THIS IS THE FULL STORY WRITTEN IN THE BONFIRE BOXSET
It's funny how the mind can play tricks
sometimes. Australia's RAM magazine ran a cover on 21 March 1980 under the
banner of "Tribute To A Fallen Warrior" to mark the tragic passing of
Bon Scott. The cover shot framed Bon bathed in fiery stage lighting which
accented not just the hellfire expression on his face but of his life. I'd
always thought there was something on Bon's pocket that said "AC/DC
Road Crew". But the word "crew" was lightly obscured which made
the slogan read "AC/DC Road Screw" which would have been more
fitting than any year gear lugging connotation. But when I looked at the shot
recently for the first time in years I found that with the camera angle and
lighting whatever it said on Bon's breast if anything was almost completely
Ronald Belford Scott was always going to find your average sized legend a snug
if not tight fit. He was the Australian personification of the mythical Hoochie
Coochie Man and Rolling Stone that blues legend, Muddy Waters bragged
emphatically was on his birth certificate. But it's hard to imagine someone as
quietly dignified as Muddy getting his ears pierced out of boredom when he found that one of
his roadies just happened to have a safety pin.
Angus Young once declared that Bon was as significant a figure as Jimi Hendrix,
an accolade that could be topped by the rumour that the names of the original
members of AC/DC
have been scrawled across Jim Morrison's grave in Pere-Lachaise cemetery in
Paris. If so, Bon's moniker would undoubtedly be in prominent font and position.
His larger than life stature despite his five
foot six inch frame was confirmed early on by his dominating presence in the
cartoon artwork that made up the cover of the Australian version
of the Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap album. Balance came into the equation
later. When AC/DC
were in Australia in 1996 on the Ballbreaker tour a group of Melbourne academics
are said to have responded for proposals for the erection of a statue of Michael
Jackson by calling for a similar monument to wee Angus.
Bon was born on 9 July, 1946 in Kirriemur, Scotland. The Scott family emigrated
to Perth when he was five.
"My new schoolmates threatened to kick the shit out of me when they heard
my Scottish accent," he told U.K. magazine, Record Mirror. "I had one
week to learn to speak like them if I wanted to remain intact. 'Course, I didn't
take any notice. No one railroads over me, and it made me all the more
determined to speak my own way. That's how I got
my name, you know. The Bonny Scott, see?" At sixteen giving off the
proper level of testosterone is every self respecting teenage male's greatest
desire so "Bonnie" went in favour of just plain "Bon". Given
some kid's grammar some may well have thought his name was Bomb.
As a young brother of George Young of Easybeats'
fame, the direction of Malcolm Young tastes were always on the right path, but
hearing The Who's. "My generation" for the first time put his dick on
the dirt. It was just so... heavy. The Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash"
and "Honky Tonk Women" and the Beatles' "Get Back"
subsequently had a similar impact but never quite the equal of Townshend's lot.
Suddenly household favourites like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little
Richard had competition for rotation on the Young family turntable. The band
Malcolm had in mind had to reflect those same driving rock 'n roll values.
"I was originally looking for a keyboard and try a little rock 'n roll with
piano," says Malcolm, "But It just didn't work out probably because I
just didn't feel confident enough as a solo player. I didn't even think about
Young Angus was in a band called Tantrum (could there have been a better pre-AC/DC band name for a guy who would go on to be on
the planet's worst school kid?). Some however couldn't wait for the kid to put
his theatrical horns on his head.
"A couple of (television) journalists actually tried tried to bribe me and
a few other school kids to actually go and look like vandals," says Angus.
"A bit of doctored news. My father came walking out of the railway just at
that time and told the guy were to go. The guy's going, 'But I'll play with
money!' and my father had him by the throat and said, ' and I'm playing with
The team of Malcolm and Angus was a musical yin and yang. They played a number
of virtual all night gigs at Chequers in Goulburn Street
in the heart of Sidney on a Monday or Tuesday night as a fill in band,
but New Year's Eve 1973 at the venue was AC/DC's first official show. It was also the first time that Angus wore his
all empowering school boy get up. The outfit had a strange sense of class about
it that sat well with the traditions of Chequers. Artists of the stature of
Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. And Shirley Bassey had all graced the stage of
the subterranean club with its winding entrance stairway. The owner, Casey took
one look at Angus' uniform and declared that the band would be the night
headliners. That night with a set that included The Stones' "Jumping Jack
Flash", a swag of Chuck Berry songs including "School Days",
"Nadine" and "No particular place to go" and The Beatle's '
I want you (she's so heavy)." AC/DC began the process of blackening fuses.
