AC/DC: Gonna be a Rock’n’Roll Singer, Gonna be a Rock’n’Roll Star

Au Revoir to Angus, Bon, Malcolm, Mark & Phil, otherwise known as AC/DC, leaving for England to crack The Big Time.

IN SYDNEY it’s a bastard of a weekend. When it’s not tipping tanks of hot rain, it wraps you in stifling humidity. Sweat glistens every move you make.

AC/DC don’t care overmuch for the weather but its not affecting them overmuch either. It’s similar to the haze of sweat and beer slops in any of the many pubs and clubs they play.

They slouch around the small concrete cell that is the dressing room at Sydney’s Bondi Lifesaver chatting about this and that – but mostly about that.

They’re recalling Ruby Lips, a Melbourne groupie of mammoth endurance donated to the band by another Oz group.

“You couldn’t ‘ave taken ‘er ‘ome to meet yer parents,” opines AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd.

AC/DC decide to wrap one of their groupies in a blanket and leave her outside the other band’s dressing room. Reciprocity, you understand.

Anyhow, if it’s hot and muggy and sweaty in the Lifesaver’s dressing room, outside on the dance floor it’s tropical. A body against body, my sweat intermingleth with yours, situation.

“Hey,” says Angus. “Yer know that thing in your magazine that said I never smile?”

Er, yes, I say.

“Yeah well, says Angus, the reason I hardly ever smile is got this tooth see… “

And he opens his mouth, clicks his tongue and out pops one of his side teeth.

“Coth if,” continues Angus, his words blurred by the tooth hanging halfway down his chin, “thith tooth cometh out … “

And he clicks it back. I remember minor leagues suburban dances where gangs of kids would confront other gangs of kids and you could always tell when a rumble was imminent, cos the protagonists would take out their dental work for a friend to hold. It was a certain kind of working class chutzpah … proof you’d been blooded. Angus, though, got his dental plate after chomping on a block of frozen chocolate.

“Half the time we really don’t know how Angus keeps on living,” says Phil Rudd. “I don’t eat too healthy m’self, but Angus just lives on toasted cheese sandwiches, cigarettes and candy bars … oh yeah, and minestrone… and strawberry milk.

“What ‘ee used to do see, is buy these bulk bars of chocolate cos they’re cheaper that way. Angus is bloody amazing with money. We all get the same each week but somehow Angus always has more than any of us.

“One day he went to the freezer got out a bar of chocolate, just peeled off the wrapper and went ka-chomp. And he looked down and there was half his tooth sticking out of the chocolate … those bloody chocolates freeze solid … it must have been like biting down on an iron bar.”

Himself, Phil Rudd is not the sort of person likely to lose teeth to a block of choc. He’s quite the swank young jackeroo. Thick grey sheep wool Mexican cardigan despite the heat, pale grey-blue eyes, regular features and neatly proportioned small body fitted snugly into de rigueur crotch-tight jeans He does, in fact, hail from the upper middle sector of a country town.

Rudd is one of AC/DC’s backline – the wall of sound rhythm section behind the macho-phrenetics of singer Bon Scott and Angus Young’s pyrotechnic guitar squirting. Rudd, bass player Mark Evans and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young are acknowledged one of the most powerful rhythm sections ever bred by the uncompromising brutality of Australian pub rock.

Bon Scott will say: “Me and Angus are out the front pulling our balls off to get the crowd moving … an’ what happens is the guys watch Angus ‘n’ me. But the chicks all get off on the other three. They do the least moving about on stage and they still pull more chicks than Angus or me. Bloody unfair it is. Being a singer ain’t what it used to be, not in this band anyway.”

AC/DC pound out two styles of songs. First is the pneumatic drill, clenched-fists-darting-into-the-air fast rockers such as ‘Livewire’, ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)’, ‘T.N.T.’ and ‘High Voltage’. Songs built around simplistic though dynamic slogans – ‘I’m a Live-wire”. “Cos I’m T.N.T.’ … “I said High”.

“HIGH!” shout the kids and punch their fists in the air, sweat-drenched hair whipping their eyes … “HIGH VOLTAGE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL!”

The other style of AC/DC song is stomping blues. The effect here is not so much inflammatory, as catatonic surrender. The slow hard riffs batter the senses with long sustained hammer blows, and after a while you tend to just stand there, waiting for the next thump on the head. So they get you both ways really – the immediate macho of screaming slogans and the perverse thrill of having your head pulped by the likes of ‘She’s Got Balls’ and ‘The Jack’.

Showtime. Beyond the Bondi Lifesaver’s dressing room is 250 sq. ft. of dance-floor crammed with assembly lines of AC/DC fans whose idea of a good time is being riff-kicked in the ribs while they’re drinking beer – precisely what AC/DC makes happen.

There’s a skinhead front of the stage in a denim shirt with sleeves ripped off, tatts down his arms, whose howling, dervish dance grants him wary space. Halfway through the set Bon Scott’s microphone packs up. He throws it onto the stage and grabs one of the harmony mikes. And then, get this. The guy picks up the discarded mike, holds it high and strokes it devotedly. Then he kisses it and reverently passes it back to Scott.

