From the Archive: AC/DC's Angus Young Discusses Bon Scott and the 'Bonfire' Box Set
Here's an interview with Angus Young of AC/DC from the January 1998 issue of Guitar World. To see the cover of that issue -- and all the GW covers from 1998 -- click here.
“By the way he carried himself, you really thought that Bon Scott was immortal,” says guitarist Angus Young of AC/DC’s late frontman. “He would drink like a fish, and when you saw him the next morning, he’d be no worse for wear. And you’d think to yourself, ‘How does this guy do this?’”
Bon Scott, a dyed-in-the-wool party animal, seemed immune to the ravages of substance abuse. So it came as a surprise to everyone -- probably to Scott himself most of all -- when, on February 19, 1980, after a night of heavy drinking, the singer choked on his own vomit and died in the back seat of a friend’s car. He was 33 years old.
Scott’s demise could not have come at a worse time.
After slogging their way up the hard rock ranks for the better part of the Seventies, AC/DC were poised on the brink of bona fide rock stardom. Their last album, Highway to Hell (Atco, 1979), had been their most successful yet: benefiting from the FM-friendly production of John "Mutt" Lange, it broke the group in the all-important American market, selling over a million copies in the States alone. The music for the band's all important follow-up, the album that was to become Back in Black, was almost completely written.
And then, with Scott's death, everything ground to a halt. The loss of a frontman, let alone one as charismatic and talented as the gravel-voiced Scott, would have been the death knell of most bands. AC/DC, however, decided to soldier on. "Malcolm [Young, AC/DC rhythm guitarist and Angus' brother] called me and said, 'Me and you will keep working on the songs that we had been writing. It'll take our minds off all of this,'" Angus remembers.
Eventually, Scott was replaced by ex-Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson. Back in Black, now a tribute to Scott, was completed. With Johnson's high-pitched growl in the forefront, the album that would become a true rock classic yielded such unforgettable anthems as "You Shook Me,'' "Have a Drink on Me" and of course, "Let Me Put My Love Into You."
Still, despite the fact that Johnson has been the band's screamer-in-residence more than twice as long as Scott held the post, and notwithstanding the success enjoyed by AC/DC during his tenure, there are those whose loyalty remains unflagging. It is true that he possessed a dark, scrappy allure, an unpredictable rawness -- a venom -- that Johnson, even if he wanted to, couldn't emulate. Of course, he also benefits from the mythical aura that only an untimely death can confer upon a rock and roller. Whatever the reasons, Bon's following remains strong. "For years our fans have asked us, 'When can we hear some unreleased tracks with Bon?'" Young says.
And so, to satisfy Bon zealots everywhere, and to recognize and remember their old mate, AC/DC have assembled Bonfire, a four-CD box set that celebrates Scott’s time with the band. Packed with Scott-era studio outtakes such as "Dirty Eyes,” the first incarnation of the now-classic “Whole Lotta Rosie," live recordings (the audio from the 1981 live concert film Let There Be Rock and a frequently bootlegged live-for-radio set the band performed at Atlantic Studios in New York) as well as Back in Black, Bonfire is a fitting farewell for a friend.
GUITAR WORLD: Why is this the right time for a box-set tribute to Bon, as opposed to any other time in the last 15 years?
ANGUS YOUNG: We had owed the label a box-type of thing for a while, so we went about and done a bit of hunting and scouring about -- a bit of FBI work, if you like -- and found some tracks that had not been released, and a couple of rare things. In New York, we found the Atlantic Studios performance which collectors have been asking for for a long time. Nowadays, people pay big money to bootleggers for that. So why shouldn't they pay us? [laughs]
Were the outtakes for the box remixed or simply remastered?
Some of the songs were remixed. But on the live material there were a few times where we had to say, "This may not exactly have the modern day sound, or be CD quality." Then again, I don't know if we ever were "CD quality," as a band.