In that same year, AC/DC released their debut album, High Voltage, having recruited Bon Scott as their singer in October ’74. Bon would have a catalytic influence on the group, his personality helping to define their direction.
“They thought we’d be a good pop-rock type band, play a bit of rock’n’roll and a bit of pop. That’s how we started but, then, when Bon came into the picture six months later, we had the key to go straight to rock’n’roll because he could deliver it, and he had his own style,” begins Malcolm, as the cameras start to roll for what is an interview that lasts close to two hours and traverses AC/DC’s entire career.
“Bon influenced the band to go more into the rock’n’roll thing, which we’d always liked anyway,” he continues. “But when you’re kids, you’ll do whatever it takes to get signed up and get on the road. We were really happy at the thought of just working in clubs for the rest of our lives because it was better than having day jobs, and you could travel. We thought, ‘If we could accomplish that, then we’ve got a life.’ Everything else became a bonus after that.”
Bon Scott did indeed spur AC/DC on to loftier ambitions, and he remains core to their success – the pinnacle of which is Back In Black, the band’s tribute to their late frontman which was released 40 years ago this week.
Like the Young brothers, Bon was born in Scotland prior to his family’s decision to emigrate to Australia. He was 28 when he joined AC/DC, seven and nine years older than Malcolm and Angus respectively, and he’d already fronted a number of bands (The Spektors and The Valentines) without ever genuinely tasting major-league success.
His next band, Fraternity, were what Malcolm refers to as “a hippy-dippy band” whose whimsical musical style was at odds with what he describes as Bon’s “sock-it-to-’em attitude”. The frontman had also toured the UK with Fraternity, but the band had failed to find an audience there, forcing him to return to Australia. Back home, he secured a job at a fertiliser plant and joined the country-rock act The Mount Lofty Rangers, only to leave during a heated argument during a rehearsal.
Initially, Bon was reluctant to join AC/DC due to the age difference between him and the rest of the band, thinking his day job presented him a greater sense of security. But, having watched them play shows, he was also acutely aware of the chemistry that existed between the brothers. Hit by a moment of realisation, he understood that AC/DC offered him one last shot at a career in music, and when the brothers and Bon moved into a communal band house in Lansdowne Road, Melbourne, he ensured they knuckled down to work.
“Bon would be the first one up in the morning, no matter what state he went to bed in,” says Malcolm. “You’d get a cup of coffee by your bed. ‘Come on, time to get up and get into practice.’ He was driving us on a lot.”
“When it came to rock’n’roll, he was always deadly serious. He’d be the first to tell you, ‘No, that’s not working,’ or, ‘Go away and write something,’” adds Angus. “Sometimes he’d get stuck and he’d go down to a club for the night and get wasted but, as Mal said, he was there first thing in the morning, putting these lyrics together.”