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FIRST LOOK: Ever Wondered What The Early Years Of Bon Scott & AC/DC Were Like?

3 August 2021 | 12:58 pm | Jeff Apter

'Bad Boy Boogie' is the true story of AC/DC legend Bon Scott, taking a look at the life of the much-loved "lyricist, frontman and rascal". Here, author Jeff Apter shares an exclusive extract of the book with 'The Music', looking at Scott's time with his band Fraternity ahead of their departure to the UK, as well as looking at Malcolm and Angus Young's 'musical apprenticeship' and the moments that led them to AC/DC and Bon Scott.

The new biography on the life of AC/DC's Bon Scott is out now!

The new biography on the life of AC/DC's Bon Scott is out now! (Early AC/DC and Bon Scott images courtesy of Philip Morris)

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There was plenty of business to attend to before Bon and the band could head offshore. Most importantly for Bon, he and Irene were getting hitched. Hamish Henry had made it clear that their UK entourage — the band’s departure was planned for May 1972 — would include wives but not girlfriends. His munificence only extended so far. This hastened Bon’s proposal to Irene, although it wasn’t a marriage of convenience. They were in love.

When Bon broke the news to his mother, Isa, back in the west, she had one key question: ‘Is the girl pregnant, Ronnie?’ (She wasn’t.)

The wedding took place on 24 January, during a typically sun-blasted Adelaide summer. They said their ‘I dos’ at the registry office at the Adelaide Town Hall. Bon wore flares and wide lapels; Irene was stunning in a full-length crepe skirt, her fair hair cascading down her shoulders. They were flanked by Bruce Howe and John Bisset during the ceremony (Irene opted against bridesmaids). Then the newlyweds, various friends, family and the guys from Fraternity piled into the band’s ride — an ageing Greyhound bus — for the trip to Hemming’s Farm for the reception. First stop, though, was Bon’s share house in Norwood, where the newlyweds posed for photos with their mothers, smiling happily. It was the first time that Irene had met Isa, and they connected strongly. ‘She was full of life,’ wrote Irene, ‘just like Bon.’

Not surprisingly, the reception was an all-nighter; at one stage during the long night, the keg was somehow knocked into the dam. It was a problem easy fixed — the guests simply jumped in and retrieved it. Pot, booze and good times were in ample supply, and the party spilled over to the next day. Bride and groom awoke the next day with supersized hangovers.

Upon reflection, Irene figured that Bon ‘just liked being married’; he seemed more excited by the concept than the reality, and fidelity would prove a very tricky thing for him to manage. But he was more domesticated than Irene, having been pretty much independent since his days in The Spektors. 

Bon was a dab hand at the ironing board and could also rustle up a basic though edible spread — he even taught Irene how to make coleslaw. Irene, by her own admission, had none of these skills; the notion of a domestic life in suburbia had little appeal for her. But it was a love match, at least at the time. Bon was 25, Irene 21, and their shared future seemed bright.

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‘I thought it would last forever,’ she wrote, ‘and things would never change.’

Oddly, not long after they were married, Bon drove Irene to the house of Margaret Smith, one of his former partners, and introduced the two women. It was a peculiar gesture; perhaps it was Bon’s way of proving to Smith that he’d moved on. But Smith, after a change of Christian name, would eventually resurface in Bon’s life.


*

In the weeks leading up to their departure, the band secured some funding from the Arts Council of South Australia and headed out on a quick regional tour. Bon had scored some super-strength blotting-paper acid and, in typical Road Test Ronny style, he took to it with abandon, even though the others were a little more wary.

As John Bisset recalled in an interview at AC/DC Collector, ‘Most of us sussed out to take just enough to get upstairs but not really peaking.’ Not so Bon.

To his credit, Bon was generous with his drugs: he once plied John Bisset with Mandrax — ‘mandies’ — during a show, and Bisset dropped headfirst onto his keyboard, as though he’d been shot, his right foot stuck on the volume pedal.

Part of the deal with the Arts Council required the band to be on call for civic receptions. During one such soiree, after a show at Waikerie, on the banks of the Murray River, the hostess offered everyone scones. Bon stared at them, fear in his eyes. He was freaking out.

‘What’s wrong, Bon?’ Bisset asked.

