Legendary British band UFO toured with AC/DC in America during the Bon Scott era and got to see the Australian band's personal dynamics up close. In fact, UFO shared more bills in the States with AC/DC than any other band during the late 1970s period: Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New York, Illinois and more. When they first met in Kansas City, UFO had just released their classic fourth album, Lights Out, described in a press ad by their record company Chrysalis as ‘a bit of a shitkicker’.
Guitarist Paul Chapman, who replaced Michael Schenker that year, remembers the group being difficult to socialise with.
‘They were very much a touring bubble,’ he says. ‘They’re impenetrable. You walk past them on a plane and you feel it. There’s nine of them [band and crew] sat in a square or eight of them or something like that: the impenetrable bubble. It was kind of weird.'
His bandmate guitarist/keyboardist Paul Raymond concurs: ‘It was only really Bon that partied with us... I don’t think UFO had any influence on Bon, he liked a drink, so did we – we didn’t lead him astray.’
Meanwhile, bassist Pete Way recalls Bon ‘moaning about having to travel by plane’ but there always being a positive rapport between the two groups: ‘AC/DC and UFO were a good team, you know. We had our own tour coaches but going back to the early tours, we did them in planes. Obviously if we were going to the same venue we would use the same flight, same hotel. We’d generally end up in one another’s rooms.’
He well remembers the rivalry between AC/DC and fellow Atlantic Records act Foreigner.
‘On AC/DC’s first American tour, which was UFO’s second American tour, we did a few shows together. Foreigner was headlining, we were special guest and AC/DC opened and of course they didn’t get any of the trimmings that people would expect. It was made more difficult for them.
‘AC/DC played with Blue Öyster Cult and the same thing: no monitors and that; and they held grudges those boys at the time, particularly Angus [Young] and Malcolm [Young]. When the tables turned they made sure that they did exactly what they got [sic] coming to them.’
Did you dislike Foreigner? They were quite successful in America from the very beginning.
‘To be honest with you, I would have that conversation with Angus. I think “Hot Blooded” was the song they had out at the time, we were on tour with them, I used to go and eat something or hang out with Angus a lot after the shows and I mentioned that and he went, “Mehhhhh. Fucking cabaret band” [laughs]’
‘I don't think UFO had any influence on Bon, he liked a drink, so did we – we didn't lead him astray.'
– Paul Raymond
Angus might have been cocky but ultimately the cockiness was well placed. Way only has praise for what they achieved.
‘AC/DC put 100 per cent – no – they put 200 per cent into what they were doing. They believed in themselves. And I tell you what: nobody could tell them what to do. This is what we are. We’re AC/DC. This is the way we play. This is what you get. And if you don’t like it, don’t come to the show, don’t buy the album.’
‘There was definitely a competitive edge between [UFO and AC/DC] and eventually they became impossible to follow, which is when they became a headline act in their own right. Pete and Angus were the showmen of each band and both bands had the attitude that they were the best. I think both bands had a lot to say and were at the right age – it was youthful cockiness.’
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.
On 3 June 1979, AC/DC was invited to appear at the Mississippi River Jam II festival in Davenport, Iowa, on a bill with Heart, Nazareth, UFO and Seattle’s TKO, whose debut album Let It Roll had been released on Infinity Records.
‘The headliners were Heart and Nazareth,’ remembers BRAD SINSEL, lead singer of TKO. ‘The promoter [the late Bruce Kapp] thought it’d be funny to open the show with what he called “the alphabet bands”, the other three acts being us, UFO and AC/DC. His logic at the time was that bands with letters for names was some fad, to which he was openly poking fun at.
‘They segregated said alphabet bands from what was at the time rock royalty and all their pageantry. Nazareth’s bass player [Pete Agnew] in his silk shirt, flared slacks, heeled shoes and golf cap, sipping chardonnay, or Heart, with their gowns and costumes, were a big contrast to UFO, AC/DC and TKO. The top headliners were given a hospitality tent fit for Louis XIV, very aristocratic. The rest of us were given a roped-off area with barely the basics.
‘Being resourceful, I slipped into the A-list tent and helped myself to the luxury. I noticed that Bon had made it into the tent as well, however we stood out like sore thumbs. Within three minutes we were confronted by some goon asking us what we were doing there and barked, “You can’t be in here with those wrist bands. You have your designated hospitality tent – leave now!” We both gave him a nod, shook our heads and before we returned to the ghetto, Bon shook his head and mumbled an expletive as we retreated.’
‘The top headliners were given a hospitality tent fit for Louis XIV, very aristocratic. The rest of us were given a roped-off area with barely the basics.'
– Brad Sinsel
TKO opened the festival and Sinsel thought they ‘held our own’ but when AC/DC got onstage, ‘I remembered thinking, “This is a game changer.” The audience went crazy. The band was fierce, unpretentious and unrelenting. They quickly owned the day and after their performance the event didn’t really recover. It was one of those rare days in rock you get to see everything change.’
An interesting side note for AC/DC trivia buffs: TKO producer Rick Keefer died in 2014.
‘He owned Sea West Studios [in Pahoa] on Oahu,’ says Sinsel. ‘Cliff Williams was trying a solo project for a while and used Rick’s studio.’ Williams played and did backing tracks on ‘I Want My Heavy Metal’ off Adam Bomb’s album Fatal Attraction (1985). Bomb, whose real name is Adam Brenner, was TKO’s guitarist from 1980–82.
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. TKO's debut album LET IT ROLL has been rereleased by Rock Candy Records (to find it: click 'T' in the shop link).
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.