Sidelined AC/DC singer Brian Johnson sat down for an in-depth conversation with SiriusXM about his career-halting hearing loss, his career, and more. You can now listen to the chat below.
Speaking about the hearing problems that forced him to stop touring, Johnson told Doron Levin, host of "In The Driver's Seat": "[About eight years ago], I was at Watkins Glen [automobile race track located in Watkins Glen, New York], and I was getting ready to race. I think I was number three on the grid. And I just bought a brand new helmet, and I stuck it on, and the boys were going, 'Brian, quick, you're gonna miss the thing.' So I ran over. And I stuck this helmet on, and for the first time ever, I forgot to put my eargplugs in. And what happened was, off I went, and after about thirty-five minutes, my left ear just [let out] a little pop. And I went, 'What the heck was that?'"
He continued: "But it was fine. All that happened was I suffered tinnitus for about six or seven months, but it cleared up and then I was fine again, because we did another tour after that and I was fine. But, unfortunately, on stage, you don't have any defense. So when we started the tour, I was just fine; we were just rolling along and rolling along. And I think just age and that industrial noise every night on stage… I mean, you're in a rock and roll band. What the hell do you expect?"
According to Johnson, his hearing issues started interfering with his ability to perform once AC/DC returned to the road in support of the band's latest album, "Rock Or Bust". He said: "In Sydney, before Christmas, I was in the hospital on nine different occasions working with this wonderful doctor called Doctor Chang, and he had perceived that one night, we were playing Winnipeg at this huge stadium outside and it was raining cats and dogs, and it was absolutely freezing cold. And I caught a fever, and so did… well, Angus [Young, AC/DC guitarist] already had a fever. We were dripping wet, soaking wet, [and it was] absolutely freezing, and then straight after the show, we had to get on an aircraft and fly straight to Vancouver, which was a two-and-a-half-hour flight, and unfortunately, the fluids went up into my sinuses and then around my ear. But we had to carry on. We did a gig there, then we did San Francisco, then we did Los Angeles, and then we came home for a two- or three-week break, and then off we went to Australia. And my ears still hadn't popped. And I was getting worred because my right ear, my good ear is just about totally deaf. And when I got [to Australia], that's when Doctor Chang found out that the fluids had crystallized and had been eating away at my ear. So my good ear, I lost… I don't know what percentage, but it was enough to make things very difficult. So they worked on me. They had tubes in my arm, I was getting liquids and steroids into the system to try to break it down and clear it up. But he did look me in the eye with that horrible look that doctors have when you know something bad's coming [laughs], and he just said, 'Yup. I'm afraid you're not gonna get that back. But we can work with you, and we'll try it.' So we did. And we did all the gigs in Australia — that was great — and then we came back and I did ten shows in America, but I'm afraid after that, when I went for my second check, that's when they said, 'You're killing your ears.'"
Johnson said that was told by doctors that he could not perform on stage at arena- and stadium-size venues where the sound levels were beyond his current tolerance without the risk of substantial hearing loss and possibly total deafness.
"The [other members of AC/DC] saw the chart, 'cause I'd been getting checked regularly, and they saw there was a massive dip, and if I had kept on going, there was every possibility that I would never hear again," Brian said. "And Angus and Cliff [Williams, AC/DC bassist], they just said, 'Jonno, you've gotta think of your health.' And everybody else said, 'Brian, your health comes first. You've done a whole year on the road, you've done everything. We wanna finish.' And that's what they did."
Despite the fact that he may not ever be able to perform live anymore, Johnson considers himself fortunate to have had such a long and successful career with AC/DC.
"What people don't understand is, it is what it is," he said. "It's like a young sports player getting an injury. I feel sorry for them [when they're] 24 or 25 and they have an injury and it ends their career and it's an awful thing. But I'm lucky. I'm 68 — I'm 69 later this year — and I've had a pretty good run. I've been in one of the best bands in the world. [The doctor] didn't tell me I had cancer or something terminal. And I had so many good times with the boys and I've had such a lucky and great life, and I'm just thankful, really, that I came out of it in one piece."
GUNS N' ROSES frontman Axl Rose took over the mic in AC/DC after Johnson was forced off the road. Rose, who broke his foot on April 1 during a club show with the reunited GUNS, is slated for now to play AC/DC's current run of European shows as well as ten postponed North American gigs.
Angus Young recently said that the decision to have Brian replaced for the current AC/DC tour "was out of our hands," insisting that "it was [Brian's] call what he felt" the best way to proceed was.
"We wouldn't win in a lot of situations because if we just stopped, there would have been a lot of people unhappy," he said.