|Birth name||John Michael O'Keefe|
|Also known as||J.O.K. & The Wild One|
19 January 1935|
Bondi Junction, New South Wales, Australia
|Died||6 October 1978
St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst,Australia
|Genres||Rock n Roll|
|Associated acts||The Dee Jays|
John Michael O'Keefe, known as Johnny O'Keefe (19 January 1935 – 6 October 1978) was an Australian rock and roll singer whose career began in the 1950s. Some of his hits include "Wild One" (1958), "Shout!" and "She's My Baby". In his twenty-year career, O'Keefe released over 50 singles, 50 EP's and 100 albums.
Often referred to by his initials, "J.O.K." or by his nickname, "The Wild One", O'Keefe was the first Australian rock'n'roll performer to tour the United States, and the first Australian artist to make the local Top 40 charts, and he remains Australia's most successful chart performer, with twenty-nine Top 40 hits to his credit in Australia between 1959 and 1974.
Johnny O'Keefe was the younger brother of Australian jurist Barry O'Keefe (a former head of the New South Wales ICAC) and the uncle of comedian and TV presenter Andrew O'Keefe. His father Alderman Ray O'Keefe was Mayor of Waverley Council in the early 1960s
- 1 Early life
- 2 Musical career
- 3 Death and legacy
- 4 Discography
- 5 References
- 6 External links
O'Keefe was born in the eastern Sydney suburb of Bondi Junction on 19 January 1935. He was the second of three children of Raymond Moran O'Keefe and Thelma Edna Kennedy. He was raised as a Catholic and attended the local Catholic primary school, followed by secondary schooling at Waverley College in nearby Waverley.
Johnny had a solid musical background and listened to the radio almost constantly at home although he did not often sing around the house. His parents were both good singers, his mother was an excellent pianist and his father occasionally played in a jazz band.
O'Keefe made his stage debut at the age of four when he played the role of 'Dopey' in the Waverley College production of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". Being unable to read or memorise the script, the young O'Keefe improvised his part.
The young O'Keefe was intelligent and perceptive, with a great sense of humour, although his school grades fluctuated due to his misbehaviour and the fact that he was easily distracted; Sydney radio personality Gary O'Callaghan, who was a classmate, later recalled that O'Keefe was often in trouble. During his time at high school Johnny joined the school cadets, where he made good progress learning trumpet, and he (reluctantly) sang solo in the school choir. He was also a keen swimmer, surfer and sailor and often sailed with the Vaucluse Juniors sailing club.
He matriculated in 1951, gaining an 'A' in French and a 'B' in English, mathematics, physics and economics. In 1952 he enrolled in a part-time economics degrees course at the University of Sydney, but soon abandoned it and enrolled in a short course at the College of Retailing in Sydney, after which he went to work in his father's furniture store in Pitt Street, Sydney.
He had already begun performing at dances and 'socials' while at high school, but his interest in music blossomed after he left school. A strong early musical influence was the American singer Johnnie Ray, who toured Australia to great acclaim in the 1950s and O'Keefe began his singing career as a Ray impersonator.
During this period he met and became good friends with Alan Dale, also an aspiring singer, who was then employed at the O'Keefe's furniture business. In December 1952 Dale and O'Keefe were called up for National Service. Dale went into the Army and O'Keefe went into the RAAF. Johnny was stationed at Richmond in western Sydney, and served his six-month period in two blocks, from December–February 1952 and December–February 1953.
The first turning point in O'Keefe's career was in early 1953, when he began singing with the quintet of jazz accordionist Gus Merzi at charity dances. During these appearances, O'Keefe would sing his specialty, Johnny Ray's "Cry", while wearing a pair of trick glasses which would squirt water over the audience. Radio personality Harry Griffiths, who met O'Keefe at this time, remembered him as "a bad-tempered ratbag" who often argued with Merzi, although Merzi commented that they never clashed over music.
Recognising Johnny's potential, Merzi began tutoring him on piano, encouraging him to broaden his repertoire and helping him to refine his stagecraft. O'Keefe became a regular singer with the Merzi quintet and performed with them every Sunday at the charity shows they performed at the Bondi Auditorium. The tenacious O'Keefe performed his routine no matter how small the audience, sometimes braving the rotten eggs and fruit thrown at him by local louts.
After his second stint of National Service he began singing with Merzi two nights a week, playing at university college dances, 21st birthdays and private parties and Merzi also managed to get O'Keefe a regular spot on the 2UW live radio show Saturday Night Dancing. Up to this point he had performed for free, simply to gain experience, but his first paid engagement as a singer was as a Johnny Ray impersonator, performing on the Bathurst radio station 2BS, for which he was paid £17 plus expenses.
