"It was a little scary to listen to at first." So says Angus Young, co-founder, along with his brother Malcolm, of arguably the greatest hard rock band to ever walk the earth. He's talking about the process of wading through material that eventually ended up on AC/DC's first ever box set, Bonfire, the five-CD collection, crafted by the band as a tribute to their legendary original vocalist, Bon Scott. "I'm never in the habit of listening to old stuff. But when we decided to do this as a tribute to Bon, I was into it. What's amazing is you hear some of these live things we did in the early days and it takes you back to that night. It's never nostalgia, but it really jolts you."
No doubt Bon would be smiling right now. He embodied the good jolt. He single-handedly revived the sacred rock mission of knocking even the most salient listener on their ass. One of music's most enigmatic frontmen, he effortlessly blazed one of rock's most memorable comet trails at a time when all AC/DC really was looking for was the next good place to play.
"We'd play anywhere, trying to get a reputation. Sometimes we'd play for food," laughs Angus. "And we'd play loud. And for good reason. In those early days you had people there for two things. To drink and hear rock n' roll. We never stopped playing in fear of what would happened if we did. The thing about Bon was, he'd never let up anyway. When you were with him, whether on the stage or off, you always felt you were around somebody with a special presence. That was the magical thing about him. That's what I heard most when I went back and listen to the tapes."
The CD's disks range from never-before-released live sessions from the Atlantic studio days, to rare B-sides, to live recordings from one of their favorite clubs in their early Sydney days, to material from their home video release, Let There Be Rock.
The set also includes the entire Back In Black studio album, the first recording with current vocalist Brian Johnson. The breakthrough album was itself recorded as a tribute to Bon after his untimely death in 1980. "My brother and I were at a loss about what to do after Bon's death," says Angus. "He had been working on new songs as a way to just get through the shock. We decided to keep working, not knowing what would happen to the band, but feeling it was the best way to honor what Bon was about."
Through the years AC/DC has shown the same level of commitment to their fans. The band even consulted some hardcore followers when assembling material for the Box set. "We wanted to find things that the fans didn't have. Malcolm even consulted some of the fans to help us track things down." says Angus. "Some of them provided us with information even we didn't know."
And no wonder. Since their very first gig at the Chequers Club, (artists such as Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra had previously graced the stage) in Sydney Australia on December 31, 1973, the AC/DC myth has grown directly in proportion to their reputation as the world's balziest live rock band. Named by their sister (after something to do with a vacuum cleaner, so the rumor goes) Bon Scott was still just their driver in those early days. Eventually he charmed his way into the band. He soon came to epitomize the AC/DC code. One of his more famous qoutes: "Don't mention other bands around us...No one else fucking matters." Some 16 albums later, it's obvious AC/DC has never abandoned their creed. "We still think Bon's around," Malcolm has often said. And the spirit of those early gems, Let There Be Rock, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and the breakthrough Highway To Hell set the standard for all AC/DC records to come. They also marked the demarcation line for other rock bands that followed. No band worth it's amplifier could pass go without going straight through that trilogy. "There's something about a kid turning 13," laughs Angus. "It's like he's got to hear AC/DC as a rite of passage." When citing some of the nuggets on the Box set, Angus points to Bon's "She's Got Balls," as one of his favorites. "Bon's wife was complaining because he never wrote a song about her," says Angus. "Well, he came back a week later with that one. She left him for a few days over that," he adds.
When asked if he can attribute any secret to Bon's passion and/or the enormous legacy AC/DC has established, Angus doesn't miss a beat. "When my brother wanted to form the band I remember me asking: 'What kind of music are we going to play?'" Angus recalls the dumbfounded look on his brother's face. "It was like, 'Do you have to ask?' 'Rock n' roll, man,' was all he said. Bon had that attitude. We all did. All we ever wanted to do was rock as hard as we could. I mean, there's no need for Einstein on that job application."