the good times
Johnny O'Keefe reached the top of his chosen profession, despite not being blessed with a wonderful voice. What he lacked in vocal ability, he made up for with a fierce determination to succeed, an uncanny ability to pick a hit song, a sheer magnetism on stage and a work ethic that would have destroyed most.
He was a major figure in establishing rock'n'roll and pop music in Australia and despite sharing the bill with some of the greatest names of the rock era (Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Bobby Darin, Tommy Sands, and The Platters to name but a few), on stage, with the fabulous Dee Jays, O'Keefe had no peer.
Johnny invariably blasted overseas acts off the stages of Stadiums right throughout the country with his frantic stage act; an act that earned him the title 'The Wild One.'
His achievements in a twenty-six year career are staggering.
He was the first Australian rocker to win a recording contract, and was the first Australian artist to ever make the Australian Top 40 charts, with 'Wild One'.
He was the first Australian rock artist to be signed by, and record for, a major international label - the US Liberty label.
Out of that association came three Australian Number One hits, and a Number Four hit.
His 35 Top 40 hits are second to none among Australian performers.
His 1959 recording 'Shout' became the Australian Rock 'n'roll' National Anthem.
His biggest hit 'I'm Counting On You' spent a staggering ten weeks on top of the Sydney Top 40 Charts in 1961.
His last hit 'Mockingbird' topped the Australian charts in 1974, despite initially being rejected by radio stations preferring an inferior US version.
O'Keefe also produced hits for other Australian artists, including Lonnie Lee, Warren Williams, Barry Stanton and The Delltones.
He pioneered rock'n'roll tours throughout country Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
He also pioneered teenage music shows on radio and television.
He was the first Australian rock'n'roll artist to have his own national radio program ('Rockville Junction' on ABC Radio) and,
was the first Australian rocker to have his own weekly
national television program, 'Six O'Clock Rock' on the ABC.
In fact, he ultimately compered four television programs.
He was tireless in his efforts to help young artists to the top.
Johnny gave Australians the opportunity to gain invaluable experience on television before heading overseas. Many Australian performers owe their start on television to O'Keefe.
Diana Trask, Olivia Newton John, Helen Reddy and Peter Allen are prime examples of artists who benefited from his support and when on to international success. They in turn paved the way for today's Australian artists to be accepted overseas.
Despite not achieving international fame himself, Johnny still toured America in 1960, performing in 36 major cities and appearing on top rating television shows - all firsts for an Australian entertainer.
Some other, but not all, career highlights included...
A very successful tour in 1964 with US entertainment legend Jack Benny;
...his successful tour entertaining troops in Vietnam in 1969;
...his triumph at the three day Sunbury Outdoor Music Festival in 1973;
...the 1974 'Good Old Days of Rock'n'roll' (also featuring Lonnie Lee, Laurel Lea, Dinah Lee, Johnny Devlin, and Jade Hurley) shows which broke attendance records nightly at Sydney's St George's Leagues Club;
...and the celebration of his life and career on 'This Is Your Life' in 1975.
Written by Damian Johnstone author of the new exciting book
'The Wild One - the life and times of Johnny O'Keefe' - Allen & Unwin