Rise to stardom
Johnny O'Keefe's life changed irrevocably after seeing and hearing Bill Haley singing "Rock Around the Clock" in the film Blackboard Jungle in June 1955. He realised immediately that this was the style of music he wanted to perform, and from this point on he dedicated himself single-mindedly to becoming a rock 'n' roll singer and a star.
Although he was perhaps an unlikely candidate for stardom, he pursued it relentlessly for the next two decades and it is a tribute to his tenacity that, in large measure, his dream was achieved: by 1960 he had become the most popular and successful singer in Australia and a major TV star. Australian rock historian Ian McFarlane succinctly described O'Keefe's qualities in his article on the singer in the Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop:
- "J.O'K was the first to admit that he was a limited singer, but he possessed an incredible drive, a fierce ambition to succeed, a tireless facility for self-promotion, a tremendous flair for showmanship and a larrikin spirit that was irrepressible."
The Dee Jays
In September 1956 O'Keefe and his friend Dave Owen (an American-born tenor sax player) formed Australia's first rock'n'roll band, The Dee Jays. The original lineup of the group was John Balkins (baritone sax), Kevin Norton (guitar), Keith Williams (bass) and Johnny 'Catfish' Purser (drums). Norton left soon after the band formed and he was replaced by Indonesian-born guitarist Lou Casch.
Casch was a remarkable figure and his contribution to O'Keefe's sound, both live and on record, was considerable. He was born in Ambon in 1924, grew up in Aceh and Jakarta, began playing guitar at an early age, and became a dedicated jazz musician. He came to Australia under the Colombo Plan in 1952 to study Medicine at the University of Sydney. He was introduced to O'Keefe by Keith Williams, whom he had known from a jazz trio in which they played. At their first meeting O'Keefe played Casch a selection of rock'n'roll records and asked him to imitate the guitar playing, which he was easily able to do. Impressed, O'Keefe offered him the job and handed him a pile of records, saying "Here, learn these. The dance is on Saturday night."
Their first performance was at Stones Cabaret in the beach side suburb of Coogee, and by early 1957 they were playing four dances a week and also performing on Saturdays in the interval between films at the Embassy Theatre, Manly. O'Keefe and the Dee Jays quickly attracted a strong local following, due in large measure to O'Keefe's magnetic personality and his dynamic stage performances.
O'Keefe's 'trademark' was his flamboyant stage attire, which included gold lame jackets and brightly coloured suits trimmed with fake fur. Many of these outfits were made for him by Sydney 'showbiz' costumier Len Taylor, although one famous red suit trimmed with leopard-print velvet cuffs and lapels (now in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney) was reputedly made by his mother Thelma.
At the time Casch joined the band, they were promoting their own dances at local venues such as the Balmain Workingmen's Institute and Stone's Cabaret. The enterprising O'Keefe was involved in every aspect of the group's career including hiring the halls, placing ads in the local newspapers and putting up posters. "O'Keefe was the promoter, singer, bouncer, door attendant, sold the ice creams, mixed the drinks and cleaned the halls, while working during the days at his father's furniture store."
At the time, rock 'n' roll and its followers in Sydney often found themselves at odds with non-aficionados. According to Lou Casch, on one occasion, while O'Keefe and the Dee Jays played at an upstairs dance venue in Newtown, an "Italian wedding" reception was also taking place downstairs. Some of the dance patrons came to blows with wedding guests in the men's toilets, and within minutes the fight had erupted into a full-scale riot that spilled out into the street, with police eventually calling in the Navy Shore Patrol to help restore order. It was this incident, according to Lou Casch, that inspired O'Keefe's signature tune, "Wild One". While the song is credited officially to Johnny Greenan, Johnny O'Keefe, and Dave Owens, some sources suggest that O'Keefe was not directly involved in the composition. Sydney disc jockey Tony Withers was credited with helping to get radio airplay for the song but writer credits on subsequent versions often omit Withers, who later worked in the United Kingdom on pirate stations Radio Atlanta and, as Tony Windsor, on Radio London.
"Wild One" was revived in 1986 and recorded by Iggy Pop as Real Wild Child. A cover by Christopher Otcasek was used on the soundtrack for the movie "Pretty Woman" starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. It was also recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis, Everlife, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Glamour Camp, Marshall Crenshaw, Brian Setzer, and Wakefield and Jet.