That was phase one. Bon Scott had been helping the band out as a driver when
they were in Adelaide, but he was never going to be too comfortable for too long
in the confines between a seat and a steering wheel. One of his earliest gigs
with the band was at Rockdale Masonic Hall in southern Sidney. Bon was decked
out in a red satin jumpsuit, bib
and brace overalls and had a shark's tooth around his neck. He spent most of the
night making up the words as he went along, but there were no complaints; when
it came to wordplay Bon as the world would see in the coming years was in a
class of his own.
"We'd run through half a dozen songs with Bon," says Malcolm,
"but just before he got on the stage he decided to get half a bottle of
Whisky down him and God knows what else" he laughs. "By the time he
got on stage he was beaming, he was ready though. We had this singer before Bon,
and he had his own little fun club of teenie boppy chicks that used to follow
him everywhere" he laughs. "On comes Bon even before the band. He
strides on and grabs the mic and announces, 'Anyone that comes to see Dave Evans
sing with AC/DC
ain't gonna see it tonight because the band have fired him because he got
married!' and he pointed right at these little chicks. We went, fucking hell!
What's this guy done! We just got on and rocked and Bon took command. He new
exactly what was going on."
As a mark of his conviction Bon who was never one to do anything by halves spoke
at one point of getting a new pair of jeans, cutting the butt out and having
"AC" tattooed on one cheek and "DC" on the other. The spot
in the middle would no doubt have been reserved for the band's detractors.
"Don't mention other bands around us OK?" he once instructed a gushing
young fan. "We're the kings of the scene, no one else fucking
With Bon installed AC/DC
hit the ground running. Both the High Voltage album and the more focused TNT
effort whit its spare sound that would later be recaptured on the Ballbreaker
album were released in 1975. The band managed to squeeze in frantic opening slot
for Black Sabbath at Sidney's Hordern Pavillion that same year. The title of
TNT's classic, "It's a Long Way to the Top" was taken from Bon's
toilet wall graffiti that housed all his favourite lyrical phrases. George Young
who along with his Easybeat partner, Harry Vanda produced all of AC/DC's
albums of the Bon era up to Highway To Hell noticed the entry when the book was
sitting open on the studio console. Imagine the world if he hadn't. The band's
intro tape at the time began with a storm. After a minute or so a voice began to
solemnly announce the band's name. Speed and pitch increased until it sounded
like a crazed robot that was as excited about what was about to be unleashed as
the audience themselves.
By the time the Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap album was released in 1976 AC/DC were the wildest act in the country, flat out,
bar none playing Rock & Roll as all the gods everywhere intended. they
barnburned their way through the dance circuit that went hand in hand with
Australia's legendary pub gauntlet. And things were just as crazed in the studio
as on stage.
"Bon was in the recording booth which was out of sight in Alberts (studios)
at the time," The Angels' Doc Neeson said recounting the tale of the
recording of the Dirty Deeds' classic, "Jailbreak", and coming up to
the line of "with a bullet in his back". He'd been having a few Green
Ginger wines and they were sort of saying, "Do it again Bon, a little bit
more character"! or whatever the always tell you to run a few times through
a par like that. So Bon was going, "With a bullet in his back!" and
you could hear guzzle, guzzle, guzzle. "Bullet in his back!"......Bon?
And you know there's that little stop right then. Bon? Bon? And they went around
to the booth and he was passed out on the floor. He just put so much into it he
passed out. So they had to finish the song the next day."
AC/DC were straddling a ground that cast them both as a testosterone-oozing
boy's band and poster fodder for the bedrooms walls of screaming female fans who
carried banners at their shows that read among other things "We Do It For AC/DC." Their parents had every right to be afraid particularly as the
band often played at High Schools.
"Spotlight?" Bon called to the
lighting operator at a show at Sidney's Haymarket. "Show me the crowd. Show
your hands if you've had the Jack before," he asked. Angus hit a chord and
let it sustain before starting to pick at something that could have been the
beginning of the old chestnut, "River Deep, Mountain High." It wasn't.
