Jesse James Dupree on Malcolm Young: ‘A Force to Reckon With’
A collaboration with singer Brian Johnson in the ‘90s opened the door for Dupree to spend time with the group — a big thrill for the lifelong AC/DC fan. “I was fortunate enough to be allowed inside of that AC/DC circle because of my relationship with Brian,” he told Ultimate Classic Rock during a conversation the day Young died. “It doesn’t go past me lightly that I was afforded that opportunity, because they’re such a mega-legendary band.”
Calling from the road, Dupree shared some of his favorite memories of being around Young and the band — including his memories of being in the studio with the group as it was working on the music for what would become 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip album. “After all of these years, he was just very appreciative of being able to do what he did,” said Dupree. “I’m fortunate enough to have been around them, and they definitely carved out the path that I’ve been able to walk down right after them.”
You got a chance to go into the studio with AC/DC and watch everybody work. What are your memories of Malcolm?
Malcolm was not just the guitarist in the band and the brother of Angus, I mean, he drove so much of that ship, business-wise, decision-wise, creatively and everything else. He was just a force to reckon with. I just always picture him standing there with his cup of tea and his cigarette in his hand when I was around him. If it wasn’t his guitar, it was that.
I don’t want to not mention the fact that within the last couple of weeks we’ve lost George Young as well as Malcolm. You know, George was the older brother that played in the Easybeats back in the ‘60s and laid the pathway out for Malcolm and Angus and then he produced a lot of their stuff. When they were doing the Stiff Upper Lip album, George was producing that, and there was just such a level of respect that the guys had for their older brother. And for guys that were very opinionated and knew what they wanted to do, to have somebody that they respected in there, it was really cool to see it.
Growing up, I always thought there must be some kind of magic formula for how they record these records, to get that AC/DC sound. You just think it’s got to be an incredibly complex process with how they go about capturing it. But you go into the studio with them and Malcolm and Angus have got their 4x12 cabinets and their Marshall heads on top of the cabinets, and the cabinets are back to back and they’re out in the hallway, right outside of the control room with an SM57 just stuck out there in the speakers — I mean, it’s just that pure. It’s just an example of how strong those guys were with their art and what they did.
Malcolm is so much the core of AC/DC. He was a big stability for Angus, from my observation, and you know it’s absolutely killing Angus to lose his brother. It’s a big wake-up call for all of us, because, I mean, we’ll never see those guys onstage again [together].
I remember one night that they did this industry thing for Atlantic Records when they were still on the label. There were all of these mega-artists that had played at this convention for the entire company. Big names. They had all played up on the stage, and when the last one got through performing, the crowd thought it was over with. The stage was cleared off and then the curtain behind the stage opened up and there was an even bigger setup and AC/DC came out and jammed about five tunes for everybody and just really put it in perspective. Especially after such a great lineup of bands and artists before them. They just came out and just delivered as if they were at the Stade de France in front of 90,000 people. It was amazing to experience that.
The one thing that I remember about that night and about Malcolm was that after that convention, they shuttled us back to the kitchen and down the service elevator, and we were going to go out the back of the hotel. Word had leaked out and there was a bunch of fans out the back door waiting. Malcolm and Angus were going to get into a bus, because they were going to roll to the next town and then Brian and Cliff were going to fly to the next gig. Brian and Cliff and I, we were going to get into some vans and go back to the hotel, and Malcolm and Angus were going to get on their bus. We walked out the back doors of this hotel, and when we walked out, we walked right out into that crowd. The vans were there for Brian and I, but the bus was not there! I’ll never forget how Malcolm and Angus and everybody were. They just started taking pictures with everybody and hanging out and laughing and talking. Malcolm, being so much of the business and driving factor, he could have probably been the first to lose his mind about it, but he didn’t. They stood there and satisfied everybody with pictures and autographs and they included me in everything. They were just such humble guys.
The bus finally did pull up and we all ended up stepping up on the bus for a second. There really wasn’t anything said about the bus being late pulling up or anything. They just got up there and were just still in a good mood laughing about some of the things that had been said with all of the people. To me, that defined the whole band and it defined Malcolm, watching them in that situation. Because there’s a lot of other mega-artists that would have just run back in real quick or security would have kept everybody away. They live in a bubble. But these guys in AC/DC, they just didn’t do that. Malcolm really defined himself for me that night, the way he handled the fans. After all of these years, he was just very appreciative of being able to do what he did. I’m fortunate enough to have been around them and they definitely carved out the path that I’ve been able to walk down right after them.
Malcolm and Angus going on the bus together like that, how much did that speak to their brotherly connection? What was that about?
They had a day or two off, and I think it was just a thing that Brian and Cliff just wanted to stay, because there was some family and stuff there. I think they just wanted to be able stay an extra day and then they were going to meet up with Malcolm and Angus. There wasn’t any major reason why. It just happened to be the schedule and what was happening. But Malcolm and Angus were extremely tight. You could tell that. They fed off of each other. Being in the studio with them when they were doing Stiff Upper Lip, although I talk about how simple the recording process was and how pure it was, at the same time, you could tell there’s just such a seriousness. They took everything they did, as you would imagine, so seriously, so dead on. Malcolm, you would have thought he was conducting brain surgery or something. It meant everything to them to get it right. And they definitely got it right.
You’ve seen that thing of brothers in rock 'n' roll. How important do you think that whole brotherly thing was with those two and AC/DC?
They grew up with their older brother, George, having success with the Easybeats. I think he influenced them [a lot]. I know he did. I could just tell. After all those years, they still hung on his advice and direction. They grew up really respecting him and the success that he had. Coming out of Australia and being able to dominate the world like they did, they know what they did and it wasn’t like they didn’t realize what they did or how significant they were to music around the world. The fact that they were self-aware of that, they were humbled that they were appreciated and it just made them always work. You could just tell that from being around them.