AC/DC is one of the most influential bands in the history of Rock and Roll and also one of the best-selling groups of all time with an estimated amount of more than 200 million records sold worldwide.
As every famous group, thousands of fans around the world who are also musicians, formed tribute bands over the decades to play AC/DC’s classics. The singer Brian Johnson and the guitarist Angus Young know some of them and it was an all-female tribute group that impressed them the most.
The female AC/DC cover band that impressed Brian Johnson and Angus
In an interview (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage) made back in 2008 to promote the AC/DC album “Black Ice”, the band’s vocalist Brian Johnson was asked if he had seen any tribute bands over the years. The musician said that he had seen many over the years. But the one that impressed him the most was an American female tribute band called Hell’s Belles.
“I’ve saw this one, that it was a great. (Formed) by chicks, It was called “Hell’s Belles”. These girls were brilliant and the it was spelled with an E after the L, ‘Hell’s Belles’. The girl was a black singer and oh God, she sang ‘Back In Black’ (album) from start to finish, that was the set. I was mainly, I was impressed. I was just stunned of what this girl could do. She had it. She was a black girl with a voice like an angel. There are so many of them (cover bands) now,” Brian Johnson said.
According to Hell’s Belles official website, the AC/DC co-founder and guitarist Angus Young told Blender magazine that they were also the best tribute band he had seen. “The best AC/DC band I’ve ever heard? There was an all-girl band in America, Hell’s Belles,” Angus Young said.
The group was formed in 2000 in Seattle, Washington, United States and is still active after more than two decades. Om Johari the vocalist praised by Johnson is no longer a member of the group but they continue on the road. The band’s current line-up has Adrian Conner (Guitar), Nicole Ridge (Bass), Jess Coram (Guitar), Simona Bressi (Drums) and Lauren Piston (Vocals).
Rock and Roll Garage talked with Om Johari, who recalled how AC/DC discovered them and talked about her friendship with Malcolm Young
Rock and Roll Garage talked to Om Johari and discovered a little bit more of her life story, love for AC/DC and for Rock music. Her mother was born outside of Seattle, city where the late legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix was born. She was a huge fan of the musician, something that had influenced Om Johari’s love for music. Another fantastic artist that she also discovered at young age, was the incredible guitarist and singer Sister Rosetta Tharp.
But her love for AC/DC appeared still in her childhood. One day at school she heard some colleagues discussing which band was better: Kiss or AC/DC. After that, she asked her parents to take her to the record store so that she could get her first AC/DC album.
“I ashes my parents to take me to the record store so that I could get my first AC/DC record. It was a Friday ritual we had. ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ (1976) was the first album I owned,” Om Johari said.
How Brian Johnson and Angus Young discovered Hell’s Belles
In the interview with Rock and Roll Garage she told the interesting story about how Brian Johnson and Angus Young discovered Hell’s Belles. Also said that they invited the group at the time to tour with them. But for contractual reasons, they couldn’t do it.
“I don’t believe Brian Johnson ever attended a concert of mine when I was lead singer. The story goes, a wealthy young man, who loved our tribute band very much, bid for a signed guitar of Angus Young’s and won. When he got invited by MTV to meet the AC/DC, he told them about us and gave a VHS cassette recording of our concert to the band to check out. Within two months, we were invited to see two shows. (Also) had an invitation to go on a European tour with them. We were unable to do the tour due to contracts. We had already signed to play in Canada.”
“They gave their blessing to our band as there officially endorsed tribute band. (Also) discussed my guitar player and co-founded of the band, Amy Stolzenbach, and I as the premier ‘chicks’ to watch. Though I know Brian Johnson purchased a house in Washington, I don’t believe he ever saw me perform live,” Om Johari said.
Friendship with Malcolm Young
However, she had the chance to meet Brian face-to-face for the first time when AC/DC played at the Tacoma Dome in 2000 in Washington. That night, Hell’s Belles were invited to go backstage to meet them. She had the chance to see the band members many times after she left the tribute group over the years. She recalled in the conversation with Rock and Roll Garage that the late guitarist Malcolm Young was the one with who she connected with the most. He encouraged her to continue in the music business and to also record original material.
“Malcolm was the member I connected with the most. He encouraged me to give my talents the possibility to do other things than cover his music. (Also) reminded me of Bon Scott’s deep love of Little Richard. Implying that by my vocalizing their early music, I was somehow bringing it to the intended soulfulness of their original singer. I will have a deep love for this man for the rest of my life!” Om Johari said.
Malcolm Young died back on November 18, 2017 at the age of 64. He had to retire from the band years before after being diagnosed with dementia.
She continues in the music business
Even though Johari is no longer a member of Hell’s Belles, she continues in the music business. “I just became the proud owner of a record label, Om Johari Records, which will launch in March. I’m putting out my own music, in addition to that of popular artist who are not able to get their own labels to put out compilations or collaborations they wish to release of projects.”
“It’s part of a production company I have called Sweetgrass Productions. (The company) prides itself on bringing about great shows, productions, videos, and curating uniques artists! You will see a lot of content from us in this coming year!” Om Johari said.
The band’s guitarist Adrian Conner also spoke with Rock and Roll Garage
Hell’s Belles current guitarist Adrian Conner also talked with Rock and Roll Garage. She recalled how important the band was for her musical career and how much Om Johari influenced the band’s excellence. “Hell’s Belles was founded by Om Johari and Amy Stozenbach in 2000. The singer Brian is referring to is Om Johari. Om left the band in 2004 to then bassist Mandy Reed for us to move forward and continue performing. I tried out on rhythm back in 2000 and didn’t actually get the position of Malcolm until 2001.”
“Working in Hell’s Belles at that time was the hardest most challenging times of my professional musical career. But it made me a great musician. And a great band leader. It is from Om’s influence that Hell’s Belles embodies the attitude of consistently performing AC/DC’s music to a degree of excellence, intensity and unbridled passion,” Adrian Conner said.