He made it because he didn’t know it was impossible (Mark Twain)
Well it has come full circle: after 30+ years, I got to meet my hero of a lifetime, Angus Young. I know that you may be curious as to how this meeting was ever even possible, so here’s the whole story.
Throughout the years of my “isolated obsession,” people have asked me if I’d ever met the band, a few members – or even “just” Angus. Nope. Had never. I’d gone to 2 or 3 concerts, but had never so much as ventured even to the backstage door. Ever. My respect for them has always been so high that I never wanted to intrude (or so I would have felt) by trying to meet them.
Of course, it had been my dream since I can remember (probably 1979), when I started listening to them, to meet them one day, but never had I taken a step to try to make it happen.
Finally, I “met” the inventor Ken Schaffer… the possibility of one day meeting Angus started ringing in my ears… I got to know Mr. Schaffer in the past two or so years – by email, Skype or in person (twice during this year); and he mentioned, long ago, that he would really get off on reconnecting with Angus and making it possible for he and I to meet. He’d known the boys – even drank with them (to the point of getting so drunk that he passed out and left it to Malcolm and Bon to carry him back and tuck him into his hotel-room bed – in Glasgow, 1978, during the recording of AC/DC’s live album “If You Want Blood, You’ve Got it”, that featured Angus Young on the Schaffer-Vega Diversity System the whole show, rhythm and lead). Ken had been quite friendly with Angus during the Schaffer-Vega days, and took great delight at pegging me as a fellow ”isolated obsessive” – a term Sting once coined to describe him: he still remembers my first email to him – mentions it to people he meets – including to Angus himself – and it always seems to bring a smile to his face.
Ken was the man that made it happen. The idea kicked into high gear when someone I also consider a friend – Susan Masino, a noted rock journalist and a friend of the band for many years (decades) – asked me to write a small piece for her newest book, to be released later on sometime during 2015 Spring. While I gladly accepted, I proposed to her that she may want to print a never-before-published image of Ken and Angus together (Ken literally strangling Angus, an image that you may have seen posted here on solodallas.com). She was very happy, ran – with Mr. Schaffer’s permission – the photograph and proposed to somehow return the favor. In proposing that she get in touch with Ken for permission to use the photo, I suspected that Ken would ask her more recent contact info to get back in touch with Angus. And that was that. (Thank you, Susan!).
We long-ago decided to gift Angus with the Replica – we’d saved GT #001 for him. Angus accepted immediately, asking (through management) that “the replica could be delivered to the studio” (The Warehouse Studio, where they were recording their latest – maybe last – AC/DC album). It all happened rather quickly at that point. Ken got in touch with me with the idea of going and presenting it to Angus personally (the “more frugal” means of shipment being – and it had been considered –to ship the unit to The Warehouse).
Believe it or not, I analyzed both possibilities. In that I wasn’t sure I had the guts to do it. Yes, you read well. The guts. If you think it’s easy – after what, 35 years? – to finally meet your hero in person… in the recording studio where he is recording what may be their last album (possibly)? Well think twice: I doubted, I really did. And I let both Franz – my dearest friend and business partner in the Replica endeavor and in the whole solodallas.com thing (and the real engine behind The Schaffer Replica, to put it lightly) – know about the possibility. My wife basically kicked me in the nuts insisting I should go without – jeez – without a doubt. Mr. Schaffer let me know his thoughts: basically calling me a schmuck (he didn’t say, but he let me understand it loud and clear) for even considering not going: this was my chance. Under the best possible circumstance. A milestone. The chance of a lifetime. No pressure, right?
Of course I got to “yes” but it took a whole day of “thinking” (even considering the expenses of getting from Rome to Vancouver, etc., naturally – thoughts only (the best) terror can bring up).
Next thing … my beloved wife Simona had made the arrangements – ticketed me to go (solo – it was the weekend of Lorenzo’s birthday. I would miss his party – his 6th. He stood strong with Simona for his dad not to blow it…) Franz shipped me another Gold Tag to replace GT #001 that I had been holding & testing – it had always been meant to go to Angus). I got a nice Anvil roadcase, cut foam for it, and placed every piece nicely snug inside.
