BACKSTAGE WITH BON
FOR Philip Morris, a photographer with Australia’s leading weekly music magazine, the phone call was a terrific scoop. The sound technician for the nation’s top rock outfit AC/DC was tipping him off to a surprise show at The Strata Motor Inn, in Sydney’s Cremorne that night.
It was a Sunday afternoon in 1979, a great era for shooters like Morris, who worked for Go-Set.
That night he headed out with girlfriend Rosie Hewett to the hotel where Melbourne band The Ferrets (big hit: Don’t
Fall in Love) were already on stage and AC/DC were out the back waiting to shock the crowd with their unannounced gig.
Ushered through, Morris spotted charismatic frontman Bon Scott tucking into dinner and a few whiskies.
“I just introduced Rosie to Bon and he went really funny, ‘Aarrr, Rosie’ in his best pirate voice,” Morris recalls. It seemed odd. “He had some whisky and he was drinking so I thought he was a just bit pissed … and didn’t think any more of it. And then when he did the song, A Whole Lotta Rosie, I thought, ‘Ohhh, maybe he does know her’.” The show was a riot, and afterwards a worried photographer thought he’d better sort out exactly how well Bon knew his girl. “I asked Bon about the song ‘Rosie’. He laughed and told me it was about a big fan of the band – in more ways than one – and had nothing to do with my girlfriend, which was a relief.”
“Sadly,” he writes in his new book It’s a Long Way: From Acca-Dacca to Zappa, “that was the last time I saw Bon alive.”
Morris’s book chronicles the decade he spent from 1969 photographing some of the world’s biggest rock bands, from Led Zeppelin to the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, on their Australian tours.
As well, he got to know the young Australian stars. Bon, he says, was just very likeable.
“When I first met him he was in a hippy band called Fraternity, from Adelaide, and he was sort of taking a back seat, playing the recorder and he’d sing occasionally,” recalls Morris.
“Then I photographed AC/DC a couple of years later and Dave Evans was the singer. He didn’t last very long; he was too flashy. And so Bon joined.
“Bon really changed when he was on stage – that’s the person he became, the rock singer. Off stage he was pretty quiet and reserved. It was interesting.”
The Young brothers were private, so he didn’t know them so well. But he recalls one hilarious night with them all when they shot a poster for the new single Jailbreak.
“That was a lot of fun to shoot,” he says. “They came to the studio, and we drove down to Lavender Bay in the Kombi. They had a couple of slabs of beer, some wine and a few joints and their managers dressed up as police. It was memorable.
“So much fun. You couldn’t do it again.” In one shot, Bon is looking to belt the copper over the head with a wine bottle in a paper bag. But in another, he’s tipping the wine down his throat.
“He was drinking the wine from the bottle, and smoking joints, so the first hour I did the shoot it was going okay. But then it got out of hand and they went a bit crazy … those shots weren’t any good.”
Still, when the news of Bon’s death came through in 1980, it was unexpected. “I was totally shocked,” Morris says. “He was drinking – but we all do – and he was probably taking some drugs. He lived a hard life, a typical rock and roll life. But I think it was just a very bad situation and a shock to everybody.”
And yet the band continued and went from strength to strength. Why?
“I think they just stayed the same,” he thinks. “They were really good at what they do … that rock and roll, raw, basic sound and the guitars together.
“And it was really lucky they found Brian Johnson because he was so similar. He just fitted in so well.” It’s a long way from Acca-Dacca to Zappa, Hardcover, Echo Publishing, $49.95
Philip Morris has trained his lenses on some of rock and roll’s greatest exponents – including AC/DC who play Adelaide Oval tonight – and his candid images have helped document music’s riotous backstage history