by Jesse Fink
It’s brought me in touch with so many great people and I’ve made some incredible friends.
The AC/DC community, the AC/DC family, is a rich and varied one. And it’s truly global.
Above all the people I came to meet, though, one special individual stood out: Tony Currenti, the drummer on AC/DC’s first album, the 1975 Australian release of High Voltage.
Near on 40 years since that momentous album was recorded I managed to track down Tony to his pizzeria in Penshurst, southern Sydney.
It didn’t take much detective work. I found him on Facebook.
But Tony hadn’t spoken to any author, ever. I couldn’t believe my luck. By his own account this avuncular 63-year-old Italian-Australian was asked to join AC/DC twice. He’s played on records that have sold millions (High Voltage – the Australian and US versions – ’74 Jailbreak, Backtracks).
For various reasons he hadn’t touched a drum kit since 1977, after giving away music to start a family and a business.
He’s a small but significant part of the AC/DC story and what he told me in The Youngs has not only changed AC/DC history but also rock history.
His is an incredible tale. It has brought me so much satisfaction to see Tony finally get the acknowledgment he deserves from fans around the world.
Some of those remarkable fans, led by You Am I drummer Rusty Hopkinson, banded together and bought Tony a new set of Pearl drums when they heard that his old Ludwig set was unplayable. When he has appeared on stage with me at writers’ festivals, he is a crowd favourite. No one fails to be touched by his easygoing charm.
He has since gone on and played on stage for the first time in 38 years: a truly magical moment for anyone who was there to see him play the song “High Voltage” with The Choirboys last June. He has been playing concerts with Australian AC/DC tribute bands Let There Be Bon and Dirty Deeds. He’s made thousands of new friends. He’s been asked to play in Europe and South America.
Who knows where this career revival might lead? Anything is possible.
Tony is the only full-blooded Italian to have ever played for the biggest rock band in the world so it beats me why he hasn’t been given an honorary seat in the Italian parliament. They should have streets named after him in Sicily. Instead he can be found most nights at Tonino’s Penshurst Pizzeria in Sydney, Australia, making supreme pizzas, and that’s what makes Tony great.
He’s free of the sort of ego that makes most former rock stars unbearable company. Even when people spell his name wrong, which they do constantly, he just shrugs and laughs.
Tony’s story really is a Hollywood movie waiting to happen. I don’t think you could get a better immigrant tale. It has everything you could ask for and just happens to involve the biggest rock band in the world.
Tony migrated to Australia from Sicily in 1967 and learned to play drums by bashing his piano accordion and whatever chairs he could find with spoons. True story. That he then went on to play with AC/DC really is something from the realm of science fiction. You couldn’t make it up.
Tony isn’t in AC/DC today because he was fiercely loyal to a group of “wogs”, as he calls them, known as Jackie Christian & Flight who were an Albert Productions recording act and had a couple of songs written for them by George Young, one called “Love”, the other called “The Last Time I Go To Baltimore”. They also played the music for Ray Burgess’s huge Australian hit, “Love Fever”.
Jackie Christian & Flight thought they were on the cusp of greatness, but Tony picked the wrong band. His Italian passport didn’t help either. If he’d joined AC/DC and gone to England, it would have meant he’d have to stop in Rome. There he would have been conscripted into the Italian army for military service.
So he turned down AC/DC. He has no regrets. And why would he? He played on most of the best songs on High Voltage (both versions). He played on Stevie Wright’s classic epic, “Evie” (that’s him on Part III). He played on stage with AC/DC at Chequers in Goulburn Street, Sydney, in 1975. He was George Young’s favourite session drummer and so many of Tony’s tracks are now on AC/DC releases and box sets that have sold millions of copies.’74 Jailbreak, an EP which came out in 1984, has five songs on it. Three of them feature Tony’s drumming.
Tony only got $35 an hour for his session work and that was enough for him. All he’s ever wanted is to meet the Youngs again, especially George.
So, above all else, my fervent wish is that the Youngs pick up the phone and reunite with this man, their old friend, because he’s living music history and deserves adequate recognition. He’s not after money. He’s far, far too modest for that. As he always has been.
This unheralded Australian music figure deserves our thanks and some belated acclaim.
Jesse Fink is the author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, out now through HarperCollins India.