Bon Scott was – by his own admission – the “lightning flash in the middle” of Australian greats AC/DC.
A formidable and unpredictable frontman, his legendary status continued off stage. There’s a swag of unbelievable – yet true – stories of his antics.
Music biographer Jeff Apter tracked down the best of the best of those yarns, to produce Bad Boy Boogie: a biography that captures the true spirit of a musical icon like no other.
The below is an extract.
The Giant Dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll Controversy
A few days after his return to Oz, Bon was hosting an after-party at the Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne.
The band had just played what was intended to be a secret gig at a venue called the Tiger Room at the Royal Oak pub in Richmond – until word leaked and the space swiftly filled to way beyond capacity.
The venue’s hugely popular operator, Laurie ‘Loz’ Richards, stood in the middle of the churning crowd, a satisfied man, as the band rocked some old Chuck Berry and Elvis favourites and the bar became gridlocked with thirsty punters.
Bon had seen little of his second (or was it his third?) hometown since he’d squeezed onto the back of a flatbed truck and blasted Long Way to the Top to unsuspecting CBD workers almost a year before, wielding his bagpipes like a weapon. He was glad to be back and was positively revelling in his role as mine host at the Southern Cross.
Bon had rented a suite for the occasion and, as invitee Irene Thornton recalled, ‘it seemed as though half the Tiger Room had gone there after the show’. Thornton and Mary Renshaw looked on as Bon worked the room, loudly and proudly talking up everything the band had achieved in their absence.
‘Bon was having a great time,’ recalled Mary, who’d just moved to Melbourne and was staying with Irene. (Her Christmas card from Bon read: ‘Xmas & future happiness Mary . . . Jingle Balls.’)
Tired of the usual hangers-on and keen to reconnect with his real friends in the room, Bon turned on a few unlucky guests and bluntly insisted that they ‘f–k off ’. Irene confronted Bon about this, giving him a hefty serve.
He told her that if she didn’t like it, she could also leave.
‘Yep, I think I will,’ Irene snapped back, and with that she was gone.
A few days later, after a wild show at the Myer Music Bowl – where Bon demanded entry for a large number of ticketless fans, who were looking on from the other side of a cyclone fence – he materialised in the backyard of Irene’s house, asleep in a hammock. But Irene had returned to Adelaide for a break.
Instead, he sent her a birthday card from the road, which ended with a very Bon-like tag: ‘If you ain’t getting enough/It ain’t my fault.’
The Giant Dose of Rock and Roll tour itself – which the band had hoped to call The Little C–ts Have Done It, to the horror of the promoter – was a strange mix of wild audiences and over-the-top controversy, sparked by Angus’s propensity for dropping his pants and baring his backside.
Stodgy newspaper editorials, angry townspeople and radio bans turned the band’s return to Oz into a grind. They rechristened the tour A Giant Pain in the Arse.
Another controversy erupted when some kids cheekily began calling the phone number – ‘36-24-36’ – cited by Bon in the song Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, asking the woman who answered whether she was keen on performing some ‘dirty deeds’.
She turned out to be a Melbourne matron, a widow, who didn’t appreciate the calls, duly voicing her concerns to a reporter.
‘Pop Hit Makes Widow’s Phone Run Hot!’ screamed the headline in the following day’s edition of the Melbourne Truth. And still her phone kept ringing, forcing her to change the number.
Bon didn’t help matters when he slyly filled in a Q&A for Mark Evans, which appeared in the official tour program, without telling his bandmate.
Evans was ‘quoted’ as saying, ‘I’d like to make enough money to be able to f–k Britt Ekland.’ This only caused more outrage. When Evans confronted him about it, Bon protested his innocence, then sat the young bassist down for a lecture.
‘The girl’s got feelings, too, you know,’ Bon said, straining to keep a straight face.
Bon was interrogated by a RAM journo about Angus’s bum, which was fast becoming the key talking point of the tour. Bon made it clear that he’d rather see that side of Angus than his pimply face.
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‘It’s preferable,’ he insisted, ‘as far as I’m concerned.’
Angus doubled down on this when asked a similar question by a reporter from The Border Mail. Why did he insist on baring his bum?
‘Why? Because my arse is better looking than my face.’
In another interview, Angus said that he chose to bare all as a response to punters who yelled, ‘Angus has no balls!’
‘I eventually take off my pants and show ’em [it’s not true],’ he laughed.
Away from the controversy, Bon was running wild. Boozing was the order of the day; he had begun referring to himself as ‘a special drunkard – I drink too much. It must be the Scot in me.’
After a show in Albury (where the tour program was banned from sale), he invited each and every fan who made their way backstage to his room for drinks at the nearby Commodore Hotel.
Some of them, such as 14-year-old local Jason James, were students, who went to school the next day with serious bragging rights, showing off their Bon Scott autographs.
‘We were legends,’ James laughed.
Another fan snuck into the band’s room at the Commodore and took photos of various band members in their undies, fast asleep. Those pics were also a big hit in the school playground.
Yet another teenage fan wrote about the experience of seeing Bon in action at a gig at Ginninderra High School, in the Canberra suburb of Belconnen.
‘I can still picture Bon Scott, all sweaty, with his shirt off, screaming his lungs out! If only I knew the future, I would have got his autograph or pinched his shirt off the stage!’
After that particular gig on December 9, the band settled into their digs for the night, a private house in the suburb of Pearce, some 20 minutes away. If they were seeking serenity they’d come to the wrong place; locals found out where they were staying and mobbed their hideout.
Bon’s mood darkened, however, when the tour reached Bundaberg in Queensland a few days later. The audience at the local showgrounds couldn’t have been more passive, something Bon didn’t hesitate pointing out.
‘Next time we play Bundaberg,’ Bon snarled from the stage, ‘we’ll play the local cemetery. We’ll get more life out of people there.’
Fortunately, this was the second-to-last show before a two-week break. Bon drank in the new year at the Bondi Lifesaver, jamming with lewd, tattooed rockers and kindred spirits Rose Tattoo.
Bon had introduced their singer, Angry Anderson, to the music of Scotsman Alex Harvey and he became an instant convert, and a rock-and-roll ally. Bon helped ‘the Tatts’ get a record deal with Alberts, which was quite the coup because no other label would touch such a dangerous-looking bunch.
‘They were a great rock outfit,’ Alberts’ Fifa Riccobono said during an episode of ABC Radio’s Conversations, ‘but they scared the living daylights out of people.’
‘Bon was as full as a state school,’ Anderson told Australian Rock Show podcaster Denis Gray, flashing back to that night at the Lifesaver.
‘He jumped up and we did two or three songs . . . I think we did Jumpin’ Jack Flash.’
The Lifesaver was a happy rocking ground for Bon.
During one of AC/DC’s many feverish gigs at the venue, a female punter, clearly caught up in the moment, leaped on stage, grabbed Bon’s microphone and shoved it down her skirt.
It remains unclear if Bon tried to retrieve it.
Bad Boy Boogie is out now through Allen&Unwin