AC/DC singer Brian Johnson is speaking publicly for the first time about the hearing issues that sidelined him from live performances in March on the advice of doctors in order to prevent further damage.
The crisis was serious enough for AC/DC to postpone 10 spring dates in the US on their “Rock Or Bust” world tour while Johnson met with medical professionals and the band to determine his health status moving forward.
In a new interview with SiriusXM radio host Doron Levin, Johnson provided a timeline of his hearing issues, which originally began approximately eight years ago while racing at the Watkins Glen International.
“For the first time ever, I forgot to put my earplugs in,” Johnson began. “After about 35 minutes, my left ear; a little pop. All that happened was I suffered tinnitus for about six or seven months, but it cleared up and I was fine again. We did another tour after that and I was fine.”
The issue resurfaced enough during AC/DC’s current tour that it started interfering with his ability to perform.
"In Sydney, before Christmas, I was in the hospital on nine different occasions working with this wonderful doctor called Doctor Chang,” says the singer, “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 already had a fever.
“We were dripping wet, soaking wet, 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 worried because my right ear, my good ear is just about totally deaf,” Johnson continued. “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.'"
It was at this point that doctors advised Johnson that his ears could no longer handle the sound levels in arenas and stadiums without further – and possibly permanent – damage.
"The boys (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," he recalled. "And Angus and Cliff, they just said, 'Johnno, 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."
A month later – in mid-April – AC/DC confirmed Axl Rose would handle vocals for the group’s spring European tour, which launched in Lisbon, Portugal on May 7.
Johnson, who joined AC/DC in 1980 following the death of longtime singer Bon Scott, is coming to terms with the health issue.
“What people don't understand is, it is what it is," he explains. "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. Now I guess I could rest me socks off."
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