"Gonorrhoea," Bon sang in an initially almost operatic tone which
quickly became strangled. "I've just had my first case of
Cut to camera one. Warwick Farm Racetrack in western Sidney. The rain had
finally stopped. Angus stepped from the back of the truck that had been backed
against the side of the stage and the sodden crowd gasped. He seemed much
smaller and looked more far more fragile than the TV cameras of the ABC's
countdown programme had been able to transmit. The man almost looked surreal.
Malcolm stepped up to check his microphone "F..king c..t!" he cursed
casually when it didn't function as expected. A clearly drunk Bon was leering
and grinning madly from the moment he appeared. Much to the horror of the road
crew he began doing chinups on the scaffolding that made up the stage. On a
number of occasions they had to get their charge down from the framework so he
wouldn't pull the whole thing down. Bon couldn't or wasn't capable of
encouraging his bagpipes to work for "It's a long way to the top" but
it didn't matter a damn.
And...cut to camera two. A free show conducted by Sidney radio station 2SM on
the foreshores of the north side of Sidney Harbour. The band played off shore on
a number of pontoons that had been strapped together and which kept moving thus
making playing something of a challenge even for Angus' St Vitus Dance boogying
Female fans for the most part threw themselves lemming like into the sea to swim
out to their heroes.
It was virtually impossible at this point not to
believe that AC/DC -aesthetics aside- invented the use of electricity in Rock n' Roll.
No-one did Rock n' Roll swing like them either. Their sense of time and timing,
"that screwing feel" was frightening. Serious as a heart attack too,
just more sweaty. Angus ripped it up like fully amphetamined Chuck Berry while
Malcolm laid it down so relentlessly that even a band leader as demanding as
Howlin' Wolf would have approved. The difference was that AC/DC were playing an
infinitely louder devil's music than Wolf could ever had imagined possible. In
among it all in either a leather or leopard skin vest, white satin jumpsuit or
green leather tails was Bon. Peter Wells, the founder of the infamous Rose
Tattoo first met the man in the early seventies at Melbourne's Freeway Gardens
Motel where Bon was living.
"He used to come out on the balcony and dive into the fucking pool
pissed.....from the second floor! That blew me out. He used to give it an awful
big nudge and be pretty crazy. You always knew he was about, you know what I mean?
They'd lock you up these days. A lot of the anecdotes, some of them are true,
probably some of them aren't and there's other ones that you probably couldn't
talk about that there are probably bigger than all them."
In mid 1976 AC/DC
headed to the U.K for the first time and left a multitude of shell shocked
English fans with severely ringing lugs in their wake. Former Jimi Hendrix
Experience members, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell were said to be among those
that packed in to see the band all but level the Marquee in London. The rest of
the planet would soon be at their tiny feet.
Back in Australia, the new black and white tour posters showed
Angus in long red
and yellow socks pointing heavenward after particularly delicious slice of fret
ramalama. Mayhem was the norm. Motels around the country felt that their
furniture was better suited to the allocated rooms than the swimming pools while
in other areas the band were banned outright. Tamworth wanted no part of them
and their behaviour while in Albury banned the sale of the colour concert
programme because the caption under a shot of Bon said that he just wanted to
make enough money to be able to you know... do stuff with Britt Ekland.
Elsewhere there were threats of the power being cut if Angus did his usual
routine of exposing his other pair of not quite so rosy cheeks. The classy flag
boxers were a luxury that came much later. At this stage Ang and the audience
had to be content with something more er...crusty.
Size in the case of AC/DC
didn't count. Angus thought nothing of belting the odd heckler. But occasionally
he would have potentially fatal experience. Hornsby Police Boys club in Sidney's
north was one of the major beacons of the dance circuit. The scourge of that
loop in the first half of the seventies were the Sharps, the classier and
smarter Australian version of the skinheads. One night at Hornsby, Angus who
himself had short cropped hair at one point decided to grab one of the Sharps'
caps and prance around the stage with it. Fortunately the Sharps were there
specifically to see AC/DC so tolerated the exercise.
"Before I joined the band," Bon once told RAM, "Angus 'n Malcolm,
the ones you'd least expect to be heavies, used to get up to some incredible
things. The first gig I was with them, in Adelaide, there were a dozen guys in
the front of the stage shouting 'Hey, Hey, Come down here ya...' and Angus, he
walks up to the edge of the stage and screams at them 'Go and get...' So me, I'm
looking for a microphone stand ready for the onslaught."
