Saturday, November 22, 1997
Old habits die hard.
During a recent photo shoot, AC/DC guitarist Angus Young made a horns-with-his-hands devil gesture, recalling the famous cover for the Australian band's 1979 breakthrough album Highway To Hell.
Young, 42, was in Toronto recently to promote AC/DC's new five-CD box set Bonfire, which hit record stores this week and honors the late Bon Scott, the hard rocking group's legendary singer from 1973 to 1980.
Bonfire consists of the extremely rare 1978 promo, Live From Atlantic Studios, music from the 1980 concert film, Let There Be Rock, unreleased studio versions of songs plus 1981's Back In Black, which featured new singer Brian Johnson, and was AC/DC's personal tribute to Scott.
"When he started with us, it was his ideal that he could be what he wanted to be," says Young of Scott. "He'd been in other bands where they always wanted him to be something else. The guy had tattoos since he was 15 all over his body and in places I won't talk about. And he had done a lot. He'd been like a crayfisherman with sailors and he had a bit of that character in him. He could be wild."
Like the time when Scott arranged to have "some guy" bring booze to a band party in a remote Australian motel. He brought it alright -- by the crateload. The only problem was it had been stolen from the other motel rooms.
"The next thing you know the law comes," remembers Young with a smile. "It was like something out of a James Cagney movie with a big bullhorn -- 'We've got you surrounded. Come out!' And I remember Bon grabbing my hat, the school cap, and he walked out there and he was totally starkers and they've got a big spotlight on him up on the top of this motel and he's going, 'Hello, officers!'
"The strange thing was the police were after this (other) guy and he was on their wanted list for doing something to chickens."
After almost 25 years in the business and AC/DC's worldwide sales of 80 million, Young remains one of the most recognizable guitarists in rock with his trademark school uniform and cap and bludgeoning guitar sound on such anthems as Highway To Hell, Back In Black, You Shook Me All Night Long and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.
Now, he says, enough time has passed since Scott's 1980 death in London for the band to release Bonfire.
"For us, when Bon Scott died, it was too close to the event and it would be seen like grave-robbing," he says. "I think if we'd released it earlier, any closer to the time, it would have been seen as though we were cashing in on a tragedy."
The death of Scott -- the popular perception is that he drank himself to death or choked on his own vomit -- solidified the reputation of the band's former chauffeur as a hard-living womanizer who had several minor criminal convictions and was rejected by the Australian army for being "socially maladjusted."
But Young, who says AC/DC is currently working on songs for a new studio album in 1998, says he knew a different person.
"I miss him and I miss how he was as a person. He was very charismatic. Even when I first met him, I was in awe because he had a very strong presence. We were always laughing about the whole system of what people expected out of a rock 'n' roll band. Because at the time, everything was safe, everything was the pop music thing. It was like they were always looking for a cutie, Osmond thing and especially the Australian philosophy -- they used to go, 'What b.s. is this?' For the first time they probably had a band that the actual public identified with more so than the media-wannabes. The clean, sanitized thing. I mean, how much of the Brady Bunch can you take?"
Young also adds the truth has never really come out about how Scott died.
"I think in Britain, one of the newspapers just printed the usual cliche deal.They didn't even get in contact with the medical coroner and he said it was just death by accident. The way he'd fallen asleep, Bon being a bit of an asthmatic, he'd sort of fallen sleep in this kind of position and the guy said, 'It could happen to anyone.' "