Meeting with Lee Gordon
Johnny O'Keefe first met Bill Haley during his tour in 1957 in Australia. Haley was impressed by O'Keefe, giving him a song to record ("You Hit The Wrong Note, Billy Goat") and recommending him to Ken Taylor, A&R manager of leading local record company Festival Records. Taylor, however, failed to act on Haley's advice, so O'Keefe then famously took matters into his own hands and began telling the local press that he had in fact been signed to Festival. Anxious not to lose face, Taylor auditioned O'Keefe and signed him to the label.
O'Keefe's debut single (issued as a 78rpm record), "You Hit The Wrong Note, Billy Goat" b/w "The Chicken Song", was released in July 1957 but it failed to chart and sold poorly, as did the follow-up, "Love Letters In The Sand" – which O'Keefe later described as the worst record of his career.
By this time O'Keefe had become a close friend of Lee Gordon and their popularity really took off when O'Keefe and the Dee Jays were installed as the featured support act for Gordon's famous "Big Show" concert bills at the Sydney Stadium. These "Big Show" concerts were landmarks in Australian popular entertainment, being among the first tours to feature leading overseas rock'n'roll stars, including Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis; Gordon also toured many top jazz acts of the day, including the first visits to Australia by black jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, who had been prevented from touring Australia in previous years because of the White Australia Policy.
O'Keefe and the Dee Jays' first major break was a support spot on Lee Gordon's first "Big Show" rock'n'roll tour, which starred Little Richard, Gene Vincent, and Eddie Cochran. When Gene Vincent and his band were stranded in Honolulu on their way to Australia, Gordon contacted O'Keefe and asked him to fill in for Vincent for the first night of the tour in Wollongong. This was followed by another support spot on the second all-star Big Show, which included The Crickets (with lead singer Buddy Holly on his first and only Australian tour), Jerry Lee Lewis and Paul Anka.
During this period The Dee Jays also acted as the backing band for many of the international acts that Gordon toured, since they were at the time the only rock'n'roll band in the country who could read music. According to Lou Casch, they backed acts including Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers, Fabian, Tab Hunter, Jimmie Rodgers and Ricky Nelson, and on his 1960 tour, Nelson was booed by fans of O'Keefe's whom he had reputedly planted in the audience. Their skill and energy and O'Keefe's frantic performances also saw them upstage many of the visiting performers. Casch recalled that he actually played behind Jerry Lee Lewis, whose own backing musicians were so daunted by the Dee Jays' performance that they got too drunk to play.
Their first EP, Shakin' At The Stadium, included JOK's signature tune "Wild One", co-written by O'Keefe with Greenan, Owens and top Sydney DJ Tony Withers. This became his first hit in March 1958, peaking at #20 on the newly established Sydney Top 40 (at this time there was no national pop chart in Australia). Although it was claimed that it was recorded live at the Stadium, it was in fact a studio recording, overdubbed with the sound of a real Stadium audience.
O'Keefe issued three more singles during 1958: "Over The Mountain" b/w Lawdy Miss Clawdy", "So Tough" b/w That'll Be Alright" (a cover of The Cuff Links song which reached #12 in Sydney) and "I Ain't Gonna Do It" b/w Could This Be Magic?"
O'Keefe married Marianne Renate Willimzik, a 23-year-old hairdresser, at St Therese's Catholic Church, Dover Heights, on 2 August 1958. They had three children, but their relationship eventually collapsed under the pressure of O'Keefe's career demands and mental health problems, and they were divorced in 1966.
O'Keefe had played a few dates in New Zealand in 1958, but in early 1959 rising NZ promoter Harry M. Miller organised a two-month tour. O'Keefe took the staid NZ music scene by storm, although he was banned from playing at some halls and faced problems getting airplay. At that time the NZBC had a monopoly on radio, they had only one J.O'K. record in their library, and they refused to play his new single "Wild One" - although a hastily issued version by NZ rocker Johnny Devlin was played. O'Keefe also toyed with the local press, playing on Lou Casch's exotic appearance by telling journalists that Casch was the son of an Arrernte Aboriginal chieftain from Ayers Rock (Uluru) and that Casch's hand-built guitar was made from mulga wood.
Six O'Clock Rock
The event cemented O'Keefe's status as Australia's top pop star came just after the NZ tour ended. In early 1959 ABC hired Johnny O'Keefe & The Dee Jays as the resident band for its new one-hour live television show Six O'Clock Rock which featured local artists. The show was a rather daring departure from the ABC's otherwise rather staid entertainment programming, as its charter obliged it to cater to a mainstream audience and its radio and TV outlets had until then, featured little of the new rock'n'roll craze.
