Bon Scott Book Revelations: ‘He Was Disposable’
Bon: The Last Highway takes a dive into the final years of Bon Scott, including his time spent in Miami, where AC/DC were working on Highway to Hell in early 1979 up until the singer’s death on Feb. 19, 1980.
Jesse Fink's exhaustively researched book is a revelation for fans, uncovering new levels of information, including a theory that a heroin overdose was the cause of Scott’s death. The book also gets into the long-suspected speculation that the singer had contributed way more to the landmark Back in Black LP than just being its inspiration, which has always been the position of band co-founders and leaders Angus and Malcolm Young.
Fink, who previously wrote The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, talks to Ultimate Classic Rock about some of the more controversial aspects of the book, his thoughts on Brian Johnson’s recent exit from the group and where the legacy of AC/DC stands.
There are some people who are going to say, when you bring the heroin theory into Scott’s death, that it would have been caught by the medical examiner. But you make the point that back then, it wasn’t something exhaustively checked.
The thing is, I don’t think blood tests are the most reliable things to detect heroin anyway – and heroin is metabolized very quickly after you take it. I think had other tests been done, like proper toxicology tests, urine tests – and whatever else was available to them – I’m sure whatever drugs were in Bon’s system would’ve been detected. The point I’m making in the book is from the point of the discovery of Bon’s body to the actual conclusion of the inquest, it was really just about 72 hours. It was all wrapped up incredibly quickly; they open up your stomach and find half a bottle of whiskey in there and go, “Oh, he died of alcohol poisoning.” And at the inquest, Bon’s history of drug use wasn’t really brought up. The coroner really wasn’t given all the information he needed to properly examine Bon’s case.
At the time, while well-known to a degree, Scott wasn’t the legend he’s considered today -- he was just another rocker found dead, so there wasn’t any particularly exceptional attention given when he died.
Look, if you read the newspaper clippings from that week, when news got out that he died, a lot of the headlines didn’t even carry his name; he just wasn’t that important. The investigation of his death wasn’t as far as it could’ve been – definitely. Had Bon Scott died today, it would’ve been a completely different story. I mean, look at Chris Cornell; Bon is a far more significant than Chris Cornell, but people are going to be talking about Chris Cornell for years to come.
At what point did you think there was enough evidence that Bon had played a much larger role in the creation of Back in Black than had been believed all these years?
I’d always had a hunch that “You Shook Me All Night Long” was a Bon song; no evidence other than the convictions of people who knew him. Guys like Doug Thaler [AC/DC’s original agent in the States], who said, “You can bet your life that Bon wrote 'You Shook Me All Night Long,'” and that was a good friend of Bon. Certainly there’s people that won’t accept anything less than a signed confession from the Youngs and Brian Johnson that Bon actually wrote [the song]. There’s no evidence for it, other than the information that I’ve gathered in the book that would certainly lend credence to the theory that he did, and that was really me going down to Miami and meeting Holly X, who was his girlfriend down there in 1979, who was a beautiful blonde, teenager well-known in Miami in the rock scene. I call her “American Thighs” in the book, but that’s just the nickname I gave her. I guess it was when she told me she had a horse called Doubletime and a light bulb went off in my head [regarding a “You Shook Me All Night Long” verse that begins with, “Working double-time on the seduction line"]. But again, it’s not proof of anything; it could just be an incredible coincidence.
Then it was speaking quite separately to [Scott's U.K. girlfriend] Silver Smith, who didn’t know Holly and Holly didn’t know Silver, but Silver said, “I saw the words ‘She told me to come, but I was already there,’ and ‘American thighs’ in one of Bon’s letters back in ’76,” so it really just sort of added weight to the theory that I was developing. I just want to reiterate that there’s no conclusive proof that Bon wrote “You Shook Me All Night Long,” but I think there’s enough information to lend weight to the idea that he possibly did.
During the Highway to Hell tour, how much do you think the band and Scott were working on material for the next album?
We know that in London, just before Bon died, they were working on some bare-bones versions of a couple of tracks, but the most interesting revelation about that is what Silver told me about Bon having finished the lyrics on the night that he went out to the Music Machine in London. That suggests that he had been working on these songs or doodling for some time if he had got to a point where he had actually finished writing the lyrics. That’s why she says he rang Silver that night, it was to say, “Hey Silver, I finished the lyrics, let’s go out and celebrate.”
Before the book came out, Ultimate Classic Rock ran an exclusive excerpt where it was alleged that Scott was thinking about leaving the band. Do you think he was serious? And had he had left, what do you think would’ve happened; would the others have wooed him back, found somebody else …
I think he was serious, but I think that phone call to Roy, he was at a very low point, he was obviously depressed, he’d had enough. The thing with Bon which comes through in the book, he was different things to different people and he said different things to different people. What he said to Roy was obviously something he felt he could share with someone who was a friend, but Vince Lovegrove, who was Bon’s bandmate in the Valentines many years before said a similar thing about Bon years ago, just before [Lovegrove] died, that Bon had wanted to quit AC/DC. Roy’s story in the book kind of corroborates that. The issue is what kept him going, and it was probably really just the money; he knew that he’d worked so hard to get to that point and the big payday was around the corner. It was just a matter of him holding on. The impression that I got talking to various people was that what really mattered to the Youngs was just making it, and they’re fairly ruthless so I don’t think they had much sentiment for Bon. He was just another employee, just like Brian Johnson is just another employee. It’s just that after his death, Bon was kind of remade as this essential linchpin in everything they did, but ultimately I believe he was no different than any other member of the band whose name wasn’t “Young” – he was disposable and dispensable.
You mentioned this, and it’s covered more in-depth in your previous book, that the Youngs have been pretty ruthless over the years. When it comes right down to it, do you think they’re bad people?
I don’t think they’re bad people at all, I just they have a very different idea about maybe to handle people. When I wrote The Youngs, I took a lot of abuse from a section of the AC/DC fan community for kind of writing that book – which actually I did out of admiration for the band. The thing was I didn’t want to just fellate the Young brothers; I wanted to show the reality of the music business and point out that ultimately AC/DC was much more than a band; it was a huge moneymaking operation with some very unsentimental Scottish/Australian at the head of that corporation. I don’t think they’re bad, but I think what we’ve seen with Brian certainly probably vindicates kind of what I’ve said in The Youngs all along.
So you weren’t surprised when they just kinda kicked him to the curb.
I was surprised how suddenly they announced they were going to replace him with a “guest singer” – it was almost instantaneous. It wasn’t like, “We’re gonna hang around and wait for you to get better,” it was like, “We’re just gonna continue with a guest.” It’s pretty telling that since that happened, really [Johnson] has said nothing.
What do you think it will do to the AC/DC legacy if they move forward and make a new album with Axl Rose?
I think they’ve destroyed the legacy already. I think it was handled so badly that … it’s incredibly sad because I think they had gotten everything right for so long and they just kind of screwed it up right at the end.