From the Archive: AC/DC's Angus Young Discusses Bon Scott and the 'Bonfire' Box Set
Were your brother George and Harry Vanda, who produced all of your records up through Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap [Atco, 1978], involved in selecting and preparing the materials for Bonfire?
Yes, we were Iucky to have them. We gave them the tracks we'd found and asked them what they thought. They were the quality control when we made the old records, so it seemed fitting for them to do the same now. If a track didn't stand up, we would pass on it.
I must admit, though, that while we were digging through the material, a few times, even we were shocked at what was coming back at us off the tapes -- blown away. We felt humbled by our own machine.
What was the Atlantic Studios session like? Was it uncomfortable for you to play "live,'' without a real audience to feed off?
We had done this type of live radio broadcast thing before, in England and in other places. We just looked at it as if it was a live thing except that it happened to be in a studio. It was kind of strange in a way, because as we started playing, people started wandering in and an audience grew. We had cleaners and tea ladies coming in, wondering what the racket was all about.
But this radio broadcast must have been more high pressured than the previous ones, as in 1978, you were so hell-bent on conquering the United States' huge hard rock market, while Europe was already rather securely under your belt. It was a make or break situation.
I suppose the business people involved, the people who worked at the record company, felt pressure. But as a band, we were relatively care-free, because we knew that our live shows were our strong suit. Live shows and touring was where we were winning an audience more than anywhere else, because we always got the audience rocking, even as an opening band... and anyway, when you're young, you're immortal. You don't even think about things like that. I mean, when Bon met the head of our record company, he was literally pissing in a jar backstage at CBGB's! There was this industry bigwig wanting to shake his hand and he was peeing in a jar. The guy was like, "Do I shake his hand or what?"
By all accounts, Bon was a very outgoing, unaffected cat.
Oh, sure. Probably too friendly to a lot of people. He had no airs and graces about him, probably because he was a drummer at heart. When he got into music, that's what he wanted to do. In fact, when he joined the band, 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."
So there was no friction between the two of you because you were the most visible member of the group?
No -- he would shove me forward! From the beginning, I always got shoved up to the front. See, when I first started to play, I was very shy, so Malcolm would sort of pull me forward. Then when I put the school boy suit on, I was so scared, standing out thereon stage dressed like a loony, that I finally decided that I had to start moving around. I figured, “I’m just going to keep on moving because I’m a target here.” Especially when we were playing in clubs and bars God knows where in the middle of Australia, it was much easier to dodge things like bottles if you didn’t stand in one place. I thought, “If you keep their visual interest and the guitar happenin’ and hold it all together, you might come out alive at the end of the night -- without the natives getting restless and saying, “Let’s spear that little fucker.”
You’ve often said that once you put on the suit and hit the stage, you become a completely different person, a man possessed. Bon seemed to share that split personality with you. Did the two of you feed off each other's energy?
Sure. He could get you sometimes. Some of the things he did, I would simply say, "Hey now, there's no way I'm doing that." He was very gymnastic for some reason, perhaps because of the way he was built, and he could easily climb up a P.A. tower and jump off it -- and he’d usually try and drag me with him! He’d be going, “Jump! Now!” My knees would be shaking and I’d say, “You’ve got to give me a few seconds to get my nerve up, man.”
Bon was almost 10 years older than the rest of the band. Did he bring any wisdom to the group that benefited you?
He used to always say to me, "Don't do what I do." He could go out and have a wild time. He certainly lived a full life. He partied -- he boogied, you know?
I suppose that's how he kept a balance. He could go somewhere and a demon would surface and he would be away, and then he'd be there and he'd be working. He never missed a show. There were a lot of times where people would be on tenterhooks, going, "Is this guy going to show?" And a couple of minutes before we were supposed to go on, the door would fly open and in he would walk and hit the stage. He was always dependable getting on the stage.
But not having your singer show up until five minutes before the gig must have put enormous stress on you guys…
Not really. We were all pretty much that way. If they told you to be there at eight o'clock, you made your best effort to be there. And if you didn't, whoever was there started. [laughs] I remember one night, the bass player and drummer hadn't shown up so me, Malcolm and Bon on the drums went out and we kicked off the night, and then the other two guys just sort of wandered on. People just thought that it was part of the act! [laughs] It was really all part and parcel of the seat-of-your pants life that we led early on.
Can you describe what the touring situation was like?
We didn't have fancy equipment or anything like that. Every guitarist I would cross paths with would tell me that I should have a flashy guitar, whatever the latest fashion model was, and I used to say, "Why? Mine works, doesn't it? It's a piece of wood and six strings and it works." Hell, if the drummer had a kit made up of different bits, who cared, if it fuckin' rocked, you know?
I mean, we were touring all around the world and Malcolm and I had only one spare guitar between the two of us. Malcolm took a Fender Telecaster that he knocked a hole in for a humbucker, and whoever broke a string first got it. If I broke a string, I got it and flipped it over to the humbucker; if he broke one, he just flipped it back to the single coil. We compromised on the string gauge for the spare guitar, 'cause Malcolm uses a heavier set than me, so we put on a heavy bottom and a wiggly top. Back then, we went on very bare bones, without big light shows or anything. It was just your instrument and you -- no fancy pedals or anything. You got on a stage and you fucked around.