In 1980 the sudden death of AC/DC singer Bon Scott stunned the rock world
|Brian Johnson (left) conducts the 1970/71 England Ashes squad during the recording of their official tour single - a version of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song|
It looked like it might signal the end for the Aussie rock legends. Having released the classic Highway to Hell album a year earlier the band were on the verge of a major commercial breakthrough but the tragic loss of their hard drinking front man was something they were not prepared for.
Scott's bluesy growl fitted the band's hard riffing sound perfectly and, after briefly considering splitting, the band decided to keep going with a new lead vocalist. The problem was: how could they possibly replace the charismatic departed Scott without radically altering their sound?
Guitarist Angus Young remembered an early British tour when the band was supported by an English band from the North East called Geordie. Although Geordie's heavy rock stylings were pretty second rate, something about the group's lead singer Brian Johnson had formed a lasting impression on Young.
In a 2004 interview with MTV Angus Young said: "I told our record company to get me Brian Johnson straight away. We were about to go into the studio to record the Back in Black album and needed a singer fast. I saw no point in holding auditions or anything. I knew that Brian was the right choice."
|Jonners often complained that he couldn't wear his favourite jacket whilst visiting the pavilion at Lord's.|
However the process of recruiting the new singer hit an immediate snag. AC/DC's record company execs had set about contacting Brian Johnson only to make an astonishing mistake: instead of approaching the Newcastle based rock vocalist the call went out to Test Match special veteran Brian 'Jonners' Johnston.
Somewhat surprisingly Jonners was a secret metal fan and the invitation to travel down under to record with the Aussie metal giants was readily accepted.
To begin with the band were a little taken aback at Jonners rather un rock 'n' roll appearance.
"He looked a bit older than I expected but I just put that down to the lifestyle, "remembered Young. "He immediately asked us if we had any cake. I assumed he meant coke but no it was actually cake he wanted. I had to send out the road crew to search half of Australia for a Battenberg."
Without bothering with a rehearsal the band took their new lead singer to Melbourne for a prior engagement as guests on Australian television's top music show Rock Hour.
With no facilities for a rehearsal the band handed Johnners a tape of Highway to Hell so he could quickly familiarise himself with the song.
As the minutes ticked by before going in front of the cameras for the live broadcast Angus Young began to get nervous.
"This guy Johnston turned wearing a suit and tie and told us he'd changed the lyrics a bit. He said that he presented a programme on Radio 4 called Down Your Way which was similar to Highway to Hell" but tended to feature geriatric Station Masters or people who ran Hedgehog hospitals. His exact words were: "Angers I have made a few alterations. I hope you don't might. Jolly good".
|"Angers, for goodness' sake, do stop it"|
Batting easy, 300 for three
Ticket on a one-way ride
Telling Bearders, leave me be
Taking everything in my delivery stride
Don't need reason, don't need rhyme
Ain't nothing I would rather do
Going down leg, Old Father time
TMS are gonna be there too
I'm on the highway to hell
No stop signs, speed limit
Blowers ain't gonna slow me down
Like a googlie, gonna spin it
Nobody's gonna mess me round
Hey CMJ, I paid my dues
Playing in a rocking band
Hey Aggers look at me
I'm on my way to the Mound Stand
I'm on the highway to hell
(Don't stop me)
As the band launched into the opening bars of the song their fears were soon realised. Johnners had few of the moves of his predecessor and could barely make himself heard over the bands furious riffing. At one stage he can be heard saying "Angers, for goodness sake, do stop it" during the guitarist's rollicking solo.
Realisation dawned for Angus Young and the rest of the band after they trooped off stage in front of an astonished crew. "A camera man who was a huge cricket fan came up to us afterwards and asked why we had Johnners doing vocals for us. I replied that he had been great in Geordie. He then told us that we had got the wrong bloke and that this guy did cricket commentaries on the BBC. I couldn't believe it."
|Johnners (centre) on stage with GWAR at the Monsters of Rock Festival 1992.|
Angus and the boys met with Johnners straight away and thanked him for stepping in at short notice but that it would be going no further.
"Johnston was a bit upset but he was a gentleman and he was grateful to us for giving him a go."
Luckily for AC/DC the real Brian Johnson was located a week later and the rest is history. They celebrated another number 1 hit album in 2008 with Black Ice.
And as for Johnners ... he wasn't disappointed for long. After failing auditions for both Iron Maiden and Def Lepard he finally found a gig with thrash metal favourites GWAR.