Over the five or so years I spent writing two books on AC/DC by far the most rewarding experience was getting to know and become friends with Tony Currenti, an old friend of Bon Scott's and the drummer on AC/DC’s first album, the 1975 Australian release of High Voltage.
In 2012, 37 years on from AC/DC's debut record, I managed to track down Tony at his pizzeria in Penshurst, southern Sydney: Tonino's. It didn’t take much detective work. I found him on Facebook. He had about 50 friends.
Tony hadn’t spoken to any author, ever. I couldn’t believe my luck. By his own account this avuncular 67-year-old Italian-Australian was asked to join AC/DC twice. He’d played on records that had sold millions (High Voltage -- the Australian and U.S. versions --T.N.T, ’74 Jailbreak, Backtracks).
But at the time I met him for various reasons he hadn’t touched a drum kit since 1977, after giving away music to start a family and a business.
He formed a small but significant part of AC/DC history – truly an incredible tale – and it was my special privilege to tell his story. What was better, however, is everything that came after my first book on the band was published.
It has brought me so much personal satisfaction to see Tony finally get the acknowledgment he deserves from fans around the world. Some of those remarkable fans, including You Am I drummer Rusty Hopkinson, banded together in 2014 and bought Tony a new set of Pearl drums when they heard that his old Ludwig set was unplayable.
When he appeared on stage with me at the Sydney Writers' Festival that same year he was a crowd favourite. Wherever he goes in the world, no one fails to be touched by his easygoing charm and complete humility.
After some tentative steps back into the live scene, and tips from former AC/DC drummer Noel Taylor, Tony's first proper gig in 38 years was at The Bridge Hotel, Sydney, in 2014 with The Choirboys: a truly magical moment for anyone who was there to see him play the song “High Voltage”. Tony was as nervous as hell and showing every sign of that nervousness when he first got up to play, but once the band kicked into gear, he was away. He hasn't looked back since.
He began playing weekend concerts regularly with Australian AC/DC tribute bands Let There Be Bon and Dirty Deeds, started amassing thousands of new friends on Facebook (well over 4000, including his own tribute page), and in July/August 2015 he played his first European shows with tribute bands in Italy, England and Spain. In the space of five years he's now played hundreds of shows. What this man has achieved during his second wind as a drummer – after four decades away from the stage – has been immense.
It's certainly not lost on parochial Italians that Tony is the only full-blooded Italian to have ever played for AC/DC, so I've been super proud to see him get great coverage in the Italian press, sell out shows in Sicily and on the European mainland, and get repeat invitations to come back and do it all over again, year after year. In Australia, meanwhile, typically, we are slow to embrace our musical history. When I pitched Tony's story to the ABC's Australian Story, for example, they expressed zero interest. Radio silence.
Outside of music, Tony can still be found most nights at Tonino’s making supreme pizzas, and that’s what makes him great. He’s free of the sort of ego that makes most former rock stars unbearable company. Even when people spell or pronounce his name wrong, which they do constantly (I cannot understand why, it's really not hard), he just shrugs and laughs.
Tony's not perfect. There are some things about him that frustrate me – he won't give up cigarettes, has resisted my attempts to introduce the She's Got Balls (meatballs), Soul Stripper (chilli) and Crabsody In Blue (seafood) line of pizzas, and is far, far too nice to ask for what he wants, so unscrupulous people in the music and music-festival industries shamefully continue to take advantage of him financially – but that is who he is. I accept there are some things about him you just can't change.
The arc of Tony’s story really is a movie waiting to happen: as good as Billy Elliott, Searching for Sugar Man or The Full Monty. I don’t think you could get a better immigrant tale. It has everything you could ask for and just happens to involve the biggest rock band in the world.
He migrated to Australia from Sicily in 1967 and learned to play drums by playing spoons on his piano accordion and any spare chairs he could find. True story. That he then went on to play with AC/DC really is something from the realm of science fiction. You couldn’t make it up.
Tony isn’t in AC/DC today because he was fiercely loyal to a group of “wogs,” as he calls them, known as Jackie Christian & Flight who were an Albert Productions recording act and had a couple of songs written for them by George Young, one called “Love", the other called “The Last Time I Go To Baltimore.”
They also played the music for Ray Burgess’s huge Australian hit, “Love Fever.” Jackie Christian & Flight thought they were on the cusp of greatness, but Tony picked the wrong band. His Italian passport didn’t help either. If he’d joined AC/DC and gone to England, it would have meant he’d have to stop in Rome. There he would have been conscripted into the Italian army for military service.
