What happened when AC/DC arrived in America

AC/DC onstage in 1977
AC/DC onstage in Hollywood, 1977 (Image credit: Michael Ochs Archive / Getty Images)

Susan Masino's Let There Be Rock: The Story of AC/DC was first published in 2006. It tells the story of Australia's biggest export, gleaned from interviews with the likes of Angus Young, Dave Evans, Keith Emerson and Robin Zander, as well as friends and record company executives.

The book has now been updated to bring the band's story up-to-date, detailing the release of Black Ice and Rock Or Bust, Axl Rose's temporary tenure, and the much-rumoured new album. But in this excerpt we go back to 1977, and the band's arrival in the US.  

The updated version of Let There Be Rock: The Story of AC/DC is out now.

In June, Angus and Bon appeared on stage with Rose Tattoo at the Bondi Lifesaver. It was time to prepare for their first long-awaited tour of the United States. Let There Be Rock was released in the States on July 23, 1977, just four days before they would play the Amarillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas. 

The album would eventually peak on the Billboard charts at Number 154. Before they left for America, AC/DC played two undercover shows at the Bondi. The first night they used the name The Seedies. The second night they called themselves Dirty Deeds.

In anticipation of their arrival in the States, Atlantic hired a new promotions team to handle the band. The late Perry Cooper’s first assignment with Atlantic was to promote AC/DC. “I was working with Michael Klenfner at Arista Records, who was vice president of promotions. I was director of special projects, but I had a bunch of titles. We spent two years at Arista during the early days, we worked with Barry Manilow, Melissa Manchester, Outlaws, Bay City Rollers, it was wonderful. We had a great time. Then when he got offered this opportunity at Atlantic, he took me with him. We were sent over to Atlantic as a package deal.

“Right after we went to Atlantic, Jerry Greenberg came to Michael one day and said, ‘We’ve got this band from Australia, they’re doing fairly well and we signed them to a long-term contract. But their lyrics are a little risqué and we’re not getting any radio play. So could you guys look them over and see what you can do?’

“So he gave us a kinescope, it was really weird, like a film. It had a cartridge that you put into this machine, and we looked at it. No, actually I looked at it. Michael, who will deny this, told me to look at it because he didn’t give a shit. So I looked at it and saw this guitarist doing a duck walk. And I thought, ‘Well, he’s a little bit copying Chuck Berry,’ but we should bring them over here and tour them, because they are terrific live. And that’s what we did.”

Once Cooper saw the kinescope of AC/DC live, he went back to Greenberg and convinced Atlantic that the band had potential. His idea was to bring AC/DC over to the States. “So they toured their asses off for two years straight. We just said, ‘When people see them, they will love them!’”

AC/DC landed in the United States on July 27, 1977. Unlike The Beatles, they were able to sneak into the country without being noticed. Just like The Rolling Stones before them, the band got into a used station wagon and embarked on their first tour of the United States. 

The first three American dates AC/DC played were opening for the band Moxy, in Austin, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi, Texas. The band went over very well in the Lone Star State, with Angus exclaiming that Texan people “really know how to party!” On July 30, they played a free concert at the Electric Ballroom in Dallas hosted by radio station K2EW.

From Texas, they drove to Florida... starting the long road that would stretch across two years and later become known as their personal “highway to hell.” Their first date in Gainesville on August 4 was canceled. On August 5 and 6, they co-headlined with REO Speedwagon in West Palm Beach and Jacksonville.

A radio station in Jacksonville programmed four or five of the band’s songs into their play list. AC/DC had been getting paid five hundred dollars a night to play a club, but when they got to Jacksonville with Pat Travers opening, they played in front of 8,000 people at the Coliseum. This coastal city would become one of AC/DC’s strongest American markets.

After playing ‘A Day For The Kids’ – a charity date at the Sportatorium in Hollywood, Florida for radio station WSHE in front of 13,000 people— they made their way into the heartland. Opening for Foreigner and UFO, AC/DC played at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis, Missouri on August 9, and at the Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas on August 10. 

They appeared at B’Ginnings, a club in Schaumberg, Illinois and opened for Michael Stanley in Cleveland, Ohio. The next two nights AC/DC opened for The Dictators at the Agora in Columbus, before continuing their drive north toward Wisconsin. Bon wrote home to a friend that he “Enjoyed America very much, especially the chicks.”

AC/DC was booked to play a campus bar in downtown Madison on Tuesday, August 16, 1977. Technically the fifteenth date of their first American tour, but actually the fourteenth time they were ever to play here, considering Gainesville had been canceled.

This historic occasion would fall on the same day Elvis Presley was found dead at the age of 42 in his bathroom at Graceland in Memphis. The end of an era for many. And the beginning of a new one for me, considering that on that day, Angus, Malcolm, Bon, Cliff, and Phil arrived to play at the Stone Hearth in Madison, Wisconsin – my hometown. Lucky me!

Susan Masino's Let There Be Rock: The Story of AC/DC is out now

Let There Be Rock: The Story of AC/DC (Updated Edition)

(Image credit: Omnibus Press)