AC/DC: The plot to conquer the U.K. Part 2

AC/DC's Bon Scott (No photo credit available)

Origin of species

AC/DC was formed by the brothers Malcolm and Angus Young in 1973. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1953 and 1959, respectively, but relocating to Sydney, Australia, in the early 1960s, they were the younger siblings of George Young, one half of the Vanda-Young production team that sprung, in turn, from the wreckage of The Easybeats, probably the most successful Australian rock band ever at that point.

Their “Friday On My Mind” remains an admittedly mislabeled British Invasion classic, and right around the time the younger Youngs were forming their band, The Easybeats’ own memory was given a major shot in the arm when David Bowie covered their greatest hit on his Pin Ups album.

Both brothers had a local pedigree. Malcolm’s first band, in 1971, was named the Velvet Underground in emulation of Lou Reed’s recently sundered American combo; Angus’ was the snappily named Tantrum. The first time they played together, however, was when they joined their big brother in the Marcus Hook Roll Band, to record an album called Tales Of Old Granddaddy, and the following year, 1973, they combined forces again in a band whose name, their sister Margaret once said, was taken from the back of the family vacuum cleaner. “AC/DC. It has something to do with electricity.”

With vocalist Dave Evans, bassist Larry Van Knedt and drummer Colin Burgess, AC/DC played their first-ever live show at the tiny Sydney club Chequers, on New Year’s Eve, 1973, with a repertoire comprised exclusively of Rolling Stones, Beatles and Chuck Berry covers.

Six months later, a new rhythm section of Rob Bailey and Peter Clack fired the band through the sessions for its first single, “Can I Sit Next To You, Girl”/“Rockin’ In The Parlour” — produced, inevitably, by Harry Vanda and George Young. Released in July 1974 on Albert Records (Australia) and Polydor (New Zealand), the single became a minor regional hit, and AC/DC set out on their first nationwide tour.

They were visual from the start. Although Angus had already left school, it was only by a matter of months. It only felt natural, then, that he should wear a school uniform onstage, and audiences responded so well to it that he still hasn’t got ’round to changing his look.

“I always think back to when I saw The Yardbirds,” says Angus. “I was impressed with how wild and exciting the show was. They crammed everything into their spot on the bill. That’s always been my idea of what a band should be.”

It was a well-starred outing. Playing Melbourne’s Hard Rock Café, they so entranced the venue’s owner, Michael Browning, that he became AC/DC’s manager; he, in turn, recruited the band their first ever driver/roadie, a 28-year-old fellow Scots immigrant named Ronald Belford Scott.

Months later, Bon, as he was known, had been promoted to drummer; shortly after that, he was the band’s frontman and, in January 1975, the new-look AC/DC set about recording their debut album, High Voltage.

“Before I joined the band,” Scott told O’Grady, “Angus ’n Malcolm, the ones you’d least expect to be the heavies, used to get up to some incredible things. The first gig I was with them, in Adelaide, there were a dozen guys in front of the stage shouting ‘Hey, hey come on down here ya …’ and Angus, he walks up to the edge of the stage and screams at them ‘Go and get …’ So me, I’m looking for a microphone stand ready for the onslaught — it happens all the time. Especially with the school uniforms …”

But Scott was no shrinking violet, either.

“He’s wilder than any of us,” Malcolm confessed. “One time in New Zealand he was really plastered, standing eight foot up on a stack of amps singing, when he got hit on the head by a full beer can. He thought he saw who did it, and he jumped straight off the amps, then off the stage into the crowd, and he was piling into these four Maoris when the bouncers got there.”

Scott was a member of Fraternity at the time he joined AC/DC, a hard-working blues band that had already been playing around the local circuit for a year or so before Scott arrived, following stints with the Spektors and the teenybop band The Valentines.

Fraternity’s debut album, Livestock, was released in 1971, to be followed by Flaming Galah in 1972; for most fans and collectors, however, Fraternity’s output is best remembered via a pair of compilations unleashed by the Raven label, Seasons Of Change 1968-1972 (1987), which also wraps up The Valentines’ output, and the double-disc Bon Scott & Fraternity: Complete Sessions (1997).

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Start with Part 1 | Continue with Part 3 | Part 4 is here

More recently, three songs recorded at his last-ever Fraternity session, about a month before he met AC/DC, have been released on the DVD The Years Before AC/DC: “Round And Round And Round”; “To Know You Is To Love You”; and “Carey Gully.” And even more early Scott can be found on the Going To The Jail bootleg, a 15-track collection of demos and rarities that may mislead with its claim to have been recorded in 1973 (in fact its contents span the entire 1970s), but is an informative listen regardless.

So he had a record and a reputation to match his attitude, and a voice that tore all others to thread. Early on, and especially in concert, he sounded a lot like Alex Harvey, a fellow Glaswegian and hard-drinking rocker, and that was never a comparison to sniff at.

Right around the same time as AC/DC were breaking through in Australia, Harvey’s Sensational Alex Harvey Band was scoring their first hit singles in the U.K. and making moves towards Australian stardom as well. Local radio programmers thought nothing of spinning from one of Harvey’s hits to one of AC/DC’s aces, knowing that their listeners would only celebrate the synchronicity.

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