Saturday, May 02, 2020

Highway to Hell - The Life and Times of AC/DC Legend Bon Scott by Clinton Walker

I'm not sure exactly when I discovered AC/DC but it was during Bon's reign, while they were being covered by the same r'n'r magazines that were touting everything from punk rock to Van Halen. While they never became a fave-rave of mine, their goofily simplistic approach to heavy rock was always endearing and I still listen to them to this day.

While not originally a fan of the band, Walker definitely is on Bon's side here - which makes sense - and pretty much derides the band's accomplishments after Bon passed away, although that was their commercial peak. No other band member would cooperate with him regarding this book and Bon's friends did, so that could account for some of the bias, as well.

Born in Scotland, the Scotts (appropriate!) moved to Australian when Bon was a young child with a bit of a wild streak and he grew into a rock'n'roll fan as the music eventually hit the island's shores. Without the musical history of America or the dedicated research thereof by the Brits, Australia was slow to understand and embrace the new music, but, of course, it eventually did with a fever. Bon came from a musical family - he started by playing drums, emulating his father - and was soon playing with his first band, the Spektors, that evolved into the Valentines with him moving into a co-vocalist spot and a physical move to Melbourne. This band lasted several years and, despite just barely hitting the charts, was quite popular, gigged regularly, started some innocent-ish dalliances with pot and some not-so-innocent dalliances with multitudes of young, willing women.

From there, Bon moved onto the band Fraternity, who was successful in Australia, but when they tried their luck in England, pretty much nothing happened and they split up - along with several of their marriages - and returned to Aussieland. There were enough people looking out for Bon and when the new band AC/DC ditched their lead singer, everyone was convinced to give him a try and despite being considerably older and more established, everything clicked and they immediately fell into gigging and recording their first LP, High Voltage.

it actually took the band longer than I imagined for them to really hit the "big time", although they did manage to successfully tour England, Europe and the States regularly and with some major, major bands (as well as some not so major), playing everywhere from the Whiskey-A-Go-Go (and much smaller venues) to Madison Square Garden! Bon's dream was being a rock'n'roll star - as his lyrics will attest - but he was already succumbing to alcoholism to the point where his junkie girlfriend felt that she needed to intervene!

(As an aside, I find it kinda funny that the author feels the need to denigrate so much music - punk rock, especially - even to the point of calling a number of AC/DC songs crap, in so many words. And both he and the band had harsh words for the legendary producer/engineer Eddie Kramer, who was riding high at the time with many gargantuan groups and their record company wanted them to work together, but who AC/DC couldn't deal with. They found a relative unknown and created Highway to Hell, much to their credit.)

Highway to Hell became a smash and their touring schedule only increased and, on a rare night off in London, Bon was bored, got drunk, went out and got far more plastered and died from "scute alcohol poisoning" in early 1980. Of course, he was succeeded by Brian Johnson and the following Back in Black was their biggest hit yet and, while never matching that success, they continue in one form or another to this day.

This book was written specifically for the Australian market and while it eventually was published in the States, there are quite a lot of Oz-centric references and slang that Americans may not get (as least I didn't!). It doesn't really detract from the story, but is a little distracting. Regardless, Walker keeps the story moving, doesn't dwell in sensationalism and does his best to humanize this mythical party animal. Worthwhile.