Mark Evans would be easy to resent if he weren’t so damned likable.
Authors might understandably be envious to see his book, Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside AC/DC, blow up globally, enjoying uniformly positive critical and commercial receptions in Australia, Europe and North America.
Musicians certain have ample reasons to resent him. First, with his bass and guitar skills hotly in-demand, Evans still gigs with some of Australia’s biggest acts, having managed to navigate his last forty years without needing to wear a tie or polish his shoes to go to work. Secondly, in addition to his high-profile musical engagements and his successful book, Evans has managed to put together a new CD of his own with blues singer Dave Tice, which is being released next week.
But hey, most people are jealous because he played bass with AC/DC. Those ripping bass runs on classics like “Let There Be Rock,” “Whole Lotta Rosie,” “Jailbreak,” and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” are all his.
Nonetheless, through green with envy, we were thrilled that Mark agreed to chat with us about his book, his music and his favorite bass player joke.
Your new book Dirty Deeds focuses on your time with AC/DC but covers your whole life. What compelled you to release it now?
Over the years I’d been approached by publishers a number of times to write something like this, and it was obviously going to be an AC/DC thing. Now with what’s happened with me over the past couple of years, family-wise, it seemed the right time to sit down and take stock of what’s been going on. I needed something to immerse myself in and it just struck me as the right time to do it.
I figured I’d sit down and write a few stories and see what happens. So what I did was I started writing about a few episodes in my life, the AC/DC stuff, and it became apparent to me pretty quickly that I could do it– that it was going to work. So I showed it to an author friend of mine named Peter FitzSimons, who’s a well-respected author here in Australia, and he said, “Man, you gotta do this.” Not that I needed anyone to green-light me on this, but personally it felt like the right time.
The other side of it is that over the years I’ve had so many punters come up to me and say, “I really dig the old AC/DC stuff. What was it like being in the band? What was Bon like?” So to me, it’s a way to repay all the support I’ve had over the years, because the fans of that band and the fans of my other music have been really, really cool, to a person. They’re really genuine, you know? So it’s nice to be able to come back and put something in the pot after all the support I’ve been shown over the years.
You get into pretty intricate detail with stories that are upwards of thirty years-old. Was it tough to remember any of them?
My family are blessed with two sort of generic throwdowns– we can all eat as much as we want, we don’t put weight on; and we’ve all got really good memories. So I can tell you that all of the stuff that came out basically came out of my head. The only thing that I had to check back on, I think there were a couple of stories relating to a couple of tours in the UK and I had to double check which AC/DC headliner tours they happened on. There were a couple of times when I transposed one incident to an earlier tour and vice versa. But other than that, it’s all come straight out of my head.
If you asked me now what my phone number was when I first move moved to Sydney, I could tell you what that phone number was. My recall is very, very clear. It’s always been very good, but it’s a family trait and when it comes to writing a book, that’s a really good plus to have.
And among rockers who have been in the game as long as you have, that’s fairly unique.
(laughs loudly) I’ve gotta tell you, I have knocked myself around a bit over the years, too. It’s very fortunate that it hasn’t affected my memory. I hear what you’re saying, pal… I think it’s amazing that Ozzy wrote a book, right?
And Keith Richards. He didn’t just write a book, he published an encyclopedia. He’s telling you what he had for breakfast twenty five years ago.
I just finished reading his book last night. I’m a big Keith fan. It was a good book, huh?
Yeah, I liked it. Were you OK with the level of detail?
Yeah it was good. I’ve never met the guy, but I’ve spent a bit of time with Ron Wood over different stages and you know, [Keith] could have written a ten page pamphlet. I’m a big fan and I would have read it anyway. He’s put the score on the board, man, he can do what he wants.
I would say the same goes to you. You’ve got a few decades under your belt and over time, stories emerge that take on their own life. Were there any misinterpretations that you intended to correct?
Yeah, there’s a few things. I won’t point to any particular book, but there’s a number of books that people have passed on to me that were about AC/DC, and I’d be reading the part where I was involved with the band, and it was like I was reading about another band. I’d think, “Well that wasn’t the atmosphere at all,” and “That’s not what happened.”
When I first started with the band, we were playing to fifteen to twenty people a night. It was that early on in the piece. It grew very quickly of course.
