Drummer Phil Rudd had always been considered an integral part of the unmistakable AC/DC sound but he was, to some extent, a troubled man; torn between the two lives of rock star and businessman living the quiet life on New Zealand’s North Island. His arrest for drug possession and allegedly plotting to have two men killed has cast a shadow over the future of the legendary, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band.
AC/DC was formed at the end of 1973 by Scottish-born brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, who had been living in Australia since childhood. In their early days, AC/DC changed their original lineup and another native Scot, Bon Scott, became the signature voice of a band destined to become one of the greatest acts in rock and roll history and considered by many to be the pioneers of ‘heavy metal.’ Australian-born Phil Rudd became the band’s drummer in 1975. Singer Bon Scott died of alcohol poisoning in 1980 and Rudd took his death hard. Friction between Rudd and Malcolm Young became a distraction to the band and the drummer was fired from AC/DC in 1983.
If Rudd’s departure was acrimonious, it hardly appeared so. Brian Johnson, who took over as AC/DC’s vocalist in 1980, told an interviewer, around that time, “You couldn’t find a more solid person or drummer than Phil Rudd. None of us would have to work if we didn’t want to…Phil chose that option.” Although Rudd was to eventually rejoin the band, he moved to Tauranga on the North Island of New Zealand. He liked it there because he felt he could lead a peaceful life with little outside distraction. “I lived in New Zealand which was great; nice and quiet with nobody bothering me,” Rudd was to recount much later. He added that, at the time, he only played the drums “when I wanted to rather than when I had to.”
In 1993, Rudd rejoined the band, who acknowledged that the distinct AC/DC sound had not been quite the same without him. At the end of 2010, Rudd was convicted of marijuana possession although he successfully appealed that conviction. In 2011, he purchased a restaurant in Tauranga but later ran into legal problems when three former employees at the restaurant took him to court for unjustified dismissal. The restaurant closed and only re-opened earlier this year.
Following a police raid on Rudd’s Tauranga home, the 60-year-old drummer appeared in court Thursday, facing charges of drug possession and with “attempting to procure a murder.” It is alleged that Rudd had attempted to hire a hitman to kill two other men. The identities of the intended victims, along with any motive, have not been revealed. The musician was released on bail and is due to appear in court again later this year.
AC/DC has sold over 200 million albums and are about to release their latest album, Rock or Bust, this month. One of the band’s founding members, guitarist Malcolm Young, withdrew from performing with AC/DC earlier this year due to health problems. In September, AC/DC officially announced that Young would not be returning due to problems with dementia. Brian Johnson said that the band will continue recording and their 2015 world tour is slated to go ahead. The future of troubled drummer Phil Rudd’s association with AC/DC is now uncertain – at least, until he is called to answer the criminal charges against him.
Graham J Noble