San Francisco band Yesterday & Today (later Y&T) joined AC/DC for a string of shows in the midst of a blisteringly hot Texas summer in July 1978. They were booked by local promoter Jack Orbin, who organised AC/DC’s first Texas shows in 1977.
‘Jack took us under his wing and booked us many times throughout Texas,’ says lead singer and guitarist Dave Meniketti. ‘We had become quite popular, much to our shock, because of a DJ on KMAC/KISS FM, Joe Anthony, who played us religiously. He basically "broke" us in that part of Texas. Jack saw the popularity of the band because of the radio play and started to book us around Texas for quite a few years.’
‘That tour in Texas with AC/DC was a very special,’ adds their late rhythm guitarist Joey Alves, who passed away in early 2017. ‘I had been a fan of the band from the beginning so naturally I was excited to be a part of it. I was instantly impressed by their strong performance each night.
‘Summertime in Texas is very hot but the heat never slowed down AC/DC’s intense show. Towards the end of each show Angus Young would go out into the audience on top Bon's shoulders playing his heart out on his guitar. Needless to say the crowds loved it.
‘AC/DC was a big influence on Yesterday & Today, especially with their live sound that they got each night. It was bigger than all the others and we had played with most. I would go so far as to study Malcolm's and Angus's amp settings. Dave and I would stand in the back of the arenas during their sound checks just to see what we could learn. And we learned a lot.’
‘Bon's death was a total shock to us. While we knew he was a hard partying kind of guy that lived life full with gusto, I don't think we ever gave it a thought as to how it could lead to his demise.'
– Dave Meniketti
What did Yesterday & Today observe of the dynamic between AC/DC’s rhythm guitarist and strongman leader, Malcolm Young and its hard-living lead singer, Bon?
‘We were so young and impressionable at the time that I don’t think any of us observed interactions between the members as it pertained to Bon and Malcolm,’ says Meniketti. ‘If we did, I don’t remember anything going down. Just the partying part and the band performances, outside of a few other things that we observed about the road manager trying to gather all the DC guys after the shows. You know, typical stuff that happens on the road.
‘But years later when we toured for two months with AC/DC on the For Those About To Rock tour in the UK and Europe, there was no question we saw the presence of Malcolm in his band environment. It was put to us by our manager that Malcolm was the guy you didn’t want to piss off or we would be off the tour immediately. When the guys would invite us into their room after their performances, sitting down to talk and eat their after show meals (on that two-month tour), we could really get a sense of the band dynamic. It was sort of obvious to us that Malcolm seemed to rule the day.'
As for Bon, he left an impression even if the memories are fading.
‘I just wish I had the presence of mind to really pay attention and remember more things about him as he was hanging with us,’ says Meniketti. ‘Time has eroded much of the details, as we were so young and it all happened so fast in a three-day span that it sort of became a bit of a blur to me. Our heads were in the clouds as we started our career and this just seemed to happen in a flash.
‘His death was a total shock to all of us. While we knew he was a hard partying kind of guy that lived life with full gusto, I don't think we ever gave it a thought as to how it could lead to his demise. We were somewhat used to guys around us that partied like there was no tomorrow, so he was not completely unusual to us. When you're young and crazy you feel invincible. But I can say without hesitation that his awesome gritty voice, unusual swagger on stage, and fun partying kind of personality off stage, made him an instant legend amongst our band members and crew.’
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. Just click the title above (in red).
2017 is an important year for AC/DC – or should at least be for every serious AC/DC fan. It marks the 40th anniversary of the international release of AC/DC’s landmark album Let There Be Rock and the 40th anniversary of its first American tour. My book, Bon: The Last Highway, is the untold story of Bon in America from 1977–79 and his death in London in 1980.
