If you “knock the rock” (condemn rock-‘n-roll) you are sadly misled, according to Johnny O’Keefe, a pint-sized dynamo who is Australia’s King of Rock.

JOHNNY, at 21, leads his own band, the Dee Jays, whose latest record album is among current Australian top sellers.

With visiting American rock-‘n-rollers he will appear at the Sydney Stadium on January 30, 31, and February 1. Later, they will have fans screaming in Melbourne and Brisbane.

There isn’t anything wrong with rock-‘n-roll, says Johnny earnestly. Most of the people who condemn it haven’t even seen it. It’s a healthy exercise for young people. Once a week we play at a Police Citizens Boys’ Club in a Sydney suburb. Six hundred teenagers pack the hall, but they never get out of hand.

Johnny believes rock-‘n-roll has a healthy psychological effect.

People forget their inhibitions in all the noise, he says.

Making a noise has proved very profitable for this young bundle of energy from the Sydney suburb of Dover Heights. He is anything but the popular idea of a “crazy, mixed-up kid.”

Two years studying economics at Sydney University were intended as a background for Johnny’s career in the family business. Not surprisingly, study proved too quiet for him. He topped Australia’s Amateur Hour with his impersonation of Johnnie Ray. Now he combines business and music.

Suit of red gabardine with ocelot trim is Johnny’s outfit as he sings “You’ve Got the Wrong Note, Billy-goat.”

From 9 a.m to 5.30 p.m., Johnny is a salesman in his father’s city store. Come eight o’clock, and the new Johnny takes the stage with the Dee Jays, wearing one of his almost audible suits.

His specially grown curly side-levers, carefully brushed back by day, are patted into place for the fans’ delight.

Then the rhythm takes over and Johnny starts to bounce.

I can’t sing, he admits, but I sure can make a lot of noise.

He sheds 2lb. at every performance, but compensation comes from the fan-mail, 30 to 40 letters a day. Most of them are from teenagers. Johnny gets a lot of comment on his suits, which the cats think “just wild,” and his side-levers.

“I appeal to you to leave your kiss curls as they are,” one girl implored. Another said, “My mother doesn’t like rock-‘n-roll, but she’s too old.” Johnny replies to all the letters in the few spare minutes left in each crowded day.

On rare occasions when he has time to relax he listens to rock-‘n-roll records.

I really love it, he says, and luckily Marianne does, too. (Marianne Renate is his pretty fiancee).

A trip overseas later this year for Johnny and the Dee Jays could be a honeymoon trip as well. Johnny passed on this piece of U.S. rock calculated to stun teenage relatives and friends:

Too right ah do John, well right all I do.

Which means, “I certainly do.”

By ANNE DWYER, staff reporter


THE LITTLE WILD ONE – all 6lb. 6oz. of him – was getting wilder and wilder. The more big Daddio Wild One, Johnny O’Keefe, rocked him and rolled, and crooned and crooned, the more Little (Johnny, jun.) Wild One cried. Here 21-year-old Mummio Marianne tells her 22-year-old husband how to cope with an Elvis nappie “I want to drape him Western style,” growls Daddio.

Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 16 September 1959, page 8

Johnny’s got a lot to live for


Johnny O’Keefe stretched his scarred face into a smile, settled himself comfortably on his pillows, and said,

I’ve got a lot out of this car smash.

SIXTY – FOUR stitches in his head, 26 in his hands, four teeth knocked out of his lower jaw, a bodyful of bruises, the prospect of plastic surgery, and a wrecked car certainly sounded a lot to me. But this wasn’t what Johnny meant.

The rock-‘n-roll singing star was serious, even solemn, as he groped for the words.

It’s a really gratifying experience … to smash yourself up . . . and then find out . . . how nice everyone is, he said. Everybody has been just wonderful to me. And I’m terribly grateful.

By now he was grinning wryly.

I’ve had such a lot of kindness from people I’ve known a long time, and have always thought pretty phony. Now I find they’re anything but. And I’m told that about 13,000 letters have arrived for me, from fans and people all over Australia, wishing me well. Isn’t that terrific? People are so kind. But I’ll never be able to write 13,000 letters back. Or afford it. Say, would Teenagers’ Weekly thank them for me? You know, I’ve never been so appreciative of everything. Not only of just being alive. Now I feel a lot happier, and a whole lot luckier. Isn’t that nice?

