In Australian rock's golden period of the late 1970s and early '80s, Grahame ‘Yogi’ Harrison was a busy man: working as a sound engineer for legendary local bands Rose Tattoo, Buffalo and, famously in 1977, AC/DC at The Haymarket in Sydney. It's one of the best bootleg recordings of AC/DC from that era.
‘That [gig] was done while we actually took a break from recording Let There Be Rock,’ former AC/DC bass player Mark Evans told me in an interview for my first book on the band, The Youngs. ‘We were in the studio and we went down and we only had to go like 300 yards down the road from [Alberts Studios in] King Street to the gig. It was a great gig.’
In 1978, Harrison would go on to spend quite a bit of time at Alberts with the Tatts, who were produced by George Young and Harry Vanda. Harrison has strong opinions.
‘I am from the politically incorrect department,’ he says. ‘I don’t care who I offend. I simply tell the truth as I remember it.’
His memories of that time are a refreshing counterpoint to the usual AC/DC hagiography. Far from bursting out of the blocks under George’s tutelage, AC/DC’s beginnings were difficult.
‘AC/DC were laughed at in Sydney and left for Melbourne with their tails between their legs. I was good mates with [late AC/DC bass player] Neil Smith & knew [former AC/DC drummer] Noel Taylor as well. Phil Rudd is not one of my favourite people.
‘[Phil] knew that [Angus Young's] bigger brother ran the band and his bigger brother actually asked [Angus] to join the band. Angus wasn’t the original choice [for guitarist]. I think Angus has always had that underlying jealousy. My knowledge of those times is there had been other players before Malcolm [Young] finally gave Angus a shot at the gig. My strongest memory is that Angus was not the original choice for guitar player in the original concept in Malcolm’s head, which may not have even been called AC/DC at that time.’
‘AC/DC were laughed at in Sydney and left for Melbourne with their tails between their legs.' – Grahame Harrison
Harrison says the real reason AC/DC moved to Melbourne from Sydney was that they were ‘fairly a non-entity’ on the city’s live scene.
‘Sydney didn’t want to know, wasn’t interested. AC/DC was a totally confused band at the start. Despite all the affirmations put forward by the Young brothers that, “Oh, we always knew what we were doing, we knew where we were going, right from the start we had a master plan, we weren’t going to deviate from that, blah blah blah”, all they really are is a total extension of The Easybeats.
‘There was nothing really going on [musically], but George insisted on keeping it simple, because the “KISS” principle has always worked in the rock ’n’ roll business… just go for the lowest common denominator and see what you pick up along the way. I don’t think AC/DC really had any kind of an idea there.’
But when Bon came in, all that changed.
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.
Kix from Hagerstown, Maryland, are a band that is rightly spoken of as one of a select few that distilled the AC/DC brand of rock without making the fatal mistake of indulging in pastiche. Their lead guitarist was Brian Forsythe, who now plays in the excellent California-based Rhino Bucket. He saw Bon live on two occasions – including the much-bootlegged Towson concert in Maryland, 1979 – and credits AC/DC for giving Kix inspiration and musical direction.
‘I had the pleasure of seeing Bon Scott twice live,’ he says. ‘The first time was at the Capital Center [in Largo] near Washington, D.C. – the If You Want Blood tour. However, I missed their entire set except for the last song and encore. They were opening for UFO but in my mind they were the bigger deal so I assumed they were headlining with UFO opening and got there late. I was really bummed about that.
‘The second time was at Towson State College in Baltimore around October 1979 right after Highway To Hell came out. Bon was on that night! Before Kix had a record deal we had to play covers in addition to our originals in the clubs. I feel we were partly responsible for making AC/DC so well known in our area. No one knew who they were when we started covering their songs. Everyone thought they were our songs.
‘We found our sound through AC/DC. When we discovered them everything seemed to fall into place musically. It got to the point, right before we got signed [to Atlantic Records], to where we were doing three sets a night, one set of AC/DC, one set of Zeppelin and one set originals. “Riff Raff” was a great opener! I think at one point we were doing the entire Let There Be Rock album. Unfortunately I didn't get to meet them until after Bon died.’
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. Rhino Bucket’s new album is The Last Real Rock N’ Roll.
SCOTT KEMPNER of New York bands The Dictators and The Del-Lords has some great insights and anecdotes about Bon Scott, which you can read in the book when it’s released this November. But I’m going to share here some of his very interesting views about AC/DC: the personality dynamics inside it and its work ethic.
The Dictators played several dates on the road in America with AC/DC between 1977 and 1978, but their association is most significant because they headlined AC/DC on the occasion of the Australian band’s first New York City show: 24 August 1977 at The Palladium (you can listen to the bootleg of AC/DC's set in the YouTube clip below).
‘I first heard AC/DC on the road,’ he recalls. ‘Our late great drummer, Richie Teeter, had cassettes of those first few albums that, at the time, were not released here in the States. It instantly caught my ear. Richie told me who they were, and how the older brother [George Young] of the guitar players had been in The Easybeats, and had co-written the awesome ‘Friday On My Mind’, one of the greatest records of the ’60s.
‘We played with them several times. A few times it was us, AC/DC and Thin Lizzy, and a few bills were with Cheap Trick… over time, as their songs got better, the middle matched the quality and power of the songs that bookended their shows, and they were one of the very greatest rock ’n’ roll bands in the world.
‘Verse, chorus, chorus, solo, hook – lots of hooks – verse, chorus, out! Classic. The sonics might have been more hard rock than pop, but underneath there were the same sharp writing and arranging skills hard at work.’
‘Malcolm Young was the engine [of the band]. It was his basic idea, and he was the one who knew if something was right for the band, or if it wasn’t. One day Angus Young told me, “Ya know, my brother’s really the better guitar player – but it interferes with his drinking!”
‘As for the New York City show, I do not remember having anything but us and our audience having the usual frenzied rock ’n’ roll experience. The place went nuts for us from the opening chord, and it stayed that way (check out rare silent Super-8 footage of Bon and the band filmed on the night in the YouTube clip below).
‘AC/DC were the opener with Michael Stanley Band in the middle. AC/DC did well – I do remember that. They rocked, and the audience was in the mood for exactly that. I remember that after their set, they walked down The Bowery to CBGB, where they proceeded to rock the hell out of that place, too. Yes, the same night!
‘The only New York City show of theirs I ever saw was the one with us, and our audience was a good stylistic fit for them, too. So, that New York City audience at least, loved them. [AC/DC] were, and are, very easy to like. We did not get to socialise much with them outside of the venues. We chatted plenty, though, on show days, as we were in close proximity of each other for several hours a day several days a week, for a few weeks. Very friendly – as you might think. The Dictators were very friendly sorts, as well. We had no attitude. Well, we did, but not towards other musicians.
‘One thing I will always remember about those few weeks we were out together, there was a live review about AC/DC in NME or Sounds, one of those British music papers. In it, there was a quote from Malcolm. He had been asked by the interviewer if he had seen any other good bands while in America. He said, “The only American band we saw that works hard for their money is The Dictators!”
(The actual quote, made to Sounds magazine’s Phil Sutcliffe, was: ‘The Dictators were the only band we saw really working.’)
‘Knowing their work ethic and working class identification, I knew Malcolm meant it as a strong compliment, and that’s how we took it. They wanted us to come open their upcoming Australian tour but instead our label dropped us. Too bad about that one.’
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. Visit THE DICTATORS' official website here.
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.