AC/DC is an icon of rock music. Since it was founded in 1972, the band has always had an extensive touring schedule, playing large venues across the world. Brian Johnson joined the band in 1980 with his signature growly voice and trademark newsboy cap.
When Brian Johnson was told by his audiologist that he may have to give up performing live or face “total deafness” – he thought his music career would be over. He heeded the doctor’s words and took some off from the stage. The news came while the band was on the road for their ‘Rock or Bust’ tour and left Johnson feeling devastated.
However, he knew that he needed to evaluate his hearing health before it was too late. He visited specialists and learned about the hearing aid options available to him.
Too Much Noise Pollution?
Ask any true AC/DC fan and they’ll tell you that their songs are meant to be played loud. Crowd favorites like “Thunderstruck,” “Hells Bells,” “T.N.T.” and “You Shook Me All Night Long” can be felt crashing through your bones as reverberations pour from the speakers.
Guitar riffs, gnashing vocals, and even cannon-fire shots are part of the concert experience. Historically, this is a band that never apologized for waking the neighbors with their high voltage rock-n-roll.
Even amidst all the instrumentation, Brian Johnson’s voice is unmistakably unique as soon as it comes into the fold. It’s hard to picture an AC/DC performance in the same light without him onstage. Luckily for everyone, with the help of hearing aids, he was able to save his hearing in time.
The higher decibel level came with the territory. Unfortunately, it also put Brian Johnson and the rest of the bandmates at serious risk for hearing loss.
Professionally, Johnson sang lead vocals for one of the loudest bands in the world while collecting and racing cars in his free time. Two loud activities you might say, surely enough. “Rock ‘n’ roll and cars [are] the only things that ever really got me going,” Johnson said to AutoWeek.
In an interview with Howard Stern, Johnson tells how the combination of concerts and cars put the brakes on his hearing ability.
“I’ve got hearing loss in my left ear. I didn’t get it from music. I got it from sitting in a race car too long without earplugs. I heard my ear drum burst because I forgot to put my plugs in under my helmet. That’s how it happened.”
A race in 2016 was the first time he heard his ears pop. He also noted that he got very dizzy, a common symptom associated with hearing loss – since the balance center of the brain is located in the ear. When he removed his racing helmet, he found blood inside.
Dealing with the Diagnosis
“The doctors made it clear that I had no choice but to stop performing on stage. That was the darkest day of my professional life,” recalls Johnson. After retiring from the band, Axl Rose (lead singer for Guns and Roses) has since taken over Johnson’s role.
In an interview with The Guardian, the proud singer comes to terms with his hearing limitation saying, “I was not able to hear the other musicians clearly, I feared the quality of my performance could be compromised. I could not disappoint our fans or embarrass the other members of AC/DC.”
Seeking a Solution
Johnson refused to be a victim. Far from being a denier, Johnson embraced his hearing loss and came clear to his bandmates. He also reached out to in-ear technology specialist Stephen Ambrose, the creator of an in-ear monitor called ADEL.
Johnson supported the hearing aid technology and was quoted by Billboard on his positive review:
“It works. It just totally works and you can’t argue with that. I was really moved and amazed to be able to hear music again like I haven’t heard for several years now.”
“I can’t wait for it to be miniaturized so I can use it in every situation – from normal communication, going out to noisy restaurants, and performing live music onstage.”
A Valiant Return
Happily, Rolling Stone reported that Johnson is singing again and back on stage. In May 2017, he joined Robert Plant and Paul Rodgers for an intimate concert in Oxford, England.
Reflecting back on it all, Brian Johnson was glad that he took the time to focus on his health. He had this to say about his legacy to Rolling Stone :
“It’s like a young sports player getting an injury. I feel sorry for [athletes], being 24, 25 and they have an injury and it ends their career. And it’s an awful thing. But I’m lucky. I’m 68 – and I’ve had a pretty good run. I’ve been in one of the best bands in the world.”
Rock on, Brian Johnson. Rock on.