In a similar manner to Elvis, America's King of Rock'n'Roll and one of its original innovators, the Johnny O'Keefe lives on.
For those who are not already too familiar with the 'legend' of J.O'K, we will focus on individual areas of today's mass appeal entertainment.
Whilst most major Australian commercial stations are now owned by huge US radio networks and are hard nosed into their selected demographical audiences of pre 28 year old male, female or mixed formats, some still allow the playing of pre 1965 hits.
Even these very few stations are still locked into the 'it must have been a US hit' mentality, but still the ocassional Australian hit of that era gets played. When it does, you can bet that it will be either a track from Johnny O'Keefe, Col Joye or Lonnie Lee.
However with public community FM radio network it's different! One week wouldn't go by without someone somewhere on public radio playing a J.O'K song! In most cases the songs are requested by loyal listeners to the various programs, not too much unlike the commercial radio scene of the 50's and 60's prior to the stifling Top 40 formats.
Consequently these are not just his hits but songs from any of his many albums.
We have included a link to some on these stations in case you would
like to tune into a station near you to hear not only the songs of J.O'K,
but of many of the stars of the 50's and early 60's.
Live Tribute Shows
Not too long after Johnny passed away, Alan Dale, an early friend and competitor of J.O'K in the early days, got together a few of the stars who were regulars on some of J.O'K's TV shows and started a concert show called, The Johnny O'Keefe Memorial Show'.
This show has an ever changing cast, depending who is available at
the time, and as it is based in Sydney, mainly makes appearances around
the Sydney clubs. It does however also go interstate and is always well
received by those who want to see and hear once again, the stars of their
own youth. Some of these stars include Barry Stanton, Warren Williams,
Roland Storm, Adam (Ian B MacLeod), Vicki Forrest, Brian Davies and many
others. As one would expect, there are a few J.O'K songs sung in the show.
In mid 2004, after years of trying to get the project funded and off the ground, a very large statue of Johnny O'keefe was unvield, a few metres on the NSW side of the border of NSW and Queenslanmd on the famous Gold Coast. This the the first statue in Australia of a modern performer and already it has had increased the amount of visitors to that area. Many of his family and frieb ds were there at the time together with local dignitaries and fans.
There are two other 'clone' shows that have young musicians singing the songs of J.O'K and others stars of that era who perform around the clubs. One of them, called the 'Johnny O'Keefe - Bandstand' show, features a 'dress-alike' of J.O'K who sings many of his most well known hits.
'Shout' - the song.
It is often said that one of the most flattering examples of aduration is to have other stars sing another star's hits. This in fact is true when it comes to J.O'K's hits. It can be said without any fear of contradiction by anyone, that the national anthem of Australian Rock'n'Roll is, 'Shout'. This is partly due to it's audience interative nature, and wild rock 'back beat' which makes it the ideal show 'closer'.
The song was written and originally recorded in USA by The Isley Bros, a wild Afro-American vocal group. Like Johnny, Joey Dee of 'The Peppermint Twist' fame, also recorded a cover version.
Possibly every star from the early 60's, right though until today has, or at one time will, sing that song.
Cabaret and his songs.
Many of the established and new cabaret
acts of the last few years have featured at least one of his songs in
their act if not a medley of some of his hits. The leading music chart
companies who supply most of the music to the entertainment industry have
a long list of J.O'K arrangements freely available to artists.
Many of these songs have actually become 'androgenious' in that girls as well as guys, sing them.
His peers and his songs
What act of recognition could be more overt than having one's peers sing their songs? For example, the other two most popular and succesful hit paraders of that era were Col Joye and Lonnie Lee, and both have at times included J.O'K's songs amongst their own considerable hit collection.
Recently as an acknowledement of J.O'K's hit successes, Lonnie included a selection of early O'Keefe songs that are rarely ever performed now, such as 'Wild One','You Excite me', 'Doubt our Love', and 'Billy Goat' in his show which ran for a year around Australia. His typical 'Lonnie Lee' versions of the songs were a hit with audiences proving that those songs are still 'alive' today!
Original J.O'K Records
Check with any rock record collector around the world and they will tell you that some J.O'K vinyl records are amongst the world's expensive buys today. For example a 78 speed hard 10 inch vinyl record of 'Wild One' (Real Wild Child), released in USA on Brunswick in 1958 could now fetch many hundreds of dollars.
Recent CD Releases
Over the years Festival Records have re-released all of his songs on various CD's and these are mostly still available in regular record stores, if not on display but by special order.
The Last Concert Release
There is a CD available now titled 'The Last Concert', which was recorded
albeit in a semi-professional way at his last club show. There was no
way that any one could have known that this would be his final show, and
it was just recorded as a memory of that performance. If one had any idea
it would br last, then of course the best recording equipment and engineers
would have been there. Still, as a memory of the great J.O'K at his last
show, we are lucky it was recorded at all.
