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Headbangers Brawl: Who could fill Brian Johnson’s shoes in AC/DC?

Posted by on March 8, 2016

acdc resizedAC/DC shocked a lot of people yesterday when they cancelled the remaining 10 dates of their tour, due to Brian Johnson’s hearing issues. And while bands cancel dates for health reasons all the time, the fact that they said that dates would be made up, likely with a guest vocalist, that was the most surprising thing of all. Brian Johnson’s gravelly voice has been synonymous with the band since 1980, so whoever steps in has some mighty big shoes to fill. So this week, we’re asking “who should AC/DC’s guest singer be, and who’s capable of it?”

Bram: I think my quick answer is “no one,” because if Johnson remains out, that’s three members they’ve lost in two years. Granted, Chris Slade and Stevie Young have been in the band before, but the two people likely most associated with the band are Angus Young and Johnson. That being said, they’re a business, and one of the few rock bands that can fill stadiums in 2016, so they pretty much need to do this.This is going to sound ridiculous, and it probably wouldn’t work long term or even for a whole concert, but I’m going to throw this out there: Jim Breuer. He’s been imitating Brian Johnson for years, and nailing it. He’s also got plenty of experience on big stages, and while it’s mostly been for comedy, he’s got an actual metal record coming out soon on Metal Blade. The fact that he”ll be performing with his new band The Regulators at big festivals like Chicago Open Air could be a warmup to one of the biggest gigs he’s ever had. Granted, it would be really hard to convince AC/DC fans that he was for real, but he’s got the vocal chops.

Andrew Sample:Answer: No one, the band should not continue without Johnson.  Fans will understand, and it’s a matter of respect TO the fans first and foremost.  Guitar players and drummers can emulate others to a certain degree, not lead singers. Having said that…if i HAD to choose someone to fill Brian Johnson’s shoes it would be Dan McCafferty of Nazareth fame.  He came before Johnson in the world of gravelly, booze n’ smoke soaked hard rock singers and no doubt had influence on him early on in his career.  Though McCafferty may need a cane or wheelchair to perform, he’s the only dude I’d give the green light to.
Now get your f*cking jumbo jet off of my airport!

Chris Colgan: My knee-jerk reaction is also to say that nobody should step in for Johnson. Between Johnson and Bon Scott, AC/DC essentially cornered the market on the vocal style that defined their entire career. Plenty of bands have tried, with varying degrees of success, to replicate the sound of AC/DC. Hell, Airbourne is still around, and their entire career is mostly built on the fact that they sound similar to their elder countrymen. But none of those bands have the legacy of AC/DC, and to be perfectly honest, AC/DC has reached the point in their career where the show isn’t worth seeing for many fans if it’s performed by replacement players.

However, if someone HAD to be pulled in to sing for the band, the first name that comes to mind for me is Tim “Ripper” Owens. He may not have the gravelly tones of Johnson, but he certainly has the range to pull off “Hell’s Bells” and the other larynx-shredding high songs of AC/DC’s history. Owens also knows a thing or two about filling in for beloved, long-tenured vocalists of world-famous bands, so he seems like he’d be the best fit for the role. My second choice would be Joey Belladonna from Anthrax, again because of vocal range.

Matt Brown: An unlikely but interesting scenario would if AC/DC recruited two or three different guest vocalists to sing their sets, similar to how Heaven & Hell recruited Glenn Hughes and Jørn Lande for their final performance in tribute to Dio. It’ll be hard enough to get people about excited about going to an AC/DC show without Johnson at the helm, so instead of having one vocalist try to fill the shoes of a legend, why not pick several? It’d be a way of acknowledging Johnson isn’t there, but instead of shuffling out a single replacement, you’d have multiple guest singers who idolize the guy doing it, making for an even bigger event.

My picks? Rob Dukes. I enjoyed his run as the vocalist for Exodus and I think he’s got the chops for singing AC/DC. A second and perhaps more obvious pick is Rob Halford. This guy has stood in for both Dio and Ozzy at Sabbath shows before, so why not bring him out for a song or two? You know the crowd would love it too. And, sure, why not let Jim Breuer come out as long as were aiming for multiple guest vocalists?
Nick DeSimone: Once again echoing Bram and Chris, I don’t think anyone should do it. Johnson isn’t AC/DC’s first singer, but he’s the voice of the band as far as most people are concerned. I think that between this, Malcolm Young’s departure due to dementia, and Phil Rudd going absolutely crackhouse crazy in recent memory, the best thing they can do for their legacy is to accept the many years of success and acclaim that they have and just bow out gracefully, before they turn it into a totally lifeless husk of session guys on top of the circus their behind the scenes issues have been.

That said, there aren’t a lot of rock singers who have that same throaty delivery, but I think Chris Cornell has the right voice to do a few dates. Other than that, Matt has the right idea in that whatever “farewell to AC/DC” shows would follow should have a revolving door of guest singers. That way, everyone’s happy in the sense that they’re not stuck with a full set of whoever it is that they may not like very much. Halford would be pretty interesting to juxtapose image-wise, and he’s certainly still got the voice as it stands right now.

Schuler Benson: AC/DC needs to stop.

Zach Shaw: Alright, let me continue the trend of saying “No one should replace Brian Johnson in AC/DC” (even though fans likely said the same thing when Bon Scott passed away)… No one should replace Brian Johnson in AC/DC! Alright, now that that’s out of the way…

Immediately my mind goes to Udo Dirkschneider, but that seems almost too obvious of a pick. So… how about Mark Tornillo, Udo’s replacement in Accept? He’s got the voice down, he’s a hell of a performer onstage, and as mentioned has experience taking over mic duties for another legendary singer.

With that said, I also really like Matt’s suggestion of getting two or three singers to fill in for Johnson. It’s a good way to acknowledge Johnson’s absence, maybe even a nice way to pay tribute to him. So with that in mind, I’d go with Tornillo and Bram’s suggestion Jim Breuer trading songs. You’ve got an actual singer obviously influenced by AC/DC, and a comedian who’s paid tribute to Johnson in his own routine. Seems like a nice complement to each other, and a fun way to give fans a great show AND a nice tribute to Johnson.

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