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.
Margaret ‘Silver’ Smith was one of the great loves of Bon Scott, the inspiration for many of his best songs, including ‘Gimme A Bullet’ and ‘Gone Shootin’’ off AC/DC’s 1978 masterpiece, Powerage.
They lived together in Australia and England. They travelled together on the road in the United States. She died in a hospice in Jamestown, South Australia, on 12 December 2016.
Bon, separated from his wife Irene Thornton in 1974, had fallen hard for Silver, reputedly spraying her name in silver paint at the headquarters of AC/DC’s Australian record company, Albert Productions, and mentioning her in one letter from the road in 1977: ‘I haven’t seen my lady for four months… love will prevail.’
But it didn’t. A mutually agreed 12-month break in their relationship in early 1978 became permanent, on Silver’s wishes.
She saw Bon alone only once or twice in the last year of his life, though importantly he phoned her to invite her out on the evening prior to his mysterious death in London on 19 February 1980. She claims Bon had finished writing the lyrics to Back In Black and wanted to celebrate.
According to her, she declined his invitation. By then she’d made it very clear there was no future for them as a couple.
Before Silver’s death, she spoke to me for Bon: The Last Highway: The Untold Story of Bon Scott and AC/DC’s Back In Black. These were her last recorded audio interviews, among only a few she ever gave during her life, giving AC/DC fans a rare insight into her passionate but tumultuous relationship with Australia’s greatest rock legend. If anyone was Bon's true muse it was Silver Smith. An abridged version of this interview was published in the December 2017 edition of Classic Rock.
On her beginnings:
I don’t know who my biological father was and knew nothing about my biological mother until about 15 years ago. I have had four names, all of them legal, one I didn’t know about until relatively recently. I have been legally ‘Silver Smith’ for four and a half decades. I think of my family as the people who raised me.
I’ve been alone for 30 years. The Bon adventure was one too far for me. I got scared. I buried myself in work.
On Bon’s appetite for drugs:
Before [he joined] AC/DC in Adelaide in 1974, Bon was known to take anything. He was a drug pig. He and ‘Uncle’ [Fraternity harmonica player John Ayers] were notorious back in the day when there was a [drug] drought on for wheedling and badgering everyone; I can vouch for that. They both experimented with crazy things like datura while broke in London. Of course I didn’t see that, but my sources for that are ones I would rely on. I loved Uncle; he was a madman but an irresistible character.
On claims made in book publicity that Live Wire author Mary Renshaw was Bon’s ‘soulmate’:
As far as I know I never met Mary Renshaw. I met [Bon’s ex-wife] Irene Thornton once briefly as she was my friend Shane Marshall’s beautiful cousin and Irene had just arrived back from England. She wore gorgeous clothes. The ‘soulmate’ label was a surprise. Mary was an old friend [of Bon’s] and he had quite a few friends like that. I thought of her in the same category. Bon wrote to lots of people regularly, so I’m familiar with his friendship with Darce and Gabby [Renshaw’s co-writers John and Gabby D’Arcy] of whom he was very fond, but not Mary. Just Maria Short from Perth. He also wrote to Judy King.
On her late husband Graeme Smith:
A good Scotsman to the end, he died of liver failure. He was okay, one of the good guys, but didn’t put himself out all that much.
On Irene Thornton:
We girls were all in awe of her looks, style, and fabulous Carnaby Street/Kings Road clothes. It was months after my one-time dalliance with Bon [in Adelaide] and before she met him. The sex was great, but the rest of the adventure was a disaster, so it only happened once. Then, later, I heard Bon and Irene married during the flurry of marriages in Fraternity, because Hamish Henry, their manager, was only paying for wives to go to England, not girlfriends. I figured he was a lucky guy.
I don’t remember Bon and Irene visiting Graeme and I at the Mount Lofty cottage as she described in her book [My Bon Scott], but it may have happened. We got drop-in visitors up there all the time, but I don’t remember now who most of them were unless there was a particular reason for remembering. She may well have visited us.
City hippies often dropped in on hills hippies on the weekends in good weather, as evidenced by the scene at Fraternity’s Aldgate house, and Graeme and I had our share. No telephones. [Valentines lead singer] Vince Lovegrove had swapped houses with us, and his friend, the artist Vytas Serelis, who probably knew Bon well, had a cottage on the next driveway. We would have offered Bon and Irene tea and a smoke if we had some and probably played a new album.
On Irene’s claim she met Silver at a rock festival:
Overactive imagination, definitely. It was a regret of mine that I missed all the outdoor hippie rock festivals in Adelaide, as I was usually called into the kitchen at the Travelodge – the best hotel in Adelaide at the time – on those weekends. My savings plan for my great adventure [overseas] was to nearly always have part-time work on top of full-time clerical work. No equal pay back then.
