Childhood & Early Life
He was born on October 5, 1947, in Dunston, Gateshead, County Durham, England, as the oldest of four children of Alan and Esther (née De Luca). *His father served the British Army's Durham Light Infantry as a sergeant major and was also a coal miner. Johnson lost his father while he was on AC/DC’s Ballbreaker World Tour in 1996. His mother was from Frascati, Italy.
He performed with the Scouts in different shows in his younger days. He was also part of a local church choir and featured in a play that was broadcast on TV.
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Early career of Johnson saw him performing with the Gobi Desert Canoe Club band and the Fresh Band. He started performing for ‘The Jasper Hart Band’, a cabaret/club band from 1970 and moving on joined hands with other members of the band to form the British glam rock band ‘Geordie’ in 1972.
Geordie’s first single ‘Don't Do That’ found place among UK Top 40 in December 1972. The band furthered its fame with hit singles including UK Top 10 ‘All Because of You’ (April 1973) and UK Top 20 ‘Can You Do It’ (July 1973). In January 1976 Johnson as a member of ‘Geordie’ spawned his only solo single ‘I Can't Forget You Now’.
He left ‘Geordie’ after the band released their 1976 album ‘Save the World’. In 1978 ‘Geordie’ disbanded. It was eventually re-formed by Johnson in 1980 with a new line-up with him as the only original member. Also referred as ‘Geordie II’, the band signed a recording contract in early 1980. However in March 1980 Johnson received a phone call enquiring if he would be interested in auditioning for lead vocalist position of AC/DC that became vacant following demise of singer Bon Scott in February that year.
It so happened that Scott once praised Johnson’s performance to his band members after he saw Johnson singing for Geordie. After considering several candidates Johnson was zeroed in as the band’s lead vocalist marking the beginning of a new thriving era for AC/DC. On April 1, 1980, the band officially announced his joining.
He was sent to the Bahamas where he worked with Angus Young, Malcolm Young, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd in the Compass Point Studios in coming up with the band’s first album with him titled ‘Back in Black’. The album that released on July 25, 1980, became a huge critical and commercial success selling an estimated 50 million copies worldwide and emerging among the best-selling albums of all time.
AC/DC’s next album with Johnson as lead vocalist titled ‘For Those About to Rock We Salute You’ that released on November 23, 1981 followed success of its predecessor. It emerged as the first album of the band to peak at No. 1 in the US on the Billboard chart holding the position for three weeks.
The album ‘Strange Man’ released in 1982 through MCA label including a compilation of ten songs of the Geordie’s from 1973–1976 was spawned as a solo album of Johnson.
In the ensuing years he contributed as lead vocalist of AC/DC in spawning many other successful albums including ‘Flick of the Switch’ (1983), ‘Fly on the Wall’ (1985), ‘Who Made Who’ (1986) and ‘Blow Up Your Video’ (1988). The latter that marked last album of the band to feature Johnson’s lyrics garnered Grammy Award nomination for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental in 1989.
One of the most notable albums of AC/DC where Johnson contributed on lead vocals was ‘The Razors Edge’ that released on September 21, 1990. The album that spawned hit singles like ‘Are You Ready’, ‘Thunderstruck’ and ‘Moneytalks’ garnered 5x platinum certification in the US and peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 chart staying on the chart for 77 weeks in a row and also climbed at #4 on the UK charts.
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Moving on he worked on other albums of AC/DC including ‘Live’ (1992), ‘Ballbreaker’ (1995), and ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ (2000).
In 2000, he published his autobiography titled ‘Rockers and Rollers’.
Johnson is working with Sarasota Ballet choreographer, Robert de Warren from April 2003 on a musical version of Helen of Troy. In 2003 the members of AC/DC including Johnson were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The 15th studio album of AC/DC titled ‘Black Ice ‘ that released internationally on October 17, 2008, emerged among the most successful albums of the band scaling its popularity as also that of Johnson to new heights. It debuted atop album charts of 29 countries and clinched the numero uno spot on the US Billboard 200 albums chart by October 28 that year. It became 2008’s second best-selling album across the globe after Coldplay's Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends.
While ‘Black Ice’ received a Grammy nomination among several others, one of its tracks ‘War Machine’ won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance.
In 2016 following fifth leg of the Rock or Bust World Tour, the supporting tour of the 16th studio album of AC/DC titled ‘Rock or Bust (2014)’, their 11th with Johnson, he left the band due to hearing problems. His departure was announced by the band in April that year.
Other endeavours of Johnson included recording a new song titled ‘Mr. Rock'n'Roll’ with comedian Jim Breuer; writing lyrics of the track ‘Kill the Sunshine’ for the band Jackyl’s album ‘Relentless’ in 2002; featuring in car racing reality television series ‘The Race’ in 2006 and in the TV series Top Gear in 2009; and featuring in the documentary series ‘Cars That Rock with Brian Johnson’ in May 2014 among others.
He is also an enthusiast of cars and races and loves to race with his vintage race cars, a Pilbeam MP84 and a Royale RP-4.
He married Carol, in 1968 with whom he has two daughters, Joanne born in 1968 and Kala born in 1973. His first marriage ended in divorce. He is presently married to Brenda and resides in Sarasota, Florida.
He received an honorary degree of Doctor of Music from Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne on July 9, 2014.
He backs the Topcliffe based Yorkshire Dementia Charity since October 2014.