‘They’re dancing on the plate,’ Bon whispered.

*

While Bon was dealing with the dancing scones, in Sydney, two brothers who would change the course of his life were serving their musical apprenticeship. Malcolm and Angus Young were connected to Bon by more than a shared love of rock and roll. The Young family had also come to Australia via the Assisted Migration Scheme, just like the Scotts. They arrived in June 1963. Only two Youngs stayed behind in the UK — older brothers Alex, who was serving time in a band called Grapefruit, and John, who was detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

The Youngs came straight off the council estate at Cranhill in Glasgow, about 130 kilometres from where Bon was raised in Kirriemuir, and wound up in the Villawood Migrant Hostel in Sydney.

Again, just like Bon, neither Malcolm nor Angus had completely shed their Scottish brogue. When pop singer Ted Mulry once visited the Youngs, he asked Malcolm: ‘What’s that language you all talk in?’

In 1971, the most famous Young of all was George, the third youngest of the eight siblings. He’d been the mainstay of The Easybeats, whose path had crossed intermittently with that of Bon Scott while he was with The Valentines. 

But in 1972 Malcolm and Angus started their musical journey. Sixteen-year-old Angus played manic lead guitar in an outfit named Kantuckee, while Malcolm, three years his senior, was the steady-handed rhythm guitarist in Velvet Underground, a favourite act of the suburban dance circuit. 

Neither downplayed their musical bloodline; Angus and Malcolm would proudly introduce themselves as ‘the brother of George Young — from The Easybeats!’ And they were eager to pursue their own rock-and-roll dream, inspired equally by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, big brother George and their shared distaste for the nine to five.


While Kantuckee was little more than a garage band, Velvet Underground was a working group, gigging regularly, building a following — mainly female, mainly young — and trying their hand at writing originals. Malcolm had joined them in April 1971 and had recently acquired an impressive rig: a Marshall amp and a Gibson guitar, towering over his five-foot-two frame. As for Angus, two simple words were printed on the top of his amplifier: ‘HIGH VOLTAGE’.

It was around this time that Ted Albert, the well-heeled, well-spoken scion of the successful Sydney music empire Alberts, producer and staunch supporter of George Young and The Easybeats, visited the Young family home in suburban Burwood. When he heard Malcolm and Angus banging away on guitars in a nearby room, he turned to their father, William, and said: ‘If they ever want to do anything, send them to me.’ Albert sensed that George might not be the only Young with some talent.

Step by gradual step, the pieces of AC/DC were falling into place.


*

The last hurrah of Fraternity before their departure for the UK was the release of an album, their second, titled Flaming Galah, which appeared in April. Yet again, Bon had just the one co-write on the album, a country-rocker called Welfare Boogie, which was credited to the entire band. 

It was a classic case of singing about what you know; in some ways, Hamish Henry’s weekly cheques weren’t vastly different to surviving on the dole. The lyric even flashed back to the day when The Valentines were busted, because, as Bon sang, ‘the wrong guy I trusted’. The funny, clever wordplay for which he’d become renowned was slowly taking shape, as was Bon’s habit of drawing on his own experiences for source material. 

There was more personality in that single song than there was on the rest of the LP, although one track, If You Got It, was noteworthy, simply for the fact that it was recorded while the band was on ’shrooms. (‘’Twas the season for gathering mushrooms,’ admitted John Bisset.)

Welfare Boogie was considered strong enough to release as a single, but it didn’t bother the charts, which currently featured such locals as Colleen Hewett, Johnny Chester, and The Aztecs’ terrific Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy). Flaming Galah hit a national peak of number 28 and then quickly faded away. The time couldn’t have been better for an overseas odyssey.

In the weeks leading up to their flight out, Bon and Irene briefly moved in with her mother. First, they flew to Perth, to check in with Bon’s people and his many drinking buddies. Bon was primed for the UK, hugely excited. As Irene noted, Bon firmly believed that Fraternity were world-beaters: ‘He was convinced that Fraternity was going to knock them dead in England.’...

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This is an edited extract from Bad Boy Boogie: The True Story Of AC/DC Legend Bon Scott by Jeff Apter, Allen & Unwin, RRP $32.99, available now. Pick up a copy here.