On Bon’s relationship with Irene:
Bon was big on telling people how much he owed Irene for taking him in after his motorcycle accident [in 1974] although they weren’t together any more, and how he couldn’t wait to be able to help her out. She was pregnant and struggling. But he didn’t, did he? Instead of showing off by showing up in a limo with expensive booze to visit people who were doing it hard, he could have given her the money. I would have been pissed off [with him] if I were her.
On Bon’s 1975 heroin overdose in Melbourne:
He told me very early on how close he had gone to fucking up over the [Judy] King incident, and that he had made a promise to the Youngs [not to do drugs]. If anything, I was stricter [with him] than the Youngs, because he was a total embarrassment even when he overdid the ‘smoko’ with alcohol at inappropriate times, and I was the one who would have to get him home and up five flights of stairs. Not to mention that this behaviour was considered really tacky in London. To the best of my knowledge, Bon kept faith with his promise to the Youngs.
‘It was the what-the-fuck impulse things that did the real damage [to our relationship]... the babysitting stuff was becoming intolerable.'
– Silver on Bon
On hooking up with Bon after AC/DC’s first London gig at the Red Cow in Hammersmith, 1976:
I used to go past [the Red Cow] on the bus to my work agency in Hammersmith. It was such a lonely, homely building; just a stone cube. Stuck out like a sore thumb because there were no other buildings on that side of the road.
How different my life would have been if I had not been home, not answered the phone, not gone to the Red Cow that night. At that time, I was truly happy, contented for the first time in my life, had lovely friends, was learning some wonderful things, and it had been that way for a couple of years. I felt like I was finally home. And then it all went to shit.
On the difficulty of having a relationship with Bon:
It was the what-the-fuck impulse things that did the real damage. On the second trip [home] to Australia [from England in 1978], while we were staying in Coogee, Sydney, two things happened like that, and I knew I could no longer be with this man, couldn’t live like this any more, and the babysitting stuff was becoming intolerable and dangerous. I wanted to break up then, but settled for a 12-month separation, where I could go back to London and think seriously about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and then make a decision.
On drugs being involved in Bon’s death:
Bon knew AC/DC was his last shot at making it, and he was really conscientious after his OD with the King girl in Melbourne. He told me straight away about it; he did smoke hash when he had downtime, and drank horribly, but I don’t know of any pills. I was personally really tough on him with smoko even, as he had really embarrassed me by eating a huge piece of hash at a ridiculously inappropriate time very early on in London.
‘Bon doing smack would be anyone's worst nightmare... but with Bon I guess anything's possible.'
– Silver on Bon
On Bon using heroin:
I would be really surprised if you find anyone credible who will swear they saw Bon take heroin during his London-based years with AC/DC. But with Bon I guess anything’s possible. He had a really bad reputation for taking anything and to extreme excess back in Adelaide with Fraternity. But he did take the heroin embargo from the Youngs after Judy King really seriously, and did not want to get fired.
Given what it was like to have to look after him when he was comatose on Scotch, I was very glad there was an embargo. Bon doing smack would be anyone’s worst nightmare and I personally wouldn’t have had anything to do with him [if he had used it].
On Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards visiting her at her flat:
We had a grizzle together about the parlous state of the legal system at the time, and the nasty attitude of the plainclothes police in Britain and they way they try to humiliate you.
On rock biographer Mick Wall who claimed he’d been to Silver’s apartment in London and seen Bon snort either cocaine or heroin:
Mick Wall has never been to my place. I wasn’t living with Bon in 1979.
On former AC/DC bass player Mark Evans:
He was very young, but was definitely the smartest in the band, a lot more aware of what was going on in the rest of the world.
On former AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd:
Probably the last time he was home [in Australia from touring in America], Bon told me Phil was really freaking; exhausted from all the driving. I’ve read Phil was on coke, but I don’t think so. Bon would have mentioned it. Bon was really pissed off that nothing was being done to help Phil; that [the Youngs] just kept getting the whip out. But Bon didn’t speak up. I was so sad when Phil had that recent [legal] trouble; it seemed so unfair. I had the urge to write him a letter, but what could I have said or done after nearly four decades?
It was a couple of months after that American tour that Phil and I had a day out on a catamaran that we got in trouble for [with the Youngs]. It was a lovely silly happy day and we laughed like drains, and that’s how I choose to remember him. Not looking so lost and hunted on the telly.
