DIRTY DEEDS

AN IN­TER­VIEW WITH JESSE FINK

Classic Rock - - Bon Scott - By rich DavenporT

Bon Scott’s prow­ess as a lyri­cist was such that in his saucier mo­ments he could wield a dou­ble en­ten­dre with a flair las­civ­i­ous enough to make Mae West blush and Austin Pow­ers bow down in rev­er­ence. With this in mind, we hope you’ll al­low Clas­sic Rock the in­dul­gence of blow­ing its own horn; specif­i­cally, the horn of Ge­off Bar­ton, whose Clas­sic Rock fea­ture fo­cused on the night and mys­tery sur­round­ing Bon Scott’s death on the night of Fe­bru­ary 19, 1980.

Ge­off raised new ques­tions as to when Bon’s body was even­tu­ally dis­cov­ered in Alais­tair Kin­n­ear’s car, and in re­la­tion to the iden­tity and where­abouts of Kin­n­ear him­self, the com­bined ef­fect of which was to “…put a whole new an­gle on Bon’s death”. That’s the opin­ion, of Jesse Fink, au­thor of The Youngs: The Broth­ers Who Built

AC/DC (2014), and the man be­hind the brand new Bon Scott bi­og­ra­phy.

As he worked on the book over the course of the next few years, Jesse re­vealed that he was on the trail of two very sig­nif­i­cant wit­nesses to Bon’s last days in Lon­don dur­ing Fe­bru­ary 1980, and was also at­tempt­ing to take a closer look at the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing his death. The book, Bon: The Last High­way, with its subti­tle ‘The Un­told Story Of Bon Scott And AC/DC’s Back In

Black’ was in­trigu­ing in it­self, but the press re­lease also teased with the prom­ise of new rev­e­la­tions re­gard­ing his life.

Hav­ing writ­ten about the Young broth­ers and AC/DC in your pre­vi­ous book, The Youngs, was an in-depth look at Bon’s life the log­i­cal next step? Writ­ing a proper bi­og­ra­phy of Bon just seemed to be a good thing to do, the kind of big project I’d al­ways wanted to tackle. The Youngs was a dod­dle com­pared to the work that went into Bon: The Last High­way. There’s so much world­wide in­ter­est in Bon’s life, and that grows with each pass­ing year.

Be­yond the tragedy of his death and the tri­umph AC/DC had with Back In Black, there isn’t a whole lot of mean­ing­ful info about Bon in those fi­nal years of his life, 1977–80, which is the fo­cus, specif­i­cally his time in Amer­ica. So I wanted to fill in that blank space in his story.

You don’t claim to have writ­ten the de­fin­i­tive bi­og­ra­phy, but you say you wanted to get to the man be­hind the myth. Do you think the real Bon had got lost, and that the party-an­i­mal, girls-and-grog car­i­ca­ture had taken over?

Yes, very much so, to a large de­gree. The mythol­o­gis­ing of Bon has be­come com­pletely ridicu­lous. It’s out of con­trol. Bon: The Last

High­way tells a very dif­fer­ent story to all the other books out there on Bon and AC/DC, and I wanted the word ‘un­told’ on the cover to ac­tu­ally mean some­thing. It is un­told. I wasn’t go­ing to just re­hash what had al­ready been writ­ten.

As I got to know the women in Bon’s life and his friends dur­ing that 1977–80 pe­riod, what emerged was a pic­ture of the man who was di­rectly at odds with ev­ery­thing peo­ple think they know about him. I think Bon was locked in a kind of con­flict with him­self. He didn’t quite know who he was any more; what part of him was real, what part of him was per­for­mance.

That dis­con­nect be­tween the real Bon and the car­toon Bon would have con­trib­uted to the drink­ing and the drug­ging, which got out of con­trol to­wards the end. What hap­pened in Lon­don in Fe­bru­ary 1980 wasn’t a freak, iso­lated event. A pat­tern of self-de­struc­tive be­hav­iour had de­vel­oped well be­fore then.

