In Australia, Molly Meldrum needs no introduction. For international readers Ian was a long time music critic and journalist in Australia. He also hosted Countdown, Australia’s well known music show during the 1980’s. In 2013 I interviewed him for research into my book Bad Boy Boogie: The Adventures of Bon Scott.
J: You’re Ian Molly Meldrum is that correct?
J: You’ve lived in Melbourne for most of your life?
M: I’ve lived all over the place.
J: You were born in?
M: I was born in Australia.
James: I guess we don’t really need to go into your history that much unless you feel like it relates to Bon Scott in some way.
Molly: He was a dear friend of mine. I knew him right back. When he was in the Valentines, way back in the 60’s, then Fraternity after that, and then ultimately AC/DC.
J: When Bon first came to Melbourne with the Valentines, do you remember what you were doing then?
M: I was writing for a music paper called Go-Set. And also I became a record producer. Then moved into television. It was all about the same time.
Do you remember the first time you met Bon Scott?
M: No not really. Would have been certainly in Melbourne. I instantly liked him, he was an amazing character. I adored him in fact you know. He had a heart of gold, he was just so talented as a front man. And ultimately as a singer in his own right. A singer of all different types, I mean, a singer of a pop boy band in the Valentines, to Fraternity a more serious singer, and then of course to the ultimate rock and roll band AC/DC so he had so many facets of his ability. Certainly those three things, you know.
Interview interrupted by the fridge repair man.
J: Your relationship with Bon, was it a combination of professional and personal?
M: We were great friends. He’d send me up a lot of the time. Certainly when I was doing Countdown and all of that. It was tongue in cheek. We had a great friendship.
J: In the ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ film clip, where he dresses up as a woman, were you aware that he was going to do that?
M: No I wasn’t. That was cool. You know, it was very funny. I think they said to him after, it would save me getting in drag. I interviewed them a few times in England as well when they were breaking into the English charts, and the European charts. One of the first times I really noticed that they were starting to make an impact in Europe was when I was up in Stockholm doing an interview with ABBA. For some reason a lot of the records stores had AC/DC in the front window. Sweden was one of the first places that AC/DC started to break in Europe, even before England.
J: Their popularity at that time had gone away in Australia, is that correct?
M: No it never really went away. No.
J: But with the Powerage album they were not hitting the top of the charts and owning it like they were earlier.
M: Well the fact is they were overseas so much. Because they were trying to make it in England and Europe and then eventually in America, and they were always willing to come on Countdown which was a very influential show, but we didn’t really have access. But we did do ‘it’s a long way to the top’, that was actually a ABC Countdown film clip. It was Paul Drane our directer at the time, he came up with the idea of putting them on a truck down Swanston street during lunch break. Little did we know that that film clip that we did back then would become one of the most famous that ACDC ever did. And probably even today it’s one of the most played/shown videos ever.
J: You guys are particularly proud of that then?
M: Absolutely. It didn’t cost that much I can tell you that. It shocked the shit out of the lunch goers taking their lunch break on Swanston St Melbourne.
J: Were you there on the day of filming?
J: OK. So you knew Bon in the Valentines, Fraternity and AC/DC and it is said that in AC/DC the synthesis between Bon Scott the person and Bon Scott the entertainer was the greatest. That Bon Scott the person is the most present in AC/DC. Would you agree with that?
M: I would say both. The fact is that Bon was unique character in his own right. But then when you combined that with with amazing charisma of Angus and Malcolm and the boys, the whole thing like that. But the ploy between Angus and Bon was incredible.
J: It was like having two front men?
M: It was, without a doubt. Michael Browning was friend of mine, who managed them. I remember being in London and Michael was mortified because they were trying to break into America, and they got the word from the American record company at one stage, that they needed to replace the lead singer because he wouldn’t work in America. There was obviously no way that was ever going to happen. Ironically enough, when, sadly Bon passed away, and it shocked the whole lot of us and I thought that was it for AC/DC forever, then the album took off and the Americans loved Bon. So even after he passed away he became big if not bigger than when he was alive, you know.
When you have a group like Greenday who just absolutely adored him. When they went to Perth they went to the cemetery, the whole thing. Greenday came here to the house one day and I gave them AC/DC belt buckles that I had collected and they were like children. Running around like I’d given them a truck full of gold.
J: Ive watched an interview with you and Bon on the internet, it’s in three parts. At the beginning of the interview you talk about – I think you’re in greater Yarmouth, or something like that- and you talk about there was a show there and the bar being open all day – do you remember that day? Do you remember the interview?
M: I can’t remember. Bon and I used to play off one another all the time. We spent a lot of time in the bar. He was just incredible. I mean even with Brian, replacing or becoming the next one with AC/DC.
