Drummer Reveals What Axl Rose Was Really Like in AC/DC, Explains How He Reacted to Band Bringing Back Phil Rudd

An unstoppable machine that is AC/DC had plenty of great musicians pass through their lineup. And although we’re looking at a straightforward rock ‘n’ roll band, the rhythm section had to be top-notch, working as a metronome and adapting to those syncopated grooves. This is far more challenging to perform than it may seem at first and one of the best-known drummers in the band was Chris Slade.

AC/DC - Thunderstruck (Live at Donington, 8/17/91)

Also known for his work in The Firm supergroup, Uriah Heep, David Gilmour’s band, and Gary Moore’s band, Chris recently had a chat with Ultimate Guitar, discussing his work in AC/DC. In particular, he remembered joining the band again in 2015. Asked about how it all came to be, Chris said:

“At the time, I was on the road with my Timeline band, and I was in Switzerland, and that’s when I got the call. I knew what was happening, and all along, people kept saying to me, ‘Oh, you’re gonna get the call, Chris,’ and I’d say, ‘Look, they’re not gonna bloody call me, ok?’ I was really getting annoyed with the whole thing, and people just kept asking, ‘Have they called you yet?’ ‘Have they called me yet? They’re not going to call me.’ I really felt that way.”

“I honestly never had any thought that AC/DC was going to call me to join the band again. I didn’t see it happening at all. I never thought it would happen until one day, I got a call on my mobile phone. Like I said, I was on the road with the Timeline in Switzerland, and as I’m getting ready for the gig, one of the road crew hands me my phone, and says, ‘Chris, AC/DC is on the phone. They’d like to talk with you.'”

“Well, I just stared at him, probably white as a ghost, and he just walked away. So, I take the phone, and their manager says to me, ‘Hello Chris, how are you. The guys need you to come on the road with the band again. Are you up for it?’ I’m sweating now, I’ve not said anything, and then I finally say, ‘I’ve got to ask you, did the guys ask you to make this call?’ ‘Of course, the guys asked me.”

“I wouldn’t make it without them asking.’ I had to ask that, because I need to know if the band had asked for me, I needed to know if they wanted me there because I wasn’t sure. I was glad he said that, and I’m glad asked the question, because I would have been wondering in my head the whole time, ‘Did they instigate it? Did they want me here?’ In the end, as history shows, I took the gig. It was a great time, and it amounted to another two years on the road with AC/DC, which is more time that I cherish.

Of course, the next thing that happened was that the band called in Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose to fill in for Brian Johnson, which was a pretty shocking and somewhat polarizing choice. Asked about that whole thing and how it came to be, Chris replied:

“Yes, there were four other singers who auditioned. Some known, and some unknown. Just as it is with the first audition, I had with the band in 1989, I am sworn to secrecy about who those singers are. But when that all went down, I was told we would be having a sudden, unplanned day off, and I said, ‘Why do we have a day off tomorrow? What’s going on?’

“And they said, ‘Brian can’t perform. It’s Axl Rose tomorrow. We need today to get ready.’ … ‘What? Axl Rose? You mean from Guns N’ Roses?’ ‘Yeah, that Axl Rose.’

“So that’s how quick it was. I was told that day, and then Axl turned up the next day. He came in, I shook his hand, he told a joke, and I thought, ‘This guy’s alright.’ [Laughs]. And when he started singing, it was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it. He sang his heart out, and it was fantastic.”

AC/DC and Axl Rose - BACK IN BLACK HD - Ceres Park, Aarhus, Denmark, June 12, 2016

Of course, in 2018, the band brought back Phil Rudd, their classic drummer. Asked whether there was any sort of sign that Phil will eventually replace him, Chris said:

“Well, I don’t know. I guess, looking back on it, Phil’s shadow was always sort of looming, wasn’t it? He ran into trouble, but I knew based on what happened in the 90s, that if he sorted himself out, he would maybe be back in there again. I think that by then I was old enough to accept things as they are. No, I was never told how long I might be in the band. I was never told if this was forever, or if this was temporary. Obviously, I’m not in the band now, but here’s the thing, I was never told, ‘Oh, Slade, you’re not the drummer anymore.’

“No one in AC/DC ever called me or told me anything. Basically, the tour ended, I went home, and I had no idea. I had no idea that they were making an album, or if they weren’t making an album. I had no idea that they had called Phil. I was just sitting at home, and I knew about as much as anyone did until they announced things the way they did. There was never a point where Angus went, ‘Chris, you’re out, and Phil is in.’ I guess they knew, or they thought they knew how they would react, so they just left it where it was when the tour ended, and obviously, they called Phil. Thinking on it now, I knew that would happen. I knew it was going to happen. It just seemed obvious, and I had no illusions about doing the next album. They just needed me to play drums, and so, that’s what I did, just as I always have.

Photo: Philip Nelson (Philip Nelson & Chris Slade), Kreepin Deth (Axl Rose sings in London 2022)

David Slavkovic

David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.

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