How That Whole Thing with Mutt Lange Got Started
Meanwhile, Klenfner had got his way with Kramer. But the sessions, first in Sydney and later in Miami, collapsed in acrimony between the producer and the band. Kramer didn’t understand their methods. They didn’t like him. The Kramer disaster is part of AC/DC legend. As Thaler describes it: “When that experiment blew up, the shit hit the fan.” Even with Kramer’s production pedigree, it wasn’t working.
Mark Opitz had been seconded to work with Kramer while in Sydney.
“Malcolm saw through Eddie pretty quickly,” he says. “Didn’t like the idea. He was like, ‘Fuck you,’ because he’s that kinda guy. Didn’t like being told what to do.”
It didn’t improve when they shifted to Florida.
“I got a phone call after a week or two [of the Kramer sessions] from Angus [in Miami], and he said they were going home,” says Greenberg. “They couldn’t work with Kramer any more. I said, ‘Sit tight. Give me a couple of days. Just sit there and enjoy the sun.’ I was ready to sign City Boy and the producer was Mutt Lange. The production was incredible. I called Clive Calder; I got him on the phone and I told him about AC/DC. I said, ‘Listen, they’re in Miami, can I get Mutt to come over and produce the band?’ He said, ‘I’ll put him on the next plane,’ and history was made.”
So how does Kalodner fit in?
“Kalodner wanted to sign City Boy. I heard City Boy and Kalodner was crazy about the production and said, ‘Mutt Lange: this guy’s a great producer; listen to the production,’ and at that point that’s when—I don’t care about whose suggestion it was—I made the decision to call the boys and talk them into Lange and make the deal with Clive. So you can word it any way you want.
“I think maybe [the Youngs] knew who [Lange] was, I don’t remember. But I’m sure that somehow Michael Browning was involved at that moment also. Lange came in as soon as Kramer packed up and left. You keep talking to a lot of people you’ll put it together.”
It’s worth trying to put together because Doug Thaler’s, Phil Carson’s and Jerry Greenberg’s version of events completely contradicts that of Michael Browning in the Murray Engleheart biography of AC/DC, which downplays Thaler’s involvement, saying only he “played a role in securing Lange’s services from Atlantic’s end” and that Browning was “sharing a house” with Calder and Lange and took a call from a distressed Malcolm Young in Miami. Virtually the same account appears in the Clinton Walker, Susan Masino and Mick Wall tomes, but in Masino’s book Browning is “visiting” Calder and Lange and in Wall’s book Browning is sharing with Calder and Browning’s business partner, Cedric Kushner.
Photo credit: Jon O’Rourke
Says Browning in Walker’s Highway to Hell: “I was at that stage based temporarily in New York. I’d met some people who’d invited me to stay with them, one of whom was Mutt Lange’s manager, Clive Calder. I got the phone call from Malcolm, and I got off the phone, and Mutt was there, in the apartment, and I said, ‘You’ve got to do this record.’ At the time, Mutt had really only done City Boy, The Boomtown Rats, but I happened to think he was incredibly talented. So within a couple of days they agreed to do the next record.”
Or as he puts it in Engleheart’s AC/DC, Maximum Rock & Roll: “I just turned round to Mutt, virtually as I had Malcolm on the phone, and said, ‘Mate, you’ve got to do this record.’ That was it.”
And again in Wall’s AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be: “I just didn’t stop. I just hammered them and by the end of the night I’d convinced Clive and Mutt to do it. I called Malcolm back and said, ‘It’s cool. I’ve got Mutt Lange’ ... so that’s how the whole thing with Mutt Lange started.”
Wall writes, dramatically, “It was to be a game-changing decision for all involved.”
But from the testimonies of Thaler, Carson and Greenberg it would appear that isn’t exactly the case. And, crucially, Clive Calder’s former partner Ralph Simon seems to support them.
In a 2011 interview with celebrityaccess.com he told music writer Larry LeBlanc: “I remember [Clive and I] getting [Lange] AC/DC in 1979. We suggested to AC/DC that they needed to improve their backing vocals. Make it a little more commercial, but without losing their edge. It was a big fight to get them to do that on Highway to Hell but it proved to be correct.”
Yet Browning won’t have a bar of alternative versions: he maintains it was he and he alone who came up with the idea and that Thaler is wrong.
“No, that’s not correct,” he says. “He’s big-noting himself.”
He insists his mentioning of Lange to Malcolm Young was the first AC/DC had ever heard of City Boy’s producer.
Had you heard of Lange from inside Atlantic before you suggested his name to Malcolm?
“No, the idea didn’t get to Atlantic until I presented it to them.”
And you got the introduction to Lange through Calder?
“Through Clive, yeah.”
The most AC/DC themselves have said about the affair was contained in an interview with MOJO magazine in 1984. According to Malcolm, he was unhappy with Kramer and told Browning: “This guy’s got to go, otherwise you’re not going to have a band.” He went on: “[Browning] did a bit of wheeling-dealing and got a tape to a friend of his, Mutt Lange ... we told Kramer, ‘We’re having tomorrow off, we need a break,’ and we went in and wrote nine songs in one day and whacked them off to Mutt. He got straight back and said he wanted to do it.”
Thaler holds to his story that Lange was raised with AC/DC and Atlantic well before any Malcolm SOS to Browning.
“Oh, absolutely,” he says. “I never acted behind Michael’s back.