But I was afraid. I was nervous. Everyone knew about my nervousness. Everyone who got near me in the (few) days prior to Vancouver got to witness: I was actually in fear… I didn’t know what to expect. I was afraid of not understanding what he might try and tell me, with his mixed Australian/Scottish accent. Sometimes I don’t even understand what Ken tells me he free associates in his New York accent. Too much for a poor Italian-imported-into-the-USA guy to process.
And I didn’t want to be in the spotlight. I didn’t think it would be right. Angus and Ken had been friends in the past. I was (am) just a fan. A loyal one at that – understood – but how many of us are out there? What right did I have more than anyone else to be in there? What would I say? “I love you”? I didn’t know what to think. Wasn’t sure if I’d best prepare something to say or just wing it. Ended up that I (we) decided to completely wing it. Nothing prepared. Just, hastened Ken, just be spontaneous. “Just you, Fil…” (Oh – hmmm – Mr. Schaffer “had neglected” to mention to management that he’d be accompanied by a friend flying from Rome… too much pressure. I was a surprise)
One day more, about 15 cramped air-hours, our great buddy Kris Reaville (an authentic “Canuck”) met me at the Vancouver airport. Later, Ken and I met and settled into a great little hotel chosen by my dear wife – just a few blocks away from The Warehouse Studio. The time for Ken & I to meet at the Warehouse had been set for the next day (I arrived Friday night) and this probably made me even more nervous, though I tried not to show it.
I had no time to prepare mentally for it. Our date had been set for Saturday the 11th of May, at 1830 local Vancouver time: Mr. Schaffer hastened to warn me (he wearing a punkish wink I’d understand only later) what he’d been told by management: not to expect much more than 15 min. or so with the band. So be it.
I spent the morning playing guitar(s) with Kris. We had a blast – a much needed chance to discharge some tension, and it was the perfect chance. And Kris is in love – just like me – with Angus’ vibrato. It takes a while to nail it, and I’m not even sure I nail it 100% but still, every time we meet we discuss that vibrato.
After that, lunch with Ken. He’s very comfortable – and kind – to waiters and (especially) waitresses – but does fly off the handle when he orders a complicated meal topped off by a Coke and the waiter sheepishly asks “Pepsi?” That happens in chain restaurants and airports, highways, etc.: Pepsi pays the restaurant owner to not serve Coke. Ken asks the waiter “how long have you been a waiter?” and the waiter may, invariably, say something like “5 years,” at which point Ken asks, “Has anybody ever ordered a Pepsi?” The waiter usually thinks a little and answers, “No… in fact, no!” Ken informs “The management of this restaurant knows their customers want Coke, not Pepsi. If they know that and they’re taking money from Pepsi to not serve Coke… then I’ve got a think about the meat…”
If you are experienced with jet lag, you know that not everyone is affected by it – but I am. I’m a champ when it comes down to being knocked out by jet lag – I suffer from it in every possible circumstance – travelling to a place and coming back: yeah, the whole package. Since often it is after meals that your body feels it the most (probably a consequence of digestion), after lunch, Ken and I went to rest a bit. Fact is – I fell into a deep sleep for a few hours and only awoke when Ken called me (at that point risking being late). We’d arranged to meet at 5:45 in the lobby in order to be at 6:30 pm at the studio. At 6 PM Ken woke me up… I rushed to wash my face with cold water (Vancouver temperature) hoping to regain some consciousness but felt I wasn’t getting much back and cursed myself: I was about to meet my hero of 40 years – completely messed up.
Oh well. Here we go. Called a cab and went. Ken, who’d been munching on jalapenos, needed to stop at a pharmacy for some Tums, so the cab stopped somewhere near our destination. Ken was lighting fast in and out of the pharmacy… we were still perfectly ontime; actually, early.
But still we were to walk some to get to the place. And we did. After some walking in fact, we got to the right address. Oh how it all felt sweet and sour at the same time. Horror had me. Ken seemed instead solid, very calm and very up; the man showed cool (and maybe, just maybe, me too, by contagion: look at the picture of me in front of the door).
