The background story of one of AC/DC's all-time classics, ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, has become almost as inflated as the cartoonish stage prop that in recent years has appeared behind the band in concerts.
In a 2000 interview with Alan Di Perna in Guitar World, Angus Young said of the song's origins that AC/DC was playing in Tasmania ‘and the capital of Tasmania is Dar Es Salaam’.
AC/DC, with Bon Scott out front, played one concert in Tasmania in July 1975, five in February 1976 and three in February 1977.
On the 1976 tour, Bon supposedly was yanked into a random doorway by a ‘42-39-56’–proportioned woman while walking the streets after a gig: ‘She pulled him in and said, “Hey Bon, in here.”’
‘Rosie', as she would become known, was with another girl at the time and Bon went off with both of them to their shared room.
Continued Angus: ‘And he thought, “Hey, why not?”’
The story seemingly changes depending on the interviewer.
‘Bon has this fetish about big women,’ Angus told England's Record Mirror in 1978. ‘He used to party around with these two girls called the Jumbo Twins.’
In another interview with Sylvie Simmons, Angus calls them ‘the Jumbo Jets’.
In Phil Sutcliffe’s famous Sounds story from August 1976, ‘The Dirtiest Story Ever Told’, probably the earliest telling of what would become the Rosie yarn, Bon is placed as being with Malcolm Young in the band's dressing-room after a show. Malcolm describes Rosie as ‘Big Bertha’ and ‘the fat one. One pound under 20 stone.’ She has a friend with her who is ‘ugly but not that bad’.
Says Bon of ‘Big Bertha’, wryly: ‘She’d have broken my arm if I’d refused.’
By Angus’s account Bon the next morning ‘woke up sort of pinned to the wall’.
Now depending on what version of the story you read, Bon was Rosie's ‘29th' or ‘37th' celebrity conquest.
The late AC/DC roadie Pat Pickett, who supposedly organised the orgy that spawned the song – ‘Bon and a few other degenerates were standing around, cheering each other on’ – reported Bon being under a ‘huge pile of blubber lying there’ with ‘this little tiny arm with tattoos’ sticking out.
Bon’s own version, contained in an audio track on the Bonfire box set from 1997, has it happening at ‘a hotel’, thought to be the Freeway Gardens Motel in North Melbourne, where ‘this chick, Rosie, lived across the road’ and the band would go to parties there and she’d put it on Bon. (The band's former bass player, Mark Evans, has claimed Rosie was actually running a nearby brothel and had red hair, not the blond we're familiar with in AC/DC's stage prop.)
Said Bon: ‘She’s about six foot two inches tall, and like 19 stone 12 pound, like that was some mountain, you know.’
Eventually, he caved in.
‘She was so big she’d sort of close the door and put it on you… she was too big to say no to. So I just sorta had to succumb… I had to do it. Oh my God, I wish I hadn’t.’
Pickett, allegedly a friend of Rosie’s, named the location as Freeway Gardens, as did Mary Renshaw in her 2015 book, Live Wire.
Yet in over four decades since the song was written, no Rosie (if that is her real name; Mark Evans is not sure) has ever come forward, perhaps with good reason.
An attempt was made by The Advocate newspaper in Burnie, Tasmania, to locate her in 2006, with the search centred on Queenstown in the west of the island, but no Rosie materialised. The mayor of Queenstown thought she was from Wynyard, west of Burnie.
If Rosie is real, she's done a fabulous job of staying hidden from public view and/or her friends have done a similarly sterling job to protect her privacy and her dignity.
Heather Johnson, an ex-girlfriend of Angus Young, reportedly saw the event described in the song unfold and spoke to Rosie afterwards. There have also been unsubstantiated stories that Bon met Rosie again in Tasmania, but this time she’d lost a tremendous amount of weight.
This would seem unlikely. Bon was heavily touring North America, the United Kingdom and Europe between mid 1977 and when he died in 1980; not making unscheduled stops to catch up with old flames in Tasmania. If she met him again during AC/DC's three shows on the island in early 1977, she would had to have embarked on a hell of a crash diet for Bon to hardly recognise her.
From time to time, various fans have approached me to tell me Rosie is a real person, alive and living in northwest Tasmania, which may well be true, but my experience has been that those individuals who boast they know Rosie today never seem to come up with any details beyond what is already available on the internet or in books; they add nothing new to the story.
Statements have also been made by people claiming to be family members of Rosie's that she is now deceased. Again, this may be true. But in the absence of a photograph or single vital skerrick of biographical data, it's tempting to ponder if Rosie is just another of Bon’s road encounters creatively expanded into a tall tale and brought to life with the help of the Youngs’ guitars.
‘I just sorta had to succumb... I had to do it. Oh my God, I wish I hadn't.'
– Bon Scott
Apocryphal or not, ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ – which began life as the much looser, slower tempo 1976 recording ‘Dirty Eyes’ – is one of those rare pieces of rock music that is covered by everyone but still hasn’t been bettered and never will be. It’s a song that’s so stirring and powerful it could rouse the dead – a tribute to Bon's songwriting and the incredible band he fronted.
And Rosie, if you are reading this, I'd love to hear from you. If you've passed away, RIP and thank you for inspiring such an unforgettable track – whatever the truth of what did or didn't happen in 1976.
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.
Jesse Fink is the author of Bon: The Last Highway: The Untold Story of Bon Scott and AC/DC's Back In Black, which is available now. For more information about the book, click HERE or click the book covers below to be directed to editions in your preferred territory and language.