I felt it was my responsibility to counsel and advise him as best as I could for the sake of AC/DC. We never acted in opposition to each other. While I maintain that I got the ball rolling with putting AC/DC together with Mutt, I simply was playing a role on the team. We were all working together for one common purpose—to get this band’s career over the top as we all felt it should be.
“There was a South African promoter that lived in New York that I was very close with at the time, Cedric Kushner. Cedric lived in a luxury apartment building on West 58th between 5th and 6th Avenues. Clive Calder lived in England but had begun making more frequent trips to New York by 1978. Cedric was in talks with Michael Browning about joining with him to co-manage the band. And Clive used to stay at Cedric’s apartment. Clive and Cedric were born in South Africa and bonded over that fact. And I’d go over there and we’d sorta hang out.
“Michael got an apartment about a block away from Cedric, on West 58th between 6th and 7th. Michael and his wife, Julie, had stayed with me at my apartment for a couple of weeks in ’78.” So I ask Kushner, the man whose apartment Browning was allegedly holed up in, to give his version of events.
Cedric Kushner was briefly co-manager of AC/DC with Michael Browning and made his name promoting acts such as The Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac and The Rolling Stones. Today he is a boxing promoter and still lives in New York City. He has not spoken about his time with AC/DC before now.
Kushner, a lampooned figure in previous books about the band, almost as much as Michael Klenfner, told me he had been “happy to turn” his good friend Clive Calder on to AC/DC and was “very disappointed that they ended up leaving me.” Without his input, he says, Calder would not have met Michael Browning.
“Michael was staying at my place, we all became friends; this was also at a time when the band had a hard-on for Michael,” he says. “They wanted to bail out of the relationship. That relationship had gone its course. Peter Mensch was romancing them. I don’t think Michael put the band in touch with Mutt Lange. I think the fact that Clive Calder and Ralph Simon were friends of mine—they were representing Mutt—made a very good situation. That gave them more of an opportunity to spend some time with Michael. That helped bond that relationship.”
So does he believe Mutt Lange-to-AC/DC was an idea that suddenly came to Browning?
“No. That he woke up and said, ‘Gee, I’d love to get a good producer?’ No, no.”
But he concedes it is “quite possible” Browning picked up the phone to Malcolm Young in his apartment and suggested Lange, which is corroborated by Malcolm’s own statement on the matter.
Thaler agrees: “Absolutely possible and probable—I simply wasn’t privy to that call between Michael and Malcolm. The story of the phone call at least seems consistent with what I had been trying to engineer for several months.”
Does Kushner believe the Calder-Lange connection with AC/DC predated that conversation?
“I believe so.”
Kushner also says he never once suggested to Calder that Lange produce AC/DC, even though he was involved in a business relationship with Browning. The Australian, sensing that Mensch was circling, had entered into a partnership with Kushner, but instead of solidifying his hold on the band it had blown up in his face.
“I wasn’t thinking that far ahead because I didn’t think that Browning was going to last that long,” says Kushner. “Everyone likes to take credit and I don’t claim to take credit.”
Had he contemplated taking over the band from a weakened Browning?
“I wasn’t thinking that way. I was thinking more along the lines that it would just be an overall strengthening of my presence in the music business. My objective was just to raise my profile.”
Kushner, like Greenberg and Carson, fully backs the Thaler story and even says AC/DC’s humble American booking agent personally introduced him to Calder. And through Calder, he met Lange and Simon. One night, he went out to dinner with Calder and Simon in London.
By the end of dinner I felt like I’d known these guys for a long time.”
They got on so well Kushner offered them the free use of a room in his two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, the same apartment where Browning says he took the phone call from Malcolm.
“Michael stayed at my place on a few occasions,” says Kushner. “Clive was a good friend of mine that I introduced to Michael. And they ended up doing a deal for the publishing. Mutt was managed by Clive, so when we all sat down obviously Mutt had a very good reputation. It wasn’t too hard to sell him. Atlantic were very much in favor of Mutt doing the album. Obviously Clive was. Mutt was excited about it. It was a good situation.”
Was Lange actually living with you at any point?
The Browning-Kushner management of AC/DC lasted all of six months and today Browning says it was “a mistake ... I needed the money.”
There is no love lost between the two men.
Says Browning of Kushner: “He was just an absolute total mistake all round.”
Kushner, for his part, recalls going to Roundhouse Studios in London, where AC/DC recorded Highway to Hell with Lange, and picking up a “bad vibe.” Thaler remembers it being literally frosty, which wouldn’t have helped the mood: “I went to a rehearsal hall where AC/DC was writing and practicing. It was cold. The place wasn’t heated and they had a kerosene construction space heater on to keep warm.”
“It became obvious to me that Browning was in serious trouble,” says Kushner. “Sometimes you know you’re in trouble. You don’t need someone to tell you.”
But Browning puts down the Youngs’ coldness in London to their antipathy toward Kushner: “The group didn’t want to know about him. I appointed a co-manager they hadn’t approved of and subsequently didn’t like. In management there are ups and downs. It was certainly a tough period, just having changed producers ... I wasn’t their most popular person at the time. But it was the Kushner thing that basically took it over the top. It was a mistake.” “They were a very tough crowd, AC/DC, tough guys to manage,” concedes Kushner. “Rough and ready. They were guys that did what they wanted to do. They wanted to call the shots.”
But they were about to meet their match.