Bon Scott: The mysterious death of AC/DC’s legendary frontman
Tempering his bright-eyed braggadocio somewhat, he charmed his way into the group’s affections and eventually achieved his aim, joining AC/DC as singer in late September 1974, replacing the glam rockin’ Dave Evans.
AC/DC’s brand new frontman made an immediate impact. Bon Scott sparked the blue touchpaper to fame’n’fortune. He was TNT. He was dynamite.
Bon was only in AC/DC for a little over five years; he died at age 33 on February 19, 1980. Nevertheless, this bare-chested, black-haired, garrulous’n’glowering, lewd’n’lascivious larrikin was justifiably named the greatest rock frontman of all time in a past issude of Classic Rock.
‘Bon had a riveting presence,’ we wrote. ‘He was cocky but he wasn’t conceited. He was vulgar but he wasn’t boorish. He was tough as nails but with a soft white underbelly. He was a hero, an icon, but he was also the guy next door, lying underneath a greasy motorbike with a spanner in his hand.
But don’t just take our word for it. Even today Bon is fondly remembered by many of his peers. “I knew Bon for many, many years,” Jimmy Barnes, former frontman with Oz rockers Cold Chisel, told Classic Rock. “He was a good mate of mine. When I was about 15 I used to go and see him in Fraternity [one of Bon’s pre-AC/DC outfits], who were a great rock’n’roll band. Then he had that motorbike accident that took him off the scene for a while. And when he recovered he went off to join AC/DC. I then took his place in Fraternity – which was one of the sharpest learning curves of my life. I owe a lot to Bon.
“What a lot of people don’t realise,” Barnes adds, “is that he was an R&B singer. His favourite singer was Sam Moore [of Sam & Dave]; their tones were very similar. To me, Bon brought something to AC/DC that they’ve lacked since his death – that tongue-in-cheek humour. You could never tell whether he was laughing with you, or at you. The chemistry between him and the Young brothers [guitarists Angus and Malcolm] was as good as Keith Richards and Mick Jagger… anyone, y’know? They were as menacing and as funny as anything I ever saw. And I used to see it regularly in small clubs in Australia.”
Angry Anderson, the aggressive, shaven-headed singer with Australia’s legendary Rose Tattoo, endorses Barnes’s comments: “Bon was a gypsy, a vagabond, a buccaneer, a bad boy and a rock’n’roll outlaw. He was truly a street poet, documenting in lyric and performance all that he thought, felt and cared about life. He was the only other singer I ever invited to sing with the Tatts – whenever he felt like it.”
This writer first met Bon Scott in May 1976. Sounds music weekly had taken the unprecedented step of sponsoring a fully-fledged British tour by an obscure band called AC/DC. The Down Under-based group’s UK schedule was a 19-dater that kicked off on June 11, ’76 at Glasgow City Hall, and climaxed at London’s Lyceum Ballroom (nowadays better known for housing the stage production of Disney’s The Lion King) on July 7. It was very a bold move for Sounds to lend its support to such an unknown band.
“I remember being invited by Atlantic [then AC/DC’s record label] to see a film – they weren’t called videos then – of Angus and friends taken in Australia,” remembers Alan Lewis, who was Editor of Sounds at the time. “And I was so blown away that it seemed like a no-brainer – that term wasn’t around then either! – to get behind them.”
Before the so-called Sounds-AC/DC ‘Lock Up Your Daughters Summer Tour’ started, I was invited to a low-key club gig the band had arranged at the Retford Porterhouse, just outside Nottingham. Prior to that show, I had also been to see AC/DC at London’s Marquee (in those days in Wardour Street). ‘If your face doesn’t break out into an epidemic of smiles during the opening bars of the band’s set, you must be a manic depressive,’ ran the enthusiastic report.
Returning home from Retford in the back of AC/DC’s van, my abiding memory is of a booze-sodden Bon Scott falling asleep on the rickety seat alongside me, cradling an empty brandy bottle lovingly in his arms.
By the time we got back to AC/DC’s rented house in Barnes, west London, as dawn was breaking, Bon was rousing from his stupor; his cheeky flashing eyes were beginning to become alive and alert once more.
But fewer than four years later, sozzled out of his brain while on board an entirely different vehicle, Bon would fall asleep and never wake up again.
Almost 25 years after Bon Scott’s death, there are still many unexplained events that surround it.
The story that everyone knows is this: after spending Christmas 1979 in Australia, Bon was in London in the New Year, working up songs for the next AC/DC studio album, the follow-up to Highway To Hell. He was living in a flat in Ashley Court, Victoria, London, with his new Japanese girlfriend, Anna Baba. Also in the frame was Bon’s former girlfriend, Australian Margaret ‘Silver’ Smith, a renowned heroin user and dealer who was a familiar figure in London’s then thriving rock’n’roll scene.
Author Clinton Walker relates the following story in his biography Highway To Hell: The Life & Times Of AC/DC Legend Bon Scott:
‘On Monday evening, February 18, 1980, Bon phoned Silver Smith to invite her along to see a band at Dingwalls in Camden, north London. Silver declined, but said she had a friend – Alistair (sometimes spelled Alasdair) Kinnear – who would be delighted to accompany him. In the end, Bon and Kinnear ended up at the Music Machine, a venue just down the road from Dingwalls at the bottom end of Camden High Street, near Mornington Crescent Tube station.’