Not that Bon was any slouch at standing up and being counted when the moment was
right. He once furiously demanded the whoever threw a can at the stage during a
dance a at Ryde show themselves. Fortunately for them they didn't.
The Let There Be Rock album was unleashed in 1977 and was the band's greatest
testimonial yet to the sheer might of Rock 'n Roll at a time when the English
punk movement were sneering at the form but desperate to create something as
singularly intense as this. The stark navy blue, yellow and silver of the
Alberts label on the Australian version of the album suddenly seemed incredibly
potent and the grainy black and white cover art further upped its grift factor
as did lyrical matter like the classic, "Whole Lotta Rosie."
"When we were finishing off that track we didn't know if we'd call it Let
There Be Rock", says Angus, "but then when my amp started smoking at
the end George said, 'I think we'll call it Let There Be Rock."
The Seedies as they were affectionately and at that time rightly known played in
Australia for the last time with Bon in 1977 in the leadup to the release of
Powerage. New bassist Cliff Williams, an Englishman incredibly was unable to get
an Australian working visa from immigration officials. Plan B. Billed as Live
Wire International Guest Act the band played two nights at Sidney's hallowed
Bondi Lifesaver . It was here on another occasion that after a particularly late
night Bon decided to drive his car through the closed boom gates at a nearby
carpark. The lifesaver was also the place that Angus drew serious blood after
duck walking along the bar that ran the length of the room and cutting himself
on broken glasses. Roadies desperately tried to keep up with him d do some
running repair work to his feet with gaffe tape, but after the show a trip to
the hospital was in order to treat some tiny cut shins. The place was packed for
both the not exactly secret shows with Cliff, and the encore on one night was
not something that's ever likely to be screened on television at prime viewing
time. A friend of the band returned to the stage with them. Her clothing was
soon stripped with Bon's chivalrous assistance and she returned the favour by
giving him a head job through his jeans during "TNT." The ball so to
speak was back in Bon's court when she poured a beer all over herself. He did
the only thing he could do, he towelled her off-with his tongue-. Rock &
Roll Caligula seemed only moments away.
The Powerage album which Malcolm believes is the band's most under-rated effort
despite such heavyweight fans as Rolling Stone, Keith Richards came in
1978 following the band's first ever American tour. It contained some of the
band's most ferocious work -the killer momentum of "Down payment
Blues", the warp speed of "Riff Raff" and the thoroughly vicious
" Kicked in the Teeth ." The fact Phil Rudd was wearing a Texas
T-shirt -at least I think it says Texas- on the back cover seemed to indicate
some of the spoils of their successful U.S sonic pillage and plunder. The
American run had after all been extremely well received. They landed a string of
dates with Kiss after they saw the band's show at The Whisky in West Hollywood
which probably much to Bon's delight was on the same block that housed the last
person standing sessions by the infamous Hollywood Vampires who included Keith
Moon and Alice Cooper.
Angus returned to Australia and appeared as guest host on the ABC's Countdown
programme when the Powerage album was released. Ang was in killer form leering
at the cameras at every opportunity and bearing his new teeth. Powerage's
"Riff Raff." was he said "a real toe tapper". 1978's live
album, "If you Want Blood" was nothing short of gladiatorial with a
blood and brimstone content that far
exceeded any of the gory activity on the cover. It remains one of the great live
albums of all time.
The unleashing of Highway To Hell in
1979 however was a whole new shipping container of nitro glycerine. The savagery
of the guitars on Let there be Rock and Powerage gave some ground to previously
unheard of elements like background vocals albeit, it suitably AC/DC type background vocals. But despite its
relative refinement the album still sounded like a street fight and is
ironically one of the band's best hooligan recordings. It all but had the words
"AC/DC and world domination" subliminally recorded through it. The album's
final track is quite possibly AC/DC's greatest piece of bad arsed swagger
-"Night Prowler." There's two breaths in quick succession right before the guitar rings out at the
start of the song. It's undoubtedly meant to set the fear and loathing tone, but
it also could well be Bon in keeping with his legend having that final toke
before his vocal. The chill factor peaks
after the of the amps fades when Bon suddenly in full comic mode takes a bow
with the words "Shazbot. Nanoo, Nanoo" which were Robin Williams'
transmission sign off in the Mork and Mindy TV programme. Bon was a great
admirer of Williams' and typically threw the lines in for a laugh. Eerily it
turned out to also be his signing off. Bon will never record again with AC/DC.
