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.
38 Special’s ‘Caught Up in You’ (1982) is one of my all-time favourite songs and videos. The first time I heard it, the first time I saw the clip, I thought it was the perfect good-time American rock-pop song and I don't feel any differently about it today – it’s still a track that instantly gets you moving and makes you feel great.
Growing up in Australia we didn’t really hear much of 38 Special – if any of the band's music – on the radio. So the joys of the band came to me in my mid-30s while listening to car radio in the States. Interestingly for me, AC/DC and 38 Special had played together on a bill at the Masonic Auditorium, Detroit, 27 August 1977, with Johnny Winter headlining.
JEFF CARLISI was 38 Special’s lead guitarist that night and played with the Jacksonville (FL) band from 1974–1996: the classic line-up. He spoke to me about playing on the same stage with a young and hungry AC/DC on its first tour of the States. 38 Special's debut self-titled album (below) had just been released that May on A&M Records.
What do you remember of the Masonic Auditorium gig in Detroit?
I remember sitting with Angus and Bon back at the hotel bar. They seemed a bit bummed out because they were not well received by the audience. I thought they were great even though they probably shouldn't have been on that bill. I don't remember much of our conversation (all of us being well pissed, not to mention Bon's heavy accent). I do remember us having a good laugh about all of us being 'newbies' and if this is what we should always expect.
‘Bon was quite pissed but I assumed it was due to being depressed from the poor response from the audience.'
– Jeff Carlisi
Did you get the sense they were trying to blow you off the stage?
I never felt that AC/DC was trying to blow us off the stage, even though that's what we [musicians] all try to do. It's part of our DNA. They seemed more to be doing their job.
Did anything about Bon's drinking strike you as out of the ordinary?
Drinking? Hmmmm... I suppose we all drank a good bit back in those days. Bon was quite pissed but I assumed it was due to being depressed from the poor response from the audience. I felt bad for him and Angus as well. However, they were super nice guys and very personable as well. I was shocked to hear of Bon's passing as we all are when we lose one of our brothers. At that time I had no idea that his alcohol consumption was a problem. Again, very nice people. I think they appreciated a shoulder to cry on.
What do you think of AC/DC today without Bon?
I still love the band as much as ever. As a matter of fact my friend Brendan O'Brien works with them as their producer and I've spent some time with Brian Johnson at a few racetracks talking about cars. I was introduced to Brian by our mutual friend Brian Howe.
Lastly, I’m a huge admirer of 38 Special and especially your outfit in the video for ‘Caught Up in You’. What happened to those threads? They should be on exhibition in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Thanks for being a fan – especially of my wardrobe! Ha! My wife had a bed quilt made for me years back. It was made up of all my favourite shirts from all the years of touring. That shirt lives!
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.
In 1977, from 29–31 August, AC/DC played three shows, two sets a night, at Los Angeles’s legendary Whisky a Go Go. It was where Bon was famously photographed with a paint-splattered Iggy Pop. AC/DC’s opening act was Michigan band The Dogs. Loren Molinare was their guitarist and lead singer. The Dogs were so loud, even louder than the AC/DC, Whisky management made them turn down.
‘AC/DC were beyond punk. It was as the LP said: High Voltage. They kicked ass.'
– Loren Molinare, lead singer and guitarist,
‘The Dogs played three nights, two shows a night opening for AC/DC,’ he says. ‘They cleared the house out and brought in new ticket holders to see the show. Bon was very cool. He came into the dressing room to chat with us and say hello. We also took a nip of some good whisky with him. AC/DC were great. This was when punk was happening and people thought they were going to be punk. But they were beyond punk. It was as the LP said: High Voltage. They kicked ass.’
But the local press still wasn’t convinced. LA music journalist Alan Rockman stated blithely that ‘it seems quite clear… who their influences are: musically it’s Humble Pie, Bad Company and Status Quo. Socially, good booze and bad women… AC/DC’s choice of lyrics, even on steady rockers like “Never Had A Woman” [sic; he meant ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’], will hurt their chances of being more than just an underground cultist unit in the US.’
Clearly, some 200 million albums later – thanks in large part to those same sub-par lyrics written by Bon – AC/DC had the last laugh on Mr Rockman.
BON: THE LAST HIGHWAY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BON SCOTT AND AC/DC'S BACK IN BLACK is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble 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.