Six O'Clock Rock premiered on 28 February 1959 and was originally hosted by Ricki Merriman, but after six episodes O'Keefe took over as host, marking the beginning of the most successful phase of his career. O'Keefe quickly took over the running of almost every aspect of the show, selecting guest artists, choosing their material, supervising the rehearsals and conducting the band.
No doubt assisted by his high profile, O'Keefe scored two more Top 20 hits in the first half of 1959 with the singles "What Do Ya Know?" b/w "Peek-A-Boo" (#12, March 1959) and "Why Do They Doubt Our Love?" b/w "You Excite Me" (#9, May 1959).
At this point O'Keefe switched to Festival's new subsidiary Leedon Records. The former independent label had been established by Lee Gordon, and was distributed by Festival. It had had some minor success but by 1959 Gordon was in financial trouble and he sold the label to Festival. From this point until the late 1960s, all O'Keefe's recordings came out on the Leedon label. He scored another hit in late 1959 with his first Leedon single, "Swanee River" / "The Steady Game" (#12, Oct. 1959).
Boosted by his TV profile, O'Keefe's next two singles became two of the biggest and most enduring hits of his career. His second Leedon single was a cover of The Isley Brothers' "Shout!" (b/w "What'd I Say"), which reached #3 in November 1959, and it was followed by his first #1 single, "She's My Baby" / "Own True Self", in January 1960.
O'Keefe and The Dee Jays had a regular gig in Sydney each Wednesday and Saturday night at the Leichhardt Police Citizen's Boys Club during 1959. Many of the "bodgie" (male) and "widgie" (female) patron's arrived on motor bikes (cycles). During one talent quest teenager Ray Hoff won the event with his version of the Ronnie Self single 'Bopalena.' Hoff went on to become a successful performer with his own rock band, Ray Hoff and the Off Beats. Another night saw a crew cut disc jockey Bob Rogers handing out records while being filmed for a documentary. Leather jackets were banned in an effort to reduce fights mostly outside the premises, and if patrons were caught fighting within the club, the two police officers (John and Reg) on duty and in uniform, would force the culprits to don boxing gloves and get into a boxing ring downstairs.
Many fans would attend the live Saturday "Six O'Clock Rock" TV show at ABC's Gore Hill studios then go direct to The Leichhardt Dance. Eventually JOK was replaced by a more sedate Johnny Rebb and the Rebels at The Leichhardt Dance. Johnny Rebb wore a toupee and was escorted through the crowd to the bandstand accompanied by a bodyguard-manager. JOK was more at ease with tough wild kids.
At a packed 1959 Sydney Stadium big show starring American Lloyd Price backed by various Australian acts, JOK saved the show. Price had collapsed on stage a few songs before he was due to finish his performance. O'Keefe quickly jumped to the rescue as a semi conscious Price was being taken away leaving most of the audience bewildered. JOK then performed Price's number one hit 'Personality' giving the audience some value for money and cementing his star status.
Next morning a picture in the Sydney tabloid newspaper The Daily Telegraph showed O'Keefe accepting a piece of jewellery from the very appreciative Lloyd Price. The promoters were obviously even more happy as refunds would not have been necessary.
U.S. visits, 1959-60
"She's My Baby" had been recorded in Los Angeles with producer Snuff Garrett during O'Keefe's first visit to the United States in October 1959. It was recorded at Goldstar recording studios in Hollywood on November 5, 1959. His decision to try his luck in the USA was strongly opposed by his friend and mentor Lee Gordon but the ever-ambitious O'Keefe had already set his sights on breaking into the American market, and in L.A. he met with record executive Mickey Shaw who introduced him to executives of Liberty Records.
In February 1960 O'Keefe returned to the U.S. for a promotional tour, where he was promoted as "The Boomerang Boy", and much to his chagrin, O'Keefe was obliged to give boomerang throwing exhibitions. According to Ian McFarlane, Liberty offered to pay $5 to anyone who could throw further than the singer, but they had to pay out many times at one exhibition when O'Keefe turned up drunk.
O'Keefe undertook a gruelling tour that visited 35 states, but he made little impact, although "She's My Baby" reputedly sold more than 100,000 copies in the USA, and the flipside, "It's Too Late" briefly reached #1 in New Orleans. However the tour eventually fizzled out in late November, as O'Keefe had behaved badly which did not endear him to Liberty Records which had spent over $17,000 promoting him. He returned to the US in March 1960 to complete his contract, but after one final session at Goldstar on the 17th of that month which produced 'Don't You Know' and 'Take My Hand', Liberty did not renew his contract and he returned to Australia.