Another thing is that I’ve read quite a few times over the years that I had some serious personal clashes with Angus (Young, lead guitarist for AC/DC), and while I did have some clashes with Angus, there’s no question about that, so has everyone, you know? (laughs) So I wasn’t exactly Robinson Crusoe in that respect. The reason my clashes came up with Angus, I would say, is because that guy is so amazingly committed to what he does, and his performance level is so intense, and his commitment is so unbelievably strong, that it’s probably a simple matter of him to view someone’s commitment as not being as strong as his. So for anyone to be committed as he is to his craft is utterly impossible. If anything was an issue for us, it’s that he might have thought I wasn’t as committed to the cause as I possibly could be. In my heart, I know that not to be true, but I think that would be the genesis of any issues we had. But I certainly wasn’t the only one, so while it’s been pointed out that was the reason for my slip with the band, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.
So when you say that’s what other accounts haven’t gotten right, that’s what you’re talking about?
Yeah, pretty much. They haven’t necessarily gotten it right from how I remember of the band, and of course I only speak of the time that I was with the band, ’cause that’s the only time that I’m qualified to speak on, of course. But the band then, while we were all intense little fellas, and arrogant, we always had a fairly lighthearted attitude to it. There was always a lot of fun, a lot of joking and a lot of humor around the band. And that was revealed in Bon’s lyrics too (Bon Scott, former lead singer of AC/DC). There was a lot of humor in his lyrics. Even the front cover of the American version of the book, that was taken when we’d come back to Australia at a press conference. There’s a lot of fun in that photo, and that photo really captures the personality of the band– Bon’s at the back making a stupid face and I’m rolling around with Angus. We weren’t exactly a comedy act, you know, but it was certainly a lot more lighthearted than people would assume from what they’ve read before.
When you joined AC/DC, it sounds like they made it clear to you that they were hell-bent on world conquest. Did you believe the band was capable of that when you joined?
Right at the outset. I was getting dropped home by one of the road crew after my first jam with the guys, and he basically said, “There’s two things you’ve got to remember: number one, it’s Malcolm’s band (rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young); and number two, we’re gonna be in the UK in twelve months.” And that was after not even playing a gig with the band. So it was put on the table from the start that this thing was moving ahead. When I got out of the car after the roadie told me that, he may as well have said to me, “Remember that it’s Malcolm’s band, and we’re gonna be playing on the moon in twelve months.” I just took it with a grain of salt.
But it didn’t take me very long to realize, and it would have been in the first couple of weeks, that these guys were deadly serious– particularly Angus and Malcolm, and with Michael Browning, the new management, that they intended to pick up all the marbles. And you got infected by it. Angus and Malcolm’s vision for that band, and particularly Malcolm’s vision, was always that the band’s the band, straight down the line, and we’re gonna do it. And more credit to him, but it became apparent to me very early on that along with George Young (Malcolm and Angus’ older brother and the band’s early producer), that the band expected to be big. It wasn’t expected to fail, it was going to work. And we all knew it was going to take a lot of work too, which it did, but there’s never been anything wrong with that band’s work ethic. It was amazing.
But yeah, it became plain to me that world domination was the only option.
It seems like there was almost a clan mentality between the brothers, and maybe even including George. Is that fair to say? Did they have that clannish outlook?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t think it was peculiar to the band, it’s just the way they were. I’ve got a lot of pals who I grew up with that were Scottish were part of that immigration out to Australia in the late 50s, early 60s, and they’re from a very staunch Scottish family. Now, that clannish thing that you refer to, that’s probably a good word for it, that wasn’t just for the band, that was just generally what they were like. They were a very staunch family. Once you were welcomed into that circle, you’re all part of the deal. Of course, blood’s thicker than water. There are limits to that, you know? But I know that we’re all pretty welcome into that circle, but they could be just by personality, a little stand-offish. But once you’re inside you’re very inside, and once you’re outside, you’re pretty much on the outside, lemme tell you…(laughs) That’s just the way it works, man.
But that’s always the way it’s gonna be, and I think, this is personal opinion, I think they value their privacy very highly, and they did tend to keep to themselves, and I think sometimes that can be viewed as, I’ve heard them called “insular” and “suspicious,” or whatever, you know. I think they’re just private guys in an industry that doesn’t allow for people to be too private. I think to a certain extent, their attitudes can be misunderstood.
Are you saying that they did let people into the circle, but they were just choosy?
