We caught up for a chat with former Rolling Stone Magazine journalist and Australian music biographer, Jeff Apter, about the release of his latest biography, Friday On My Mind – The Life of George Young.
For those of you who don’t know his work, Jeff has been instrumental (no pun-intended) in chronicling the life stories of some of Australia’s finest musicians including John Farnham, Casey Chambers, Daniel Johns, Shirley Strachan & Marc Hunter.
Over the last few years, Jeff has focused on two key members of AC/DC – Malcolm and Angus Young – the bedrock of the band and the ‘World’s Oldest Schoolboy’. Now he has chronicled, for the first time, the tale of Australian rock ‘n’ roll’s Elder Statesman and eldest rocker of Young clan, George Young.
Questioning Jeff about how he came to write about the Young family, from the youngest Young, to the eldest, he said:
“I didn’t actually set out to write about the Youngs. I was originally focused on writing about Malcolm, who is (in a way) the unsung hero…almost the forgotten member…of AC/DC. I have accidently ended up producing an unofficial Young Trilogy. Malcolm, like George, didn’t seek out the spotlight with The Easybeats. It was Stevie Wright. With AC/DC, it was Bon Scott & Angus, then Brian Johnson, when he took the lead vocal spot.
“It was while I was researching my biography of Malcolm that I found myself talking to people about George – and found there were so many similarities between the two brothers. Similarities that, I feel, were born out of George’s mentoring of his younger brother and Malcolm really took that on-board.”
When asked to explain, unsurprisingly, his answer hinged on the difference between those who love the music and those who love the spotlight:
“George came to fame as a member of The Easybeats and, as he said of his career in a final interview in 2000, he went not only to be in the Australian Music Charts, but to be the Australian Music Charts.
“After his time on-stage, he couldn’t see the point to the spotlight. After years of not being able to hear himself perform (in the same way that The Beatles did) he wanted to focus on the music.”
George did indeed focus on musical creativity and went on to give us some of the most recognised, beloved and, indeed, varied songs in Australian music history:
“It’s amazing to think this is the man who co-founded The Easybeats, with his creative partner, Harry Vanda, and went on to write songs like Love is in the Air, alongside Bad Boy for Love (for Rose Tattoo) and on to form Flash and the Pan with Harry – plus all the work he did with AC/DC.”
This lead me to a question about Harry Vanda and whether, like any Lennon or McCartney biography, this work talks as much about one, as the other:
“Well, you can’t talk about the works of George Young without mentioning Harry Vanda. They met at Villawood (the housing estate of the newly arrived ’10-pound Poms’ and music was instantly their shared language – Harry’s English was not good. He would tell George he had sunstrike and George would say “you mean sunstroke” – and Harry would reply, “No, it’s so much worse, it’s sunstrike!” But you listen to their creations and the combination worked.
“You are also right, when you compare them to The Beatles – when The Easybeats were at their peak, George said they’d go on stage for 20 minutes, shake their arses and go, because they were getting paid for no-one to be able to hear them. That is what drove George – he was a musical purist. He wanted to focus on the sound. Fame never really interested him.”
Of any key lesson that musicians could take away from George’s story, Jeff said:
“If there is one thing (and this is what he told Malcolm, when AC/DC formed), it was Don’t trust the hype. You’ve found your sound, it works, don’t change it. Believe in your sound and you cannot go wrong.”
With so many classic Australian hits to his name – combined with the longevity of AC/DC – it is certainly sound advice, in more ways than one.
Who’s next for Jeff Apter?
“Well, actually, it’s another former Aussie Rocker – sadly, another dead white guy, which I seem to be getting quite good at writing about – and it’s a moving story. I’ve been working with his family on telling his story and it should be available in April, next year.”
In the meantime, you’re encouraged – if you haven’t already – to seek out the other volumes of the ‘unofficial Young family trilogy’:
- High Voltage – The Life of Angus Young AC/DC’s Last Man Standing, and
- Malcolm Young – The Man Who Made AC/DC.
Interviewed by Glen Christie
- Read our book review of Friday On My Mind
Friday On My Mind – The Life of George Young, by Jeff Apter. Published 4 August 2020 by Allen & Unwin. RRP $29.99.