Back 2 Black is a tribute band that specializes in Brian Johnson–era AC/DC. They often perform the landmark album Back in Black from beginning to end. The band is meticulous about duplicating the smallest details, right down to the clothing and the vintage guitars and amplifiers favored by the real AC/DC.
“We started this band in November of 2009,” says Brad Kirkbride, “but didn’t get everything in place until around January or so. We rehearsed once or twice a week for about four months, and then we started playing out.” Back 2 Black is lead guitarist (and Angus Young imitator) Paul Howie, Cap Lillard as Malcolm Young, bassist Steve Olson as Cliff Williams, Kirkbride in the role of original drummer Phil Rudd, and Sammy Salvo as singer and front man Brian Johnson.
Back 2 Black has played the 710 Beach Club in Pacific Beach, Pure Platinum in Kearny Mesa, and O’Connell’s Pub and Nightclub in Linda Vista. Kirkbride answered for the band.
Brian Johnson vs. Bon Scott?
“There is just something magical about the Back in Black record. Those songs have a special place in people’s hearts. It sold 49 million copies for a reason. But we also do a bunch of other Brian Johnson songs and seven or eight Bon Scott songs. Sammy can sing both really well.”
How do you guys get into character before a show?
“Well, Paul has the whole shot obviously, the schoolboy outfit and the [Gibson] SG. Cap wears a wig with jeans and a T-shirt. Sammy wears the traditional Brian Johnson outfit of jeans, sleeveless T-shirt, and the newsboy cap — Steve kind of looks like Cliff Williams anyway. And I just wear a dark shirt like Phil Rudd wears, and our hair is pretty much the same.”
What is the hardest part about being in Back 2 Black?
“Probably just the stigma that seems attached to tribute bands in Southern California. Also, being able to play these songs accurately is not nearly as easy as it may seem.... There is a lot of finesse and groove that goes into these songs. Malcolm and Angus are masters of subtlety.”
Subtlety is not a word usually associated with AC/DC, but your live sound is spot on.
“Sammy is a big part of that. He can get incredibly close to Brian’s voice, and it is extremely hard to find someone who can do that. Paul Howie is a great Angus, too. He has the versatility, tone, and chops to pull it off. Cap and Paul use the same Marshall amps as Malcolm and Angus, and they pay close attention to getting the same kind of gain, structure, and tone. I just try to nail the groove, hit all the punches, and keep the meter steady.”
How did a seasoned group of musicians decide to pay tribute to AC/DC?
“It started when I talked to Sammy Salvo about doing some jams — some Megadeth, Maiden, Priest, and Dio-type stuff. But, as I was sitting in my truck, ready to leave his house, I said, ‘You look just like Brian Johnson these days. Why don’t we just do an AC/DC tribute?’ He said he had tried to get one together off and on over the past couple years but could never find a good Angus.”
Is a tribute-band gig superior to a cover-band gig?
“That’s a tough one, because it can go both ways. On one hand, you are kind of stuck playing one style [in a tribute band], but you can get much better gigs. On the other hand, it is fun to be able to play in and out of different genres [in a cover band], but the market for that kind of band in San Diego is really bad, unless you happen to be Steel Panther. But we are having a blast playing these songs.”
Have any B2B members ever met the real AC/DC?
“Cap met Angus and Malcolm after a show at Knoxville Coliseum on the Fly on the Wall tour. One of Cap’s friends knew the guy who promoted the show, so they got backstage. He said the band was really nice.”
What, in your opinion, is the “message” of AC/DC?
“Getting with girls and getting hammered and then describing the details of the night.” ■