No, the circle was very, very limited. There was certainly a siege mentality about that band. Once again, at the time I was with them, because that’s the way it was operated—it wasn’t necessarily “us against them,” it was “us against all of them.” The way the band went, there was a confidence and an arrogance about the band. We weren’t just competing against other bands, we were competing against everyone. That’s the way the band thought. You took on the band credo, that’s what you did. When you became part of that band, you took on the band opinion, and that’s alright. It’s worth the trip, and sometimes it could be a bit stifling. I knew Bon struggled at times with the constrictions they put on him, socially and all that. But it’s just the way it is. There was a siege mentality about that band. It’s just the way it was. You were in that band for the common good of the band. You weren’t in that band for what the band would do for you. You were in that band for what you could do for the band.
Did you feel like you could contribute your own ideas musically?
“No” would be the short answer to that. But that question would relate to Phil and myself because obviously a lot of the music did seem to come from the other guys. I know when we’d go into the studio, the albums I worked on, which was the Australian version of TNT, which after became the High Voltage album overseas. And I worked on Dirty Deeds and Let There Be Rock. Now, those songs from all those albums would be written in the studio. Angus and Malcolm and George would work out the riffs and then that idea would be fire into the pot for Angus, myself, Phil and Malcolm to work on, sometimes with George on bass, and I’d be sitting down and hanging out and George would be mending me on bass. So Phil had a lot of influence in the way the songs felt, and I’d be playing bass and things would change around a bit because of what we were doing, so I’d say on the start of “Livewire,” you could have done anything I guess, but that bass intro was just those straight notes on it, so (I said) this is what we’ll do, because it’s going to sound ominous, so that’s what I did. While it’s not songwriting, it’s certainly changing the atmosphere of songs, you know? So the short answer is “no,” I’d never have thought to get a song credit or anything, but I guess that’s what you’re pointing to. I think you would influence the songs if you’re in the writing process in there with the band. But I would never begin to think that I should have got a writing credit. That would be ridiculous.
If someone were joining AC/DC, what advice would you give them?
(Explodes into laughter)
I’ve never been asked that question before! I don’t think I’m all that qualified to answer it, because I fucked it up the first time! Oh, man… (laughing) That’s a good one, man…
My advice would be, “Enjoy the ride, it’s a great band. And turn up on time!” What can I say?
That’s the best question I’ve ever been asked! Maybe I should have asked someone that question before I joined the band…
Oh, the best. He’s the gold medalist, man. I’m biased, of course, because I knew what Bon was like. I knew the guy, you know? His lyrics are just second to none. He was a great frontman. When he was in AC/DC, he was very much the frontman. I think that once Brian Johnson took over, Brian is still the singer of the band, but I think the focus became that Angus was the frontman of the band, you know? When Bon was in, Bon was very much the frontman of the band and Angus was riding shotgun. Angus was his little mate on stage– his little partner-in-crime. I think that says a lot about Bon’s stage presence and charisma that he was still very much the frontman.
But like I said, I’m biased because I knew the guy. The guy was a very warmhearted guy. Sure, he could get out of control and stuff, but the guy had impeccable manners and was just a real warmhearted soul. I think, no I don’t think, I know that he did feel a very strong responsibility and a duty to the image of Bon Scott, which would probably cause him to push the envelope a bit too far on occasion, you know? But he was just a great guy to work with and a very warm soul, and when you looked at him, there was this hard-assed rock and roller, but inside there was a hippie, lemme tell ya… There was a lot of hippie about the guy. But he was just a wonderful, warm guy and I miss him very much to this day. He was just a cool guy.
And he could be a hard-ass when you wound him up! He was a tough guy, I’ll tell ya. He was a softie at heart, but man, if you rattled his cage, he could fight, lemme tell you. He could protect himself and a lot of people around him, lemme tell ya…
Oh yeah. Hard guy. Really hard guy when he got going.
I once saw a picture of him where he’s got a loose tooth hanging out. It looks like he’s just come out of a fight. I haven’t been able to find the picture since I first saw it, and I’ve spent a great deal of time looking around for it. Looks like he’s just been through a punch up.
A tooth missing?
Yeah, it’s like his tooth is hanging out from the front of his mouth. Does that sound familiar?