On his return to Australia, "It's Too Late" became his eleventh Australian hit, but O'Keefe was totally broke and deeply depressed. To cover his US failure he bought a bright red imported 1959 Plymouth Belvedere on hire purchase and began touring relentlessly up and down the east coast of Australia to pay off the car and replenish his finances, returning to Sydney every Saturday to present Six O'Clock Rock. JOK at one stage employed low pressure in the car tyres as this made them squeal when turning corners.
Johnny O'Keefe insisted on driving himself and this almost cost him his life. In the early hours of 27 June 1960, O'Keefe, Johnny Greenan and Greenan's pregnant wife were driving back to Sydney from the Queensland Gold Coast. About 20 kilometres north of Kempsey O'Keefe fell asleep at the wheel of the Plymouth and ploughed into a gravel truck. While the front of the large car bore the brunt of the very severe impact, all three were seriously injured. O'Keefe's face smashed into the steering wheel and he was thrown out of the car, landing six metres away in a paddock; Greenan's wife subsequently suffered a miscarriage. O'Keefe suffered multiple lacerations, concussion and fractures to his head and face; he lost four teeth, and his hands were also badly lacerated.
O'Keefe was air-lifted back to Sydney for treatment, but about six weeks later, against doctors' orders, he returned to work on Six O'Clock Rock. He subsequently had to undergo many gruelling operations to reconstruct his face, which left his appearance permanently changed.
Despite his ordeal, he continued recording and scored another #1 hit in August 1960 with "Don't You Know / Come On And Take My Hand", and the next single, "Ready For You" / "Save The Last Dance For Me" reached #4 in November. However many believe he never fully recovered from the accident and that it was the catalyst for his subsequent mental health problems.
In January 1961 O'Keefe attempted another tour of the United States, but it was also unsuccessful. By this time he was reaching the limits of his physical and mental endurance, and in all probability he was suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. After the second US tour collapsed, he flew to London on impulse, but blacked out at the Park Lane Hotel and woke up three days later in St George's Hospital, London, to which he had been admitted suffering from "nervous collapse". By chance he was able to make contact with Lee Gordon, who happened to be in London at the time, and with Gordon's help (and that of O'Keefe's wife and his parents) he was released from hospital and returned to Australia.
His run of Australian hits continued in spite of his mounting personal problems. "I'm Counting On You" became his second #1 hit in August 1961, followed by a third chart-topper, "Sing (And Tell The Blues So Long)" in March 1962, and "I Thank You", which reached #22 in December.
O'Keefe's tenure with Six O'Clock Rock ended in mid-1961, and in October he moved to ATN-7 as compere of the The Johnny O'Keefe Show. The show was a major success, but this only added to his already hectic workload and increased the pressure on him. In August 1962 he suffered another breakdown and spent two months in the psychiatric ward at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, beginning what was to become a repeating cycle of much-publicised breakdowns, hospitalisation and recovery. During his convalescence the TV show was renamed Sing, Sing, Sing and he was temporarily replaced as host by folk singer Lionel Long.
O'Keefe scored his fourth Australian #1 hit with "Move Baby Move" in July 1963, and also "Shake Baby Shake" (#8, October 1963) and "Twist It Up" which reached #32 in December 1963.
It was around this time that O'Keefe finally parted ways with his faithful backing group The Dee Jays, as he devoted more and more time to TV. It was an era in which many major artists mimed songs at outdoor locations, such at Manly Beach's Fairy Bower in 1967. Live performances began to taper off. The Dee Jays stayed together, however, and continued performing until 1980.
Decline in popularity
By late 1963, however, a new music trend from the UK known as Merseybeat was gaining momentum. Within a few months the emergence of the new wave of guitar/vocal groups led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones ushered in a new era in popular music, and their advent signalled the start of a rapid decline in O'Keefe's career. These overseas acts in turn inspired a new generation of local 'beat' stars, spearheaded by Bobby & Laurie, Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, Ray Brown & The Whispers, Tony Worsley & The Fabulous Blue Jays, Normie Rowe, and The Easybeats, who took the Australian pop scene by storm and (at least in Australia) soon came to rival the popularity of the biggest overseas acts.
Although he had helped the careers of many of his rock'n'roll contemporaries, O'Keefe was resistant to the changes in pop music and made himself unpopular amongst the new groups by banning "long-haired" acts (such as The Missing Links) from appearing on Sing, Sing, Sing. O'Keefe was alienated by the new developments in pop music, and he later described this period as "the biggest downer in my career".
Another major blow to O'Keefe was the sudden death of his partner and friend Lee Gordon, who died from a heart attack in London on 7 November 1963.