So he turned down AC/DC. He has no regrets. And why would he? He played on most of the best songs on High Voltage, including the single. He played on Stevie Wright’s classic epic, “Evie” (that’s him on Part III), and “Black Eyed Bruiser.” He played on stage with AC/DC at Chequers in Goulburn Street, Sydney, in 1975. He laid down the drums for John Paul Young’s “I Hate the Music” and “Yesterday’s Hero.” He was George Young’s favourite session drummer and so many of Tony’s tracks are now on AC/DC releases and box sets that have sold millions of copies. ’74 Jailbreak, an EP which came out in 1984, has five songs on it. Three of them feature Tony’s drumming.
Tony only got $35 an hour for his session work and that was enough for him. All he ever wanted was to meet the Youngs again, especially George, but he didn't get that chance. George and Malcolm passed away in 2017.
So my fervent wish is that Angus Young picks up the phone and makes an old man happy. Tony Currenti is living music history and deserves adequate recognition not from fans, who have already taken him to their hearts, but AC/DC itself. He’s not after money. He’s far, far too modest for that. As he always has been.
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.
Months before his death 38 years ago on 19 February 1980, Bon Scott had expressed a desire to marry, have kids and buy a home. In the 1994 book Highway To Hell, Australian author Clinton Walker wrote that ‘privately, Bon was talking a lot about settling down… he wanted to buy a house somewhere’.
In fact his Miami lover Holly X, interviewed in my 2017 book Bon: The Last Highway, said she believed Bon was going to pop the question if she had travelled with him to Australia in the summer of 1979/80. Instead they drifted apart – Holly had fallen for someone else, another musician; Bon could sense her emotional distance – and she never made the trip. Bon went to Australia by himself. He was dead within just a couple of months.
Bon’s musician friend Peter Head, who saw him in Australia that summer, told Uncut magazine: ‘He was happy, but said he wanted to settle down and have kids one day, even though he had finally found a band that allowed him to make music, make money and have fun. We were woken up the next morning… I was in bed with one woman and he was across the room with another. He leapt up saying, “Oh shit, I’ve got to catch a plane”, and ran out the door. That was it.’
Could Bon have already had children?
Head was sure he had, telling Billboard in another interview of an incident in the early 1970s: ‘On his last day in Australia [before leaving with his pre-AC/DC band Fraternity for England], Bon went to visit two women in the Melbourne maternity ward, they both had children and he accepted them both as being his children. On the day he went to visit the women they were unknown to each other, he kept it secret. But there are at least two kids in Melbourne that are his sons. I’m sure there are gonna be others that pop up claiming to be his kids and they might be, who knows. He was pretty prolific in that department.’
A friend of Bon's from Melbourne, Mary Renshaw, denied there were two kids, though admitted ‘Bon did one day confide that he’d just been to hospital to visit a woman who had given birth to his baby. “I’m a dad,” Bon revealed. And they never talked about it again.’
It's a question I'm asked time and time again: Did Bon have children?
The responsible answer is this: over the years a couple of individuals have claimed to be his son, yet no DNA tests have been conducted. Until such time as a DNA test is conducted, no one can ever know for sure.
The latest claimant, Dave Stevens, has been very active in the media recently, alleging he is the son of Bon Scott.
Stevens was born to a woman called Diane Ellis, who died in 2016 and was apparently 16 when her supposed encounter with Bon happened (though I have read 15 on social media and heard even younger through the grapevine).
Yet Stevens, Bon's alleged son, would never know Bon while he was alive, the boy having been given up for adoption to a Geelong family. Stevens says he only found out about his alleged paternity when he was 21, long after Bon had passed away. It was his birth mother, Ellis, who told him his real father was Bon Scott. Bon's name is not on the birth certificate, by Stevens's own admission.
Despite protestations to the contrary, Stevens now adopts and trades on the ‘son of Bon Scott’ tag as a performer in his own right. He is writing a book that will be published later this year. He was the guest of honour for a Bon Scott luncheon in Fremantle, Western Australia, this month. He doesn’t believe he needs to take a DNA test and claims he has no financial motivation in embracing the sobriquet ‘Son of Bon'.
‘I'm not curious, I know I am his son,’ he says. ‘No one who has met me has doubted it.’
All well and good. That’s his prerogative. But writing as a Bon Scott biographer, there are some questions I would ask before accepting unequivocally that Bon was Stevens’s father. Hopefully some answers or clarifications might be forthcoming in the book.
Now I wouldn't want to diminish in any way the importance of knowing one's own parents. My own brother is an adopted Vietnamese orphan from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) who never knew the names of his real father and mother after the Vietnam War. He came to Australia in 1975 and has gone through his entire life with an English name and a made-up birthdate. I know how much it would mean to him to have some answers to questions that will probably never be answered. But from what I've read so far of Stevens's claims to being Bon's son, I'm yet to be convinced on the available information. I'm very open to hearing more.