Aw, yeah! See, he got knocked around in a bike accident before he joined AC/DC, and he had some sort of bridge in there with a tooth, and it busted a couple of times. So yeah, he had a broken smile. He finally got his teeth done when we moved to England. He got a whole lotta teeth crowned and stuff. But he had a chipped front tooth for a lot of time in AC/DC, but there was also one that was on a plate, and I think it got broken a couple of times, and there were a couple of photos of him where he’s missing a front tooth.
What would you say is your biggest takeaway from the AC/DC period? For you personally.
That’s an unusual question. I don’t think about my time in AC/DC in that fashion, you know? I just think that probably… (pauses) This is going to sound like an arrogant thing to say, but probably the credibility that it’s given me over the years, being part of that band being on the ground floor of the band when the band was starting and working on those early albums. Being part of that, when we started hitting it here in Australia and then when we went to Europe and the UK. I think that the regard of doing the hard yards with the band and the credibility that comes with that, and from working on those early records like It’s a Long Way to the Top and Dirty Deeds. I cherish those memories too, and I think a lot of people look back, particularly bass players, and they say “Your playing’s influenced me a lot,” and that’s good to hear, you know? It’s nice to think that you’ve switched people on to playing music. Or switching people on to playing bass– that’s a really cool thing.
What’s the difference between a good bass player and a great bass player?
Some guys can be technically amazing, and they can play the bejeesus out of a bass, but you’ll get guys that are really simple bass players that are much better bass players. The best bass players don’t necessarily play bass, they play what the tune calls for. They’re the good guys. You can get guys that are very busy bass players that are amazing. Paul McCartney’s one of them. He was a very busy bass player, but he played exactly what the tune needed, even if it was really complex. There’s other guys, all those guys who played American soul stuff, like Duck Dunn and James Jamerson, those guys are amazing.
But what makes a good bass player is the guys who nail down the songs. You’ll get guys who do that and are really individual, like Andy Fraser, the bass player in Free. He was an unusual bass player, but just an amazing bass player– completely unique. But the great bass players nail down the song and put their big, fat platform down with the drums, and everything goes on top and they don’t get in the way. They’re the great bass players.
Sometimes you can get individuals like John Entwistle, from The Who. John Entwistle was an amazing bass player, but he was almost like the lead instrument in the band, and that’s unusual also. He’s an exception. Not too many guys can do that.
But the great guys always have the song first in mind, the bass playing second. What’s best for the song dictates what the bass playing is. They’re the great players.
A favorite bass player joke? (laughs) Aw, man…. um, yeah, I do.
What did the record producer say to the jazz bass guitarist?
I don’t know.
Oh, I fucked it up! I fucked it up! I’ve got it the wrong way around…
What did the jazz bass guitarist say to the record producer?
I don’t know.
Would you like fries with that?
(laughing) I got it ass up! It’s still early in the morning- it’s only nine a.m. here, I haven’t had any coffee.
So you’re keeping pretty busy now. What do you enjoy most about life after AC/DC?
Well obviously the book’s keeping me very, very busy. But right now I’ve just gone back out on the road. I’ve gone back to my roots. Initially I was into playing blues music, like Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, all that sort of stuff. I got introduced to that stuff by the Rolling Stones. I was a Rolling Stones fan. So I do a blues duo. I work with a great blues singer over here, a guy named Dave Tice. And we’ve got a new CD coming out next week. It’s like a mini-CD– it’s got seven tracks on it. One of the songs is called “Brothers in Arms,” so the CD’s called Brothers in Arms. I know that’s been used a couple times, but it’s just that that track is so strong that it demanded that be the title of the CD. It’s out on iTunes next week, so that’s my main thing musically.
And I do a lot of other gigs, too. I’m back playing bass a bit. I’m doing some gigs with… you know that Australian band Rose Tattoo?
I’m doing some gigs with a couple guys from Rose Tattoo at the moment. I do a lot of work with Angry Anderson and Paul DeMarco, the drummer. In times gone by I’ve done a lot of work with Pete Wells and Mick Cocks, too. We’ve lost both of them now, unfortunately, but I do a lot of work with the guys from the Tats. Which is great, because Rose Tattoo, as I mention in the book, are my favorite all-time band. I’m actually doing a gig with Angry next week, so we have a lot of fun.
