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 first story. Published with kind permission of her son, Sebastian.
Despite usually being the person most written off at night, Bon would get up the next day, very sparky. As he would have said, ‘Shit, shower, shave and shampoo’, then it was on the road. He would pack and be the first to appear downstairs while on tour. While waiting for everyone else he’d start working. At home he would pick up one of his notebooks, and think of hooks, and then verses. They were clever (he admired Steely Dan) but knew he would have to cut out any social, political or emotional content. You don’t fuck with the formula. Often he’d leave something in anyway knowing it would get cut in the studio.
His method was to play with phrases, and he knew I was articulate and had a wide vocabulary so he’d ask me for suggestions, like "What’s another word for such-and-such?" I introduced him to Roget’s Thesaurus for on the road, and bought him books of proverbs, widely known myths, legends, etc. A lot of the phrases in songs originated in the letters he wrote. The one that starts ‘She was a fast machine/She kept her motor clean’ [a song never credited to Bon, ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’] was written a long, long time before it was produced. The ‘American thighs’ bit was there for the big market they were about to try and crack. Hey, it’s not ‘Layla’, or ‘Wild Horses’ or ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’, but Bon was Bon, not Dylan, Clapton or the Glimmer Twins.
Bon was a good quick reader, and he was delighted to discover there were better books around than the ones found in airports and newsagents. He loved Anaïs Nin, and the Claudine stories, Chéri and The Last of Chéri, but found the later works of Colette a bit too intellectual and introspective. He liked Doris Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor, and The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five. He especially liked Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series for reading on the road because they would last for a while, and thought Samuel Pepys’s diary was a hoot. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness made an impression. ‘That’s a lot of power in such a little book,’ he’d say. I scavenged in secondhand shops for books by American crime writers like Ross Macdonald, which he could take and swap on the road.
I believe reading became his escape from the severe cultural restrictions placed on him by his role and his image in AC/DC and the musical and social rules of the Youngs. He had to have been missing the stimulation and company of his friends of the decade before [in The Valentines and Fraternity], the divine madness of ‘Uncle’ [John Ayers], the sanity of Bruce Howe, the social and political awareness of Vince Lovegrove, the sharp brain and cynicism of John Freeman. The large circle we both came from in Adelaide held some very amazing and talented people. No wonder he dived headfirst into the little ‘salon’ in the attic at Gloucester Road.
At the time we got together in London, I had been delving into comparative religions, western esoteric traditions, alchemy, Enochian Squares, the Golden Dawn and their famous fallouts and offshoots. I had silver jewellery made for us engraved with symbols I’d researched hoping to keep Bon safe and lucky. His was pulled from his neck one night when he had Angus Young on his shoulders and couldn’t do anything to get it back. I’ve seen it in a few published photographs.
Bon added bookshops to the interesting places to visit in strange countries and cities, and brought back some wonderful finds. He once spent the whole afternoon talking to a middle-aged gay couple that owned a women’s bookshop in San Francisco and gave them backstage passes to the gig that night. They liked him so much they went to the gig, and called in on him backstage with a present for his girl, a wonderful biography of Colette with lots of photos of her childhood and travelling-theatre period.
Bon’s notebooks disappeared within 48 hours of his death, along with his few possessions, a lot of mine that were on loan, and a few things loaned by our friends. He’d just moved to the very first flat of his own a few weeks before he died, and only had a suitcase. I was living in the tiniest attic of all, saving to buy a place, and had a lot of things packed up in three big trunks, which were covered in cushions and, along with a bed on the floor, provided the seating. So I loaned him some nice things along with a lot of precious LPs he wanted to tape so he could be comfortable while he was getting settled. Poof! All gone, as if by magic. I believe it’s easy to see in a couple of the albums released after his death what lyrics were his and what were not.
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.