It’s not exactly the “Ginger or Mary Ann” question, but the debate over “Bon or Brian” has lingered for nearly 30 years now — even after Australian rockers AC/DC proved their mettle with longterm singer Brian Johnson, who replaced frontman Bon Scott in 1980.
Had Scott made it through, he would have turned 63 today and we obviously wouldn’t be having this discussion at all.
But he did and we are. So, at least rest assured that the guy would still be rocking alongside Angus and Malcolm, even as he closed in on retirement age.
Bon Scott was a driver and handyman when he met the Young brothers in 1974, and began pestering them to let him join the band — as a drummer. Instead, they discarded singer Dave Evans and gave Scott the gig.
Scott, who was born in Scotland but was six when his family moved to Australila, had already played drums on other local bands, as well as having held down a variety of dead-end jobs.
I first heard him when I picked up Let There Be Rock when I was in high school, and something clicked.
The guy had a raunchy and menacing voice that fit the band’s driving guitar rythm’s and Angus’ riffs. In 1979 they were touring behind their sixth album, Highway to Hell — their last with Scott — when I saw them open for Ted Nugent at Madison Square Garden.
I was pretty much hooked by them.
Of course, nothing lasts forever: Early in 1980 Scott drank himself into a stupor in London and was left in a friend’s car to sleep it off.
Versions of what happen next have varied over the years — some accounts say he froze to death, others say he died of alcohol poisoning, one of the official listed causes of death.
Either way, he was found dead the next day.
AC/DC reportedly considered calling it quits at that point. But instead they resolved that Scott would’ve wanted them to continue. So they signed up power-voice singer Brian Johnson and released Back in Black, a tribute to Scott.
It was a good move: Johnson has led the band to unprecedented success and international acclaim, and now has a significantly longer tenure than Scott ever did with the band. And it’s hard to deny the chemistry these guys continue to have.
So, Johnson made AC/DC a great band — but a different band.
And to me, Bon Scott’s AC/DC will continue to be sorely missed, even all these years later, when he would’ve turned 63.
So, happy birthday, Bon. I’m not sure we’ll see you in heaven, but I know we’ll hear you.
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