Dirty Deeds: A Conversation with Mark Evans
In 1975, Mark Evans took the opportunity of a lifetime and joined an Australian pub band that would go on to be one of the greatest rock bands of all time: AC/DC. Just a week after joining, the band was gigging regularly, and within a year they were making the rounds in Europe.
Evans’ turbulent years in the band included recording three classic albums with the band while it was still fronted by Bon Scott: T.N.T., Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and Let There Be Rock.
After separating from the band in mid-1977, Evans continued a career in music and grew his vintage instrument collection into a small business. His new autobiography, Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside AC/DC was released last month.
We spoke with Evans about what it was like to be in the band, about his basses, and what it takes to be a great bassist.
Congratulations on your new autobiography. It’s cool to read the nitty gritty details about your time in the band. How long did it take you to write it?
Well, in total from start to finish I guess the first draft of the writing part had taken me probably a bit over a year. One of the main motivations for writing the book was to put people on the inside of [AC/DC]. The band tends to be a little secretive. They’re private sort of guys. And it’s just paying back all the support from over the years and for people who ask me what it was like to be in the band. So yeah, I just wanted to put fans in the band like it was back in the Bon Scott days. We had a whole lot of fun, let me tell you.
Yeah, I picked up on that from reading the book!
So you put this out to clarify what it was like to be in the band back in the day, but do you read a lot of stuff written about the band and think to yourself, “That’s not what it was really like”?
Well, I don’t read a lot of stuff about the band, but from time to time people come up to me who have read books that were written specifically about the band. I’m not going to point out any specific books, but there’s been a lot of [them]. I’ve read bits and pieces of them from when I was supposed to be in the band, and it was like I was reading about another band. The people who have written these books are mostly people who have worked with the band or had something to do with them, and it’s all sort of hearsay.
Once again, a motivation for the book was to get the atmosphere right about the band and put the flesh on the bones of the band back then, because a lot of the stuff I’ve read in books over the years has been, at best, inaccurate. So yeah, I wanted to get a clearer picture out there for the fans.
Obviously, once you joined the band, you took off running. Did everyone in the band always feel like they were going to make it? Did you think from the beginning that you would become world-famous?
I don’t think you can… you know, being the age I was at 19, you sort of hope that was going to happen.
But I remember the first time I got to play with the guys to see if it was going to work out. It was in the hallway of their house in Melbourne, in a place called East St. Gilder. From the first ten or twelve bars of playing the first song with Malcolm, Angus and Phil (because Bon wasn’t there), it was like the biggest lightbulb in the world went off for me. The guys just sounded great and I knew it was something I wanted to be part of.
It didn’t take very long for me to realize within the first few weeks that these guys were deadly serious. They were in it for the long haul, you see. I think with Angus and Malcolm, they expected it to be big right from the outset because it wasn’t like two brothers getting a band together and thinking, “This is our first program, and we’re gonna make it go over.”
See, they had an inside running on it because they had seen what happened with George, their older brother, with the Easybeats. They could see he was in a great band that was massive in Australia and massive also in UK and Europe and had a hit with “Friday on My Mind” in the States. They could see that it was possible to do that. It just seemed normal for those guys. They just accepted that the band was gonna be big, and I think it’s their dedication and vision of the band that really pushed it along. Their commitment to what they were doing was just amazing. I’ve got a lot of respect for the way those guys did it. But once I was in the band, within the first month I realized those guys were planning to pick up all the marbles, for sure. It did seem a little naive back then, but you look at what’s happened now – and we’re talking about something that happened 36 years ago – I think they’ve got the score on the board. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys and what they did with the band. It’s an amazing achievement.
One of the things that really struck me, besides the amount of gigs you’d be doing, was that AC/DC only spent two weeks in the studio for each album.
Yeah, sure. We were working really hard. From the week I joined them, we’d be doing six, seven, eight gigs a week. So our scheduling was really tight and we didn’t have a lot of time. To record the albums, or at least the ones I was involved with – T.N.T., which was half of the international version of High Voltage – Dirty Deeds, and Let There Be Rock – all those albums, there was only two weeks put aside for each album to record.
What we’d do was we used to go in the first week and record all the backing tracks. That was a whole album of backing tracks to be recorded, but the songs from that period also had to be written. Malcolm and Angus would have some guitar bits, but they’d go in and write the songs with George in the studio.
The first week we’d be writing the songs and recording them. You look back at it now, and you go, ‘What the? Man!” Because you know, guys spend a couple of years recording an album now. You know what I mean? Look at Axl Rose… How long did that take? [laughs]
But that was the band’s work ethic. It was always “get in and get the thing done.”
I sort of take that work rate and work ethic as sort of normal. I’ve kept up with it, as much as humanly possible.
People say, “You recorded an album in two weeks. Are you crazy?” But we did it three times. That’s what we used to do, man. That was just accepted. There was no other way, and that’s how we were going to do it.
Did that carry into your bands since then?
Yeah, pretty much. Obviously I’ve done a lot of recording over the years, and I’ve always kept it to just “get the job done.” You don’t necessarily rush things or whatever.
