Bon Scott died in London in 1980 aged 33 in circumstances that have never really been adequately explained and for three years I spent writing a book about him, Bon: The Last Highway, released this November.
One of the striking qualities of almost every story to do with Bon is how unreliable they are, even more so when they came from his own mouth. Getting to the truth of the matter – the duty of any biographer – is a tough proposition.
Ever the larrikin and a prodigious drinker, Bon loved to spin a yarn and one of the most enduring of his tall tales was the time in Phoenix, Arizona, he reputedly missed a flight to Texas after encountering a Mexican woman at the airport bar. Over the years in various books the incident has been put as happening in either 1977 or 1979.
As Bon recalled in an anecdote quoted in Clinton Walker’s 1994 biography Highway To Hell and Martin Huxley’s 2005 biography AC/DC: The World’s Heaviest Rock, ‘We’d been drinking in the airport bar for about ten minutes when I says [sic], “Don’t you think it’s time we caught our plane?” And she says, “What do you mean, our plane? I’m staying here.” I runs back and the fuckin’ flight’s gone. Anyway she takes me to this black bar and she’s Mexican – and I starts drinkin’ and playin’ pool. I had a good night, beatin’ every bastard.
‘After about two hours playin’ this big-titted black chick, and beatin’ her too, I happen to look and the bar is goin’, “Grrr.” I think, “Uh oh, Bon”, I gives [sic] her another game and lose nine to one. “Anyone else want to beat me?” I says. So I escapes with me life, only barely – and I made it to the gig in Austin.’
The group’s lead guitarist, Angus Young, elaborated: ‘We were going from California to Austin, Texas, and we stopped off at Phoenix for fuel. We were just taking off again when someone says, “Where’s Bon?” He’d followed this bird off the plane and we reckoned he’d drunk so much he wouldn’t even know which country he was headed for.’
But in March 1980, with Angus recounting the story again to Britain’s Sounds magazine just weeks after Bon’s death, Phoenix suddenly became Detroit and Bon had ended up in a ‘black ghetto’.
‘I remember he missed a plane just once in Detroit when he just followed a girl that he’d met off the plane and ended up in some black ghetto, but that was typical of him, that was something we could laugh at. And he still got there the next day in time for the show.’
‘He missed a plane just once in Detroit.'
– Angus Young
The late Mark Putterford had another take in his 1992 biography AC/DC: Shock To The System: ‘Bon followed an alluring dark-skinned damsel… [and] ended up in some black bar beating all the locals at pool, only escaping with his life when he deliberately turned into the worst pool-shooter in the West.’
By 1995, Angus had changed his story yet again, Detroit becoming Los Angeles.
‘We were supposed to play in Phoenix the night before,’ he told Texan journalist Michael Corcoran, ‘but Bon followed a girl off the plane in LA and he missed the flight.’
What’s it going to be? Which airport exactly? Did it even happen at all?
It’s a very good example of how, when it comes to stories regarding our folk heroes, dead or otherwise, there are plenty of myths or recycled stories that are barely half-truths if not possible fabrications, all seemingly designed to buttress a legend.
The Phoenix incident may or may not have happened. But when it comes to stories about Bon Scott, especially, truth can be an elastic concept.
BON: THE LAST HIGHWAY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BON SCOTT AND AC/DC'S BACK IN BLACK is available to preorder now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and hundreds of other retailers. Just click the title above (in red) to preorder and save on the retail price.
Jesse Fink is the author of Bon: The Last Highway: The Untold Story of Bon Scott and AC/DC's Back In Black and The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC. For more information about Bon, click HERE or click the book covers below to be directed to editions in your preferred territory and language.