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This Day in Music – Highway To Hell

On this day 20th Feb 1980, Bon Scott, singer of AC/DC, was pronounced dead on arrival at a London hospital after a heavy night’s drinking. Scott was found in the passenger seat of a friend’s parked car in East Dulwich, South London. The official coroner’s report stated that he had drunk himself to death, eventually “suffocating on his own vomit.”
It’s a tough call knowing which way to turn after you lose your friend and band member. Zeppelin decided to call it a day after the death of their drummer John Bonham, who was found dead at guitarist Jimmy Page’s house during band rehearsals. Jimi Hendrix went in a similar way, as have many other musicians. In the July 2004 issue of Classic Rock, Scott was rated as number one in a list of the “100 Greatest Frontmen Of All Time” ahead of Freddie Mercury and Robert Plant, which just shows how much respect and admiration Scott has gained over the years since his untimely demise.
Like his future band mates Angus and Malcolm Young, Scott was born in Scotland; his family emigrated to Australia in 1952 along with thousands of other Brits who were tempted by a new life down under. The Scotts settled in Freemantle in Western Australia. His father, who worked as a baker, was also a keen piper and through this a young Scott started his musical career as a drummer in a bagpipe band. He continued with this until he was 17 when he won a Novice Champion for his drumming.
After working as a postman, bartender, and truck packer, Scott formed his first band, The Spektors, in 1964 where he played drums and also sang. A couple of years later he formed The Valentines who had a local hit with a song called “Every Day I Have To Cry”. During this period, The Valentines supported The Easybeats, where Bon met George Young, the elder brother of Angus and Malcolm Young, whom he would later join in AC/DC.
Scott’s next group, Fraternity, found themselves opening shows for British groups Deep Purple, Free, and Black Sabbath as they toured Australia. Bon’s life as a musician was taking shape. In 1972 he toured the UK where they opened for Status Quo. The Oz band changed their name to Fang where they also found themselves supporting Geordie, who ironically featured singer Brian Johnson. Two years later and back in Australia, Scott was offered the job as lead singer with AC/DC who had just sacked their singer.
During the next four years AC/DC worked nonstop, sometimes playing three gigs in one day. The group played everywhere and anywhere in Australia as well as touring Europe and the US, gaining cult status as one of the best new hard rock bands on the planet. Their 1979 album Highway to Hell reached the top 20 in the United States, and the band seemed on the verge of a commercial breakthrough. However, on 19 February 1980, Scott died after a night out in London.
Scott, who was just 33 at the time, passed out after a night of heavy drinking at the Music Machine in London. He was left to sleep in a Renault 5 owned by his friend Alistair Kinnear, at 67 Overhill Road in East Dulwich, South London. The following afternoon, Kinnear found Scott lifeless, and alerted the authorities. Scott was rushed to King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Pulmonary aspiration of vomit was the cause of Scott’s death, and the official cause was listed as “acute alcohol poisoning” and “death by misadventure.” Scott was cremated and his ashes were interred by his family at Fremantle Cemetery in Fremantle, Western Australia.
AC/DC briefly considered disbanding, but the group quickly recruited vocalist Brian Johnson of the British glam rock band Geordie. AC/DC’s subsequent album, Back in Black, was released only five months later, and was a tribute to Scott. It went on to become the third best-selling album in history, behind Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Scott never saw or enjoyed the success that AC/DC went on to achieve, unlike Hendrix, Morrison, and Bonham, who all died too young, but lived long enough to enjoy some fame and fortune. Mr Scott, we salute you.

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