosmith evolved over the years, sometimes alienating fans with questionable diversions, such as the time Kiss went disco for a 1979 hit song or Aerosmith lapsed into balladry to court MTV and radio airplay in the 1990s.

But AC/DC, under Young’s lead, stuck to its driving style. Unlike the darker, more plodding sound of heavy metal, the genre AC/DC often gets lumped into, the band’s music on classic albums like 1980’s “Back in Black,” which was recorded at Compass Point Studio in the Bahamas, had a swinging tempo. The group’s sound was every bit as danceable as disco, but without the negative connotation among rock fans.

With AC/DC, from “T.N.T.” to “Thunderstruck,” you knew what you were going to get musically from the Young brothers.

And that may well have been the key to AC/DC’s longevity. In 1996, Angus Young told the Miami Herald that this unwavering dedication to a sound was the band’s reason for being. “I always remember the cartoon from Bugs Bunny where Yosemite Sam says: ‘I paid to see the high diving act and I'm gonna see the high diving act!’”

Malcolm Young, who was born in Glasgow and raised in Australia, last performed with AC/DC on its “Black Ice” tour in 2008. The group’s concert at Sunrise’s BB&T Center in December that year was a recession-proof sold-out hit.

“If Washington, D.C., could somehow figure out a way to corral the recipe and unleash the rapture AC/DC pumps into its fans, the nation’s depressed mood could improve tenfold,” the Herald said in its concert review.

Young is survived by his wife Linda Young, his children Cara and Ross, and three grandchildren.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

Malcolm Young’s highest voltage hits

The AC/DC rhythm guitarist helped give the hard rock band its distinctive swing. Here’s a playlist that captures some of Young’s best work with the Australian group.

1. “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”

2. “T.N.T.”

3. “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”

4. “Whole Lotta Rosie”

5. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation”

6. “Highway to Hell”

7. “Hells Bells”

8. “You Shook Me All Night Long”

9. “Back in Black”

10. “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”

11. “Let’s Get It Up”

12. “Rising Power”

13. “Thunderstuck”

14. “Safe in New York City”

15. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train”