The cover versions of his releases
Recently Lonnie Lee, one of Johnny's closest friends in the early era, recorded his version of J.O'K's theme song of the TV show 'Six O'Clock Rock' on a CD titled 'Really Rockin', for his Rock'n'Roll dance fans. The song, written by Johnny and the TV's show's producer Peter Page is up tempo and has the excitement typical of a early J.O'K song.
Lonnie has also recorded on another CD ' 'Like it is', cameo versions of J.O'k's very early songs.. You hit the wrong note Billy Goat, You excite me, Doubt our love, So tough and Real Wild Child. There are others around the world who have also recorded their own versions of J.O'k songs. Some of them find their way into movies and television plays.
'Shout' the television series.
In the mid 1980's a two part Australian television series titled 'Shout' was aired, which was supposed to be based on the life and career of Johnny. Unfortunately the writers were 'off with the fairies' and most of the show, whilst entertaining, was not of any factual signifigance. It exagerated his character to the point that those who knew him well, couldn't wait to publisicize that fact.
'ABC television's 'The Swinger and the Singer'.
This was also supposed to represent the truth about Johnny and his mentor Lee Gordon. Lee could easily be given the title of 'Father of the Australian Popular Entertainment Industry' as he was the first to import the biggest stars in the world to not only Sydney's Stadium, but to the other capital cities as well. He started Leedon Records and single handedly was responsible for the birth of the Australian Rock'n'Roll record industry.
The way he and his protege J.O'K were portrayed in this show, was extremely misleading for those looking for some essence of fact which was very miserly scattered amongst bucket loads of pure imagination.
Other television projects.
His story invariably arises every time someone starts to talk about the start of the Australian music or TV scene and the most recent ABC's 'History of Australian Rock'n'Roll' has its usual fair share of content.
'Real Wild Child' PowerHouse Museum Project.
The most successful project produced by the PowerHouse Museum was the story of the Australian Music Industry. Using J.O'K's song title 'Real Wild Child' as its own title, the production featured many artifacts such as clothing etc., that belonged to Johnny in those early days.
After an 18 month season at the Power Hosue Museum in Sydney, it spent the next 3 years going to all capital cities and other places such as Darwin.
A CD-Rom was released to celebrate the project and 25,000 copies were given to libraries and high schools across Australia.
'Wintersun' Festival Museum
During the first week of June every year, hundreds of thousands of 50's and 60's Rock'n'Roll fans flock to the Gold Coast's Coolangatta beach for what would be the world's largest outside festival. It runs 10 days, features 100's of bands and stars as well as 500 cars from the 1900's to now.
Outside free concerts are everywhere, everyday and inside nightly concerts and dance contests are in the clubs at night. As well as all this, there is a museum dediacted to the early Rock'n'Roll scene. In this, Johnny O'Keefe and all the other early Australian stars are well represented.
Historians and book publications
Unfortuunately it takes nothing more than a desire to collect things, to become what is now looselly known as a Rock Historian!
Over the years many of them have written about J.O'K and other stars of that early Australia music era, and most of them have got most of it wrong! The major trouble has been that they have approached the era in an academic way, by getting information which had already been published in magazines and promotional material etc.
Much of that early publicity, the same as the stars of today's publicity, was made up to present a marketing image and was not necessarily based on facts!
Few have bothered to contact and talk to those who knew the facts and are or were, still around. Consequently the books only really offer an entertainment factor as opposed to a 'historical' one.
The first Johnny O'Keefe biography that was purposly written to dispell
rumors and try to present an unbiased and truthful a story as can be,
is a new 2001 release called, 'The Wild
One - the life and times of Johnny O'Keefe' by
Damian Johnstone. It shows us that Johnny was as human as all of us. He
was therefore exposed to all that life presents, whether it be the extremes
of good or bad. By spending much time with many who knew him well, Damian
helps us to understand why much of what happened did happen and his battles
to cope with it all.
This old show business saying, still in a way applies as it did in the 20's when it was first coined! ' Let 'em say whatever they want to, as long as they spell my name right"!
The media always need a story to sell their papers, or news, or tv show, or book or whatever and the more controversial the story is the better it will sell. This is it in a nutshell.
There are so many incredible stories out there about J.O'K that have been crafted into stories that will sell. Maybe basedon some small essence of truth, however literary licence has taken control.
If his life had been a normal person's life not exposed to the extremes of society, then there would little or nothing to write or talk about. But he was Australia's King of Rock'n'Roll' and therefore right in the middle of it all.
The next time you hear a story about J.O'K, you would be pretty safe in assuming it would be about 70% imagination.
There is no doubt, that if he was around today, he would be very proud to know that his children have grown into fine young adults, all succesful in their own pursuits.
They would and should be proud of their dad, who was...
friend to many,