As I have mentioned elsewhere on this site, I had a leg up when it came to rock music as a child. My stepdad had quite an extensive collection that covered everything from Sabbath to Zeppelin, and my mum was more into the Stones and glam-era Bowie, so I had decent schooling in all things riff-oriented. Yet it wasn’t until I turned 10 that I had a band to call my own. My cousin had been a big influence on my life to that point, though that would sadly change after he became an unbearable asshole, and when I used to go visit him on the weekends, we’d spend nearly all our time sat in his room as he played me AC/DC records. I was already fascinated by this group of rag-tag vagabonds, so when he suddenly and inexplicably showed up on my doorstep one afternoon with all their albums under his arms as a gift to me, I couldn’t wait to get every single one on my little turntable and crank the volume up to 11—well, as close to 11 as I could get from a stereo that had cost about the same amount as a packet of crisps. To this day, some 38 years later, I have no idea why he did this; perhaps he wasn’t a fan of For Those About to Rock (We Salute You). But I’m glad he did, as it meant that my pre-teen self had something else to focus on other than the likes of Leo Sayer, ABBA, and Barbra Bloody Streisand. Hey, it was the ’80s; music was awful.
Now, before I go any further, I should point out that I love Brian Johnson—at least I do these days. There are myriad reasons behind this, such as I’m a lot older than I was when he took over as singer, as well as the fact that he seems like the kind of bloke I could quite happily spend a few hours drinking beer with, but for a very large chunk of my life, I hated anything that AC/DC did that involved him. This was because I was exposed to the group when Bon Scott was the main man. Sure enough, he’d been dead two years before I got my grubby little hands on his back catalog, but outside of the aforementioned For Those About to Rock… and Back in Black, the other six albums in my newfound collection were Bon Scott-fronted. Another major factor that played into this was the covers of the LPs themselves. Not really knowing much about life, the universe, or anything outside of being able to tie my own shoes, my choice of which black circle got the first spin was judged on whatever picture caught my eye, and as soon as I saw the sleeve for If You Want Blood (You Got It), well, I was never going to start anywhere else.
If You Want Blood… is the greatest live album ever recorded, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. I’ll also eat your cat if you tell me that ‘Riff Raff’ isn’t the greatest opening track to ever grace vinyl, tape, LaserDisc, CD, or digital. The roar of the crowd, the scream of Angus Young’s guitar, the way the whole intro builds up to that riff and the thumping rhythm section, it truly is a thing of beauty. But it would’ve been all pointless if the guy stepping up to the mic had been the rock equivalent of Robbie Williams, all limp lettuce and no-balls vocal styling. Thank God, then, for Bon Scott. The moment he opens his mouth and his whisky-soaked, cigarette-ravaged voice pours forth:
See it on television, every day / Ya hear it on the radio / It ain’t humid, but it sure is hot / Down in Mexico…”
You know that you’re in the presence of greatness.
Don’t believe me? Then here you go, heathen.
There has never been a more perfect way to start any album, live or otherwise, and it sets the tone for the rest of the record. It is a roaring beast of a live recording. It’s balls-out rock-and-roll of the highest order, with only ‘The Jack’ slowing proceedings down, probably to give the band five minutes to catch their breath. Every single member is on their game, and it showcases just how fantastic a band of brothers can be when they’re a tight, well-oiled, and highly drilled machine. And at the front of this sonic landscape, playing ringmaster to the show, is the one and only Bon Scott.
Born in Scotland in 1946, Bon and his family moved to Australia in 1952 when he was 6 years old. By all accounts, he was what you’d call a tearaway, and at the age of 15, he dropped out of school and started to work any job he could find. This didn’t last very long, and Bon soon found himself in trouble with the law, and at the age of 17, he was carted off to the Riverbank Juvenile Institution for a litany of charges including unlawful carnal knowledge as well as assault. According to a biography written by some of his close friends, this all came about after he’d slept with a girl at a local dance and then two other guys tried to force themselves upon her afterward. Seeing this, Bon jumped on the would-be rapists, and when the police broke it up, he gave them a false name and address before doing a runner. He got nine months inside for his troubles, and it scarred him because, as he explained, it broke his mother’s heart.
When he got out he tried to join the Australian Army but was rejected on the grounds he was ‘socially maladjusted’, so with another raft of meaningless jobs in his rearview mirror he decided to give music a try and formed his own band, the Spektors, in 1964. The Spektors would eventually join forces with the Winstons and form the Valentines, because having the word “the” in the name of your band was all the rage back then (I’m guessing), and it was with the Valentines that he’d his first taste of success. It’s a strange sensation to see Bon Scott in any other guise than the wild-eyed frontman of AC/DC, but here’s proof it happened, and he had a fantastic haircut to go with it. It’s a cross between a mullet and a bowl job that your parents would’ve given you if they couldn’t be arsed to take you to the hairdressers. It is amazing. What wasn’t amazing, however, was the scandal that hit the group in 1969.
