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20 Questions: Lee Majors

Photo Courtesy of Time Life

Veteran actor Lee Majors is back as Col. Steve Austin of The Six Million Dollar Man (complete series releasing on DVD), as the father to the role where he was once the son, in the upcoming film, The Big Valley and as a rather Colt Seavers-like character (of The Fall Guy) here at PopMatters 20 Questions.

Who comes to mind when you think of Lee Majors? Col. Steve Austin, who could run as fast as the wind, leap over really high fences in a single bound, and zero-in on a wee mouse a mile away, thanks to that crazy bionic eyeball of his? Or do you know him as Heath Barkley in the western TV series, The Big Valley -- a role Burt Reynolds was vying for, but – get this -- lost to Majors? Well, not only did he beat Burt Reynolds out of a movie role when he was still but a young’un, but Majors has been acting for 47 years now, so when you think of him, you may think of a whole bunch of characters. Of all those characters, he thinks of himself rather like Colt Seavers, of The Fall Guy, he tells PopMatters 20 Questions.

Holiday gift alert: TimeLife is releasing a 40-DVD set of The Six Million Dollar Man: The Complete Series 23 November, covered here with videos on PopMatters: Mixed Media.

Want more of the man? Watch for him in the movie version of The Big Valley (directed by Daniel Adams) playing, as 47-years would in the industry would have it, the father to his role in the 1965 TV Series.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Movie: The Blind Side. Book: The Lone Survivor by Luttrell and Robinson.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Colt Seavers from the TV series The Fall Guy. I was able to be myself in this show as opposed to portraying a character I would have to completely invent.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Donna Summers and Gloria Gaynor "hits".

4.Star Trek or Star Wars?

Actually, I was always into westerns. My hero's were Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Studying my football charts to pick winners for the weekend games.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I'm proud I've been able to work as an actor for 47 years. It's not an easy accomplishment in this business.

7. You want to be remembered for...?

Doing three major television series, which three different generations of kids could enjoy.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Billy Graham, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The US Constitution or The Declaration of Independence.

10. Your hidden talents...?

My wife Faith says I'm a comedian and that I can sing. (I sang the theme song to The Fall Guy, “The Unknown Stuntman”.)

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

On my first audition for The Big Valley TV series my agent Dick Clayton advised me to ask to audition a second time. I did and it worked, I was more relaxed, less nervous and did a great audition and got the part!

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

My first purchase of an automobile. A 1966 Buick Riviera, chocolate brown color. I also drove it from Los Angeles to New Orleans by myself in my early 20s.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or...?

I feel most comfortable in Levi's, most dignified in Armani.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Jesus Christ.

Lee Majors as Steve Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man
- photo courtesy of TimeLife

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

Space, anytime. Having played astronaut "Col. Steve Austin" in The Six Million Dollar Man, I worked with NASA at Cape Canaveral filming scenes in an actual rocket space capsule.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Spa vacation, Hawaii, Fiji, Australia.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or...?

Someone who loves you and that you love unconditionally. And of course a little chocolate is nice!

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

A log cabin by a lake in Montana.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Stop spending money that we the people don't have!!!

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Getting ready to start filming the movie The Big Valley soon. It's based on my first TV series of the same name. Ironically I play the father of my original character "Heath Barkley" when I was 24-years-old.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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