On Michael Browning’s book Dog Eat Dog and Browning’s portrayal of Silver:
I think [Browning] is still sucking up to the Youngs, after all this time. Maybe he thinks they might pat him on the head and say, ‘Thanks, Michael, for all those grinding tours you organised.’ He never had a conversation with me, never visited my house. [His sister] Coral was very comfortable there – they are chalk and cheese. He never met a single friend of mine, and I only travelled with [the Brownings] twice: once from Perth to London, and once from San Francisco to Sydney. He and his wife [Julie] travelled first class; the rest of us were back in economy. I would never have looked ‘drug fucked’ in public, and rarely in the privacy of my own place.
On Browning’s allegation that Bon had an overdose in Silver’s company in London, 1976:
Bon didn’t OD on heroin in 1976 in London in my company. He told me he had ODed with the very young and troubled Judy King in Melbourne and had nearly died, not long before they came to London; that the band was very angry about it and had banned him from taking all drugs except alcohol, which they were fine with. He smoked a lot of hash, but only when he was away from the band. Because the band was so busy he didn’t know anyone in 1976 in London except a couple of friends of mine and Coral, none of whom were heroin users, so I think it extremely unlikely that he ODed with anyone in London.
On Coral Browning:
Bon was really dependent on Coral. He loved Coral. Until I came along, basically there was just a band. He and Coral got on like a house on fire. And she was very fond of him and she went through all the mail; he used to get ridiculous mail and stuff. Her and I hit it off really well. We spent a lot of time together. We did things together when the band was away. Coral was the only one, apart from Bon, that I really had a relationship with… because of the friendship that I had with her at that time, I can’t see how I wouldn’t have known if something like that [alleged heroin OD] had happened… it doesn’t make sense to me that I wouldn’t have known about it.
‘He would be fine for ages, and then do something really destructive at the worst possible time.'
– Silver on Bon
On her London social circles:
Bon asked me how I knew so many wealthy people. Travelling was still very expensive in the 1970s; luxurious giant planes were often only a third full. So on long-haul flights passengers socialised, swapped stories and passed on addresses of friends to look up, and partied in the bar. Australians were an unknown novelty and were welcome in the world of the ‘beautiful people’ of the ‘70s if they were smart, amusing and attractive, dressed well and had good manners. Sophisticated Europeans didn’t sit around divvying up the bill after a meal; you never saw the bill. Americans and South Americans fought for the right to be able to pay it, proving they were the richest person at the table.
On Bon’s self-destructiveness:
He would be fine for ages, and then do something really destructive at the worst possible time, with no explanation, and really make things difficult for other people, without giving them a single thought. Consideration of others was not a strong point.
On why she didn’t keep any of Bon’s letters or photos:
Everything I owned disappeared; I’ve had to start again twice… I’ve never been able to find out where it [all] went. The first big loss was in London: three huge trunks. Two modern aluminium trunks. One old wooden, steel-banded trunk, painted midnight blue, with silver stars. Plus a giant wooden fridge crate. These contained all my documentation, books, records, photos, diaries, collections of letters, bibelots and precious things from my family days, my mother’s world-class embroidery, everything I owned up to the age of 29, except for what I had with me. The past completely wiped out. It is still devastating to me. Over the last few decades some photos have been given to me by friends and family. I had some great professional shots that were lost.
I know [Bon Scott biographer] Clinton Walker showed me two photographs he got from [Bon’s mother] Isa Scott, the one that was printed in his book, and there is one with me, Isa and Bon at Perth airport saying goodbye. It was the afternoon of the great salty long-haul flight, and Bon picked my clothes; not me. I looked like crap but I was smiling, which is at least something. I’m wearing a lime green shirt and white jeans.
On where she was when she found out from King’s College Hospital that Bon had died:
I was at home. [Bon’s and my friend] Joe Fury was either there, or arrived just after the call… they didn’t say [Bon] was dead. They asked me to come to the hospital because it was serious. They never give death messages over the phone. They look after you, put you in a nice room with a cup of tea. Joe had worked in hospitals, so he had figured it out, and told me his fears before the doctor came in. I can’t talk about what I thought and felt.
On Bon having or not having a will:
I never heard of there being any wills at any time. Bon wasn’t big on being organised. He knew he owed Irene a big favour, and he talked about helping her with a deposit for a house all the time because she had taken him in after the bike accident [in 1974], but he didn’t do it, did he? I thought he should have done it, not went around to visit her with expensive booze and just talked about it.
On Bon’s parents Chick and Isa after his death in 1980:
I felt protective of Isa. His parents were really happy in their own new unit. They didn’t want a big house, or money. They were happy and proud of what they’d achieved for their family. I could relate to that. Isa just wished that Bon had seen his own success. They were good but naive people, Bon’s parents.
BON: THE LAST HIGHWAY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BON SCOTT AND AC/DC'S BACK IN BLACK is available now.
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.