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Keating was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. After studying piano and trombone, he taught himself how to arrange and compose in his teens. From 1952, he worked with British big band leader Ted Heath as a trombonist, but within two years Heath asked him to become his primary arranger. In the early 1960s, he and songwriter Johnny Worth (writing as Les Vandyke) masterminded the career of a minor British pop star, Eden Kane. The team wrote and produced a string of British top 10 hits for Kane in 1961-63. In addition he wrote, produced or arranged hits by Adam Faith, Petula Clark, Anthony Newley, Caterina Valente,and Sammy Davis Jr. among others.
Keating arranged and conducted a series of albums for London Records' Phase 4 series, notable for its use of synthesiser technology such as the Moog synthesizer and the EMS VCS 3. The records were often used as demonstration discs in the 1970s in Hi-Fi stores because of their quality. Much of his work was rereleased following the Lounge music revival of the mid 1990s and its use as breakbeats.
His "Theme from Z-Cars", a #8 hit in the 1962 UK Singles Chart, was adopted by Everton as their theme song. Additionally he composed the scores for the films Hotel (1967), Robbery (1967), and Innocent Bystanders (1972). His song "Bunny Hop" was also featured in the Tim Burton film, Ed Wood (1994).
As founder and principal of the Johnny Keating School of Music, Edinburgh, he was directly responsible for the musical education of many students who later became successful professionals.
In 1999, he completed a four–volume academic reference book dedicated to the art of professional songwriting: Principles of Songwriting: A Study in Structure and Technique.
- English Jazz - 1956 - Bally
- Swinging Scots - 1957 - Dot
- Percussive Moods SP44005 - 1963 - London Phase 4 Stereo
- Temptation SP44019 - 1963 - London Phase 4 Stereo
- Swing Revisited SP44034 - 1963 - London Phase 4 Stereo
- Johnny Keating and 27 Men-The Keating Sound SP44058 - 1966 - London Phase 4 Stereo
- Keating...Straight Ahead SP44072 - 1966 - London Phase 4 Stereo
- This Bird Has Flown WS1638 - 1966 - Warner Bros.
- Here's Where It Is WS1666 - 1966 - Warner Bros.
- Space Experience CQ 32382 - 1972 - Columbia Records
- John Keating Conducts the Electronic Philharmonic Orchestra - 1974 - EMI
- John Keating Conducts the London Symphony Orchestra - 1972
- Space Experience, Vol. 1 & 2 - 1998 - EMI (Vol. 1 contains the LP Space Experience)
- Temptation & Percussive Moods - 2004 - Vocalion
- Swing Revisited - 2004 - Dutton Vocalion
- British Jazz - 2005 - Harkit
- British Jazz and Swinging Scots - 2008 - British Jazz
- "A Little Waltzin'"
- "Barber Shop Jump" - Ted Heath
- "Come Live With Me" - Carmen McRae
- "Headin' North"
- "It's Not Going That Way" - Carmen McRae, Vic Lewis
- "Merry Merry-Go-Round (Theme from 'The Jean Arthur Show')"
- "On With the Don" - Ted Heath
- "Same Old Moon" - Percy Faith
- "Send for Henry" - Heinz Schonberger, Henry Main
- "The Clown"
- "Theme from "Hotel" - Nancy Wilson
- "This Hotel" - Percy Faith, Shirley Horn, Stan Kenton
- Leigh, Spencer (June 9, 2015). "Johnny Keating: Musician who worked with Tony Bennett and Bing Crosby but was best known for the 'Theme from Z-Cars'". Obituary. The Independent. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 297. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- "Edinburgh-born composer of Z-Cars theme dies - Edinburgh Evening News". Edinburghnews.scotsman.com. 30 May 2015. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
- "Prime Cuts - Title: John Keating Conducts the Electronic Philharmonic Orchestra". Primecuts.fi. Retrieved 2015-05-30.
- "John Keating cond[ucts] the London Symphony Orchestra [sound recording]. - Version details - Trove". Nla.gov.au. Retrieved 2015-05-30.
- "Johnny Keating | Songs". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-05-30.