It’s hard to believe just how far AC/DC – a band that has sold well over 200 million records – has come since that first show in Austin, Texas. To give you an idea how long ago we're talking about, John Lennon had just got his Green Card. Bjorn Borg had won Wimbledon. The Soviet Union had performed an underground nuclear test. Vietnam had joined the United Nations. Jimmy Carter, a Southern rock–loving Democrat governor from Georgia, was President of the United States.
They also had a proverbial mountain to climb to get the attention of booking agents and radio programmers, being such a relatively unknown quantity in the States at that time, practically unheard on the airwaves outside Texas, Florida and California, though the portents for their first crack at the USA at least seemed good for the Australians when they arrived in July 1977.
AC/DC had made quite an impression in England and Europe and the Sydney Morning Herald trumpeted that the band was on the cusp of international fame: ‘They have moved with calculated accuracy in the direction of fame and fortune both here and overseas. Their records are consistent powerhouses of raw energy. Their songs move as restlessly as Hannibal’s elephants.’
The reality, however, was a little starker for AC/DC. Down Under, the band was hardly flavour of the month.
AC/DC got banned from performing at Tamworth’s Town Hall in December 1976. An editorial in the Northern Daily Leader praised local aldermen for ‘acting wisely and in the best interests of our young children in refusing to allow the hall to be used if there is any danger of [rock] groups infringing decent moral standards by their on-stage actions and lyrics. Unfortunately, audiences at many of the rock concerts are mainly sub-teenage girls. They need protection.’
On December 30 1976 an article appeared in Melbourne’s Age: ‘The five-member Melbourne group who claim to be the original punk rock band have had concerts banned, official concert programmes seized, and been attacked in both State and Federal Parliaments for corrupting children’s morals.’
In January 1977, Portland and Eaglehawk councils in Victoria asked for $500 and $2000 bonds respectively before they’d allow AC/DC to play. ‘This will prevent one of the group’s guitarists dropping his pants on stage,’ said the Age. In England, too, as Angus Young admitted, the dropping-pants act had worn thin with the authorities: ‘We’d have the whole vice squad at some shows. The same Britain where they have topless women in their daily papers… in the end, even the police were laughing about it.’
‘Audiences at many of the rock concerts are mainly sub-teenage girls. They need protection.'
– An editorial in the Northern Daily Leader
Stateside, too, AC/DC’s first international album, High Voltage (1976), a collection of cuts from their first two Australian albums (I've posted some photos of an original mint press release in the gallery above), was only getting heavy airplay from Bill Bartlett at WPDQ/WAIV in Jacksonville (proved by a lone 22 January 1977 mention in Billboard’s ‘Album Radio Action’ charts, substantiating without doubt Bartlett’s longstanding claim that AC/DC took off in Florida before anywhere else), but the band was to get a key review further south in the Miami News – nearly a year before they even touched down on American soil.
There aren't a hell of a lot of newspaper clippings about AC/DC from America in 1976 – I have a personal collection containing a few very rare clippings from Texas, and I found in archives several others I've included in the book – but during my research for Bon: The Last Highway, by pure luck I found this old newspaper from 29 October 1976.
Jon Marlowe even concluded his preceding review of the various-artists Atlantic Records release Live at CBGB’s by saying, ‘If you’re into punk, just forget this one and pick up on “High Voltage” by AC/DC instead.’
At a time when AC/DC wasn't getting a whole lotta love, how shrewd the floridly expressive Mr Marlowe turned out to be.
HIGH VOLTAGE – AC/DC – (ATLANTIC)
You say you ripped holes in your $30 jeans to look just like Dee Dee Ramone while dreaming of spending ten minutes alone with Joan Jett of the Runaways in the Aloha Motel with the Flamin’ Groovies blasting from your cassette player.
And you say Yes are five musical vegetarians you’d like to run through a Veg-O-Matic and you refuse to patronize music stores that even stock synthesizers.
Well, kid, have we got an album for you – ‘High Voltage’ – by a group of five Scottish-Australian punks who call themselves AC/DC and dress in London schoolboy clothes and utter such memorable statements as ‘Can I Sit Next To You Girl?’.