J: Were you surprised that he entered a band like Fraternity?
M: No Because he was so versatile, he was able to do those things, with great ease, so from going from the Valentines to Fraternity it seemed like a radical change, but for Bon it wasn’t. And then after Fraternity to join the boys and become AC/DC and become the lead singer that wasn’t hard either. I remember one time we were over in Adelaide and it was New Years eve and they were the last on and we were at the football ground. And there was a curfew and another band took too long on stage, and the grounds guy was a pain in the ass and they were going to pull the plugs and everything, and they had this stage and people were jumping the fence to come down on the ground, and sure enough, second number in or third number in, they pulled the plug, and Bon thought okay, there was one mike open, and he yelled and said everyone sing along with me come along and sing with us, he pulled out the bagpipes and did this long way to the top, the stage started moving.
J: He had that ability to entertain on the fly because he had been involved in music his whole life. Even in some of the footage in America where the audience don’t seem to get the full AC/DC thing he seems to be able to take over.
M: He was a true showman. There was no doubt about that.
J: I’ve read some reports that earlier on in AC/DC that he was so into the music that he’d exhaust himself halfway through the set that he would pass out on the stage going a bit too hard too early.
M: That’s true.
J: It seems to me that a lot of that washed off onto Angus, that Angus learnt from Bon how to be an entertainer, would you agree?
M: He certainly learnt a lot from Bon. But you have to remember for Angus from his family, with George and the Easybeats and all that he learnt that anyway, so Angus was a showman in his own right. But as I said, with the two of them and Malcolm and the boys it was a just a great combination.
J: Did you go to the Hammersmith or any of the shows in London?
M: Yeah Yeah. They started small and then the crowds got bigger, and bigger and bigger.
J: Did you ever meet Irene Thornton or Silvie Smith?
M: Yes I met them from time to time.
J: In your opinion did you think they were good couples?
M: Absolutely, yeah. Underneath it all, as I said, Bon was one of the sweetest guys you could ever meet, you know. Everyone loved him. Not only did Countdown love him and AC/DC they love him for more, they were the easiest to work with, everyone in the crew, everyone, just loved having them on the show. Some of the best Countdown’s we ever did was with them too. We did another videoclip with them too. We had an overzealous props guy, because we did it in a quarry, and he packed too much dynamite, and it almost blew poor Angus off the fucking planet, for gods sake.
J: A lot of people think that in the mid-1980’s Australia decided that Bon Scott was their answer to Jim Morrison.
J: Do you think this perception of him is true though, that he took enormous amounts of drugs and didn’t care for his body.
M: Bon was everything. Like, he idolised the Doors, he loved the Rolling Stones, so if you look at Bon, of his makeup, you see a bit of Jagger in him, you see a bit of Morrison in him, all those things.
J: Do you think he became himself though. Other people I’ve spoken to said he didn’t necessarily want to be famous, he wanted to be someone. He wanted to be himself, do you think he achieved that?
M: I talk from a different level, because he was a friend of mine, so, he came to my house when I lived in south Yarra, we were mates, so I saw a different side of him.
J: A lot of the interviews you see him in, he seems to go a little bit quiet, a little bit nervous when the camera is on him and when he is not performing he seems to go into his shell a little bit.
M: I did a lot of interviews with him, so he wasn’t in his shell a lot of the time. He was shy-like at times, yes he was.
J: Was there anything you wished you had asked him, on camera or anything like that?
M: [Long pause} I just wished he hadn’t have died. Because he was great. Brian has done an amazing job, an incredible job. Bon was Bon. But the Young brothers are good. There was one time when I was waiting to do an interview in New York and the girl who was looking after their publicity she came down and said they’re on their way she said you actually know AC/DC don’t you. And I went, well, sort of yes. And just as she said that Angus and Brian walk through the door and they said MY GOD the old dearest Molly, and I look at the girl and said I do know them pretty well I think. Through the legacy of Bon and then Brian they are still one of the biggest groups in the world. When they put on a show they put on a show. Everyone of the shows I’ve been to, they’ve always given all. The crowd would go away thinking, we have seen a great show.
J: A friend of mine told me a story of when he went to an AC/DC concert back in the 70’s at the Myer music bowl. And it was the only time he ever got arrested. The cops picked him out because he was the smallest as he was walking toward the station. It sounded like pandemonium. Something was sparked in people, everyone went a bit mental.
M: AC/DC were one of the first acts to play at the Rod Laver stadium. I was one of the trustees who helped build the thing. I was telling everyone it’s going to be alright and, unfortunately some of the fans got totally out of control, and smashed down an entire glass door to get in, and how the fuck am I going to answer to this? The Myer music bowl was a hard one because the fans had to walk from Flinders station so they were just being AC/DC fans and the police didn’t quite know how to handle that.
