“Head Job” and the rock n’ roll redemption of longtime AC/DC beat keeper Phil Rudd

Phil Rudd Photos provided by Phil Rudd

The original timetable to connect with Phil Rudd for a conversation about his long-awaited solo project, along with several decades holding down the beat for AC/DC, actually dates back to last year. But shortly after the confirmation went on the calendar, the rock n’ roll world was saddened to learn he was temporary pulling the plug on all promotion plans while recovering from a sudden heart attack.

I thought I was doing alright, but I wasn’t. But now I’m really good, physically, mentally, [musically], with my whole life…

Nonetheless, the time to reschedule finally came about in February 2017, and as Chicago Concert Reviews called Rudd at home in New Zealand, he was back to sounding like his usual, jovial self. “I remember being there when it was one degree!” he exclaims of the Windy City. “What’s the temperature today?” After being told it was presently in the 30s, he wonders “is that Celsius or Fahrenheit?” followed by a little laugh of relief for the former. “Okay, that’s not too bad!”

The weather could certainly be a lot worse, as could Rudd’s demeanor given the recent trauma (and some others before it), but with all of those medical concerns under control, he’s finally returning to the road. “Yeah, I’m very grateful,” he says. “I’m feeling like a young fellow again. I’m a young fellow anyway!”

Phil RuddThese days, Rudd is 62-years-young, but that hasn’t stopped the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer from finishing his first-ever solo project following a series of false starts and painstaking delays. Though technically given a soft release a few years ago, 2017 marks its first proper push, complete with worldwide distribution and an international tour.

“Well, it’s a long time line, about 30 years,” Rudd recalls of when the seeds were initially planted. “It started by myself when I first departed from AC/DC in ‘83…I met a couple of guys, put a couple of things together…that turned out to be little gems in the end…[Then after rejoining AC/DC in 1993], there was eight years when I was away with the guys… I’m very proud of [the album]…Everyone likes it and I feel they’ll like it in Chicago. There’s lots of rock n’ roll in Chicago.”

Amongst those many journeys/personal recording interruptions was Rudd appearing on the band’s mammoth 2008-9 “Black Ice” outing (including sold out shows at both the Allstate Arena and United Center), but he wasn’t on hand when AC/DC brought “Rock Or Bust” to Wrigley Field in 2015 or a second sweep through the UC last year. And though he’s slated to support “Head Job” throughout Europe, chances are area fans will simply have to stick with a physical copy of the CD, download or stream to gather an opinion because a return to America isn’t currently in the cards.

“Ah, well, that’s probably gonna take a few lawyers,” he concedes of his current traveling status to these shores. “I’ve made a couple of mistakes and I’ve got a bit of a criminal record of sorts, so you know, it’s a bit of a problem of getting into America…If anything changes, I might get in there. We would love to come to America. That would be great.”

By now it’s old news, but there was barely a day the tabloids didn’t follow Rudd’s every move surrounding a slew of salacious, drug-related charges (fully reported here by Rolling Stone) that resulted in a house arrest. However, Rudd did his time, got clean, reconnected with his music (not to mention a multi-million-dollar luxury car collection, airport hangar with helicopter, plus the restaurant Phil’s Place) and cites “probably my kids” as the biggest factor in helping him overcome those personal demons.

Phil Rudd“I had a pretty hard time with my stupidity over the last few years,” he’ll be the first to admit. “I thought I was doing alright, but I wasn’t. But now I’m really good, physically, mentally, [musically], with my whole life…”

With that haze out of the way, Rudd’s raring to go for the “Head Job” Tour, while continuing to relish the freedom found in making a record entirely on his own terms rather than by the committee of being in one of the world’s most enormous rock acts. “It was great. For one thing, I just played the drums [in AC/DC] and that’s about it,” he reasons. “[With “Head Job,”] it was great to have so much to do, some of which I knew nothing about after all this time. But I’m a bit of DIY guy and there you go…There’s lots of guitar tracks and we just kept layering them on there without making sort of an orchestra out of it.”

The no frills format is indeed evident from the very first listen, which is reminiscent of Rudd’s work in AC/DC, but also incorporates a slew of other hard rock, classic rock and bluesy influences sure to surface when Rudd and his band belatedly take the stage this spring. And as an added bonus, “we’re gonna play three AC/DC tracks,” he assures, much to the probable delight of die-hards. “We’re doing Bon Fest on the 28th of April in Scotland, which is a big deal for all the Bon fans and we hope to do justice to them there.”

Believe it or not, it’s been 37 years since Scott passed, and while the sting isn’t nearly as strong for Rudd as it was back then, there’s still a lot to miss from the legendary singer. [“I really miss] just his humor and his sort of silliness,” he shares. “And of course he had such an [unbelievable] voice, which you don’t realize until he was he dead.”

Phil RuddIn the wake of his premature passing, the guys soldiered on with Brian Johnson for “Back In Black” in 1980, an album that’s since sold an estimated 50 million copies and allowed AC/DC to continue as the stadium-filling juggernaut that rolls on to this very day. Even so, the group that bore so much greatness between both eras is starting to look like a mere shadow of itself with Rudd’s limited ability to travel, Johnson heading home following hearing issues, co-founding rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young battling dementia and longtime bassist Cliff Williams retiring due to missing all of the above members.

That just leaves sole original Angus Young on guitar, recently recruited substitute singer Axl Rose, Malcolm’s nephew Stevie Young on rhythm guitar and Chris Slade (from “The Razor’s Edge” era) on drums, who’s future together is undefined. Despite all unexpected and disappointing developments, Rudd is keeping life moving, and considering he’s the man who will forever go down in history as anchoring the anthems “Highway To Hell,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “T.N.T.,” “Dirty Deeds Done Cheap,” “Shoot To Thrill,” “Let There Be Rock” and at least a hundred more, there’s no shortage of highlights, even if he can’t possibly narrow them down to just one.

“I get asked that a lot and I’m not sure if I can really pick that,” he muses. “It’s such a long period of time. Every day is a major event for somebody…It’s not something you can narrow down to one experience. It’s just one massive ride.”

For additional information on Phil Rudd, visit PhilRuddMusic.com.