I’ve heard so many guys where they go in and record a demo for a song. [They say], “It’s a demo, so we’ll just get it down and put a little bit on it.” And they get a great sounding demo. Then they go in to record and they [say], “Oh, we’ll put this on there… maybe put a brass section on this…”
It gets to the point of spending a couple weeks recording one track, then they’ll listen to it and say, “I liked the demo better,” because you can go into the studio and get lost in the studio technology and all the bells and whistles you can add to a tune, right? I think [it should be this way]: go in, get the heart of the tune, get the thing pumping, and keep it simple.
To me, the majority of great rock and roll records are very, very simple. Well, look at say the first Black Sabbath album. I just read Ozzy [Osbourne]’s biography. The first Black Sabbath album – for that style of music, [though] it’s not my cup of tea – [it] is an amazing album. They recorded that in an afternoon. So don’t get lost in that studio stuff, you know? Get the thing done and let the songs talk for themselves.
That seems to be your musical philosophy.
Yeah, I think so. Keep it simple. Keep it grooving. Don’t get lost and don’t overwork things. Get things right and ripping along, but don’t try to turn every song into something off Sergeant Pepper’s…, you know what I mean? It has it’s time, but not everyone is the Beatles.
When you were playing with AC/DC, did you have a favorite song to play?
There were a lot of songs. The ones I immediately point to that have grown with me over the years are some of the songs off of Let There Be Rock, like “Whole Lotta Rosie” and stuff like that.
I’m of the opinion that when we recorded Let There Be Rock, that’s when the band really started sounding like the band, you know? That was our fourth album, but the first album was with a sort of different lineup, and then we sort of started growing through Dirty Deeds and all that bit.
Let There Be Rock is when the band – to me – really started sounding like the band. We’d been over in Europe for 12 months, gigging and stuff.
Also off Dirty Deeds, “Problem Child.” I love that song.
But one song that always catches me, even when I’m in the car or the subway on the radio now, is the guitar intro to “It’s a Long Way To The Top.” That guitar intro, I think that’s up there with “Jumping Jack Flash” and “My Generation” and stuff. That’s just something else.
It’s strange that we never really played that song on stage much. We probably played it twenty or twenty-five times and that’s about all we ever played it on stage. I’m not sure, but I don’t think the guys even play it on stage now. I’ve never seen them play it.
That’s bizarre. To me, that’s one of those iconic tunes.
Yeah, yeah that’s it… And when it came out in England and in the States as a single, it sunk without a trace, man! It was like it had an anchor tied to it! [laughs]
So the song was not a hit at the time, though it was sort of a hit here in Australia, but you know that’s small potatoes, really. It sunk without a trace in the UK and Europe and the States, and the band never played it on stage, but it’s grown in stature over the years, which is quite an anomaly, really. But what a great guitar intro. Malcolm… point [to] someone [who is] a better rhythm player than that guy. The guy is good. And loud.
Well, that’s gotta be part of the equation, right?
It’s kind of funny, you know, when I go out to see a band and they do an AC/DC cover. They have these guitar players with big, nasty, huge, distorted, high gain guitar sounds, and it doesn’t make any sense. You listen to particularly Malcolm, but also Angus’ sound, and they’re really kind of clean sounds. They’re big and loud, but they’re clean and crunchy so you can tell the difference between the guitars, and the guitars mesh really well. Then you hear these guys playing covers and they’ve got these big, massive guitar sounds and you can’t hear it. You can be loud – the AC/DC thing is incredibly loud – but they’re really bite-y and crunchy guitar sounds. Malcolm’s guitar sound is a killer. I love it.
Did you ever get into volume wars with the guitarists?
No, but I did used to use a lot of amps. When I first started working with the guys, they were only using one Marshall each. You know, the old JMP early 1970’s JMP heads. But I always used nice big valve amps… 300-watt amps, you know?
At the start, I was just using one, but then we switched over to Marshall and just using 100-watt Super Bass amps. But I think I was using five of them, so there was a fair amount of power coming out. But you see, you have to do that. Those guys play loud of course, but to get the bass up to the same level I’ve always had the opinion that you need two to three times the same power to get the bass up to that same level. You don’t want to be distorting your sound, but you’ve gotta clean and punchy because once a bass sound gets distorted and frayed around the edges, it gets lost and it’s not worth having. It’s too messy. It’s got to punch.
Speaking of gear, you’re big into collecting and trading vintage instruments. What kind of collection do you have right now?
As far as basses go, Fender Precisions. I’m a fan of Fender Precisions. I love them. I’ve got a lot of ‘50’s stuff and early ‘60s. Once it gets into that CBS-era with Fender, I sort of go a bit cold on it, but strangely enough one of my favorite basses is a 1966 Olympic White Precision bass with a maple cap neck that I still use a lot these days. It’s really beautiful.
I’ve got some Gibson Thunderbirds and Gibson Rippers. I really love those; they’re a great bass. I used a Gibson Ripper to record the whole T.N.T. album in Australia and for Dirty Deeds, I used Gibson basses on that album.
