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Johnny O'Keefe

Johnny O'Keefe

Born in Sydney on 9 January 1935, Johnny O'Keefe became the undisputed King of Australian rock and roll.

There was little or no rock music scene in Australia, and certainly no Australian rock recordings, prior to 1957, when Bill Haley toured the country. A local band, the Dee Jays with vocalist Johnny O'Keefe, was chosen as the supporting act.

Johnny O'Keefe had been performing in talent shows, mainly doing impersonations of Johnny Ray singing songs such as Crying and The Little White Cloud That Cried (complete with prop glasses filled with water to make artificial tears). His performance supporting Bill Haley led to a contract with Festival Records.

At his first recording session on s Saturday afternoon in July 1957, Johnny recorded Bill Haley's Billy Goat and I'm Still Alive. (The recording had to be on a Saturday afternoon because Johnny was working in his father's furniture shop in the morning and during the week - and, of course, you couldn't work on a Sunday in the fifties.)

Reluctant radio stations gave very little airplay to Johnny's first record but, by the time of his next recording, Wild One, early in 1958, there was sufficient demand from Johnny O'Keefe Fan Clubs throughout the country to make it a hit. Many of these Fan Clubs had arisen out of performances which Johnny gave at Police and Citizens Boys Clubs.

Johnny O'Keefe
Johnny O'Keefe

A series of hit records and performances on Lee Gordon's "Big Shows" supporting overseas artists (who often were greeted with chants of "We want Johnny") led to Johnny being given his own national TV show, Six O'Clock Rock, in 1959. The TV show ran until 1962 when Johnny left to tour America (with limited success).

Overwork led to Johnny being instructed by his doctors to take a rest, but he was soon back on television with another show Sing! Sing! Sing! and recording another string of hit records.

The pattern of dynamic performance leading to overwork, depression and breakdown was repeated for the next ten years. This, together with a serious car smash which required several operations to reconstruct his face, culminated in Johnny's death from a heart attack in October 1978.

During his career, J O'K had five number one records and ten other top ten hits. The recording for which he is best remembered, Shout!, was recorded and released as a single twice (in 1959 and in 1964) but never achieved better than number 11.

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