In June 2017 Stevens told ABC Radio Melbourne's Libbi Gorr that his mother and Bon hooked up after ‘a Valentines gig up in Sydney'. If as reported Stevens is 50 years old, and if his birthday is September 22 as it says on his Facebook page, then the gig must have happened some time in or around January 1967.
Delivery of a child from conception to birth normally takes nine months, does it not?
So what was the gig and what was the specific date? Is there a poster or advertisement of the gig that can help corroborate Ellis's claim that she slept with Bon after a Valentines concert? What information is there that supports the idea Stevens is Bon's son through Bon actually being in the vicinity of Diane Ellis?
According to the excellent Australian music history website Milesago.com, The Valentines, a West Australian band, got their first record contract in March 1967, with Perth's Clarion Records, releasing the single ‘Every Day I Have To Cry' in May 1967. They only travelled to the eastern seaboard of Australia in July 1967. That trip was to Melbourne, Victoria, after winning the Perth heats of Hoadley’s ‘Battle of the Sounds’. They moved as a band to Melbourne in October 1967.
So how did Bon get to Sydney in January 1967? Unless I am mistaken – and I'm very happy to be corrected if there is any evidence to suggest otherwise – he was in Perth that month.
More perplexingly, on Stevens's band's Facebook page, it clearly states: ‘In 1967 Bon Scott's star was rising while his son was adopted out after a brief encounter with a young girl in the Victorian town of Ballarat.' Am I reading that right? Does it say Ballarat? Isn't it supposed to be Sydney? What's the story? Sydney or Ballarat?
Either way, it confirms Stevens's birth year was 1967 not 1968. If he were born in 1968, Stevens would be turning 50 this September, and be 49 at time of writing (19 February 2018).
I'll extend Stevens the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps his
mother got it wrong. Maybe she mixed up Bon with someone else. Perhaps Bon wasn’t playing with The Valentines but he was in Sydney. Okay, the obvious question is what was he doing there? What would bring him to New South Wales in January 1967?
Walker’s Highway To Hell, a great book on Bon’s early years and the go-to biographical account of the period before he joined AC/DC, only mentions The Valentines playing a gig that month in Western Australia, at Perth’s Supreme Court Gardens in front of 3000 people. Nothing about a visit to Sydney. Instead, Walker has the band visiting Sydney in March/April 1968 during an east coast tour. That's more than a whole year later.
Surely to accept the claim Stevens is Bon’s son requires more information beyond him thinking he looks like Bon, other people thinking he looks like Bon, or simply having Bon's mannerisms or his smile? Yes, there are people who are convinced Stevens is the son of Bon Scott and they may be right. But to my eyes Stevens actually looks more like a 1980s-era Stevie Wright. Have a look at the pictures above taken from public posts on Facebook. Where were The Easybeats playing in January 1967? England. Which would seemingly rule out Wright as the father. Seemingly.
So if Stevens is so convinced he's Bon's son why doesn't he just take a DNA test and prove it once and for all? Why the reluctance? He admitted to Libbi Gorr in the ABC Radio Melbourne interview that he'd tried to reach out to Bon's two brothers through a mutual friend but ‘not got a response'.
I'd be as happy as anyone to know Australia's greatest rock legend had a true son. I'm sure a lot of fans would. I wish Stevens all the best in his quest to know his real father, whether it's Bon or someone else.
But take the test and settle it.
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.
One of the true pleasures of writing a biography of Bon Scott is watching hours of Bon Scott videos on YouTube. On the evidence of his body of celluloid work, Bon was deeply charismatic, had a winning smile, a devilish wink and was an incredible live performer.
Sadly, for someone who left an indelible mark on rock music in such a short space of time, there isn't a hell of a lot of footage of Bon performing with AC/DC in those golden years of 1977–80, the focus of Bon: The Last Highway, so what is available tends to get recycled ad nauseam on social media. Finding anything new is like hitting gold, but from time to time nuggets do appear on YouTube, like the footage from Fresno, California, in 1979.
So much has been written about Bon the singer. But Bon was a great mover in the mould of one of his idols, Easybeats singer Stevie Wright. Bouncing around the stage. Shaking his head. Completely immersed in the rhythm. Bon not only lived his lyrics he lived the performance.
Malcolm Young once said: ‘Bon’s the rocker’ with his ‘slicked back styles’ and ‘teddy boy looks’. Angus Young said he’d got a move called the ‘human kangaroo’ from Bon: ‘It’s a trick he sometimes pulls coming into hotels; [he takes] all his clothes off. Well what I do, I get on stage and get all me [sic] clothes off, you know, and, uh, just hop backwards, you know, like a kangaroo.’
