One of the most colourful and amusing yarns about AC/DC is that on their first tour of America in 1977 they played a mafia-run nightclub in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, called the 4 O’Clock Club.
The 4 O’Clock Club was operated by Joseph Camperlengo, who was politely called ‘a stolen stock entrepreneur’ and ‘a dope figure’ by Virginia newspaper Free Lance-Star in 1974.
One of the club's enforcers, martial-arts instructor turned hired thug Kenny Ogawa, was killed in a plane crash thought to be a mob hit.
The likes of Cheech & Chong and Jose Feliciano had appeared on stage at the 4 O'Clock Club but it had never seen anything like AC/DC.
On 7 September 1977, as part of a promotion for Atlantic Records, in front of a crowd of record-industry executives in town for a WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) convention, the Australians were presented on stage by Tom Judge (real name Thomas Milner), a disc jockey from local radio station WSHE Miami. Judge was the son of the station’s general manager, Gene Milner.
While bootleg recordings of the show exist and have been released under various titles, giving the date erroneously as 2 August or correctly as 7 September, what's puzzling is that there have also been whispered rumours of AC/DC playing more than one show at the 4 O’Clock Club.
Robby Gregory, now a concert promoter in Florida and a wide-eyed 15-year-old when he first saw AC/DC, was sure the band played a number of shows in Fort Lauderdale in 1977.
‘You have to realise that in late 1970s South Florida it was out of control,’ he told me. ‘Parties, awesome drugs, hot women, great weather. It was paradise, what more can I say? I would hear WSHE radio playing commercials advertising AC/DC live at the 4 O’Clock Club many times in late summer 1977. AC/DC would play gigs at night at the 4 O’Clock Club when they didn’t have out-of-town gigs. WSHE announced that they were going to broadcast AC/DC's last show at the 4 O’Clock Club before they were hitting the road to tour. Every one of my friends either listened to it live and/or recorded it live off the radio.
‘The 4 O’Clock Club was only a 15-minute drive from Miami. The 4 O’Clock Club was a rock club whereas most all of the clubs in Miami were dance/disco clubs at that time. It's just common knowledge with anyone my age that was in South Florida at that time that AC/DC was here in late summer of 1977 and played many nights at the 4 O’Clock Club. I wish I had more [to tell you] but I am positive that there was way more than just one show at the 4 O'Clock Club.’
It’s a tantalising story from Gregory but the dates would seem to be problematic. August and September 1977 were very full months for the band, with only a small five-day window in late July/early August 1977 (31 July to 4 August, during which a show in Gainesville was cancelled) and three days in September (4 to 6 September) showing any free slots in AC/DC’s hectic touring schedule for the Let There Be Rock Summer Tour.
However, two of those early August shows in Florida – West Palm Beach (5 August 1977) and Hollywood (7 August 1977) – were only a short drive from Miami, a city that would seem like a logical base for the band and certainly would be used as such by AC/DC in 1978 and 1979. In fact in early 1979, AC/DC spent many weeks in Miami rehearsing Highway To Hell and did some recording at Criteria Studios.
So it seems possible that AC/DC played more than one show at the 4 O'Clock Club, and this simply hasn't been recorded in the history books. Perhaps that could also explain why the date of 2 August has appeared on some bootlegs.
David Mitchell, a chef who runs a children’s charity in Fort Lauderdale, says he was there the night of 7 September 1977 working as a bouncer. He was 19 at the time. Like Gregory, he also says AC/DC played more than one show at the 4 O’Clock Club, coming through the first time in early August 1977.
A third man, Frank Cimino, who worked in valet parking for the 4 O'Clock Club at the time, has stated that ‘AC/DC was like a house band there'.
Gregory's, Mitchell's and Cimino's claims of multiple shows at the 4 O'Clock Club isn't borne out by any documentary evidence (none that I can find, anyway) but they swear it happened. Mitchell, especially, was adamant about it. Three separate eyewitnesses – all telling substantially the same story? It's intriguing.
‘They’d rented a yellow Penske rental truck,’ says Mitchell. ‘Malcolm was so quiet and polite; he and Angus both were. Bon got out of the truck wearing a half-open shirt from the heat – it was killer hot – and black or real dark-blue jeans. Our manager had gotten her facts wrong and said they were “an English disco band”. I showed them where things were, where the stage was, and then 90 minutes later I hear the sound check, and the guitarist is wailing, laying down some wicked riffs, and I walked in to compliment Angus: “For a disco band, you play rock really well.” He looked at me like I had three heads for a moment, and got back to tuning up.
‘Their first gig had maybe about 60 to 75 people there; not too big a crowd for some reason. But by the second gig, that had changed. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. I was thrilled to work there then because word had begun to spread, and the place was slammed, full house. The valet-parking owners had to actually emergency-hire out a second parking lot for that evening from Henry’s China House down the road. The place was sardine-packed and the band did not disappoint the reps, critics or crowd.
‘The 4 O’Clock Club was a badlands-type nightclub in definitely that sort of area, between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, right near State Road 84, a major southern east-west highway, and the corner of US 1. Atlantic Records couldn’t have chosen a rougher, more mobbed-up place for AC/DC to play, to be honest. It made the cantina scene in Star Wars look like a kindergarten. The less you knew about the owners, the better – seriously – because of who probably ran the club from up north.'
‘The 4 O'Clock Club made the cantina scene in Star Wars look like a kindergarten.'
– David Mitchell
The 4 O’Clock Club changed its name to City Limits to stay in business but it wouldn't survive. Joseph Camperlengo vanished from the face of the earth. A former employee suspects he staged his own disappearance: ‘The owner, Joey C, and the bookkeeper (I think her name was Annie) disappeared and their bullet ridden-car was found on the side of the road.’ Tom Judge was killed in auto accident in 1985.
‘AC/DC just blew the doors off the place,’ says Mitchell. ‘Bon Scott was a wild man. If anybody was ever born to be a rock singer and a rock star, it was Bon. He was one of the few performers I’d seen that when he got up onstage, if anything, it allowed him to be more like himself and personal when he was singing, without any phoniness. I remember he asked me, “Do you have any real beer, mate?” He thought American beer was way too weak, I guess.’
BON: THE LAST HIGHWAY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BON SCOTT AND AC/DC'S BACK IN BLACK is available to preorder now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and hundreds of other retailers. Just click the title above (in red) to preorder and save on the retail price.
Jesse Fink is the author of Bon: The Last Highway: The Untold Story of Bon Scott and AC/DC's Back In Black and The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC. For more information about Bon, click HERE or click the book covers below to be directed to editions in your preferred territory and language.