Do you regret not getting the tattoo? (In the book, Evans discusses being offered a position in the band, which would have required him to get a rose tattoo, which he was unwilling to do at the time, so he passed on joining the band)
No, I’m still too chickenshit to get a tattoo now! (laughs) I regret not joining Rose Tattoo the band, man. But the thing with Dave Tice, we’re pretty much on the road at the moment. I’m at home the next couple of days, but we’re going out across Australia doing gigs, just the two of us playing acoustic guitars. It’s very aggressive for a two-guitar thing. It’s not Peter, Paul and Mary, mate, it’s pretty hard-edged, lemme tell ya. And Dave Tice has an amazing blues voice He started out in a heavy metal band. He was in a band called Buffalo, and he started with Pete Wells (Rose Tattoo). Pete Wells was Dave’s best mate when they were kids. Dave was in this band Buffalo with Pete, and they were signed to Vertigo Records (Black Sabbath). They were the first Australian band ever to get signed to Vertigo, and they were a big, heavy band.
But yeah, I’m back doing that blues thing with Dave and that’s really fun.
The end of your book is absolutely devastating…
Yeah. Hey Joe, it sure was…
I can’t imagine.
That’s what I was alluding to at the beginning. It seems like a stupid thing to say, but I don’t want to draw too much attention to it, but I really needed something to immerse myself in, and that’s what it was. I needed to really get busy on something to you know, be introspective and just get my head right, you know? And that’s where the (decision behind) writing of the book really came from.
How difficult was it to write about those incidents and did the writing process help you in some way?
The writing of the book in general has been very remedial, and certainly writing about losing Kristin was cathartic, you know? It was certainly difficult, but you know, by the time I wrote the end of the book, the good memories had started to win over a bit. It wouldn’t have been possible to write about what was in there say, six months before, because I was still virtually catatonic.
But an odd thing happened when I was writing the book. Writing the end of the book was obviously difficult, but one part that absolutely floored me too was writing about losing my father when I was twelve. Because all that stuff’s in the back of your mind, and you know it’s there, but it’s been a very long time, if at all, that I went back and thought about it in detail and wrote about his last days. In detail. And that knocked me around like you wouldn’t believe. I was floored for two to three days after writing that, because I went back and relived it.
With Kristin’s situation, that’s with me every day, so I’m not saying you get used to it, but you adapt to it and it’s with you constantly. But going back and remembering and recounting something that I went through as a twelve year-old… I had a completely different take on it this time, because I was remembering, thinking as a twelve year-old kid, right? Remembering what this twelve year-old kid was going through then. It was like thinking about someone else. And I juxtaposed my youngest daughter Virginia and thought if she was in that position…
Oh man, it absolutely leveled me, man. You get to the situation where you start empathizing with and feeling sorry for someone else. Because you are virtually someone else at that stage. It was like this time shift thing that happened. I wasn’t prepared for it to affect me as much as it did. With (writing about) the Kristin situation, I was steeled for it– I was ready for it, you know? Then this other part about losing my father really came out of the box, you know?
In general, writing the book has been a really interesting and cleansing experience. I’m so glad that I did it. It’s been amazingly worthwhile.
OK, time for Either/Or. I’ll give you a series of choices and you pick one or the other. Sound good?
Yeah, let’s do it.
AFL Finals or The Ashes?
Oh, AFL Finals.
Yeah? Who do you support?
Carlton. And no one else, man. The Mighty Blues.
Melbourne or Sydney?
Music of the Sixties or music of the Seventies?
Fender or Gibson?
Oh, man! (laughs) You did it again! You got me!
These are tough questions, man!
(long, long pause)
I can’t… see I…
Oh, man.. I can’t do it. I love the Fender Tele and I love Gibson J-200s, I love Gibson Ripper basses and I love Fender Precision basses.
Alright, we’ll let you off with “both.”
Last one– “Whole Lotta Rosie” or “Let There Be Rock?”
“Let There Be Rock.”
Because of Phil Rudd. His drums in that are just absolutely fucking phenomenal, man. His performance on that is just amazing. What a great drummer! What a great drummer…
Phil is so important to that band, you know? I saw that band a few times when Phil wasn’t there, and I still really enjoyed it of course, but you know, Phil’s the heartbeat of that band. Malcolm is of course, too. Malcolm is also indispensable, but Phil is such a part of that band that it’s unbelievable. He’s the greatest rock and roll drummer of all time, man. But I’m biased.
You’re allowed to be. Mark, thanks a bunch for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Thanks, Joe. Pleasure’s all mine.