The Day AC/DC Played Their First Concert With Bon Scott
When Bon Scott took the stage with AC/DC for the first time on Oct. 5, 1974, it wasn't under the white-hot spotlights of Madison Square Garden or the Hollywood Bowl. Instead, this particular evening of high voltage rock and roll took place at Australia's lesser-renowned Brighton Le-Sands Masonic Hall.
It would prove to be AC/DC's big-bang moment, though they'd actually been around for some time. In fact, the group was coming off a six-week residency at Beethoven's Disco in Perth, but had already grown disenchanted with original lead singer Dave Evans. The set list on Scott's first night even included "Can I Sit Next to You Girl" – AC/DC's initial single, recorded with Evans. And yet somehow Scott, an unlikely figure with a checkered musical past who was almost a decade older than AC/DC's Angus Young, became the final piece to this band's puzzle.
“I wasn’t sure Bon was right," Michael Browning, AC/DC's manager at the time, once told Uncut. "But it worked. Bon took the role on like a character actor. He was the missing link. He made them real.”
Unfortunately, little remains of these ferocious, career-making shows – something Angus Young still regrets. "Sometimes I wish our die-hard fans across the world could have seen us then," Young told Adelaide Now. "In some of those gigs, there might not have been a big audience, we might have been in Bendigo somewhere playing to a couple of hundred people in a pub, but it was very wild times. There was such energy, probably because we were very young at the time and everything was new and fresh. Everything we did, so much energy was put out. If we'd known, now in hindsight, we should have found the technology to record that."
Luckily, AC/DC would begin work on their studio debut a scant few weeks later, in November of 1974. The High Voltage album was released in Australia the following February. By then, the bare-chested, heavy-drinking Scott had already reshaped the band in his own outsized image. “Bon was charismatic and a tremendous singer," early AC/DC drummer Peter Clack told Uncut. "He was an emcee, a proper showman, and the music was ideal for that. He’d have Angus up on his shoulders playing these screaming solos, or he’d be up on the PA stack – whatever it took to give people a good time.”
That things went so well from the first couldn't have come as a surprise to Angus' brother Malcolm Young, who had been thinking of Scott as a replacement for some time. Ironically, Scott initially turned down the offer – content, it seemed, to keep his day job after a series of failed attempts at rock stardom.
“We were playing Largs Pier, out on a jetty,” Clack added. “Bon was in the crowd. We knew he was a fantastic singer so Malcolm, who was the brains, said, ‘I’m going to put it on Bon, maybe he’ll be interested.’ There was an audition and he invited Bon to join. Bon said, ‘Piss off, I’ve got my wife and I’m about to start a job.’ When we got back to Melbourne, Bon called up and said, ‘Okay, Malcolm, I’m in.’ It turned out his job was to paint this big rusty ship in the dock at Adelaide. He was on his way in the cold, looked at the ship and said, ‘Fuck this, I’m not doing this for a living,’ turned round, phoned Malcolm and packed a suitcase.”
Even after securing the gig, the multi-talented Scott maintained that every-man attitude, Angus Young told Guitar World. "He said, 'I want to play drums.' And we said, 'Well, Bon, we've already got a drummer. Your talents lie elsewhere.' But he was a good drummer. It showed in his character, because he saw himself as just another member of the band. He didn't have this lead singer attitude of, 'I have to be at the front, all the time. I'm the singer. I'm the star. I get the chicks.'
AC/DC would go on to release a string of platinum and multi-platinum discs including 1976's Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, 1977's Let There Be Rock, 1978's Powerage and 1979's Highway to Hell, to go along with the thunderous live set, If You Want Blood You've Got It, also from 1978. All of that momentum was cut short, however, with Scott's too-early end – following a deadly bout with alcohol on Feb. 19, 1980. "That’s the sad part: He never knew," Scott's former wife Irene Thornton told the Daily Mail. "I just wish he could have known the heights he was going to achieve. It’s very sad."
AC/DC's next studio effort, 1980's Back in Black, confirms that notion, as it became their biggest album ever – despite the quick replacement of Scott with Brian Johnson. Still, such was the band's feeling of loss that they almost chose to halt things all together – until a member of Scott's family stepped in. "Actually, when we’d gone to his funeral," Malcolm Young once told Exclaim, "it was his father that said, ‘You should keep going.’ It was him, hopefully through Bon’s spirit, relaying it to us.” Subsequent auditions were held, and Johnson was tabbed to take over.
Ironically enough, Scott's pre-AC/DC band Fang actually opened up for another outfit named Geordie in 1973 – which featured Johnson as lead singer. Moreover, Johnson's birthday is on Oct. 5, as well.
Scott had also been in a Perth-based bubblegum-pop band called the Valentines and, in the period immediately preceding his tenure in AC/DC, in another known as the Mount Loft Rangers. Fang had been called Fraternity, as well. None of it necessarily pointed to what lay immediately ahead. And yet, on a tiny stage in New South Wales 40 years ago, something magical happened. AC/DC was never the same, Angus Young admits. “I don’t think there’d have been an AC/DC if it hadn’t been for Bon," he told Uncut. "He molded the character of AC/DC."
In keeping, Scott was a notable part of AC/DC's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, nearly 25 years after his death – and some three decades after that first concert.
"He's always there," Malcolm Young told UPI. "He never left the band. That's just the way we are. We're very tight as a unit. You just never forget. There's too many stories with him, with Bon. It just creeps in every day; if it's not one of the band, it's a fan. It's great for us. It just shows you how popular and how long back it remains. The more time passes, the bigger Bon gets, in a way. I think it's great."
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