Bonfire has been rocking early AC/DC for audiences since 2001 - back when there were only a handful of tribute bands on the scene - and they’ve been fortunate enough to continue entertaining audiences. We got a chance to sit down with lead vocalist, Sean Mulvihill, who takes on the role of AC/DC’s original vocalist Bon Scott, and talk to him about the band and a little bit about the talented and iconic Bon Scott.
Q: Sean, tell me how Bonfire got started.
Sean Mulvihill: Steve Pandol, he was a guitar player and someone told him he looked like Angus. And he did. This was back in 2001 and tribute bands just kind of started to take hold. And so he wanted to do an early AC/DC tribute. He just liked the Bon Scott stuff. He put an ad in Music Connection for a singer and I saw it.
Q: Were you working in bands at that time?
SM: I was in cover bands. Original bands when I was younger. I had a couple kids and had a good job and hadn’t been playing for a while. So I had this newspaper and then I say, “Hey look at this. This guy wants somebody to sing like Bon Scott.” My wife was like, “You know. When you do ‘A Whole Lotta Rosie’ in cover bands, that’s my favorite song you do.
Q: So you got together with this guy?
SM: I put it aside and then we moved and I found it again. And I go, “I’m gonna call this number.” And I called it. And he goes, “How did you get this number? I gave up that whole idea.” He said, “Can you really sing like Bon?” I said, “I think so.” He had a drummer friend and he had a guitar student that he thought could do Malcolm and I had a bass player friend and we all got together and we formed the band. And then you know I’m the only one left. You know, people move, people get married, people have kids, whatever. But this lineup has been together for a couple years but most of the guys except the Angus have been in it for a good long time.
Q: Are you all local to the Los Angeles area?
SM: Yeah, we’re all LA. Some of the guys are in the Valley. I’m Hermosa Beach.
Q: You said in 2001 the idea of tribute bands was new.
SM: Well if you think about it Elvis impersonators have been around forever. And you know, Beatlemania, and when we started the Atomic Punks were huge, but it’s not like it is now. I mean, if you look at the schedules for most casinos and clubs you’ll see a lot of tribute bands. It didn’t used to be that way.
Q: What were your first gigs like?
SM: Our first gig was the 14 Below in Santa Monica on a Tuesday night and it was really cool, but our second gig was opening for the Foo Fighters by a weird chance.
Q: Tell me about that.
SM: This booking agent, I don't know why he called us; I don't know how he even knew of us. I think Steve Pandol, the guy who started the band; I think he’d been trying to get us a gig there. And I think the guy got tired of him bugging him, said, “You wanna gig? All right. The Foo Fighters want an AC/DC band.” Maybe he thought we’d chicken out or something but yes our second gig was opening for the Foo Fighters. And Dave Grohl just loved us.
Q: I know that authenticity is very important to tribute bands. Can you tell me how authentic Bonfire is with their equipment, clothes, makeup?
SM: You know, I try to do a pretty authentic Bon. We don’t go too far because what we say is whether we sound like ‘em, that’s up for you to decide. AC/DC always thought if they rocked harder than anybody else then that’s where they would make it. And, so that’s what we’re trying to pay tribute to is that energy, just really rockin’ our asses off as hard as we can.
SM: You know, that being said, this belt buckle is a 1977 Lynryd Skynyrd belt buckle I found on EBay that Bon wore to pay tribute to Ronnie Van Zant, his friend who died in a plane crash. Little things. Shark tooth earrings. It’s fun to do that, because the people that know, most people won’t, but there’s gonna be some guy out there that goes oh I can’t believe he just did that. I saw them do that in 1979.
Q: So the audiences you attract, what are they like?
SM: Our crowd, they’re the best. They are the best. Our crowds are really the best people. They’ve become our friends, our family, our crowd. Completely. Most of them have my personal cell number.
Q: What was your reaction to hearing you were going to be on the World’s Greatest Tribute Bands?
SM: Oh, we were thrilled. Our booking agent knew about the show. The tribute world is a small world and so he had heard that they’re starting this show. And then you know, the first season went by and the second season went by and we kind of stopped thinking about it. And then they asked us. This was back in like October, November of last year. This date has been in my mind, like looming. Like the guys from the Queen Nation band, I talked to them, and Katie said they said the same thing. It’s like, it’s so good to just get it done because it’s been out there just looming. But the opportunity to play in front of a nationwide audience and what it could conceivably do for us as a band? You can’t buy that.
Q: I always ask the band this question. Have you or any member of Bonfire met anyone from AC/DC or do they know about you?
SM: Well, we have not. But, we know Jerry Greenberg who was the President of Atlantic Records when AC/DC was signed to Atlantic. And, he sent a clip of us to Brian Johnson and he wrote back “spooky.” So, we’ve been cashing that check for years. Spooky, yeah. So, yes, they probably know about us. How much they know, whether they watch tribute bands on You Tube like everybody else, I don't know. I hope so. I would love to meet them.
Q: You’re a tribute to Bon Scott years. Is there anything I haven’t asked about that you’d like to tell me.
SM: Well, that just we’re a tribute to the Bon Scott era and Bon Scott died in 1980, but Bon Scott died in 1973. He was in a motorcycle wreck and it knocked a bunch of his teeth out so people think he had bad teeth. He didn’t. But he was in comma for three days and his heart had stopped. So he was dead. But they brought him back to life and he was alive for 6 years. And that motorcycle wreck got him the job in AC/DC. Because while was recovering on one of their booking agent’s couch, they said, “Hey do you know a singer? We need singer.” He goes, “Bon Scott’s living on my couch.” So he got the job in AC/DC because of the wreck that killed him. And so that borrowed time, those 6 years he became a rock star legend and wrote all these great songs that we’re making a living playing. That was all borrowed time. That was extra time. And he did the most with it.
Q: Besides performing LIVE and gaining some nationwide exposure what else are you hoping to get out of the show tonight?
SM: If we go out tonight, and people go out and buy the “Powerage” album tomorrow, that’s all we want. That really is all we want.
Bon Scott died in 1980 assumed from pulmonary aspiration after a hard night of drinking but Sean contends Scott really died in 1973 after his motorcycle accident and then continued for six years to perform and write some of the best classic rock songs of all time. Bonfire, a tribute to the AC/DC Bon Scott years, is a performance where you won’t believe your ears. The energy, the commitment and the dedication to the songs and style of AC/DC is remarkable, but incredibly the vocals of Sean Mulvihill as the great Bon Scott is one you’ll never forget.
SEAN MULVIHILL VOCALS
JAMES PULLI BASS
FORREST EVERETT DRUMS
SEAN COLLIGAN RHYTHM GUITAR
DIEGO RUSSO LEAD GUITAR
You can catch a live show every Monday on AXS.TV “The World’s Greatest Tribute Bands.” The broadcast airs at 8PM (PT) and repeats at 11PM (PT). You can also bring yourself down to the Whisky a Go-Go and see the show in person. Just make sure to grab your tickets at Eventbrite and get to the theater early. See you there.