He died on 19 February, 1980 after a night out in London. The whole of Australia
seemed to pause.
"I think after Bon I felt horribly grown up in a way," says Angus.
"When you're young you always think you are immortal and that time really
spun me around,"
As fate would have it when Bon was in London in the early seventies he saw Brian
Johnson singing in Geordie. He told Angus about this incredible guy who screamed
his arse off. What Bon didn't know was that Brian had appendicitis at that time.
1980's Back in Black looked and sounded like it had been forged at an iron
mongers and caste in black granite. It was a colossus of an album that took AC/DC from stone killer Australian act to bringers of
an apocalyptic Rock Nuremberg. Brian Johnson sounded almost unearthly and the
guitars of Angus and Malcolm rose up to meet him like full forces of nature.
"Back in Black is an album we're proud of because we thought it was the end
of the band to be honest." Says Malcolm. "Me and Angus were looking
for ideas (for the album) when Bon died. We'd been together two weeks jamming.
After (Bon's death) we thought well, this is it really. I just couldn't see
David Coverdale singing with the band, you know what I mean? We were all quite
shocked about it, but after a couple of weeks of sitting d we just had to do
something so we just decided to get back to these couple of riffs that we'd put
together and we just carried on. But because Bon wasn't there it gave us so much
more determination. It was a real gut wrenching thing the whole episode and we
still didn't know what was going to happen. You're sort of in a limbo world and
I think that came through in all the stuff we came up with on that record. We
always thought that Bon was with us in that too, he was a big part of that
album, his spirit was all over it. That's a special album."
The Back in Black tour blitzed Australia in February 1981 with a stage 60 feet
long by 40 feet wide, a 50.000 watt PA system, 450 lights plus the Hell's Bell
of course. But despite the sense of mourning
at least as far as Sidney was concerned the shows were more like back in grey
than black. The first two attempts to stage the show at the Sidney Showground
were rained out. On the Monday 30.000 were finally decimated by the sheer
onslaught of the world's great rock act in a show which gave rise to a host of
complaints about volume from those living in surrounding areas. Phil Rudd's kick
drum was probably felt in stomachs several miles from the concert site. And the AC/DC
hordes were on full Saturday night active alert even though it was Monday. Brian
not only survived his greatest litmus test unscathed but did it with a sense of
triumph. A later of RAM magazine said it all: Season of the Seedies. In Perth
-Bon's Australian home city- Brian met Bon's mum and his brother, Derek and
dedicated "High Voltage" to Mrs. Scott.
"We didn't know how everyone there was going to look at us," says
Angus of returning to Australia. "Brian had to go out there and fill pretty
big shoes and some people would say it's not even AC/DC so my hat goes off to Brian. He did take a lot of flak, specially at the
beginning, but he stood his ground. He's as big a fan of Bon as anyone."
"We still think Bon's around basically," says Malcolm. "And he is
around because of the music. We probably feel just like most of the kids that
admire Bon. It's a sad loss but what he's left is more than enough anyway."
"He'd just write these situations and use all the experience he'd had or
from other people among his own and put it all down and he did it like he's
writing a letter. That was what was so magic about him."
But even in death Bon is having a laugh. When New York hard nuts, Helmet were in
Perth visiting Bon's grave was mandatory. It was 1.00 am and the helmet party
couldn't find the great man's final resting place. What they did find was a
woman who had beaten up. They called the police who saw to the woman then showed
the stunned helmet team where Bon's grave site was. The man who wrote about
getting away from the law in Jailbreak would have loved the irony just as he
would have approved of the alleged fate of a Young family home.
"Somebody told me that it ended up a bordello or something," says
Angus. "That's an apt shrine for AC/DC",
Whether it's true or just the stuff of myth and legend Bon would have been
The Bonfire boxset came out of a lot of ideas
from AC/DC fans and people in the music industry who have followed the history of
the band over the years. AC/DC would like to thank everyone of these people
who participated with their thoughts and ideas for "Bonfire" as
without their input (that began to filter in as rumours of the CD boxset started
circulating) this would have been a huge task for the band alone to do, as it
turned out they helped make "Bonfire" was a title that Bon used to
joke about when he dreamt of being famous one day (when I'm a fucking big shot
I'm calling my solo album "Bonfire")
Ride on Bon,