You spoke to an ex­ten­sive cast of char­ac­ters who knew Bon, from fel­low mu­si­cians he met on AC/DC’s never-end­ing tours, to close friends and lovers who spent time with him away from the spot­light.

I was re­ally very blessed to get to talk to guys like Mick Jones from For­eigner, Michael An­thony from Van Halen, Pete Way, Paul Ray­mond and Paul Chap­man from UFO, Derek St Holmes, Bun E. Car­los, and many other mu­si­cians who had played on the road or on festival bills with Bon in Amer­ica be­tween 1977 and 1979. I tried to in­ter­view as many rel­e­vant per­form­ers from the late-1970s pe­riod as I could. That era was the cru­cible of what we know to­day as clas­sic rock. I think the heart of the story is his re­la­tion­ships with the women he loved – Sil­ver Smith, Holly X and Pattee Bishop – and his friend­ship with Roy Allen from Texas.

What did you learn about the real

Bon, the dif­fer­ent as­pects of his life and char­ac­ter?

Sil­ver and Holly in par­tic­u­lar were tremen­dously help­ful in re­veal­ing sides to his char­ac­ter that peo­ple wouldn’t know about. Sil­ver spoke about the self­ish­ness, reck­less­ness and de­struc­tive­ness that made hav­ing a long-term re­la­tion­ship with him im­pos­si­ble; Holly about his guilt and shame over his al­co­holism. Bon was a vul­ner­a­ble per­son in a lot of ways, more com­plex and sen­si­tive than peo­ple might think.

Did any­thing about him sur­prise you? That he was pre­pared to walk away from AC/DC for the sake of his health.

How did that af­fect how you think of him now? Well, I hugely ad­mire him for that. Even though he never fol­lowed through with it, he was think­ing about it, right when AC/DC had fi­nally bro­ken in Amer­ica with High­way To Hell. That says a lot about his char­ac­ter.

The over­all pic­ture of Bon the book gives is re­sound­ingly pos­i­tive, with his darker side linked to drug and al­co­hol abuse. And as his friend Roy Allen said, he had the fore­sight to re­alise he needed help. Re­hab as such didn’t ex­ist at that time, but Bon asked if he could go to Roy’s place to dry out. Many of Bon’s friends and his band­mates Mal­colm Young and Phil Rudd would later re­alise they had prob­lems and seek help, some of them cit­ing his death as a wake-up call, but Bon never got the chance to do that. Was there a sense that he had nowhere to turn? I think in all sorts of ways Bon was trapped at the end of 1979: trapped in the band, trapped in life on road, trapped by his ad­dic­tions, trapped in this per­sona that he had created as lead singer of AC/DC. He didn’t know where to turn or what to do next. The de­ci­sion he made to just con­tinue on as nor­mal was ul­ti­mately the wrong one. If he’d got help, he might still be here to­day.

Drug and al­co­hol abuse were part of ev­ery­day life in the world Bon in­hab­ited, in both his pro­fes­sional and per­sonal life, but, as many other mu­si­cians have tes­ti­fied over the years, that was typ­i­cal of the era. With­out mak­ing ex­cuses, the depth of in­for­ma­tion we have to­day with re­gard to ad­dic­tion just wasn’t there in the sev­en­ties. Do you feel that it’s im­por­tant to view Bon’s drink­ing and drug use in the con­text of that time?

You’re right. It was typ­i­cal of the era, and that’s why when I was in New York I went to meet Mick Jones, who de­scribed him­self to me as still be­ing an al­co­holic and a drug ad­dict, “one drink away from de­struc­tion, one drug away”. There were sur­pris­ing par­al­lels be­tween Bon and Mick, but Mick got help when he needed it and Bon didn’t. I found that sit-down in­ter­view with Mick re­ally il­lu­mi­nat­ing on the na­ture of fame and ad­dic­tion.

I don’t think you can ret­ro­spec­tively judge Bon for what he was do­ing. Nor do I think you can nec­es­sar­ily make light of it, ei­ther, as many peo­ple do, like those fans who pour al­co­hol on or leave whisky bot­tles at his grave marker as their way of pay­ing ‘re­spect’ to him. His drink­ing and his drug­ging killed him. If you want to re­spect Bon, get some­one who needs help into re­hab; save a friend’s life. Don’t leave booze at Bon’s grave.