O'Keefe's last major hit of the Sixties came in April 1964 (two months before the Beatles toured Australia) when "She Wears My Ring" reached #2 on the singles chart. However the follow-up single charted significantly lower, peaking at a modest #30, and titles of the two songs seemed, in retrospect, to presage the downturn in O'Keefe's career the A-side, "Rock'n'Roll Will Stand" was backed by a cover of the Shirelles' "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?".
In November 1964, O'Keefe had another spell in psychiatric hospital, which he came to jokingly refer to as his "holiday camp".
His popularity continued to decline and sales of his records fell. Sing, Sing, Sing was eventually cancelled in October 1965.
In January 1967, O'Keefe compered a new TV show called Where The Action Is. It was produced and broadcast by the newly opened Channel TEN-10 and filmed at various outdoor locations around Sydney, and O'Keefe released a 'spin-off' album also titled Where The Action Is during the year, but the series was not successful and budget problems and low ratings led to its cancellation in November 1967.
From 1968 onwards O'Keefe devoted most of his time to performing on the burgeoning Australian club and cabaret circuit, and aside from the 1969 live LP Live On The Gold Coast, his only album releases were compilations of past hits, mostly issued on Festival's budget label Calendar.
O'Keefe doggedly continued recording new singles during the later 1960s, but only three made it into the Top 40 "Sun's Gonna Shine Tomorrow"(#38, May 1966), "Be Careful Of Stones That You Throw" (#28, August 1966) and a re-release of "She's May Baby" which reached #22 in August 1969.
During the late Sixties and into the Seventies O'Keefe's personal life became increasingly fraught. His drug and alcohol use escalated, he suffered a series of highly-publicised breakdowns, and he was involved in driving offences and a charge of possession of marijuana ca. 1970. One of the biggest personal blows O'Keefe suffered albeit one for which he was primarily responsible was the breakdown of his marriage and the bitter 1966 divorce from his long-suffering wife Marianne, whom he had married in 1958, which resulted in him being denied access to their three children.
During 1969 O'Keefe toured Vietnam to entertain Australian troops stationed there. On the business front, he signed a new contract with Festival at the end of 1969 and continued to record and release singles, but it was not until July 1972 that he finally scored another hit with a re-recorded version of 1958 hit "So Tough", which reached #7 in September that year.
In January 1973 O'Keefe performed at the second Sunbury Pop Festival. MC Paul Hogan introduced him as a "newcomer" and urged the crowd to "give him a go", and although he was at first greeted with some jeering and booing, by the end of his set he had completely won over the crowd.
In early 1974 he scored his last big hit with a version of the old Inez and Charlie Foxx hit "Mockingbird", recorded as a duet with vocalist Margaret McLaren. It became his 29th Australian hit, reaching #8 nationally in April 1974. It fared well against stiff competition from the better-known James Taylor-Carly Simon version, which was rush-released in Australia to compete with it, but many of O'Keefe's supporters claim that O'Keefe's version was deliberately ignored by some commercial radio stations, in favour of its US rival.
In August 1974 O'Keefe put together a package tour called "The Good Old Days of Rock'n'Roll" which featured many of his old friends including Johnny Devlin, Lonnie Lee, Jade Hurley, Barry Stanton, Tony Brady and Laurel Lea. It premiered at St George Leagues Club in Sydney and continued successfully for the next four years. O'Keefe continued to issue singles, including a cover of the Harry Vanda-George Young song "Saturday Night", originally recorded by The Easybeats.
On 14 February 1975 (St Valentine's Day) at the Masonic Hall, Waverley, O'Keefe married for the second time to Maureen Joan Maricic, a 29-year-old fashion consultant. They opened a boutique, J. O'K Creations, at Paddington in 1978.
Death and legacy
By the late 1970s O'Keefe had become a heavy consumer of a wide range of drugs, and he reportedly carried a briefcase containing a large quantity of many types of prescription medications. These drugs were treatment for his bipolar disorder. It was also reported that he was deeply depressed by the death of his idol Elvis Presley in August 1977, and that he had repeatedly remarked to friends "I'll be next".
Since his death, O'Keefe's stature has continued to grow, and he has been posthumously accorded the recognition he did not receive in his lifetime. The first major biography on O'Keefe was published in 1982, and several others have been written since including The Wild One by Damian Johnstone and Johnny O'Keefe - The Facts written in 2008 by Lonnie Lee and released by Starlite Records. Besides being a great showman himself, he is also credited for nurturing other Australian talent, like Barry Stanton and Lonnie Lee
In 1986 punk legend Iggy Pop recorded a cover version of O'Keefe's signature tune "Wild One" under the title "Real Wild Child", which was included on his album Blah Blah Blah and released as a single. Samples from the Iggy Pop version were incorporated into the theme music for the ABC's long-running late-night music video show Rage, which premiered in 1987, and the opening credits of the show include footage of O'Keefe on stage.
