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.
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.