Johnny stopped as the door opened and a nurse appeared with a vase of flowers sent by a young fan.

Look at this, will you! said the 25-year-old teenage idol. She’s a friend of one of the nurses, and I signed my autograph for her yesterday. Today she sends me flowers. Isn’t that nice?

He teased the nurse as she arranged the flowers and plumped up his pillows, behaving the way his public expects him to behave, even in hospital.

Then, as the door clicked shut behind her, the cheeky grin disappeared, the teasing note disappeared from his voice, and Johnny, the raucous Wild One, turned into a bit of a philosopher.

I was never really happy before, he said. Always too much of a pusher. Felt that if I stopped for five minutes I’d be old-fashioned. I’m still pretty much of a pusher, but lying here I’ve realised that if you just wait, things will happen for the best. And now I even feel like singing again. Ever since I get back from America, I was there in February and March, I’ve worked night after night, and singing really was an effort. But now I really feel like it. For the first three or four years I was singing I seemed to have a permanent cough, and every time I made a recording I had a cold. I was always scared to let myself go. I’ve got a terrifically loud voice. I could fill the Stadium with a big band, and no microphone, but I’ve always been afraid to let myself go in case I hurt something in my throat. But now I feel really relaxed and rearing to go. And it’s the first time I’ve felt this way since I came home from the States. I felt kind of let-down then. Sort of felt my fans were a bit disappointed in me. I think they expected me to be bigger than Elvis overnight. They just don’t realise what hard work it all is. It took me three years to get anywhere, working every day and night of the week. And Australia is the hardest place in the world to succeed. In my very first Big Show I was booed because I was an Australian, not an American. Even now that Australians are a big success as singers, the kids in Melbourne and Brisbane are impressed because you come from Sydney. But the kids in Sydney are still the sharpest. That’s the only thing that’s worrying me about being in hospital – I’m not meeting and talking to the kids all the time. I hope I don’t lose track of them. During my TV show I talk to them all the time, finding out what they’re interested in, what they think about.

Johnny is planning to go back to the States later this year to make some records and appear on television shows. When he was there last time he made nine recordings – one released here recently was “Don’t You Know?” / “Come On and Take My Hand.”

The door opened and in came Johnny’s wife, Marianne, and John, jun., aged 11 months. The Wild One, the philosopher, the ambitious career man were all gone. Instead Johnny, the proudest Daddio of them all, reached out to hug his son. He sat back again in bed, looked happily at his wife and baby, and said,

I’ve certainly got a lot to live for, haven’t I?

Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 3 August 1960, page 4

Aussie King of the Rock

Johnny O’Keefe is undoubtedly the most popular entertainer with Australian teenagers. In our recent pin-up poll his total vote was two and a half times greater than any other rock singer, film or TV star Australian or overseas.

Most of his votes came from Victoria, but he polled well in all States. Only in N.S.W. did another rocker – Col Joye beat him.

Known as “The Wild One,” Johnny was the first Australian boy to make good as a rock singer – and now he’s making hay. Just how much he declines to say, but he’s certainly one of the highest paid Australian entertainers.

He’s toured Australia with several of the visiting big-shot, Big Show singers, and he’s made about 20 records, including two LPs. Now he’s only got to release a disc for it to make the hit parades.

Johnny climbed to teenage fame as compere of the A.B.C.’s television show, “Six O’Clock Rock,” which started in New South Wales and Victoria in February last year and is now seen in all States. The A.B.C. claims it is watched on 200,000 sets each week, which means an audience of well over half a million.

But Johnny does not hog the show. On it he has launched lots of local boys who are now tops with the teenagers. These include Johnny Rebb, Dig Richards, Lonnie Lee, Warren Williams, Lucky Starr, The Delltones, The Crescents, The Graduates, The Allen Brothers, Barry Stanton, Booka Hyland, RobE. G., and Rhett Walker.

As compere, Johnny is relaxed and butter-smooth – a far cry from his raucous, rowdy Big Show appearances. Teenagers are wondering if this will eventually carry over into his recordings. Will The Wild One turn into The Mild One?

After his headline-hitting car smash a few months ago, Johnny spent quite a time in hospital and then had plastic surgery on his face. Now he’s as good as new, as irrepressible as ever – and the fans are flat out scream-ing for more. Rehearsing, recording, appearing on television and local shows make for a pretty crowded calendar, but Johnny’s also planning another trip to the U.S.A. later this year.