In 1988 Johnny O'Keefe was posthumously inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.
In 1994 the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney recognised O'Keefe's contributions in a major exhibition of Australia's rock and pop history titled Real Wild Child and a comprehensive CD-ROM based on the exhibition was later released with the same title.
In 1998 Australia Post issued a special stamp edition celebrating the early years of Australian rock'n'roll; the first stamp in the series commemorated Johnny O'Keefe's rise to stardom in 1958.
Johnny O'Keefe's life story and career also inspired the stage musical, Shout! The Legend of The Wild One, with book by John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow and featuring music made famous by O'Keefe and other hits of the 1950s.
On Thursday 10 June 2004 a 5 metre tall Monument titled "The Wild One", created by sculptor Dr. Alex Sandor Kolozsy CDVA, was unveiled at the Coolangatta/Tweed Heads, Twin Towns Services Club in memory of the King of Australian Rock and Roll.
Date Cat No Festival Records
7/57 FS-1532 Billygoat (You Hit The Wrong Note)/I’m Still Alive (The Chicken Song)*
8/57 SP-45-1562 Am I Blue/Love Letters In The Sand*
11/57 SP-45-1632 Cathedral In The Pines (Richard Gray-Vocal-With Johnny O’Keefe and The Dee Jays)*
3/58 Wild One
4/58 FS-2004 Lawdy Miss Clawdy/Over The Mountain
12/58 FK-3037 That’ll Be Alright/So Tough
12/58 FK-3053 Could This Be Magic?/Ain’t A Gonna Do It
2/59 FK-3066 Peek A Boo/What Da Ya Know?
7/59 FK-3081 Why Do They Doubt Our Love?/You Excite Me
Date Cat No Lee Gordon 8/59 LS-568 Swanee River/The Steady Game
11/59 LS-575 Shout Pts.1&2/What’d I Say
12/59 LS-582 She’s My Baby/Own True Self
4/60 LS-595 It’s Too Late/Jubilee
7/60 LS-600 Don’t You Know? /Come On And Take My Hand
11/60 LS-607 Ready For You/Save The Last Dance For Me
Date Cat No Leedon Records 5/61 LK-49 Swing Low Sweet Chariot-I Believe
8/61 LK-113 I’m Counting On You-Right Now
1/62 LK-184 Sing-To Love
9/62 LK-272 Yes Indeed I Do-Keep A’Walking
11/62 LK-298 I Thank You-Heaven Sent
5/63 LK-378 Move Baby Move-You’ll Never Cherish a Love So True (Until You Lose It)
9/63 LK-454 Shake Baby Shake-Good Luck Charm
11/63 LK-493 Twist It Up-Twist and Shout
3/64 LK-574 She Wears My Ring-Let’s Love Tonight
5/64 LK-636 Shout Parts. 1 & 2 (remake)-Come On And Take My Hand (remake)
10/64 LK-770 Rock ‘n’ Roll Will Stand - Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
2/65 LK-886 Cry Cry Baby-Nobody Loves Me
3/66 LK-1293 The Sun’s Gonna Shine Tomorrow-Mansion Over The Hilltop
6/66 LK-1416 Be Careful Of Stones That You Throw - My Heart Belongs To Only You
9/66 LK-1533 Hey Girl-Don’t Be Cruel
1/67 LK-1653 Ooh Poo Pah Doo Parts 1 & 2 (remake) - Ecstacy
3/67 LK-1716 Where The Action Is-Buzz Buzz Buzz
8/67 LK-1974 Just A Closer Walk With Thee-Why Do They Doubt Our Love?
