Before he was in AC/DC, Bon Scott sang with the Mount Lofty Rangers alongside Peter Head…
Do you remember the first time you met Bon?
It was at North Adelaide Galleries, which was owned by a guy called Hamish Henry, who was a young millionaire who decided he wanted to get into the pop scene. His grand plan was to manage two bands – HeadBand, which was the band I was with, and Fraternity, which was the band Bon was with. Hamish had this big mansion in North Adelaide with an art gallery in the back, and because I’d had a bit of experience at art school – I’d been a student for a year and had run my own gallery for a year – he put me in the gallery to sell his paintings during the day and work the office on behalf of both bands, keeping the books and doing the bookings. And one day he brought Bon around and said, “I’ve just brought this guy over from Melbourne and he’s going to sing with Fraternity. He’s got no money so I’m going to give him some part time work cleaning up the backyard, mowing the lawns, picking up the rubbish, he’ll do all that.” So the very first time I met Bon he was a worker, he was outside mowing the lawns and picking up the rubbish. And then after that he came in and we met each other and realised we were both in the same game and eventually became good friends, cos he’d come around every day. Eventually we started playing the same gigs, travelling in the same bus, and we knew each other for a period of four or five years after that, daily almost.
What was Bon like to travel with on a tour bus? Did he get into much mischief?
How much mischief can you possibly get up to in a bus? You did crosswords, talked about girls, gigs, the existence of God or not, smoked joints, dropped mushies, acid, pills, bonged hashish, drank copious amounts of booze, groped groupies – just the usual stuff.
What was your first impression of Bon?
Only that he worked very hard. Just watching him mow the lawn and picking up the rubbish, he’d work really hard and fast and efficiently and I thought, wow, this guy has got direction to his life. You could see he wasn’t your average person, no matter what he did. He also had a huge sense of humour. Every time you talked to him he’d be cracking jokes and doing funny things, he was good fun to be around. He worked hard, he was funny and just had a good sense of ethics.
In what way was he funny? Can you give me an example?
If there was a staircase somewhere he wouldn’t walk down the stairs he’d slide down the bannister. Whatever was available to create a bit of fun he’d do it. And that sense of being a bit of a clown stayed with him always, it’s one of the main things about AC/DC, he did outrageous things visually, stuff that no one else would attempt.
Like go on [national TV music show] Countdown dressed as a girl?
Exactly, stuff like that. Other people would think about it but they wouldn’t do it. He was on Countdown dressed as a girl smoking a huge cigarette which looked suspiciously like a joint as well. It was outrageous at the time.
Is there anything else that springs to mind that was outrageous?
His whole life was outrageous, every minute of it. When he got day jobs apart from working for Hamish, occasionally he’d go off and get a job as a labourer, pick ’n’ shovel, working on the roads, cos you could earn money quickly and work for a couple of weeks and give it up again. Bon went off and got a job shovelling bags of shit for the Wallaroo Fertiliser company. And he worked 12 hours a day doing that, standing on the back of the truck just shovelling. And it stank too. But he was prepared to work hard. He worked hard and played hard.
In what way would he play hard?
The only thing that was fairly obvious is he drank pretty hard and used to smoke a lot of dope. He was known as Ronnie Roadtest cos he’d test just about any drug going around at the time, except he never touched smack. It was all pretty harmless stuff. Marijuana and a few mushrooms and booze.
So Bon’s drinking capacity hasn’t been exaggerated?
He always had either a flask of red or, more often, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s on him. It was pretty intense. As soon as he got off from work he’d started drinking. And in those days you’d drink and drive too, which is outrageous. He used to ride a motorbike around, and he’d be out of his head all the time having a wonderful time! Adelaide then was like a big country town and you got away with murder. The other thing about Adelaide too was the politics at the time, a guy called Don Dunstan was the premier, and he signed off the Adelaide Festival of Arts, which promoted music and the arts in general, and because of that it made Adelaide a good place to start a band. The whole city was geared up to creative people. And that’s part of the reason Bon came to Adelaide at the time, rather than Sydney or Melbourne – it was a better place to be to practice, to get his stuff together. And to that avail, Hamish first hired a rehearsal room in the city, and eventually for Fraternity, he hired a farm out in the Adelaide Hills called Hemmings Farm, and they all stayed out there for weeks. They rehearsed eight hours a day. They were very intense about their rehearsal. The whole band worked hard, play hard.
Did Bon have a special something back then, an x-factor that set him apart from the other guys?
I think the whole difference between him and Fraternity, they were pretty serious about everything. They were very artistic. Bon always carried around an exercise book full of lyrics he was writing, and yet Fraternity wouldn’t accept his lyrics, they thought they were a bit rubbishy. They thought he had potential, but they’d rarely accept his lyrics as being complete. They’d say, work on them a bit longer. But as soon as AC/DC saw them they went, magic, that’s for us. It was the difference between the two bands and their attitude.
