More than three decades after his death 19 February 1980, AC/DC frontman Bon Scott is still considered one of the greatest hard-rock vocalists of all time.
For anyone who’s been too busy rocking to learn about his life, here are 15 facts you might not know about the bonnie prince of hard rock.
Though AC/DC is known as an Australian band, Scott was born in Scotland. He lived there from his birth 9 July 1946, until his family’s move to Australia in 1952.
His given name was Ronald Belford Scott, but the nickname ‘Bon’ was acquired early – shortly after he started school in Australia. There was already a Ronald in his new class and, instead of going with “The Other Ron,” classmates played on the words “Bonnie Scotland.”
Scott started his career as a rebel early. He dropped out of school at 15, and it wasn’t long before he was sentenced to nine months in juvie. The charges? You name it, he probably did it: among them, giving a false name and address to the police, escaping legal custody, unlawful carnal knowledge and theft.
Scott tried to join the Australian Army. He was denied, having been deemed “socially maladjusted.”
There were other bands on his résumé before AC/DC. An early gig was with the Valentines in the late 1960s. Scott shared lead vocal duties with Vince Lovegrove, and anyone who thinks of Scott exclusively as a screamer will be a little surprised by the Valentines’ pop bubble-gum sound. This really is Bon Scott singing “Every Day I Have to Cry.”
Scott stayed with the Valentines for four years, but he might have been wishing to exercise his vocal chords a little harder: his idol was Little Richard, and he dreamed of singing like the legendary shouter.
In between bands, Scott worked at odd jobs. At various times, he was a postman, bartender and truck packer. He scraped barnacles from the bottoms of boats. He even worked at a fertilizer plant loading trucks with “natural” fertilizers.
After the Valentines disbanded in 1970, Scott’s next band was prog-rock outfit Fraternity. His vocals were getting edgier, but they were still much smoother than the sound he’d perfect with AC/DC. And Scott was more than just a vocalist: Don’t miss his awesome work on the recorder in “Seasons of Change.”
Scott spent three days in a coma after a 1974 motorcycle accident. His recovery slowed down his music career, but his best-known work was still ahead of him.
When Malcolm and Angus Young needed a new singer for their band AC/DC, Scott wasn’t necessarily the obvious choice. He was 28 – seven years older than Malcolm, and nine years older than Angus – and the brothers figured he was too old to rock. Scott returned the insult, wondering if the inexperienced musicians were even able to rock. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship: After trading barbs and one jam session, AC/DC named Scott their new singer.
Scott was responsible for one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest bagpipe solos. Yes, that’s really him piping in “It’s a Long Way to the Top.” Although he was a member of his father’s Fremantle Scots Pipe Band as a kid, he didn’t learn the bagpipes there – he was one of their drummers. He learned to play the pipes just for the 1975 song.
AC/DC’s 1976 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap was the first to bring them acclaim outside Australia – the title track hit No. 47 on the UK singles chart. But American fans would be excused if they’re a little confused about the 1976 drop date, since it wasn’t released in the United States until 1981 – a year after Scott died, and months after AC/DC had already charted an album with their new lead singer.
For most US music fans, 1979’s Highway to Hell was their first taste of Australia’s biggest metal band. It was their first album to chart in the States, peaking at No. 17 – and it was the last album Bon Scott would record with AC/DC before his death.
On 19 February 1980, Scott passed out in a car after a night of heavy drinking. He was left there for the night and was dead when an acquaintance checked on him in the morning. Conspiracy theories about Scott’s death abound, but the official cause of death was listed as “acute alcohol poisoning” and “death by misadventure.”
AC/DC didn’t wait long to replace Scott with current singer Brian Johnson. Although they considered disbanding upon Scott’s death, they decided (and Scott’s family agreed) that he would have wanted them to go on, building on the fame he helped them gain. Their next album, Back in Black, was released just five months after his death. In his honor were dedicated two tracks that the hard-living rebel would have appreciated – “Back in Black” and “Hell’s Bells.”