AC/DC is currently giving Eddie and the Hot Rods and the Sex Pistols (two of Britian’s [sic] primo punk rockers) a real run for the money [sic] and you should immediately fork over the price of this one just for the wonderous [sic] experience of hearing the 96 decibel delight: ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock ’N’ Roll’.)
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.
In New York, during the writing of Bon: The Last Highway, I visited BARRY BERGMAN, formerly of Edward B. Marks Music Corporation. Edward B. Marks was AC/DC’s American publisher for High Voltage (1976) through to Highway To Hell (1979). When AC/DC first arrived in America in July 1977, he travelled with the band to Texas and Florida. The camaraderie, he says, was there to see.
‘I think the chemistry between them was incredible. I don’t believe [AC/DC] spend a lot of time with each other when they’re not working; I know that to be a fact, they do their own thing… my relationship with them was, I thought, excellent. I got along with all of them, at the time. I didn’t have a problem with any one of them.
‘We [Edward B. Marks] got involved with [AC/DC] through J. Albert & Son in the mid ’70s. Michael Browning was the manager at the time. I was sort of like a surrogate manager because Michael wasn’t here [in the States] all the time and there were times when they were here and he wasn’t and I would help them out, deal with things for them.
‘We gave Michael an office at Edward B. Marks, and I spent a lot of time running around with them to those early shows with Ian Jeffery, who was the road manager. I went to shows with them in Texas, here and there and everywhere else… I knew the way [the US scene] worked. I knew the way radio worked. This one worked. That thing worked. I was doing it, you know. So I was able to guide them.’
Bergman especially helped with airplay for the band out on the West Coast and in Florida, where they first got played anywhere in the States by Bill Bartlett on WPDQ/WAIV Jacksonville.
Florida, he says, was the takeoff point for the Australians: ‘That’s where it all started.’
Did you feel like you were needed by the band? That Browning didn’t know enough about America to handle it himself?
‘I got along well with Michael. I always liked and respected Michael. It’s like everything else. You come here [to America], you’re overwhelmed. It’s a big country. Of course he didn’t know. There were things I didn’t know about my own country here. If someone had have told me it would have taken four years and a bunch of albums to break this band I would have never believed it, because they were that good.’
In 1977, Bergman was in the audience for the recording of AC/DC’s Live From The Atlantic Studios promo album along with late Atlantic Records heavy Tunc Erim, who was Atlantic’s national album promotion director. Because of his seniority, Erim’s name appeared before AC/DC record-company loyalists Michael Klenfner’s and Perry Cooper’s on mailouts that went to US radio stations.
Bergman says Erim had many stoushes with the formidable Klenfner, an ex-bouncer, but Klenfner, despite his stature and size, always came off second best.
Says Bergman: ‘Tunc got the job [at Atlantic] as a result of being at a party one night years earlier when he was a kid seeing a little old lady in a corner, going over to the old lady because she didn’t know what she was doing there or she looked alone, and he danced with her all night, hung out with her, and took her home. And it was Ahmet Ertegun’s mother.’
Ertegun, of course, was the big boss at Atlantic Records.
‘It was shortly thereafter that Ahmet called him up, wanted to meet him, hired him and there was no way anyone could ever touch Tunc as long as Ahmet Ertegun was at that company. So Michael, who tried to uproot him at one point, was not going to be successful. As Michael once said to me, “His name isn’t Tunc Erim. His name is Tunc Ertegun!”
So who outside of the band was responsible for AC/DC making it in America?
‘I would say [AC/DC’s booking agent] Doug Thaler, myself, Klenfner, and maybe one or two others were the reasons the band made it, especially Doug and myself. Because Doug was a real believer and a team player and he worked for ATI’s Jeff Franklin at the time. He put together a great tour for them and everything, and I think it was on a handshake.’