Did lyrics come easily to him?
Wasn’t so much easy, but he was just used to working with them. Even when he was digging up bags of shit all day, he had the book with him or pencil and paper, and one night he came to my place cos he’d written two whole songs in one day, while he was shovelling shit. And so that’s indicative of his attitude – he never stopped thinking about music. He was determined to be a rock star one day. He knew he had it in him. He always knew he had it in him. But the world made it hard for him. It was hard to make enough money for a start. So he just had to work. Even up until the time he died, several people have told me he rarely had more than $100 a week from AC/DC, they just paid him a wage and that was it. So he never saw any of the fruits of his labours.
What was Bon like offstage?
He had a lot of the hippie ethics of the time, which was different from rock’n’roll ethics. He’d read, he’d think about religion and philosophy and he’d sit around and talk with anybody. He wasn’t quite the intellectual but he wasn’t really stupid either. He was quite intelligent and bright to talk to, and you could talk about serious things. It’s just that he had this burning [desire] to get out of the mundane life and be what he eventually became. But I think he was just held back by Adelaide being a little bit staid. So he had to get out eventually with AC/DC.
What was his relationship with Malcolm and Angus like?
I think the main thing he liked about AC/DC was Angus, he was just knocked out by Angus. No one had seen a guitar player like Angus, he was all over the place. As compared to the guitarist with Fraternity, Mick Jurd, who was probably the better guitar player, but Mick would just stand there and not do anything. There was no showmanship. And Bon was really looking for that sense of showmanship, the theatre to go with it. And so AC/DC gave him the opportunity to go a bit crazy and let that side of his personality reign a little bit.
Do you think he was friends with Malcolm and Angus? That their friendship extended beyond the professional relationship?
At least for a while I’m pretty sure it did. Only in that they were all totally focused on being successful eventually. And again, it’s just rare to find people that dedicated. They had huge respect for each other.
**The rumour is that just prior to his death, Bon was looking to quit the band. Do you think there’s any truth to that? **
Well, you’ve got to put that in context. I don’t think he was ready to give up the band, but he was thinking about having children and maybe getting back with his wife, Irene. I think he was realising what an empty life it was. He had a great sex life, he couldn’t get away from women who wanted to bed him, but he was finding all of that a bit empty. And he did talk to me about that, saying eventually he wanted to come back and have kids and settle down, but he was happy to kick on doing what he was doing with AC/DC. He wasn’t unhappy with it. He wasn’t feeling suicidal or depressed or anything, it was just another thing to think about.
How did you see Bon change over the four or five years you were close?
He only changed in that he got more and more focused. And tired of waiting for success. He knew he was ready. You ask almost anybody in the music game – what’s the worst thing? They’ll all say the waiting.
Where were you when you heard of Bon’s passing?
I was working in a piano bar in Alice Springs, which is the very centre of Australia. I was in a room down by the Todd River, the Riverside Hotel, and I was playing to a room with about 50 people in it, including a few Aborigines and a couple of cops. Alice Springs was like the wild west of Australia 100 years ago, it was Cowboys and Aborigines. I’d just started playing when I got a phone call from Vince Lovegrove to let me know Bon had died, and I was pretty upset. I went to the microphone and told the people there what had happened and that I didn’t feel like playing anymore, and I got up and walked outside, and just about the whole room came with me. And we all walked down to the banks of the River Todd, and everyone grabbed a few drinks and cigarettes. And the strange thing was, usually the Aborigines and police were at war with each other in Alice Springs, but this time the police came up to me and said, “Listen, this is horrible, we’re really upset, so we’ll make an exception tonight and forget all the rules, and you guys just drink and smoke dope, whatever you like, we’re not going to arrest you.” That was very unusual for Alice Springs. It just showed Bon’s popularity, that I mentioned his name and everyone knew who I was talking about. And both sides of the law, the outlaws and the police, all came and we had a wake on the banks of the river in the middle of Australia.
What was it about Bon that had that impact?
I think his voice, he just had an incredible voice. He had a lot of soul in his voice, and I think soul is an essential part of the best rock’n’rollers. He just had this warmth and feeling to his voice that other people didn’t have. That combined with the impish sense of humour, which hadn’t been seen before, made him totally unique.
You mentioned that women found him attractive – can you share an anecdote about his encounters with women?
It was just constant. You’d walk down the street and women would rush up to him and start talking. He was like a magnet for women. And because of that he got in trouble with the guys all the time. They’d always get jealous and start to pick fights with him. And he tried to avoid a fight, but if he had to do it he was quite willing to do it. He didn’t go looking for trouble, but he was capable of looking after himself if he had to.