It seems that during the mid-to-late ’60s, drugs were everywhere, and though that may have been true in places like America and the United Kingdom, the land Down Under hadn’t really been exposed to this kind of problem. So when the Valentines were busted for possession of pot, it made national headlines. The biggest Australian music magazine at the time, Go-Set, wrote, “The pop world rocked last week when the police raided the practice hide-way of top pop group the Valentines, and found them in possession of the drug, marijuana.”
The members of the group were all fined $150 apiece and put on probation, but it was the beginning of the end for the band. Bon started telling anyone who would listen that marijuana should be legalized and the police should mind their own business, and this just added to already heightened tensions within the group, which resulted in the Valentines deciding to go their separate ways.
Not being one to rest on his laurels, Bon joined the prog-rock band Fraternity/Fang and spent three years on the road traveling the globe, but it would prove to be another false start when they returned from a tour of the U.K. and promptly split up. Down on his luck once again, Bon ended up taking a job, literally shoveling sh-t at the Wallaroo fertilizer plant. During this period he hooked up with the Mount Lofty Rangers, but Bon being Bon, it was only a matter of time before he burnt his bridges there. Unfortunately, this time it almost killed him. At a rehearsal, Bon got into it with a fellow band member and, allegedly drunk as a poet on payday, stormed out and jumped onto his motorcycle. Lee Morgan was heading down to Port Adelaide that night when all of a sudden, seemingly from out of nowhere, Bon’s bike plowed into his car at breakneck speed. It sent him straight through the car’s windscreen, and the impact was so ferocious, so violent, that Morgan’s car was a write-off, but even worse was the damage to the rider. Scott lost a fair few teeth (which explains his trademark smile), broke his collar bone, slashed his neck open, smashed multiple bones, and was in a coma for three days.
After he got out of hospital, he started doing odd jobs for his friend Vince Lovegrove, who was running a talent agency, and it was through this contact that he ended up fronting a little band called AC/DC, though this almost didn’t happen. When Lovegrove was approached by George Young, Angus and Malcolm’s brother, to help them find a replacement for their original singer, Dave Evans, he suggested Bon. George wasn’t sold, concerned that Scott was too old for the band, but after Lovegrove had met with the Young brothers he managed to convince them to at least meet the man. Backstage after a show at the Pooraka Hotel, Bon, who was very interested in joining the band, said that he didn’t think that they had what it took to rock, to which the boys told him that he was too old to rock anyway. What could’ve turned into a massive scrap instead turned into an all-night jam session, and when the sun came up the next morning, it was obvious to everyone involved that Bon Scott was the missing piece of the puzzle.
It’s impossible to understate the importance of Bon Scott to the history of AC/DC. Angus himself has even said, “I don’t think there’d have been an AC/DC if it hadn’t been for Bon. He moulded the character of AC/DC.”
And it’s true. What Bon brought to the table was a no-BS attitude that helped the band leave behind their glam-rock roots and forge ahead as the hardest-rocking and hardest-working band of the decade. He was so desperate to become a success, in a way to make up to his parents for the time he spent in prison, that it rubbed off on the other members of the band, and this intensity paid off tenfold. They became more than a group; they became a gang, and they partied hard, played even harder, and wouldn’t take sh-t from anyone. The tales of AC/DC being willing to take on all comers is legendary, such as the time they got into this epic fight with Deep Purple’s management and road crew. But it wasn’t all about kicking ass, as they had a wicked sense of humor that would become apparent when they appeared on the Australian TV Show ‘Countdown’ to perform ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go’. The sight of Bon Scott dressed as a schoolgirl, including a wig with pigtails, is still as funny now as it was in 1975.
It also helped that during the next six years they would release classic album after classic album, driven by the music of Angus and Malcolm and filled with the lyrical wit and simple brutality of Bon Scott. There really isn’t a single song during this period that could be considered filler, and it was heading towards the crashing crescendo that would become 1979’s Highway To Hell. Yet it was this phenomenal output of a record a year that began to take its toll. AC/DC was trapped in the cycle of releasing a new album, hitting the road to support it, finishing the tour, heading back into the studio, releasing a new album, rinse and repeat, and it was during the sessions for what would become Back In Black that it all finally caught up with their charismatic lead singer.
No-one really knows what happened, as Bon was the only one present at the time of his death and he took that information with him, but on February 19, 1980, at 67 Overhill Road, East Dulwich, London, Bon Scott was found dead. He was only 33. There has been much speculation over the years as to what caused this tragedy, with books by the dozen sighting everything from him choking on his vomit to a heroin overdose being the cause, but what these ‘writers’ seem to miss is that the method of his passing is far less significant than the simple fact that the world lost one of its greatest-ever characters and vocalists, and the band and his family lost someone they loved dearly.
As for me, Bon Scott will always be the voice of AC/DC, and even though I never knew him, he’ll always loom large in my life, almost like a surrogate brother to a young boy who was looking for some way out of a miserable family life. He set the bar, as far as I was concerned, as to what a true rock-and-roll singer should be and how a man should carry himself, and even though I would pick up more heroes to learn from along the way, Bon Scott was the one who laid the original blueprint for who I would eventually become. And for that, I’ll be eternally grateful.