In the last year of his life, there’s a def­i­nite sense of his drink­ing catch­ing up with him, to the ex­tent that it af­fected his on-stage per­for­mance on oc­ca­sion. His close friend Roy Allen, a fel­low re­cov­er­ing al­co­holic, told you that Bon “loved his job un­til he got too sick. I think it says so much about him… be­ing able to do what he did in spite of be­ing so sick.” How did this af­fect his re­la­tion­ship with the Youngs?

Bon knew he didn’t have any spe­cial pro­tec­tion from be­ing fired, and at the end of the day AC/DC was a busi­ness for the Youngs, with no room for sen­ti­ment. He’d put in some or­di­nary shows, for­got­ten lyrics, per­formed drunk. I think he was very cog­nisant of the pre­car­i­ous­ness of his po­si­tion, and his re­la­tion­ship with Mal­colm had be­come strained be­cause of his drink­ing. I don’t be­lieve he and the Youngs were close, no mat­ter what any­one says. The Youngs were “an ex­clu­sive so­ci­ety of two”, as Sil­ver de­scribed it. Bon had a sep­a­rate life to the band.

Our read­ers will re­mem­ber Ge­off Bar­ton’s ar­ti­cle,

which took a deeper look into the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing Bon’s death. You ex­am­ine, al­most foren­si­cally, a wide range of ac­counts from var­i­ous sources re­gard­ing what may have hap­pened, and at the end of the book you set out two the­o­ret­i­cal time-lines for the last hours of Bon’s life. Your in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed new in­for­ma­tion, per­haps most sig­nif­i­cantly with re­gard to what hap­pened be­tween Bon and Alis­tair Kin­n­ear leav­ing a gig at The Mu­sic Machine, and Bon be­ing found dead in the car out­side Kin­n­ear’s flat in East Dul­wich the fol­low­ing day.

Ge­off Bar­ton cer­tainly put a whole new an­gle on Bon’s death by in­ter­view­ing UFO pair Paul Chap­man and Pete Way back in 2005. [Bon bi­og­ra­pher] Clin­ton Walker sub­se­quently dis­missed their sto­ries as the “gar­bled and con­flict­ing ac­counts of th­ese re­cov­er­ing ad­dicts” in the up­dated ver­sion of his book High­way To Hell and paid them no heed, when, in his po­si­tion as a Bon Scott bi­og­ra­pher, he should have been in­ter­ested in find­ing out more.

I spoke to both Chap­man and Way for many hours, go­ing over the se­quence of events that Bar­ton had laid out in his piece for Clas­sic Rock. And what I dis­cov­ered, the deeper I looked into it, was that Chap­man and Way’s sto­ries ac­tu­ally held up when it came to im­por­tant, sub­stan­tive de­tails. Sil­ver Smith and Joe Fury didn’t deny that Chap­man was phoned with the news Bon was dead, and that Chap­man then called Way to get a num­ber for AC/DC.

The dif­fi­cult part was rec­on­cil­ing Chap­man and Way’s sto­ries with the ac­counts of Joe, Sil­ver and Alis­tair Kin­n­ear, all of whom had their own ver­sions of what took place be­tween when Bon de­cided he was leav­ing his flat in West­min­ster on the night of 18 Fe­bru­ary 1980, to when he was pro­nounced dead on ar­rival at King’s Col­lege Hospi­tal the fol­low­ing evening. The time-lines were all over the place.

So the truth of what hap­pened to Bon was in there some­where, lost in this jumble of con­flict­ing de­tails and con­tra­dic­tions. It was a long, very in­volved process try­ing to make sense of all.