He also says Klenfner, who got sacked by Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg in 1979, told him about the idea of dropping Harry Vanda and George Young as AC/DC’s producers and getting Mutt Lange to produce AC/DC. (This clashes with Browning’s version that it was solely his idea to recruit the Zambian producer for Highway To Hell and supports the testimony of others who I have spoken to previously from Atlantic who said the idea originated elsewhere, most likely from Doug Thaler.)
‘If someone had have told me it would have taken four years and a bunch of albums to break this band I would have never believed it, because they were that good.'
– Barry Bergman
But didn’t Klenfner want Eddie Kramer to produce the band?
‘At one point, yes… Klenfner had mentioned to me Mutt Lange… it came to me through Michael Klenfner, that, “You know, Barry, we gotta make change with the production of this band, because we’re selling records – [AC/DC] went from 75,000 to 150,000 to 225,000 [sales] and then the fourth album was the one.”’
Bergman relates his account of Klenfner flying down to Australia to have an audience with the band and Vanda & Young.
‘I remember him saying, “I’m sitting in the room”, the big guy that he is, “on the floor and these little guys there and Vanda & Young.” And he told them, “If you really want to see your brothers make it, you’ve gotta let go of the production. You’ve gotta bring somebody else in here.”’
Bergman’s voice is made for FM radio. In fact, he could turn his home into a radio station. Thousands of records have been lovingly catalogued along one wall that runs the entire length of the apartment. He gets up off his office chair and pulls out an original Live From The Atlantic Studios album, a birthday card signed to him by the band, and photo albums of unseen AC/DC pics. They are very personal. Sightseeing together at the Alamo. Various stage shots. A picture of his cousin, former North Miami mayor Mike Colodny, with Bon and the band, of which Bergman owns and is inordinately proud. Colodny had given them the keys to the city on 7 August 1977.
‘Nobody knew that at the time,’ says Bergman of his role in calling up Colodny and arranging a photo-op with AC/DC. ‘That stayed a secret for 27 years until the Miami Herald published it and found out. For years they called my cousin the “rock ’n’ roll mayor” after we did what we did.’ I called my cousin up one day and I said, “Michael, I got this band and we’ve gotta do something. I gotta do some sort of promotion or something to bring attention to this band.’ And he’s very powerful in Florida. He says, “Barry, I’ll get them the key to the city and we’ll throw them a lunch at City Hall and I’ll have all the press there, because everybody will be wondering, ‘What the hell is all this about?’ and then we’re going to play at the Sportatorium that night in Miami.” This worked very well. That picture went around the world. This was beautiful.’
It’s been an impressive show-and-tell. But he’s most chuffed about his cameo on Live From The Atlantic Studios. Bergman says there was 300 to 400 people in the audience.
‘I’m on this record. I make my singing debut with Bon. It ended up in the Bonfire box set. I will play it for you.’
Bergman walks over to his turntable and carefully removes the vinyl from the mint packaging. It’s an original Atlantic Records promo-only copy. The needle finds ‘The Jack’ and Bergman turns up the volume. The sound fills the room, like we’re actually there.
Bon looked out for him specifically, he says, while Bergman was sitting up in the bleachers, ‘and he’s pushing people out of the way and he’s coming towards me, and he comes to me, and grabs my shoulder and puts the mike in my mouth and says, “Sing it Barry!” And I’m singing with him. No sooner the track was recorded the Young brothers, Angus and especially Malcolm, both said, “That’s the track we want to use.” And Angus said, “Yeah, we’re going to make Barry famous.” That’s a true story.’
He finds another memento. ‘Here, this is a picture you’ll never see in a magazine,’ he says, laughing, and shows me a photo of members of the band holding up the blouse of a woman, a real looker, revealing her breasts. He then shows me on his mobile phone a picture of a very silver-haired Cliff Williams, photographed recently stopping by Bergman’s apartment. In the photo Williams is standing against the same crammed shelves of box sets, LPs, CDs and books, most of the LPs and CDs in their original shrink wrapping. Bonfire, AC/DC’s box-set tribute to Bon, had been taken off the shelf by Williams for the photo.