J: In your opinion, as a journalist, out of all the stuff that has been written abut Bon can you identify an area that needs more exploration?
M: Um, no, just the fact that he was one of the nicest guys in world. Bon never really acted at any time, that I’m a star. He never did that. He was just one of the boys. That’s he always thought of himself, the band, the whole thing, you know. We had some hysterical trips, when we were in Brussels, where they played a couple of tricks on me you know, which I’ve still got to forgive them for, they were always fun.
J: They always set you up and you nearly fell into it every time?
M: The times that they wanted to, yep.
J: Did that hurt you?
M: No. No no no no. In fact on one Countdown I came out in drag and walked between them. I thought well Bon if you dress up in drag I’ll dress up in drag.
J: Did you think there was a difference in him before and after his motorcycle accident? Some people say he was rougher and much more carefree about his body, he had no fear after that apparently, the accident was about 9 months before AC/DC.
M: It may be true, I don’t know that part really. But once he became part of AC/DC, he loved doing the music, and there wasn’t the constraint of being in a boy band like Valentines, and there wasn’t the constraint of being a more serious singer in Fraternity. So this was a tie to let lose, whether the bike accident had something to do with that, it gave him a chance to be a clown if he wanted to be.
J: In the interview that is on youtube, between you and Bon, I’ll keep referring to that because it’s the best I have of your interaction with him, you pursue this line of questioning about the punk rock scene, how there are these comparisons to the Sex Pistols, and that was the big thing at the time and all that kind of stuff, my interpretation of Bon’s body language, reading that exchange is that he starts to get a bit irritated between them and the punk rock bands, he seems to me like he wants to be considered a more permanent band kind of band, like he wanted to be compared to Led Zeppelin than say the Sex Pistols.
M: Yeah fair enough. I can recall that interview. Seeing what I saw in Sweden, and realizing that heavy rock was massive in Europe, Britain were going through a punk era sort of thing, therefore you had the sex pistols and those bands dominating the charts, and I was sort of trying to burrow away saying how are you going to do it here? What are you going to do? And if I pursued that than I can see why Bon would get pissed off. I was just sort of stating facts and figures, and the punk thing was big then, really big and they broke through that. When I saw them in that small club in England I thought oh my god the are going to do this, you know. And they did.
J: I think it is on JJJ, there’s that concert they play in Sydney, he introduces the song The Jack, the song about gonorrhoea, do you remember hanging out with them in Landsown road, is there any truth to all that gonorrhoea stuff, that kind of debauchery and decadence?
M: Not really. I think that Bon lived a pretty wild life. I remember the only problem I had, because I was a co-ordinator come producer, was that I think we’ve got a problem here, I don’t know how we are going to go around this, how are we going to put on Countdown she’s got the jack?
J: If you said you cant sing the jack or whatever, he seemed to take what was taboo or inappropriate and just go for it, just to annoy all the producers, I think there was one show where they play in Queensland where apparently the are not allowed to swear and the first thing he says on stage is we are not allowed to say fuck and shit.
M: That’s true. Queensland went through that, then Western Australia. I was arrested for saying fuck on the microphone and I remember Bon saying, well, join the club.
J: In your experience as a journalist did you find a massive contrast between Australia and England back in the 70’s, in Australia there seemed to be a small community.
M: Yeah you didn’t have NME, Melody Maker and you had British writers writing for the Sun and things like that. But we had good journalists writing for the tabloids and all that, but all journalists got to love AC/DC and Bon, and the same happened in England, it didn’t matter.
J: He seemed to have so much time for marketing and media for other people.
M: There’s a story about America, when we were coming, and they more or less seriously said to Michael Browning, they need to find another lead singer, it was just ridiculous you know. And once they got to America, the American youth loved them.
J: Do you think that he started drinking a bit more when felt like he had made it. He had written the songs that he wanted to write, he got the success that he wanted, but now that you are saying this to me, that they were thinking about getting a different singer
M: No they weren’t thinking of getting a different singer. The band never thought that. The management never thought that either. They were told that by the Americas and they just laughed, that’s not going to happen, no matter what.
J: Do you think his drinking increased or it was just an unfortunate accident?
M: No no. He just liked to party some times, and like us all, we’ve got to learn our limits. Took me a while to learn that too. You have to get used to going to AC/DC concerts over the last few years and looking around the dressing room thinking: eh? And Angus and Malcolm would be having cups of tea, and you’re thinking where’s the drink? What are you boys trying to do to me?