In a new interview with SiriusXM, Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian offered his take on why late Malcolm Young of AC/DC was the greatest rhythm guitar player of all time.
“Talk to any guitar player, either rhythm or lead guitar player, and they’ll tell you, ‘Malcolm’s the best.’ He’s the best.
“Like, literally, his riffs and approach to playing, his dynamics, his right hand… He was so percussive as a rhythm player with his dynamic, just unbelievable.
“It just cuts through in a way that nobody else before, during, or after playing in hard rock will ever come close to. Because no one is ever gonna write those chops again; they’ve already been written, you can’t write those chops again. It’s impossible because then you’ll just sound like a bad AC/DC ripoff.”
“The earliest and that I played in like a second or third-grade talent show was a song ‘Wipe Out’ by The Surfaris.
“I started playing guitar when I was 8, that was around ’71-’72. So everything from the ’70s for me was – I was just learning, learning, learning. I would sit at home with the records and just learn the chords.
“And that thing has a lot to do with why I stuck to rhythm and becoming a rhythm player. Some of it comes from laziness because I just wanted to learn the songs.
“So when I would come home with an AC/DC record – I would learn all the chords, I would learn all the songs, but I couldn’t be bothered to sit and – like some of my friends – slow the record down and learn Angus’ solos.
“In a time it would take me to do that I could learn a whole another album of songs. And I felt that’s what the song is – it’s the chords! I don’t care about all that other noodly stuff! [Laughs]
“Rudy Schenker from the Scorpions was a big influence on me as well. Again, the guy who’s strictly the rhythm guy, and he just had such driving energy. Just the power of his chords. And of course, you see them live and he’s like the lunatic on stage.
“And even for a guy like me in the ’70s, Ted Nugent – people think of him as a lead player, but for me, it was always about his groove. When you’re 13 and you hear that riff, your b*ner is like, ‘Oh my god! What is that?! I need more of that!'”
“For me, AC/DC was kind of like my guitar lessons. I took guitar lessons when I first started playing guitar, for a few months. And then I just didn’t wanna take lessons. The teacher wanted me to learn theory and all this cr*p and it has started to turn into homework. I was just like, ‘Teach me how to play Zeppelin.’ Now I wish I could read [music]…
“Once I got into [AC/DC], that was it. It kind of felt accessible to me, which, in a weird way is good. People think AC/DC is simple. I will tell you it’s wrong – it’s the hardest thing in the world to do. If it was easy there would be 30 AC/DCs and there’s only one. For me, they define rock ‘n’ roll.
“It is the reason why I’ve got these tattooed on me. *shows Angus Young and Malcolm Young tattoos on his arms* I don’t know if they actually ever seen them. When I got these done it was on Kat Von D’s TV show at the time – and they’re portraits from the ‘Highway to Hell’ album cover.
“The night before I was going to get it done the producer calls me and says, ‘We have permission from Atlantic Records for you to use the image and show the album cover on the show, but we don’t have permission from the band.’ So in her exact words, the producer says to me, ‘So can you call AC/DC and get permission?’ And I was like, ‘Excuse me? What did you just say?’
“Like there’s some clubhouse we all hang out at after work where they’ll be and I can just get a hold of them? So I said, ‘I don’t think you understand what you’re asking me. I could probably get the president on the phone sooner than I could get Angus and Malcolm.'”
“We shared management with AC/DC at some point in the ’90s – and we would, of course, grill them, constantly questions about the band. Like ‘What does Angus do?’ And the manager says, ‘He drinks tea, smokes cigarettes, and he listens to old rock ‘n’ roll records. He doesn’t own a record made past 1963.’ Like, that’s it, that’s what Angus does. [Laughs]
“[Malcolm Young] had such an intense right hand, super-percussive as well. That’s where I learned it from. My style of playing in the context of Anthrax, which I basically had to learn how to play.
“We started writing songs that needed a specific way, very right-hand palm-muted alternate picking, or the super-fast down picking. I always call it a very fascist play of playing guitar – there’s just no room for anything else. But I was somehow able to add Malcolm’s percussiveness into what I’ve done, which I think in the early days kinda separated me from my contemporaries and other bands.
“I think the best compliment you could give to any band or musician is that you know who it is as soon as you hear it. I mean, you know Eddie [Van Halen] as soon as you hear him. I know James Hetfield’s sound. Even though he had different sounds through the years you just know what his right hand sounds like.