Five minutes after AC/DC come off stage in a cloud of sweat droplets and dry ice, half the crowd have disappeared, with the other only hanging around till they’re somewhat recovered. The gig itself is not an unqualified success. The P.A. hired for the night gives trouble throughout – particularly with Bon Scott’s vocals and with Angus Young’s guitar tones.

IMMEDIATELY AC/DC walk off stage, the Lifesaver disc jockey plays a Deep Purple record. Someone should tell him Deep Purple can’t play till AC/DC’s equipment is of stage, I say to Angus – a reference to the Sunbury Festival of 1975, where AC/DC were billed to play after Deep Purple but didn’t – couldn’t till Purple’s roadies had dismantled the Deep’s equipment, a job that takes four hours, so they claimed.

“Nah, they can play Deep Purple,” says Angus generously. “The guy who caused all the trouble with Deep Purple fell down as shaft in Indonesia and killed himself. Not that we wished him that much harm,” he adds as an afterthought.

“Actually,” says Angus, “we was in Brisbane the same time as Deep Purple were coming through last September, and the promoters asked if we’d do the show with ’em, cos they wanted a strong second act. Michael [AC/DC manager Michael Browning] told ’em to stick it up their arse.

“There’s this TV show in Brisbane,” continues Angus, “and they wanted me to come in the same morning they were gonna have somebody from Deep Purple there … but someone musta found out I was gonna tip a bucket over someone’s head, so they asked Deep Purple to come in the afternoon.”

Angus, all 5′ 1″, 84 lbs and 17 years of him, recently took on the best the Victorian town of Shepparton could offer. A gang of local lads had made some comment during the gig, and afterwards, Angus, backed up by AC/DC’s road crew, went searching for them. He found the boys in a milk bar and battle was joined. What he didn’t realize was that the milk bar was next door to the Shepparton Police Station. The fight drew to an early conclusion when a burly man in blue wandered into the milk bar, picked Angus up by the scruff of the neck, and deposited him in a cell for the night.

He looks out through the dressing room, over the stage and onto the now near-empty dance floor. They leave quick after an AC/DC gig. I say.

“Sometimes they leave while we’re still playing.” grimaces Angus. “Like when we were playing pub gigs around Melbourne, Bon could empty a whole room of women… he’d point at ’em while we were doin’ ‘The Jack’ and ‘Soul Stripper’ and ‘She’s Got Balls’, and they’d all leave or go up the back of the room where he couldn’t see ’em. But they still usta come round to the dressing room after we’d played. Some of ’em anyway … the sort of ones we wanted to come around.”

“Bon is so depraved he almost turns me off sometimes… some of the things he comes out with,” says Phil Rudd.

NEXT DAY AFTERNOON, I go to the Sebel Town House, (Sydney’s most enured home away from home for touring musicians) up to manager Michael Browning’s room and we talk about this and that, but mostly about AC/DC. Browning opines that AC/DC are the band for working class kids. He aims to identify them with raunch and guts, downplaying the finesse of the Bros. Young – the innovative inversions of Malcolm’s kerrang-riffing and Angus’ jazz/classical assimilations into his solos.

Browning chooses not confuse the fans and criticism of the sameness of AC/DC songs is music to his ears.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve only got one song,” says Angus, playing along with the gag, “we’ve got two at least.”

Browning relates how radio station 3XY in Melbourne held a request/survey weekend. When punters rang in, they were asked how old they were and where they came from. The vast majority of AC/DC requests came from 13-19 year olds from the blue-collar industrial/manufacturing belt. Kids from middle and high-income areas requested the likes of Freddy Fender, John Denver and ABBA.

Michael himself has been around the Oz rock scene for a goodly length of time – much of his experience comes from managing power-blues thunder-blaster Billy Thorpe. Now, with AC/DC’s departure for the UK nigh, he draws upon his experience of Thorpe’s overseas trip in 1972, which taught him that nobody, but nobody in Australia, should venture overseas on a wave of euphoria as Thorpe did when riding his Australian hit, ‘Most People I Know Think That I’m Crazy’.

“You go over there and you are nothing,” says Browning. “And if you’ve been big back here, it makes it very hard to step back and start all over again.”

Actually, ‘Most People’ was flogged on English airwaves till the grooves wore out but it was a turntable hit – i.e. it got played a lot, but sales were few. Billy was, after all, a nobody in the UK.

“There are some bands in England,” says Michael, “who don’t sell a lot of records but are incredibly popular in concert. Bands like the Heavy Metal Kids (now called the Kids) who build up over the years. And other bands get their records on radio and have hits, but can’t fill a concert hall on tour.”

The plan then is for AC/DC to work two to three months solid in smaller halls and clubs all over England and the Continent. Their Australian albums will be released and promoted, but Browning trusts AC/DC’s stage power to enthuse the English working class. He is confident the band will build sequentially in England Europe and America. He has, after all, seen them build from a five-set a night pub band to one of Australia’s top four acts in just over a year.

