Books & Literature

Interview: Author Jeff Apter on Bad Boy Boogie: The True Story of AC/DC Legend Bon Scott

We chatted with author Jeff Apter about his latest book Bad Boy Boogie: The True Story of AC/DC Legend Bon Scott.

*Feature image credit to Philip Morris.

The last time we caught up for a chat with former Rolling Stone Magazine journalist and Australian music biographer Jeff Apter, he’d just released his moving tributary biography to Jon English. I asked him: who’s next? 

His answer: “My next book will be on AC/DC’s Bon Scott.” Well, AC/DC (and, of course, Jeff Apter) fans, here it is: Bad Boy Boogie: The True Story of AC/DC Legend Bon Scott.

Jeff, who is currently in lockdown in NSW, took the time to chat about his latest work, a book which I described as being “the perfect companion piece to the author’s unofficial Young Brothers’ Trilogy,” on Angus, Malcolm, and George.

The first and most obvious question: do we need a new biography of Bon Scott? With so much previously having been written about Bon by former bandmates, friends, and lovers, what is it that makes it a good idea to delve into the life of a man who left us more than 40 years ago? 

“It’s a generational thing. There is still so much love for him and you cannot be an Aussie Rock biographer if you haven’t taken a stab at writing about Bon Scott,” Jeff told me. 

“There is an unquenchable appetite, even with all the books that came before. I wanted to create a book that looked at his life from his earliest days and the life that inspired his lyrics. Songs like ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock ‘n’ Roll)’ and ‘Highway to Hell’ were written from personal life experience. It’s a bigger picture canvas approach that I took with this book.

“The thing about Bon Scott’s life is that it was a true Boy’s Own Adventure story. He was this guy who went from being a postie to an Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll icon. He is one of those people who was part of an interesting era in Australian entertainment. The Larrikin era.”

Larrikinism was definitely a defining aspect of the time and the nation, epitomising Australia in the ‘70s when Bon Scott was making a name for himself, even before he became the front man of AC/DC. 

 “We are talking about the time of Shirley Strachan and Skyhooks, Barry Humphries, and his iconic creation, Barry McKenzie and sporting legends like Dennis Lillee. I wanted to write about the larrikin Bon. When he appeared on Countdown, no one could wind up Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum and leave him speechless like Bon. He was, when all is said and done, an entertainer.”

Jeff was also very fortunate in that he had the unwavering support of many of those who knew Bon and wrote about the man that they knew. “I was very lucky that they were happy for me to quote their material and Mary Renshaw (co-author of Live Wire) was kind enough to cast an eye over the work. It’s so gratifying to not feel like you are competing with each other to tell his story.”

I went on to ask him about whether he thought the fascination with Bon Scott was intrinsically linked to his unfortunate and untimely death.

“Oh, definitely, the conspiracy theorists have been searching for that piece of evidence that proves there was more to it than just an accident. I mean, he wasn’t a member of the 27 Club (the list of artists who died at 27 years of age), but he was still a relatively young man. Kicking around the conspiracy theories will always be a drawcard.

“When an artist dies young, like Jim Morrison or Bon Scott, especially with any perceived element of mystery, it attracts discussion. That said, you could not get two more different front men. Morrison was influenced by philosophy and French Film. Bon was more influenced by Benny Hill’s style of comedy. He was all about entertainment and that showed in his lyrics.

“He had tattoos, at a time when they were associated with bikers, sailors, and ex-convicts. Of which Bon was only one, to the best of my knowledge—but he put it out there and he made it his own. The guy was voted the Ugliest Schoolgirl in the World, after his appearance on Countdown dressed in a schoolgirl’s uniform. I mean, he was a very ugly schoolgirl.”

Speaking of making things your own, several of Jeff’s most recent books have been about performers who are no longer with us. I mentioned to Jeff that I was moved by the way he told the bigger story about the influence of Bon’s passing, shifting the focus to the impact, rather than the action.

“It was an incredibly emotional event in the lives of the band members. Remember, at the time Bon died, Malcolm was in his mid-20s and Angus had just turned 20 and they had lost someone they considered family. It was not easy to write that last chapter because, as we discussed, there has been so much focus on Bon’s death.”

In closing, I asked Jeff what he hoped this book would deliver to fans of AC/DC and Bon Scott.

“When you don’t have the subject to go to, you need to be able to refresh the material. I wanted to write a book which, I hope, Bon would have been proud of.”

I, for one, am confident Bon would have been exceptionally proud.

Interviewed by Glen Christie on  August 9 2021 

Bad Boy Boogie: The True Story of AC/DC Legend Bon Scott was published in August 2021 by Allen & Unwin. RRP $32.99.

Read Glen’s reviews of Bad Boy Boogie and Behind Dark Eyes

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