Primarily with collecting, I’ve always leaned toward the Fender Precision basses. Over the past 35 years I guess I’ve had probably 50 or 60 Precision basses. All different colors, and I love the custom color ones – Candy Apple Red, Lake Placid Blue… I’ve got a great Sea-Foam Green Precision bass which is real cool, too.
Did you keep all your basses from throughout the years?
The ones I’ve come across that have just been really great basses that I bought for myself, I just keep them. I don’t trade them out, but there are obviously other basses where I say, “That’s really cool, but it’s not for me,” and I’ll grab it.
I do regret selling one bass that I sold to a pal, and I’m going to try to get it back. I had a great 1966 Fender Telecaster bass; one of those ones with the paisley finish on it. I sold it to Jason Newsted when he was with Metallica. He drove me nuts about it. He just wore me down on it, so Jason’s still got it. Jason, if you’re reading this, I want it back! [laughs] It’s actually the bass that was used for recording the Doors album Morrison Hotel. Obviously The Doors didn’t have a bass player, but they used bass guitar on quite a few things.
Man! That’s the album with “Peace Frog,” isn’t it?
You know, I’m pretty sure it is but I’m not real strong on my history of The Doors. I mean, they didn’t have a bass player man! I don’t wanna know about those guys, it’s terrible! [laughs]
Actually I got in a fight over that one night. I was on tour with an Australian band called Dragon, and they had a keyboard player that was a great Doors fan, but The Doors used to drive me nuts. He made a comment that all bands should dispense of bass players, and that bass players were a waste of space. So I punched his lights out for that. You can’t be saying that about bass players, man! [laughs] I struck a blow for all bass players.
Every one of our readers is going to thank you for that!
Good! I may be little but I’ve got a lot of woof in me when I get going, man. I’m only 5-foot-6, and when I was in AC/DC, I thought I was tall. They’re all like jockeys, man, they’re all these tiny little guys. If you look at some of the photos in the book – like I said, I’m 5-foot-6 and not a big guy, but I look like I could be a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. I look like this massive guy, but I’m not at all. It’s all relative.
What do you think it takes to be a great bassist?
Just play the tune. To me, there are some great technically proficient bassists around who use the bass as a solo instrument, but that’s not my sort of philosophy at all. You’ve got guys like Jaco [Pastorius] and Stanley Clarke who are just amazing technicians, but to me bass playing is just laying down the groove and putting a big floor down there and don’t get in the way. Keep the whole thing simple and keep the whole thing driving.
I always think of guys like Duck Dunn and James Jamerson. All those guys who were playing all those grooves, they’re the main guys for me. The guys that just tie it down, you know? Get a big fat bottom and let the guitars and all that stuff go over the top. Make sure to get the right tone, too.
Some guys load up the mid-range a lot and all that does is really butt heads with the guitars. Scoop some of that mid-range out so you make a nice pocket for the guitars to sit in. And play the tune. Don’t play bass, play the tune. Play what’s right for the recording and for the tune. To me the great bass players don’t necessarily play bass, they play the tune. Just lay it down man.
If you had to describe Bon Scott in one word, what would it be?
He was a really warm. He was an incredibly generous and kind guy. I think it’s a very rare thing that a public perception of a frontman marries up to what the guy is like privately. The public perception of Bon was this hard-drinking, hell-raising sort of guy – and he was. There was definitely part of him that was that, but he was a very warm guy. He just had impeccable manners, man, and he was a really great friend to have. He was really supportive of the few friends that he did have. He had a lot of acquaintances and knew a lot of people, but had very few close friends.
I think Bon felt a real responsibility or duty towards his image the further it went on. He was maybe not trying to live up to the image, but that part of him was on stage. He used to say, “I’m a great bunch of guys,” and he was. He was a great guy to be around, and I have to say, a great frontman. What a great frontman.
So what’s next for you?
I’m still doing a lot of bass playing here in Australia. I do a bit of work with another Australian band called Rose Tattoo. Also, I’ve got a new CD coming out. I do an acoustic blues thing with a pal of mine named Dave Tice. I’m playing acoustic guitar on it, getting back to my roots with all the old Howlin’ Wolf stuff and Robert Johnson. The CD is called Brothers in Arms. I know that’s a title that’s been used before, but that’s a track that we wrote and it’s just a great track, so we used that title.
The duo is ingeniously called “Dave Tice and Mark Evans.” How about that for an imaginative name, eh?
I’m playing a lot of bass again these days. At the end of the day, if you held a gun to my head, I’m a bass player, pure and simple. I’ve always played guitar, too, which I think has helped my bass playing a lot throughout the years.
What do you want people to take away from your book?
If there’s a message in the book, it’s enjoy yourself. Whatever success comes your way, just really enjoy it and keep your sense of humor, because sometimes things aren’t going to be working all that well and you’ve got to allow yourself to have a bit of a laugh at it. I hope that’s what you get from the book.
My sense of humor is still very much intact and I like having a laugh. I think it’s a very important thing to be able to do.