Then there was a break­through in my own in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in­volv­ing Peter Per­rett’s wife, Zena Kak­oulli, who said she went with Bon and Alis­tair to East Dul­wich af­ter they’d left The Mu­sic Machine – she was in­side Alis­tair’s apart­ment when Bon was in the car out­side – and an eye­wit­ness at the club who saw Bon “stoned” on what this per­son clearly be­lieved was heroin. That cast a whole new light on my in­ter­pre­ta­tion of events. Clive Ed­wards, the drum­mer of Wild Horses, also told me Sil­ver was at Jimmy Bain’s house snort­ing heroin when she got the call on the evening of the 19th to come to the hospi­tal; not at home, as she claimed. In the end, I think I pro­vided enough new in­for­ma­tion to show that Bon died from heroin and not from al­co­hol poi­son­ing. The po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the coro­ner’s in­quest were sub­stan­dard.

You tracked down Sil­ver Smith, and you also man­aged to find the mys­te­ri­ous Joe Fury, pre­vi­ously thought to be a pos­si­ble alias for Alis­tair Kin­n­ear. Sil­ver was a recluse and she died in De­cem­ber 2016, af­ter we’d done months of in­ter­views. So I was for­tu­nate to be able to speak to her. And I have James (J.P.) Quin­ton, a young writer in Aus­tralia who’d writ­ten a novel about Bon, to thank for that. Hope­fully this book shows the side of her per­son­al­ity to which Bon felt drawn: she was at­trac­tive, smart, so­phis­ti­cated and en­joyed friend­ships with a lot of fa­mous mu­si­cians, among them Ron Wood and Phil Lynott. She used heroin and ad­mit­ted as much, but she wasn’t the un­hinged, smack-ad­dicted witch she’s made out to be by a lot of AC/DC fans.

Joe was re­ally hard to find and I never thought I’d lo­cate him, but when we fi­nally spoke he was forth­com­ing and help­ful. He had no idea peo­ple had been go­ing around say­ing that he was Alis­tair Kin­n­ear. He didn’t even know Alis­tair was dead. He also re­jected Paul Chap­man’s ver­sion of events [in which he claimed Joe was with him at Chap­man’s flat, wait­ing for Bon to ar­rive with some heroin] and was quite an­gry about it.

I ob­tained Alis­tair’s death cer­tifi­cate from his son, Daniel, and I found plenty of bi­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion about Alis­tair to prove be­yond doubt that he was a real liv­ing per­son. That par­tic­u­lar con­spir­acy the­ory about Joe be­ing Alis­tair is ut­ter non­sense.

Sil­ver states un­equiv­o­cally that the night he died, Bon went out to cel­e­brate the fact that he’d fin­ished the lyrics for the Back In Black al­bum.

She does. And when you marry that star­tling rev­e­la­tion with the in­for­ma­tion I ob­tained from Holly X in Mi­ami, about the back­ground to You Shook Me All Night Long and Sil­ver’s sep­a­rate claim that she saw the words ‘She told me to come but I was al­ready there’ in a let­ter Bon had writ­ten to one of his mates, the long-stand­ing al­le­ga­tion that Bon con­trib­uted un­cred­ited lyrics to Back In Black seems very le­git­i­mate. I be­lieve he did; I have no doubt he did.

“Bon paid the ul­ti­mate price. His ‘de­struc­tive side’, as Sil­ver put it, got him in the end.”

Jesse Fink

Al­though Bon of­ten re­ferred to him­self as an old man, and his band­mates teased him about it, do you feel that the tragedy of his death was height­ened by the fact that he was still a rel­a­tively young man when he died – only thirty-three? Ab­so­lutely. I think many peo­ple tend to for­get just how young he was, even though he did look a lot older. I didn’t have clar­ity on my own life and what I wanted from it till my late thir­ties. So we have to cut Bon some slack for mak­ing the mis­takes he made. We all screw up at one point or an­other, it’s just that same of us go on to live and learn from those mis­takes. Bon paid the ul­ti­mate price. His “de­struc­tive side”, as Sil­ver put it, got him in the end.

“Would you like a large one? “Well, I wouldn’t say no…”

Late 70s AC/DC: (l-r) Cliff Wil­liams, An­gus Young, Phil Rudd, Bon Scott and Mal­colm Young.

Un­seen pic of Bon with Pattee Bishop, 1979.

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