8/69 LK-3220 She’s My Baby-She Wears My Ring
Date Cat No Festival Records 10/69 FK-3355 Come On And Take My Hand-Right Now
1/70 FK-3493 Confessions Of A Lonely Man- To Love Somebody
1/71 FK-4098 I Am Blessed-I’m Counting On You
10/71 FK-4482 (You’ve Got Me) Dangling On A String/Keep On Smiling
7/72 FK-4774 So Tough (remake)-Holly Holy
11/72 FK-4917 High Rollin’ Man-My Lady By The River
7/73 FK-5177 Soul shake-Mockingbird (with Margaret McLaren)
11/73 K-5392 Rock ‘n’ Roll Music-Mary Lee
8/74 K-5583 Saturday Night-Over And Over
1/75 K-5795 On The Road-Rock ‘n’ Roll Boogie
9/75 K-6114 Full Blooded Natural Man-Taste the Wine
6/76 K-6433 I Thank You-Move Baby Move
10/77 K6921 One Of Those Nights-Rock ‘n’ Roll Will Stand (remake)
10/78 K-7274 High Rollin’ Man-I’m Counting On You
11/81 K-8593 Ready For You-Billygoat (You Hit The Wrong Note)
4/86 K-9999 Sing-Billygoat (You Hit The Wrong Note) 10”
6/86 K-45 Mockingbird-She’s My Baby
- About Sunrise - Andrew O'Keefe bio
- Welcome to Waverley Library
- Family history
- Damian Johnstone, 2001; The Wild One: The Life and Times of Johnny O'Keefe (Allen & Unwin, Sydney), p.6
- Johnstone, p.2
- Johnstone, 2001, p.3
- Johnny O'Keefe - Nostalgia Central
- [dead link]
- Johnstone, p.4
- Johnstone, p.3
- Johnstone, p.7
- Australian Dictionary of Biography, online edition
- "History of Rock - Alan Dale - Rockshop". Ozrockshop.com. 2002-06-06. Retrieved 2012-03-25.
- Johnstone, p.8
- Johnstone, pp.9-10
- Johnstone, p.11
- Johnstone, p.12
- Cox, Peter (1996), "The Ambonese Connection: Lou Casch, Johnny O'Keefe and the Development of early Australian rock and roll" - Perfect Beat, Vol.2 No. 4, p.10
- Powerhouse Museum collection - Johnny O'Keefe stage suit
- Cox, Peter (1996), "The Ambonese Connection: Lou Casch, Johnny O'Keefe and the Development of early Australian rock and roll" - Perfect Beat, Vol.2 No. 4, p.9
- Cox (1996)
- Luckman, Susan 2001, '"What are they raving on about?": Temporary Autonomous Zones and Reclaiming the Streets', Perfect Beat, Vol. 5, No. 2, p64.
- McFarlane, 1999, p.461
- Cox, Peter (1996), "The Ambonese Connection: Lou Casch, Johnny O'Keefe and the Development of early Australian rock and roll" - Perfect Beat, Vol.2 No.4, p.11
- Australian Dictionary of Biography
- Cox (1996), op cit, p.12
- Official Johnny O'Keefe website - TV
- Cox (1996), op cit, p.14
- McFarlane, op cit, p.462
- McFarlane, p. 462; Renate, p. 148-149
- McPhedran, Don. "Johnny O'Keefe arrives in Sydney on a Fokker Friendship Airlines of NSW flight". State Library of New South Wales. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- "Television". Johnny Rock 'n' Roll. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- Sturma, Michael. "O'Keefe, John Michael (Johnny) (1935–1978)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- Cox, Peter. "The Ambonese Connection". Perfect Beat Vol. 2 No. 4 Jan.1996. Macquarie University Faculty of Arts. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- Official Johnny O'Keefe site - TV
- McFarlane, op cit, p. 463
- Johnny O'Keefe - Australian Dictionary of Biography Online
- Hello Ego!: A Personal Journey Through the World of Broadcasting By Thompson Les Thompson (2009) p98
- The “JOK” Statue Story
- O'Donnell, John; Creswell, Toby; Mathieson, Craig (October 2010). 100 Best Australian Albums. Prahran, Vic: Hardie Grant Books. ISBN 978-1-74066-955-9.
- Caswell, Robert (1986) Shout! : the story of Johnny O'KeefeSydney : Currency Press,ISBN 0-86819-140-X (pbk.) Discography: p. 158-160.
- Johnstone, Damian (2001). The Wild One: The Life and Times of Johnny O'Keefe'. Allen & Unwin, Sydney, NSW.
- McFarlane, Ian (1999). Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop. Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW. ISBN 1-86508-072-1.
- Renate, Marianne (1998). Off the Record. Pan Macmillan Australia, Sydney, NSW. ISBN 0-7329-0957-0.
- Johhny O'Keefe and Australian Rock 'n' Roll at Perth Capitol Theatre
- Biography in the Australian Dictionary of Biographies Online Edition
- Johnny O'Keefe Home Page
- Howlspace profile
- Footage from The Johnny O'Keefe Show on the National Film and Sound Archive website
- "The Ambonese Connection: Lou Casch, Johnny O'Keefe and the Development of early Australian rock and roll" by Peter Cox (.pdf document
- 25th Anniversary Tribute to Johnny O'Keefe
- Listen to an excerpt of 'She's My Baby' on australianscreen online