By John Burrows
Two new books have been released by two different authors covering various aspects of the life of AC/DC legend Bon Scott.
It seems in recent years AC/DC legend Bon Scott has become more popular than ever. A slew of books have been published over the last decade on the late singer. This year we have had two books released around the same time. One is Jeff Apter’s ‘Bad Boy Boogie: The true story of AC/DC legend Bon Scott’ the other is a book on Bon Scott’s pre-AC/DC band, Fraternity titled ‘Fraternity: Pub Rock Pioneers’ by Victor Marshall.
Jeff Apter’s ‘Bad Boy Boogie’ presents a huge picture of Bon on the cover and the use of the AC/DC name in the title, from the get go this book feels like another quick Bon Scott cash grab, what some people on social media have dubbed ‘Bon-ploitation’. Apter’s book ‘Bad Boy Boogie’ covers Bon’s entire life, but does not seem to cover anything that already isn’t covered in Clinton Walker’s book ‘Highway to Hell’. Apter was ghost-writer for former AC/DC Bassist Mark Evans and manager Michael Browning for their books and some of their material seems to be re-used here too. I applaud Apter for spending a majority of the book’s time on Bon’s life, rather then his death as other recent books have comprehensively covered.
Apter’s book may prove popular receiving a lot of mainstream press with the assistance of mega publisher Allen & Unwin and being released just weeks before ‘Father’s Day’ in Australia.
Listening to Apter’s radio interviews, it is very rehearsed, almost word for word the same every time. Same stories, same jokes. In a recent interview on ABC radio, Apter was talking about Bon Scott’s pre AC/DC band ‘Fraternity’. A listener asked if Apter had interviewed any of the remaining members of Fraternity, to which Apter replied “No, they were writing their own book at the time” however he did go on to say that he watched a YouTube video about them, which he has based his information on. The YouTube video Apter describes is an interview with various members of Fraternity in 2015 with Adelaide music journalist David Day. Fellow Bon Scott author Mary Renshaw must have watched the same interview, as it is quoted word for word in her Bon Scott book also. Interesting to note, both Apter and Renshaw have not cited their source in this case.
Apter has dismissed Fraternity in other recent interviews such as his interview with Rod Quinn on ABC overnights (28th August 2021) where he likens them to “Spinal Tap”.
Very little is known about Bon’s pre AC/DC band ‘Fraternity’. I was intrigued and hunted down a copy of the Fraternity book which Apter mentioned in passing on his interview. When the package containing my Fraternity book arrived, I was shocked to see how thick it was, over 500 pages. How could someone write a 500 page book on an obscure band, who just days earlier was being dismissed on the radio as “unsuccessful”, “very Spinal Tap” , and “only remembered because of Bon Scott”?
The cover of ‘Fraternity: Pub rock Pioneers’ is quite unique, splashed with royal blue and opting for a drawing of the entire band with all members’ names displayed on the front in yellow. Upon opening, the contents run over three pages with over 80 chapters listed. The book is published by independent Melbourne publisher, Brolga. Which maybe why it is currently flying under the radar.
As I made my way through Fraternity: Pub Rock Pioneers it became evident that I was not only reading a book about a band Bon Scott was in. I was introduced to familiar names and faces who had been part of the soundtrack to many Australian’s growing up in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I had not known Cold Chisel’s Jimmy Barnes was in Fraternity, along with his brother John Swan. Barnes and Swan cite Fraternity’s bassist Bruce Howe as their mentor and one of the main reasons for their success. As each member of Fraternity is introduced in the book, I was surprised to learn they were members of other iconic Australian acts such as Sherbet, Flying Circus, Levi Smith’s Clefs, Red Angel Panic, Headband, Bay City Union, Band of Light, Jeff St John and the Copperwine, the list goes on. The book really hits home how important these musicians are in the story of Australian music.
You can tell the amount of time and care that Victor Marshall has put into this book, it is one of the most exhaustively researched books on a band I have ever read. Marshall has an unusual refreshing style of writing, almost scholarly but set out in a way where it is easy to follow. It could be used as a historical document or a casual read. Marshall makes a point of only using primary resources in his book, which makes it reliable and trustworthy. The book is made to feel like a conversation with the band and does so successfully.
Apter’s book ‘Bad Boy Boogie’ only skims over Bon’s time in Fraternity, but it is interesting to note that there are many discrepancies between the two books on the same subject. For instance, Jeff Apter spends much of a chapter describing how Bon wrote the song ‘Welfare Boogie’. This is not the case in Marshall’s book where the members of Fraternity explain how Fraternity’s Sam See wrote the song, whilst in his previous band The Flying Circus.
Fraternity: Pub Rock Pioneers boasts many unseen photos, interviews and has previously unpublished letters written by Bon. If you are an Australian rock fan, not just a Bon Scott fan, you will enjoy this book. The thought and care that has gone into it is unmeasurable.
If you know nothing about Bon Scott, Jeff Apter’s Bad Boy Boogie is a nice introduction to the AC/DC front man. If you’ve read or have previous books on Bon Scott, it is the same book you’ve purchased several times before, regurgitated. 2 out of 5 stars
If you are looking for new information on Bon Scott (or Australian Pub Rock in general) which hasn’t been covered previously, then Fraternity: Pub Rock Pioneers is what I’d recommend. 5 out of 5 stars. A very pleasant surprise. A book I’ll keep to reference in the future.
Fraternity book available at: