It’s always nice learning some of our favorite rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest guitarists started out just like the rest of us: By woodshedding with older siblings and logging some precious teeth-cutting time in short-lived upstart bands. We identify with the humble beginnings and realize that, hey, these “gods” are mortal, after all.
Or at least were mortal at some point.
Before they unleashed “High Voltage,” ignited “TNT,” or hired themselves out for “Dirty Deeds,” AC/DC’s Malcolm and Angus Young dabbled in another group—The Marcus Hook Roll Band—with their big brother.
Never heard of George Young? You’ve probably heard his music: As part of The Easybeats, George scored a hit with “Friday On My Mind,” that familiar wacky-for-the-weekend anthem whose numerous cover versions (by The Shadows, The Zombies, etc.) assured it extended shelf-life on FM radio during afternoon rush hour. And when The Easybeats splintered, George and bandmate Harry Vanda turned to writing and producing out of a modest studio in the Scottish-bred Youngs’ new home in Sydney, Australia.
Known then as The Jay Jays, George and Harry cooked up a new batch of R&B-based rockers that abandoned the jangle-pop of the mid ‘60s and embraced the muscular grooves and fuzzy guitar tones of Cream and T-Rex.
When Capital Records caught wind of their first single, “Natural Man,” they dispatched EMI in-house producer Alan “Wally” Waller to the land down under to squeeze a full album from the boys, now going by The Marcus Hook Roll Band (no relation to any living person, or to the village in Delaware County, Pennsylvania). The bourbon-fueled result, Tales from Old Grand-Daddy, was the band’s first and only full-length, was overlooked upon its 1973 release but received the occasional deluxe / re-release treatment over the years.
Now, for the first time ever, Parlophone / Rhino have restored and augmented Old Grand-Daddy by cleaning up the original tapes and tacking on five related “bonus” tracks—two of which have never seen light of day anywhere else. The songs have never sounded better, their enhanced quality underscoring the historical import of appearances by George’s soon-to-be-megastar siblings.
Author John Tait’s indispensable liner notes transport listeners back some forty years, to early sessions at Abbey Road Studios (The Beatles, Pink Floyd) in London and principle recording at EMI in Sydney in late summer ’73. We’re introduced to George, Harry, and their band—which included Ian Campbell (bass), Freddie Smith and John Proud (drums), and even Waller himself (bass, organ). Both Malcolm (age 20) and Angus (17) contributed electric guitar to the mixes, but this far removed it’s still anyone’s guess which Young is responsible for what hooks and which licks—a conundrum that only amplifies the disc’s appeal. AC/DC aficionados will have a blast rising to the challenge of spotting the boys’ styles across the fifteen vintage selections.
Keeping with the album’s original sequence, Grand-Daddy opens with the surprisingly funky “Can’t Stand the Heat,” a get-out-of-the-kitchen cooker whose thick bass, prominent drums, and teasing refrain owe more to Apostrophe / Overnite Sensation-era Zappa than early AC/DC works. But the Young brothers’ guitar presence is noticeable on the bluesy “Goodbye Jane,” an ode to small-town girls with high ambitions. Brimming with honkytonk piano, twangy guitar bends, and an upper-register chorus (that’d be George), the tune predates the twelve-bar classic rock popularized by Foreigner and Bad Company. The accentuating horns also lend a bright, brassy Sanford-Towsend / Average White Band jazz-rock vibe.
Cut with miscellaneous in-studio vocals to simulate a “live” sound, “Quick Reaction” bears immutable AC/DC genetics, what with its rampant guitar fills, Rolling Stones slinkiness, and snarky, “no more Mr. Nice Guy” swagger.
Grand-Daddy’s longest cut, “Silver Shoes,” is a three-chord slow-burner that rides high on Procol Harum / Moody Blues-like organ swells and a soulful, emotive lead vocal (courtesy Vanda) about a luckless Lothario “just down from New Orleans” who loses his “strawberry wine”-loving lady. Bass, piano, and additional guitar (including acoustics) join the fray two minutes in, copping a melancholy blues sound not unlike those promulgated by early Eric Clapton (circa Derek and The Dominos / 461 Ocean Boulevard. But “Watch Her Do It Now” finds George and Harry injecting the humor again on a sleazy number about an insatiable sex fiend who tires out her man, then moves on to his extended family. Double-entendres abound, with George likening our girl’s prowess to steam engines, rollercoasters, boool-dozers, and all manner of motor vehicle—but it’s all good fun. The deft slide guitar solo might be by Kiwi musician Kevin Borich, or it may well be one of the Brothers Young.
