A former struggling musician briefly turned wild-living chauffeur to Australian rockers AC/DC, Bon Scott could have been the result of a comic writer’s imagination, so regularly and with such panache did he role-play the lifestyle of a consummate rock ‘n’ roll frontman.
With his new employers, Scott rapidly cemented a hard-drinking, womanizing reputation. So much so, that by 1974 (just a year into the band’s career) he genuinely had replaced original singer Dave Evans – a performer considered too glam for the band’s image. Scott was the ideal foil to fellow Scot guitarist Malcolm Young and his school-uniform-sporting brother Angus (lead guitar), as AC/DC’s burlesque-infused rock ‘n’ roll took them from Aussie pubs to the world’s stadia within the space of four years.
Once a bagpiper with his father’s band, the incendiary vocalist had fronted a variety of Australian poprock outfits since the early sixties (his family had relocated in the fifties), the best-known of which was perhaps The Valentines, who hit the Australian charts with 1969’s "My Old Man’s a Groovy Old Man" and 1970’s "Juliette". In 1973, a serious motorbike crash appeared to have curbed the singer’s career in music. Not so: Bon Scott’s ceaseless input into AC/DC’s sound and songwriting, not to mention his own performance, was set to turn the band into one of the biggest-grossing rock acts by the end of the seventies.
Piledriving albums High Voltage and TNT (1975), Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976), Let There be Rock (1977) and Powerage (1978) were to enjoy ever-increasing international sales as the decade ended. By 1980 the AC/DC juggernaut hit the USA. Earlier in his music career, Scott and his Valentines bandmates had been arrested for possession of drugs – a heavily publicized event that coloured his reputation for the rest of his life and beyond.
By the time AC/DC became a marketable concern, Scott was regularly indulging in many of the rock world’s other forbidden pleasures. The singer’s lyrics for group standards like "Go Down" and "Whole Lotta Rosie" (both 1977) were not written from imagination: the former was inspired by a groupie known only as "Ruby Lips", the latter a paean to a vast Tasmanian woman with whom Scott had frolicked in Melbourne. (Running into "Rosie" again some time later, Scott was said to have been somewhat disappointed that she had slimmed down considerably from her former ‘42–39–56’ dimensions.)
"It’s like losing a member of your family - that’s the only way to describe it."
Angus Young, AC/DC
While the moral majority may have objected to these apparently misogynistic lyrics, fans saw the humour and lapped up AC/DC live; they achieved Billboard Top Twenty status for 1979’s Highway To Hell as a result. With metal and hard rock enjoying something of a renaissance in the UK as well, the band found themselves sucked into a relentless schedule of touring and recording that further encouraged the drink/drug binges that had become synonymous with the band – and particularly Bon Scott.
AC/DC were back in Britain in February 1980, celebrating Highway to Hell having been certified platinum. On the evening of the 19th, the unpredictable Scott eschewed his band’s plans and sought instead the company of old friend and drinking buddy Alistair Kennear, the pair setting off on a bender to end all benders in London’s Camden Town. Somehow finding their way back to Kennear’s home in Dulwich, the pair continued the binge into the night, Scott eventually collapsing unconscious in his car. Believing his friend would sleep it off overnight, Kennear – in no fit state himself to take further responsibility – made the mistake of leaving Scott outside in his vehicle, where the temperature descended rapidly.
The following morning, Kennear awoke to find Scott still apparently paralytic and, now fearing for his safety, drove him to hospital. It was to no avail – Bon Scott was pronounced dead on arrival, believed to have died of alcoho poisoning – having ‘drunk himself to death’ according to a coroner’s report. It was later proved, however, that not only had he twisted his neck in his sleep, asphyxiating himself, he had also inhaled his own vomit while unconscious. It was a fittingly rock ‘n’ roll death for a man who had lived the most rock ‘n’ roll life imaginable.
Scott was flown home to his adopted city of Fremantle, Australia, where he was buried on 1 March 1980. Far from calling it a day, AC/DC called upon the services of singer Brian Johnson, formerly of British pub-rock hitmakers Geordie. He was no Bon Scott, but Johnson possessed a definite stage presence, and, like his predecessor, a voice that could strip paint at a hundred paces. He has fronted the band ever since, seeing world sales for AC/DC’s albums exceed 150 million – the biggest seller by far being Johnson’s first album, Back In Black (1980), a set dedicated to Scott’s memory.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars - Jeremy Simmonds, 2nd Edition, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2012, page 118 - 119
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