‘He was so good that I admired him. It's funny because I pinched a lot off Bon.'
– Stevie Wright
Anyone who was lucky enough to see Bon live was treated to one of the great athletes/character actors of rock 'n' roll: a human squall of comedy, menace, tongue licks, hand claps, deft dodges and head flicks. The sweat beads on his body. Intercostal muscles as defined as any wannabe prize fighter. The exhaustion he wore on his face.
Unlike the tireless Angus, who more or less hurled himself with abandon about the confines of the stage and literally into the audience – pretty much the same routine each show – Bon had a thespian’s craft and subtlety. It was true dramatic performance.
In fact, Bon was so good when I spoke to the late Wright in 2013 for my first book about AC/DC, The Youngs, he claimed he’d been asked to replace Bon and freely admitted he’d stolen moves from him: ‘He was so good that I admired him. It’s funny because I pinched a lot off Bon.’
I've compiled below a list of what's known to exist from that 1977–80 period, and embedded some gems, so you can enjoy watching Bon while reading the book.
Studio-Version Music Videos or Studio-Version TV Appearances 1977–80 With Bon Scott
‘Dog Eat Dog’ (1977) Filmed in London, 1977
‘Let There Be Rock’ (1977) Filmed in Sydney, 1977
‘Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation’ (1978) Filmed in Glasgow, 1978
‘Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation’ (1978) Filmed in London, 1978
‘Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation’ (1978) Filmed in Munich, 1978
‘Shot Down In Flames’ (1979) Filmed in Munich, 1979
‘Walk All Over You’ (1979) Filmed in Munich, 1979
‘Touch Too Much’ (1979) Filmed in Munich, 1979
‘If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)’ (1979) Filmed in Munich, 1979
‘Highway To Hell’ (1979) Filmed in Munich, 1979
‘Girls Got Rhythm’ (1979) Filmed in Hilversum, 1979
‘Touch Too Much’ (1979) Filmed in London, 1980
‘Beating Around The Bush’ (1979) Filmed in Madrid, 1980
‘Girls Got Rhythm’ (1979) Filmed in Madrid, 1980
‘Highway To Hell’ (1979) Filmed in Madrid, 1980
Live-Version Music Videos or Live TV Appearances 1977–80 With Bon Scott
‘Let There Be Rock’ (1977) Filmed live in London, 1977
‘Problem Child’ (1976) Filmed live in London, 1977
‘Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’ (1977) Filmed live in London, 1977
‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ (1977) Filmed live in London, 1977
‘Bad Boy Boogie’ (1977) Filmed live in London, 1977
‘Rocker’ (1976) Filmed live in London, 1977
‘T.N.T.’ (1975) Filmed live in London, 1977
‘Bad Boy Boogie’ (1977) Filmed live in Glasgow, 1978
‘Riff Raff’ (1978) Filmed live in Glasgow, 1978
‘Dog Eat Dog’ (1977) Filmed live in Glasgow, 1978
‘Let There Be Rock’ (1977) Filmed live in Glasgow, 1978
‘Fling Thing/Rocker’ (1978) Filmed live in Glasgow, 1978
‘Live Wire’ (1975) Filmed live in Colchester, 1978
‘Problem Child’ (1976) Filmed live in Colchester, 1978
‘Sin City’ (1978) Filmed live in Colchester, 1978
‘Bad Boy Boogie’ (1977) Filmed live in Colchester, 1978
‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ (1977) Filmed live in Colchester, 1978
‘Rocker’ (1976) Filmed live in Colchester, 1978
‘Let There Be Rock’ (1977) Filmed live in Colchester, 1978
‘Sin City’ (1978) Filmed live in Burbank, 1978
‘Highway To Hell’ (1979) Filmed live in Arnhem, 1979
‘Bad Boy Boogie’ (1977) Filmed live in Arnhem, 1979
‘The Jack’ (1975) Filmed live in Arnhem, 1979
‘Rocker’ (1976) Filmed live in Arnhem, 1979
‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ (1977) Filmed live in Arnhem, 1979
‘Highway To Hell’ (1979) Filmed live in Munich, 1979
Other Known Live-Performance Videos or Raw Footage 1977–80 With Bon Scott
New York, 1977 (No sound)
Portland, 1978 (No sound)
Official Concert Films 1977–80 With Bon Scott
AC/DC: Let There Be Rock (1980)
Filmed live in Paris, 1979. Directors: Eric Dionysius & Eric Mistler. Re-released on DVD in 2011
‘Shot Down In Flames’
‘Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’
‘Walk All Over You’
‘Bad Boy Boogie’
‘Highway To Hell’
‘Girls Got Rhythm’
‘Whole Lotta Rosie’
‘Let There Be Rock’
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.
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.