BY NOW its getting on to near 3.30pm and AC/DC are expected at a Warwick Farm Rock Festival. We elevator down a few floors to collect Bon, Phil and Mark. (The Bros. Young are staying at their parents’ home in the inner-Western Sydney suburb of Burwood.) Bon Scott is not well. His throat has near packed upon him and he’s keeping what’s left of it alive with gargles of claret and honey.

“We got two gigs today … I’m gonna be ratshit after the second,” he promises.

But there’s no way he’ll stop screaming into a microphone once he’s on stage, not until he bubbles blood anyway. In the year of 76 when Vince Lovegrove, Scott’s co-vocalist in the mid-’60s band the Valentines, is an executive at Sydney radio station 2GB. Bon Scott, 29, is cavorting with a band averaging 10 years younger.

As we walk out of the hotel to the hire car, Mark Evans points to a sign in the lobby: THE SEBEL TOWN HOUSE WELCOMES ROY ORBISON.

“Christ, we’re here too,” says Phil Rudd. “Don’t they want to put us on their bloody notice board.

“Let’s come down later tonight,” conspires Evans, “and paint our names in chick’s lipstick.”

THE GIG at Warwick Farm is not a promoter’s delight. There are 750-800 punters, huddled inside a draughty roofed stand, being sideswiped by soaking showers.

“Here’s my trick,” says Bon Scott, somewhat cheered by his claret/honey mixture and the relative comfort of a dry band room. He holds up the set of bagpipes he shrills during ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)’, turning the bag inside out to show the works inside consist a recorder – the woodwind bane of primary school concerts.

“There are real bagpipes on the record,’ he says. “But I get pretty close to ’em on stage with this.”

AC/DC finally get on stage about an hour after schedule, just as the last shower of the afternoon takes its load elsewhere. Punters scramble from the stands and cluster around the stage as the group sloshes and slides the wet stage.

Halfway through their set, the afternoon light disappears, like the sun has been dropkicked over the horizon and AC/DC stumble around, finishing their bracket in complete darkness.

“Fucking shits… bloody pox-ridden cunts,” observes Angus about everything in general.

To top the afternoon of a gift bottle of Scotch to the band is off and Bon (its only imbiber) is racked with vomiting pangs.

The band drives to the Hurstville Civic Centre for their second set of the day. The capacity crowd watches attentively and hands shoot dutifully in the air during ‘T.N.T’, ‘High Voltage’, ‘Livewire’ and ‘Long Way’.

But AC/DC is straining for the sledgehammer effect they usually swing with ease, and the crowd, though seemingly satisfied, is subdued. There’s a burst of handclapping at the end, then the hall empties itself with 5 minutes.

“Thanks a lot for nearly fuckin’ nothing,” snarls a wounded Bon Scott. He staggers into the toilet, spews up the last of his stomach contents, then crawls into the hire car and falls into a half sleep/half coma.

Meanwhile Angus is wandering around the top floor dressing room of the Hurstville Civic, holding court, waiting for his stage clothes to become less sweat soaked and perspiration sticky so he can take them off.

He’s developed, has Angus. A year ago he was a raver who wore a schoolboy’s satchel while playing guitar, just for the dare of it. Now he is the spunky guitarist in a schoolboy’s satchel whose stage antics make the St. Vitus Dance look tame. Offstage Angus generally beams a glazed, good-humoured expression, backed up by a daredevil glint suggesting he’ll give anything crazy a go, at least once.

So when Big Bro’ George Young tells the dressing room crowd about this great new trick he’s devised for Angus – diving from a 40-foot tower into a glass of strawberry milk while not missing a single note of his guitar break … well, Angus’s eyes really light up.

“Better save it up for a big gig,” he says. “Yer probably couldn’t do it twice a night till yer got useta it.”

ABOUT 2.30am we pull up at the Young home in Burwood. Michael Browning and AC/DC (minus Bon Scott) gather for a business conference, for Browning is leaving as advance party for England the next day.

After a reviving cuppa from Ma Young’s big black kettle where incremental additions of tannin have brewed and brooded the past 12 hours or more, I’m asked to keep an eye on Bon in the hire car. For there’s one thing everyone should know about the wonderful world of rock and roll – sex, drugs and music are always open for discussion but the mainmen always talk money behind closed doors. I make myself comfy beside a comatose Bon.

Just a few hours before he’d been screaming, “Gonna be a rock ‘n’ roll singer/Gonna be a rock ‘n’ roll star/I hear it pays well” (‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer’).

At this moment of course, stomach muscles clenching and heaving, he’s beyond caring about his pay cheque. I wait till his ragged breaths become regular then join him in sleep. The last thing I hear is sleet hammering on the car roof with the force of an AC/DC hard blues.

Ah, rock ‘n’ roll…

© Anthony O’GradyRAM, 23 April 1976

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