The reinvention of Rudd
It has been two-and-a-half years since this writer last spoke to Phil Rudd, and it’s fair to say that the estranged AC/DC drummer has been through the wringer since our last chat.
Back in the summer of 2014, we shared a 15-minute talk through the drummer’s then brand new Head Job record - an album recorded by Rudd and his solo bandmates Allan Badger and Geoffrey Martin. Rudd called time on the interview with a minute or so to go, citing the heavy cold that he was suffering from. ‘I need to go, I’m fackin’ dying, mate,’ he spluttered as we said our goodbyes.
A few weeks later and Rudd’s world came crashing down as he was charged with several eye-catching offences, including drug possession and making threats to kill. Ultimately he was sentenced to eight months' house detention. In the meantime, he had lost his position as AC/DC drummer, with Chris Slade coming in.
It was a most undignified fall for the godfather of 4/4, a decline for the man who had powered AC/DC’s thunderous, rabble-rousing rock off and on since the ‘70s.
It is Rudd’s perfectly judged entrance you hear on Highway To Hell, his turbo-charged cymbal crashes that power Riff Raff and his laidback groove that gives Back In Black its monster feel. And, while he should have been enjoying one last hurrah around the world’s stadiums in support of 'DC’s Rock Or Bust album, he was sat at home counting the days until he could get back on the road and promote Head Job.
But Rudd’s kicking wasn’t quite over. In late August 2016 it was revealed that the 62 year old's return had been temporarily scuppered as he had suffered a heart attack. As we said, he’s been through the wringer.
So as we dial Rudd’s mobile number today, we’re unsure of what exactly to expect. The Phil Rudd we speak to on this occasion bears the same gruff voice and to-the-point interview style as we found last time, but this Phil most definitely has turned a corner. A world away from the salacious headlines and bizarre courtroom appearances that have dogged him in recent times, Rudd is bright, clear-headed and engaging, happy to chat away with a spark in his voice that had previously been ominously absent.
It seems that while Phil Rudd has endured a torrid time, he is out of the other end and, miraculously, still in one piece. In fact, he’s even embarking on a lengthy European tour to promote the Head Job album that we heard all about just before things went south back in 2014. If our 2014 interview was the calm before the storm, then today we hear all about the reinvention of Rudd.
Heart attacks and house arrest
Phil, you suffered a heart attack at the back-end of 2016, how are you feeling?
“I’m great, mate. I’m great. I’ve never felt better. Since they fixed me up I’ve had a whole new lease of life.”
That must have been a huge shock though?
“Mate, at this stage nothing will shock me. It’s all par for the course, as far as I’m concerned.”
We guess it had come at the end of an immensely stressful two years…
“No shit! [laughs]”
So you must be pleased to have pulled through to the other end and now be about to head out on tour.
“Yeah mate, it’s all worked out really well in the end. Things couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Speaking of that nightmare two years, did you manage to continue to play drums in that period? Particularly when you were under house arrest?
“Whether I play or not doesn’t really matter. When I rejoined AC/DC in 1994 I hadn’t played for about eight years. It doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t. I don’t need to practise. The only thing I need to do is build up my match fitness. I just need to get it back up so I play a little. I’ve been doing that recently and I’m making good progress at the moment, it’s all sounding good. It takes a little bit of time though, absolutely it does. It helps that with this band it’s quite an enjoyable set of music to play that we have, so it’s all good.”
Have you learned a lot in last two years?
“Oh yeah, I think so. I’ve learnt that I needed to wisen up. I’ve got a new girlfriend in my life and she’s really great as well. Everything has turned out okay.”
Did the house arrest sentence surprise you, or did you expect a little more leniency?
“They had already given me a bit of leniency. I was just being a fucking dickhead. I shot myself in the foot. You make your own bed, mate. You make your own mistakes and you have to deal with them and that is what I have done. Hindsight is 20/20.”
One show on your European tour is the BonFest tribute to Bon Scott. Is it special for you to be part of an event like that?
“Oh, we’re gonna nail that motherfucker! It’s gonna be great. We’re all huge Bon Scott fans and we’re gonna go there and show them how Bon Scott would have liked it. Well, at least I hope we will, who knows I might make a huge fuck-up! Hopefully we’ll be fine. We’re hoping to do Bon proud with that show.”
A hell of a lot has changed in AC/DC since your last show with the band - Malcolm, Brian and Cliff have all departed the band, as well as yourself, of course. Have you had any contact with the band in that time?
“I’ve spoken to a couple of the guys. I can’t say what’s on the horizon for AC/DC, I can’t really say. That’s not my thing to say. I have seen, though, that Guns N’ Roses are playing over here in Wellington soon and they have a big tour all over the world. I wonder whether Angus will be happy to see Guns N’ Roses going out on a big tour which means that AC/DC can’t go out on tour. We will see. You’d need a crystal ball to know what’s going to happen there.”
Have you seen any clips of the band with Axl?
“I watched some clips the other day of Axl singing with the boys. I was surprised; it wasn’t too bad. I was quite surprised, I thought he did quite well and that’s not an easy gig, mate, it’s not an easy gig at all. AC/DC is a tough gig for everyone in the band. I saw Angus jamming with Guns N’ Roses as well. Apart from watching those clips though I don’t know what’s going to happen or what’s going on with the band.”
Your upcoming tour is with your solo band, but that band has actually been around since you first left AC/DC in the ’80, hasn’t it?
“Yeah, we started on this album years and years ago. I rejoined AC/DC [in 1993] and I didn’t see the guys in the band for years. When we came back to it a lot of the songs were the same and the feeling in the band was the same. We’re like three brothers, that feeling is always there.”
Did you typically write the Head Job album as a band, or would you bring full songs in and tweak them with Allan and Geoff?
“When I write, I write everything from a rhythm point. I would mess around with rhythmic ideas and then the boys would add in what they wanted. Or maybe one of the boys would bring a riff in and we’d work on it from there. Me and the boys would work on the lyrics together as well.
“There's a couple of fills on the Head Job album. The title track sounds huge, I love it, and there's a few fills in there. I was more opinionated on Head Job than I would be on an AC/DC album. I'm quite happy with the way that it's all worked out. Some of the drum sounds on Head Job really are stunning, especially on the title track and then a song like When I Get My Hands On You.”
We notice you playing guitar in the Head Job video - are you much of a guitarist?
“Nah, not much. I played for a very short space of time and not very often. I showed Geoff a few things [laughs].”
For any fan thinking about coming out to one of your shows, what can they expect?
“A bit of foot-tapping and just a good rockin’ rhythm section and a good rock band. It’s a good pub band - you’ll have a good time.”
Head Job is out now. Phil Rudd's European tour begins on 31 March. Visit www.philruddmusic.com for more details.