AC/DC’s recently retired bass player had called Bergman out of the blue, after years of no contact, to say he was the luckiest man in the world, that the band had given him so much, he’d had 30 years with his wife Georganne and borne two great kids. Williams then flew in to New York to spend the day with Bergman.
‘I said to Cliff when I saw him, “What are you doing with yourself?” He says, “You know, Barry, I’ve been to every country in the entire world, now I’m travelling with my wife to see them because I never saw any of these countries. I was in every one but I never saw anything.’
As for Bon, whose heavy and increasingly problematic drinking he saw up close, Bergman remembers him as being ‘kind' to the end.
‘Decent, caring, loving, he was really very nice to me.’
So even when he was drunk he was kind?
‘He was a good guy, yeah. You know, he could function.’
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. Barry Bergman is giving a seminar about the music industry in August in New York City. For details, click here.
Kenny Soule's band Nantucket, from Jacksonville, North Carolina, did a fantastic cover of 'It's a Long Way To The Top' in 1980 and supported AC/DC on their North American Back In Black tour.
‘In the early summer of 1978, Nantucket was enjoying our ‘local celebrity’ status in the Carolinas/Virginia area with the release of Nantucket, our first album. We had been earning our stripes there since 1972, playing full-time on the club circuit, gradually replacing the cover tunes with lead singer Tommy Redd’s originals.
‘The promoters in the area were beginning to plug us into opening slots with national acts like Kiss, Charlie Daniels, Mother’s Finest, et cetera. We found ourselves with two dates supporting two up and coming major label bands, Cheap Trick and AC/DC. They were back-to-back small arena gigs, one in Salem, Virginia, and then Fayetteville, North Carolina. In Salem, we played first, then we stuck around for label-mates Cheap Trick, who we later became a little chummy with down the line.'
Fayetteville was where he saw AC/DC for the first time.
‘[After the show] I remember awkwardly blurting out, “Great show guys!” The next day I bought Powerage and Let There Be Rock, went home, cranked it way up, and have been a changed man ever since. Nantucket opened for most of the big headliners of the late 1970s, and all paled in comparison to AC/DC. No balls!
‘The following summer, 1979, Nantucket was recording our second album in Orlando, Florida. One day our lead singer Larry Uzzell came to the studio, telling us about bumping into Bon Scott. Bon remembered Larry, and was very cordial. They shared a drink or two. According to Larry, Bon said, “You boys blew us off the stage in Fayetteville!” Yeah, right!
‘Nantucket opened for most of the big headliners of the late 1970s, and all paled in comparison to AC/DC. No balls!'
– Kenny Soule, drummer, Nantucket
‘Of course by the time we shared a bill again, in 1980, Bon was gone. Nantucket’s third album, Long Way To The Top was hovering around the bottom of the Top 100 album charts. To our amazement we found ourselves with approximately 12 dates on the Back In Black tour that summer. It began in Erie, Pennsylvania, with Humble Pie as the middle act on the tour. After two or three shows, they were gone, and it was just Nantucket and AC/DC headed down the US east coast, and across to Texas, and then two dates in California. We were loving life at that point; we were on the biggest tour of 1980.
‘Our summer of glory ended the next morning after our final Back In Black date in Oakland, California. We were duly informed by Epic Records that they had dropped us. At least they held off until our final show with AC/DC! Epic dropped us because each album sold progressively worse, and by the second album, our sound and looks became passé seemingly overnight. We weren’t interested in suddenly wearing skinny ties, shaving, and getting haircuts. “Going New Wave”, as everyone called it. One of the reasons we were able to do the third album, Long Way To The Top, at all was that our A&R person, Doreen Reilly, suggested we cover “Long Way". We were happy to oblige.'
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.