AC/DC – the true adventures of Bon Scott

The inside story on AC/DC's "hippy seer" frontman

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Given Scott’s reputation, it’s notable that nobody seems to have a bad word to say about him. “He was a fantastic guy, a real human, so different to what people thought,” acknowledges Peter Clack, one of AC/DC’s early drummers. “He was honest, sincere, unpretentious, no-bullshit, hard-working.” John Bisset, who knew Scott in the early 1970s, agrees: “He was spiritually mature. I don’t know where it came from, maybe the family.” Meanwhile, Murray Gracie – guitarist in Scott’s first band, The Spektors – remembers Scott as “a very respectful son. His parents came to a lot of shows, and we’d rehearse at their house.”

Ronald Scott was born in Scotland in 1946. The family moved to Melbourne in 1952, before settling in Fremantle, on the opposite coast. The Spektors were formed in nearby Perth in 1964. At first, Scott played drums, but began alternating singing duties with frontman John Collins. “We were two bands in one,” explains Gracie. “We had Bon, with his cheeky grin and missing teeth, who would sing the non-chart stuff – Them, The Pretty Things, the Stones – while John was into The Hollies and Bee Gees. Bon could occupy a stage and make the words mean something. He’d do these slow numbers and the girls would go crazy.”

Gracie says Scott was “just another teenage kid”, but notes he once spent time in a youth detention centre. “It was for ‘carnal knowledge’,” confirms Gracie. “Underage sex. That doesn’t even exist anymore. Bon had front, but he wasn’t an aggressive tearaway. Alcohol is what got to Bon. Even then, he’d get extremely drunk. We played surf clubs and when it was time to play we’d find Bon lying flat, asleep on the beach. We’d cart him inside and prop him in the corner with a mic. He couldn’t play drums but he could sing.”

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One of Scott’s heroes was Stevie Wright, singer with Australia’s biggest band The Easybeats. “Bon modelled himself on Stevie,” says Michael Browning, who later managed AC/DC. When The Easybeats played Perth in 1966, Scott met their guitarist, George Young – another Scottish émigré and the eldest of three brothers. “Bon became friendly with George and they knocked about,” says Gracie. “When The Easybeats went back east, I suspect George and Bon were still in contact.”

In 1966, The Spektors became The Valentines, a local supergroup formed from three Perth bands. Although they covered Soft Machine (“Love Makes Sweet Music”) and the Small Faces (“I Can’t Dance With You”), they also performed an excruciating version of “Nick Nack Paddy Whack” and did a jingle for Coca-Cola. Scott sang alongside Vince Lovegrove, crooning several songs (“She Said” and “My Old Man’s A Groovy Old Man”) written by George Young and Harry Vanda. “When he sang, Bon took off into charisma-land,” wrote Lovegrove. “His eyes would twinkle, his brows would slightly raise, his lips would purse into an impish grin, his swagger demanding attention.”

The Valentines split in 1970 and Scott took “a 180-degree turn” according to Michael Browning. He joined Fraternity – a group who were inspired variously by The Band and Vanilla Fudge. “They moved to the Adelaide Hills soon after he joined,” says keyboardist John Bisset. “Their lifestyle was a bit commune-like, but they drank too much to qualify as hippies.”

Bisset claims to have been surprised when Scott, a former pop singer, joined Fraternity. “It came out the blue,” he admits. “But Bon was able to fit in because he made himself easy to fit in. He wasn’t pushy or arrogant.” Peter Head – pianist with another Adelaide group, Headband – recalls: “Fraternity were intense. They’d argue for hours over one chord. Bon was more easygoing. He would play recorder and sing incredibly well.”

“We were drinkers,” says Bisset. “We got into marijuana, mescaline and mushrooms, but alcohol was the mainstay. We’d arrive in a town and go to the pub. The locals wouldn’t like the look of us. But we’d get as pissed as rats and clean up on the pool table, and that tended to win them over.” On one occasion, Scott impressed the locals by leaping off a pier into a swarm of jellyfish. “His nickname was Road Test Ronny, as whenever a new drug came out he was ready to try it,” says Head. “Once, I played with him at a nearby jail. Most of the guys were in for drugs, mostly marijuana, and Bon seemed to know all of them.”

Scott’s wild lifestyle, however, never appeared to impede his performance. “He drank heaps,” agrees Bisset. “He drank until he could barely stand. But he always remained the same person.”

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In May 1972, shortly after Scott married Irene Thornton, Fraternity took their wives, roadies and a dog to London in a bid to break Europe. “We had an awful time,” recalls Bisset. “There were 17 people in one house. We couldn’t drink because we didn’t have any money. Bon made friends with people in London, who plied him with alcohol.” Fraternity became Fang – playing one show in support of Brian Johnson’s Geordie – before returning to Adelaide where, in 1974, they broke up. For the first time in a decade, Bon Scott was without a band.

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