Q&A with Adrian Connor of AC/DC tribute Hell’s Belles 

For close to a quarter of a century, Adrian Connor has toured with the all-women AC/DC tribute act Hell’s Belles.  

And for most of that time she’s been crushing the part of legendary lead guitarist Angus Young. She’s got the sneer for it. The talent for it. The moves and the schoolboy outfit for it, except you’ll rarely see her in shorts. This Angus only wears skirts.  

But she almost didn’t make the band.  

Krystal 93 catches up with Adrian for the story of her first failed tryout, what riffs she loves (and loathes), and why she looks forward to the lung-busting altitude in Keystone. The above photo is courtesy of Mat Hayward.

Hell’s Belles is back in Keystone for another headlining set at the Keystone Bacon and Bourbon Festival June 22-23. These ladies pack the village every year. 

KRYSTAL 93: Where in the world is Hell’s Belles right now? 

ADRIAN CONNOR: We are all over. Most of the girls live in Washington state. One in Nashville and California. But we’re currently on tour through New York and Ohio. 

K93: Tell me about your tour schedule. Do you ever get a break? It seems like Hell’s Belles might as well be AC/DC, the real deal. 

AC: That would be cool. But yeah, we have a pretty strong schedule. It’s been kind of light in May, but the rest of the year, starting in June, July, August, we’ll be all over the West Coast, the East Coast, the Midwest. And we’ll be there with you all in Keystone soon, sort of near the start of it all. 

K93: Anywhere people want to rock out to AC/DC, you gals are there. 

AC: Yes. Well said. 

K93: How many shows does that end up being? For the summer tour. 

AC: We don’t really tour like a traditional band, playing every night. The way live music is now, especially for the tribute bands, summers are great because there’s festivals and stuff. But you really only get the weekends. Sometimes you get a Thursday or Sunday that can work, depending on the format of the venue, but it’s not a traditional tour schedule where you know in advance that night after night you’ll play.  

K93: But you’re still traveling. And weekends are crazy. 

AC: For us, Fridays, it’s almost like a 24-hour day. We fly in or drive in, and then we’re getting ready to do the set, and then we play the set, and then you go to bed as soon as you can. But it’s usually like 2 a.m., and then we get up and get on another flight to the next place, take the early-morning flight, and then we do it all over again. So the weekends, when people see us on stage, that’s just one tiny little part of the whole day. 

Hell’s Belles Tulalip Casino 3-28-22

Photo credit: Christine Mitchell

K93: It’s weeks’ worth of living every single weekend, all summer. How long have you been doing this? 

AC: Since 2001. And it’s been amazing since then. (Laughs.) 

K93: When was the first time you heard AC/DC? 

AC: It was like 1990. I was late to it because I lived a very sheltered musical life. I heard them at a high school assembly, you know, like before I was in high school, when you’re visiting. It was this large group setting, and I was very sheltered, and that song was just so loud. I loved that. I think I had just started playing guitar and I got into playing that music, classic rock, like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. I was learning. But I wanted to be in a band. 

K93: So you fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll. When did you say, “I’m going to be Angus. I’m going to be the star of the show?” 

AC: I tried out for Hell’s Belles the first time in 2000. They didn’t let me in. (Laughs.) Then a year later I tried again, and I passed. I started out as Malcom (Young). And I was just happy to get to play guitar. Back then we traveled a lot with the band. We were playing almost every night of the week, and we played some big shows, played a lot of concerts, and we built the audience. I just was enjoying playing music. Then the lead guitar player quit, and that’s when I started playing lead, when I started setting my eyes upon doing this, and it really changed my personality. I was very shy before then. Now, I’m not as afraid.  

K93: I love it. You went from failing the tryout to making the band to playing lead guitar every night. Sounds like a whirlwind. How long did it take to get the Angus “personality” down? Y 

AC: I’m always working on taking it further and getting more into it, finding ways to make everything better. Everything. So, you know, I’m sure my first year was like, ‘Oh, she’s OK.’ But I don’t know. I hear that it was it was well received. But I think in those days, it was 2002, when social media was just getting started. Social media was just changing live music and what people expect from a tribute band. But there wasn’t a lot of other people doing it yet. It was still kind of a new idea, so it was easy to get some traction. Way easier. 

K93: But here you are, 22 years later, and Hell’s Belles is still rocking. You come to Keystone every summer and headline the biggest festival there. What do you love about playing this venue? 

AC: It’s all ages and that is really fun. It seems to be more common this year for our bookings, but in the past, all-ages events were few and far between, so it’s really fun to play for the young kids. I love running off the stage and playing right in front of somebody, and maybe they’re scared, or maybe they’re excited, or maybe it’s an opportunity to let them touch the instrument – show them it’s for real, that what’s happening is real. 

But then I also like the challenge of the lungs. They’re so high up (in Keystone at 9,280 feet) that I really have to work hard to perform, to be active on stage, but I like the physical stress of it. We’re just always super excited to play there again. We love Keystone. 

K93: It’s not easy to play Angus Young at any altitude. Especially his riffs. What riff do you still love playing to this day? 

AC: It’s definitely the solos. But when you say a riff, that’s making me think of a song we really don’t play anymore, “Shake A Leg,” from Back In Black. I really like that riff. It reminds me of (‘80s band) Cinderella. I’m sure Cinderella derived some of their songs off “Shake A Leg.” And then “Shoot To Thrill.” I love playing that live. 

K93: What about the trickiest riff? 

AC: It’s crazy because I’ve been doing this for so long, but we don’t get the opportunity to play night after night, and I’m playing in other bands, so sometimes it could like three to four weeks between (Hell’s Belles) shows. It’s not that long, you know, but there are things that were easy years ago that now, it’s weird, like the beginning of “Thunderstruck.” (Laughs.) I’ve been wondering lately, “Why is this tricky?” It’s just a strength thing, and if you don’t have the strength to do that part, I can fall behind playing it sometimes. It becomes something I have to pay attention to. And if the rhythm section is playing too fast that can be hard. 

K93: Rhythm section, you heard your lead guitarist: Take it a half-beat slower. Let the fingers catch up. 

AC: (Laughs). I don’t want them to, though. I like it fast!