Before she died in December 2016, Bon Scott's great love Silver Smith sent me two pieces of writing which give tremendous insight into both Bon Scott's private world and the dynamic he had with other members of AC/DC. She never wrote anything else. This is the second part. The first part can be read here. Published with kind permission of her son, Sebastian.
I’d spent a decade around musicians and bands in all stages of development, in Australia, the United States and London, from raw beginnings and failures to the ultra successful. There was a common thread with all these people: their taste was usually wide and often very different from their own style; and there was always interest and excitement in new changes, new albums by their contemporaries, plus historic blues, bluegrass, country, R&B, etc. We’d sit around for hours on the floor drinking tea, smoking dope, occasionally snorting [heroin] and enjoying hearing something for the first time, discussing and dissecting. No wonder Bon came to [my flat at] Gloucester Road in London as often as he could. He must have been starving for music.
He and I both had very similar tastes and musical backgrounds. We loved distinctive singers of any style, beautiful harmonies, and of course songs from the radio in our youth and childhood. We had a lot of fun trying to outdo each other with remembering lyrics to Johnny Horton, Everly Brothers, Gene Pitney and Hank Williams.
According to Bon, in the band no one was allowed to play or listen to anything but AC/DC although Angus Young had some Chuck Berry tapes. I had never come across this before. There was an atmosphere of AC/DC versus the rest of the world, and they were suspicious of everyone including press, other bands, music business people, and seemingly anyone who wasn’t from the western suburbs of Sydney. Apart from Angus’s stage uniform, they had no interest in style or fashion, sticking to denim and snot, pretty much, and I was amazed to find out later the band had its origins in glam rock, as per David Bowie and Marc Bolan.
I had been away from Australia for three years at this point and had no idea how successful AC/DC were as well as no idea of who the new bands were in Australia. Because of this, I made a terrible faux pas the very first time I met them. Bon and I were picked up in a small van going somewhere on AC/DC business. They were obviously not expecting me to be with Bon, and the atmosphere was chilly. No one spoke. No introductions were made, and there was an odour of eau de B.O. in the back of the dark grotty van. Capital Radio (the only station in London that played rock at that time) was coming through the speakers and was broadcasting a new, never-played-before single.
I had a good ear for picking commercial hits even if they weren’t my style, recognising a good hook and singalong chorus, and this one had it all, as well as a strong link to the English obsession with cricket and really clean production. So attempting to break through the ice I said, “Wow! That’s clever. Straight to number one!” or something similar, and the temperature plunged another 20 degrees. It was AC/DC’s arch enemy Sherbet, who I had never heard of. I had no idea what crime I had committed. Bon just gave me a look to indicate, “I’ll tell you later.” I was bewildered as to why on earth Bon would think riding in the van was a good way for me to meet them. They didn’t seem to enjoy it any more than I did.
In their company I always felt really uncomfortable, as though I’d landed on another planet. They were all very young except for Bon, and had a very juvenile ‘use them and abuse them’ attitude to female fans. The only literature they read were comics and ‘stick books’. They were never overtly rude or unkind to me, and in fact on a few occasions when things got a bit out of hand (overly excited drunken fans and lack of security) Malcolm Young and Angus Young were both fiercely gallant and protective of me. I came to realise to my surprise that, despite their misgivings about me, I was considered part of their ‘gang’ – at least at that particular moment.
I never intruded on the band, made a point of staying out of the way, and after my Sherbet faux pas never ever voiced an opinion on anything. I’m guessing here, but the number of AC/DC gigs over the years I went to was less than a dozen. I was always inspired seeing them. The energy they generated and expended was ridiculous; the audience totally captivated. In their heyday AC/DC were at the top of the game when it came to live performance.
Offstage, the atmosphere around Malcolm and Angus was always tense, no one wanting to get on their wrong side. I never heard them laugh properly, although they had sneering down to a fine art. Mark Evans was clean and fresh, a nice boy, and Phil Rudd was okay when not directly in Malcolm’s or Angus’s presence. Their manager, Michael Browning, was an older version of the Youngs in manner. He seemed to take an instant dislike to me, which persisted even after it became obvious that his sister Coral and I were becoming good friends and got on like the proverbial house on fire.
On tour Malcolm and Angus usually stayed in their rooms, playing guitar, and had no interest in what was outside, no matter what city in the world they were in. Bon went to bookshops, markets and art galleries, buying the dozens of postcards he sent to people. He was the most prolific letter writer I’ve ever come across, even surpassing my mother, the family chronicler.
On one Australian tour the last gig was Perth, and we were leaving the following night to return to England. I went to the gig with Isa to take care of her and protect her from the young girl fans and from her own naivete. She loved every second of it. Bon didn’t come back to the hotel; not a surprise as he had a lot of catching up to do, and at breakfast the next morning there was only Phil around. He said he was going sailing on the Perth River and asked if I wanted to come. We hired a little idiot-proof catamaran. It was a real fun day and a contrast to the normal routine. Phil was always more laidback and easygoing than the Youngs.
Both being completely amateur sailors, we made mistakes, got drenched a few times, laughed a lot, got sunburnt, and went back to the hotel thinking we still had three hours before the flight to a cold, cold London. The band and Browning were in the lobby scowling when we arrived – there’d been a cock-up about the time. Bon had packed for me and kept out a change of clothes, but it was a horrible long-haul flight back. I didn’t have anything with me I would normally take on a 28-hour flight into winter and my skin and hair were caked in salt. Phil had to wear his sailing clothes. Bon was fine, but the Youngs were really angry with me and also with Phil.
Apparently, to their way of thinking, we had committed some terrible breach of their etiquette by spending the day together. This was all so weird. To rub more salt into the wound, when we got to the airport we had to sit around for three hours before the flight. No one spoke to Bon, Phil or me for the entire flight or on arrival in London. This was the power of the Youngs.
A year or so down the track when they were touring America relentlessly (one day off a fortnight if they were lucky) Bon still did all the press on his own, and Phil was still doing all the driving. Malcolm and Angus were too insular to do any of the publicity and Bon was a natural. Phil had reached exhaustion point. Bon, who normally kept his head down in the band and did what he was told, was upset and worried about Phil, and really angry that no one else seemed to care about it. But he didn’t speak up. They were definitely the most success-driven band that I’ve ever come across.
In the early days of their conquest of Britain and Europe, Michael Browning and his wife Julie rented a cottage in Mayfair, entertained [Australian TV personality] Molly Meldrum, and flew back and forth on Concorde to the States. The boys were on 50 pounds a week (which didn’t even cover Bon’s Scotch bill) and the rest of the band lived in dreary houses in Barnes and then Fulham. Michael’s sister Coral had been a music publicist and artist manager in London for quite a few years, and her opinion was well respected by the journos from Melody Maker, NME and Sounds, the weekly rock rags. She only represented artists and bands she liked and believed in, and had a lot of integrity. In the opinion of people who were around back then she was a huge influence on AC/DC’s early success, because of her hard work and reputation with the press. She was on a shitty wage, too, and had dropped her other artists to help her brother Michael. He had no contacts and a brusque, rude manner, and she had the respect of everyone in the business.
Bon, Coral and I got on really well. She was sophisticated, smart, and more importantly, our age. Like others along the band’s road to success, she was dumped unceremoniously by AC/DC with no respect or recognition for the enormous part she had played in breaking the band in Britain and Europe.
BON: THE LAST HIGHWAY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BON SCOTT AND AC/DC'S BACK IN BLACK is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia, FNAC and hundreds of other retailers around the world.
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.