What would’ve been Side 2 still kicks off with the more serious “People and The Power,” a Vietnam lament wherein George and Harry chronicle the evolution of politics from Neanderthal to Parliament, decrying our “freedom to change things anymore.”
Commencing with restrained cymbals and a pulsating beacon-bass, the conscientious tune recalls other social-minded music of the day—particularly that of The Chicago Transit Authority (“Dialogue Parts 1 & 2). “Red Revolution” presents the other side of the same coin: Our narrator’s rage at the warmongering, wage-taxing system (“I don’t like what I see”) is set to a gritty rhythmic stomp, his angst exacerbated by wah-wah guitars and saxophone (Howie Casey, later of McCartney’s Wings). Later, the band reprises its “Power and The People” chorus, thereby linking the songs in in measure as well as sentiment.
Recorded earlier by George and Harry (as Haffy’s Whiskey Sour), “Shot in The Head” is remade into a sonic middle-finger salute to the status quo. The loping “Ape Man” cops a politically incorrect first-person perspective to poke fun at the titular Alpha Man and his modern progeny, who beat their chests (and wives) to get their way. The boys grunt and groan to simulate a caveman cadence, while a one-to-the-bar slap of chain on concrete mimics primordial metallurgy. “I should have died out 10,000 years ago,” surmises our resident Alley Oop. Both “Shot” and “Ape” are fairly standard ‘70s rockers, a la Wishbone Ash and Savoy Brown(or KISS and AC/DC, for that matter), but the guitar fills keep it interesting. Conversely, the album-capping “Cry for Me” is a power ballad cut from the same cloth as McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and whose plaintive piano provides a bedrock for Vanda’s elegiac lead vocal (before the drums and bass rev it up a notch).
Bonus tracks feature the unreleased “One of These Days” and “Ride Baby Ride,” along with a couple songs recorded in Fall 1972 in London, including the aforementioned “Natural Man.” Seeped in wah-wah and self-pity, “One of These Days” is the portrait of a plebian fatigued by phone bills and parking tickets. When he finally escapes (to yachts and Rolls-Royces), it’s only in his dreams. The swampy “Ride Baby Ride” is a countrified, acoustic bit (guitar and banjo) about a drunk whose similarly-inebriated date piggy backs him home (1,000 miles from Baltimore to Carolina). Of course, George’s lyric takes on cheeky new meaning with each cycle through the “ride me” refrain.
“Louisiana Lady” boasts the inimitable talents of the “Glasgow Mafia”—the Smith / Campbell rhythm section—as well as the tenor sax of Alex Young (yes, another brother, and the only one in the Young family who didn’t emigrate to Oz). Waller’s funky, keyboard-saturated “Moonshine Blues”—a refugee tune from the London sessions—benefits from Malcolm’s magic guitar touch. Good enough to have made the album proper, the song was axed because of time constraints (vinyl records can only accommodate so many minutes per side).
George and Harry would go on to front New Wave pop group Flash and The Pan in the later ‘70s. Angus, meanwhile, would take to his trademark schoolboy uniform and (with Malcolm) front AC/DC’s twin guitar attack on such now-legendary releases as Highway to Hell (Bon Scott vocals) and Back in Black (Brian Johnson vocals). Clearly, The Marcus Hook Roll ruffians intended Tales to create a bigger splash for EMI upon its initial pressing(s)—but imagine what wouldn’t have happened had Angus and Malcolm not been thrust in bold new directions. As is, the tweaked Tales From Old Grand-Daddy (out today on Amazon and iTunes) is more than a worthy curio of AC/DC significance; it’s a time capsule whose writing and performances stand on their own merits—even forty years removed.