The door nearly unmarked –we buzzed and Ken announced himself: “Kenny Schaffer!”. Door opened. A young guy came and welcomed us in; he was very nice to us immediately – we were expected, and this was a mere sign of it.
It’s a great place. I mean… no wonder, right? It is owned by Bryan Adams and he chose to rent it to… good clients since the very start (from the times where – The Warehouse Studio – was still located in his basement – read the wikipedia story here). The studio had also been chosen for AC/DC’s last album, “Black Ice” – undoubtedly, it does sound fantastic.
One of the reasons of choice for this studio was/is indeed – besides a band feeling completely at home in its simple yet still cozy environment – its famous Neve console (it is a known fact that AC/DC love Neve analog consoles, since the very first years of their record production in Albert Studios where they did have indeed, a Neve console for tracking). The Neve console was in Studio 2, and that’s exactly where we went.
You can read a bit about this peculiar console here
The main door from the street leads into a courtyard – to the left a bright green garden and to the right, the entrance to the studio, where we were brought. There’s a wide front desk and to its left, an open stairway going up. Which – again – is where we were going. Climbing the stairs, you’d likely choose to admire a glass-encased microphone collection in a glass wall – more like a wall display window – microphones from every era. That alone was breathtaking for me, while walking up.
My breath left me when we arrived on the second floor – we walked right into everyone… eating! We were a few minutes early (probably 5 by now); I felt terribly embarrassed by the sight: everyone casually sitting around the lounge table, eating almost in a calm silence.
Mrs. Ellen (Young) recognized Ken from 30+ years prior and hugged him warmly. She introduced herself to me, “Hi, I’m Ellen!”, then Angus, Rick (St. Pierre, of Wizard amps AND Angus’ personal guitar & amp tech – almost a member of the family himself, after 26 years continuous with the band) and Stevie (Young).
It was with almost the whole tribe with which we sat… on the floor in the large, airy, corner-windowed lounge, and in Studio 2 with its famous Neve-consoled control and recording rooms.
There he was. In front of me. My hero of 40 years (less, actually: it would be, precisely, 35). Wearing what you saw/see in the pictures. A simple sweat shirt, light grey, and a pair of jeans, a ponytail. That’s all. Ellen was super cute, a lovely dress covered by a colourful apron she’d been wearing as she had cooked an entire lunch for everyone there. Yep. That’s what she does. She takes care of everyone, no catering.
She kindly asked us if we wanted to eat, but both Ken and I, at first, answered “Not.” I had my heart in my throat, and appetite wasn’t exactly what I was feeling. Still, we were seated with the tribe at the table. A long, rectangular wooden table.
Ken snuggled up next to Ang; leaving me to sit at head of the table (not for the honour or because it had been planned, just for pure luck): Angus to my left and Ellen to my right. Further down on Angus’ side, were Ken, and next to Ken, Rick, who was smiling. In front of Ken sat Stevie Young (next to Ellen). These were my table companions, and I was sitting head of the table. Can you believe it? Because frankly, I couldn’t.
Although Ken had introduced me earlier, I introduced myself as “Hi, I’m Filippo” – giving the full name so as to not create confusion with my accent while saying “Fil.” (It sounds at times like “Feel,” at others like “Full.”) Angus was with his back by the window, first seat on the left side of the table and we shook hands normally.
Here, stood this youtuber, an AC/DC fan for life. In the middle of THE kin. Could I ever survive? And if I did, would I ever be able to even just say a word that made sense or something remotely interesting? I doubted it at the moment. I preferred to remain an observer and watched Ken unwind. And he did. He was flowing and sparkly and lively, which is his style. At the dinner table, Angus would nod and grin between bites to some of the stories – old and new – Ken told.
And so it went for some time. I couldn’t tell you how long exactly. After all was said and done… as hard as it might be, still, for me to believe… I thought we’d been there for roughly 30 minutes, but it turned out more than a whopping two hours had passed.
End of Part one, click here for part two!