Johnny, now 23, and his wife, Marianne, have a year old son, and are expecting another child early next year.

Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 28 September 1960, page 2


SYDNEY, Friday. — Teenage Rock ‘n Roll idol Johnny O’Keefe was admitted to a Sydney hospital to-day suffering from “nerves” and needing a “complete rest.” O’Keefe was “escorted” from the stage of Canberra Rex Hotel on Thursday night after starting to compere a Spastic’s Appeal mannequin parade. O’Keefe was late for the start of the show and later parade officials objected to his conduct.

He was marched off the stage by ex-Consorting Squad detective, Mr. Sebastian Taylor, after Mrs. Taylor had a dispute with O’Keefe. O’Keefe said in Sydney to-night he was in a “daze” about events at the parade. All he could remember was appealing for £10,000 for the Spastic Centre.

I had made a rush trip down and was trying to run the show in my own fashion. I could have said anything, but I don’t remember what it would have been, he said.

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Saturday 25 August 1962, page 1

O’Keefe under sedation

SYDNEY. Monday. — Television entertainer Johnny O’Keefe was reported tonight to be recovering satisfactorily in hospital after suffering a recurrence of a nervous breakdown at the weekend. The singer was being kept under heavy sedation, doctors said.

O’Keefe was admitted to Ryde Psychiatric Centre after an outburst which resulted in his arrest on Saturday morning. He was to have appeared in North Sydney Court today on charges of evading a taxi fare, behaving offensively, using indecent language and using threatening language to a police officer, but he did not appear.

The hearing was adjourned until October 15.

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Tuesday 14 September 1965, page 21

Johnny O’Keefe given bond

SYDNEY, Friday. Johnny O’Keefe, a TV personality, jumped the dock rail at Chatswood Police Station last ,month and attempted to attack an officer, North Sydney Court was told today. He was restrained and placed in a cell. Police said O’Keefe spat in another policeman’s face and threatened to “rip those stripes off your shoulders”.

Mr V. C. McMullen, SM, found O’Keefe guilty and placed him on a £25 good behaviour bond for 12 months. Mr McMullen said he had taken into account O’Keefe’s previous good character and medical evidence.

He was charged with having behaved in an offensive manner, used indecent language, and used threatening words to police officers. A charge of having refused to pay a 17/6 taxi fare was withdrawn when a taxi driver who signed the complaint refused to give evidence.

O’Keefe smiled and waved to news men as he left the packed court after the hearing. O’Keefe’s brother, Mr Barry O’Keefe, a barrister, told the court that O’Keefe would plead guilty to the three police charges.

He submitted that the charges should be found proved and the information dismissed.

The defendant has no recollection of the events, but accepts what has been said by police, he said. He apologises for any trouble, upset or inconvenience. He is conscious of his reputation within the community and very jealous of that reputation.

Outside the court O’Keefe told reporters he did not intend to cut down his work schedule, despite his latest breakdown.

You can’t keep a good man down, he said proudly.

O’Keefe said he would have a three-week holiday before returning to television and recording.

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Saturday 16 October 1965, page 19

O’Keefe on charge

SYDNEY, Tuesday.— “Pop” singer Johnny O’Keefe was charged by summons in North Sydney Court today with having assaulted his wife. O’Keefe was not in court but was represented by a solicitor. The assault was alleged to have taken place in January. The case was adjourned until May 5.

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Wednesday 6 April 1966, page 18

Mr O’Keefe Cruelty grounds for divorce

SYDNEY, Wednesday. — Entertainer Johnny O’Keefe was divorced today by his wife on grounds of cruelty. Marianne Renate O’Keefe, of The Bulwark, Castlecrag, was granted the divorce by Mr Acting Justice Toose, and given custody of their three children — John, 7, Peter, 3, Victoria, 5.

O’Keefe did not contest the suit and did not attend the proceedings. He was represented by his solicitor, Mr F. P. Donohue Jnr Mrs O’Keefe’s solicitor, Mr George Osborne, told the court that O’Keefe had recovered from his recent nervous breakdown and was again making a successful comeback in the entertainment business.

The judge made a ruling that O’Keefe should have reasonable access to tho children of the marriage. O’Keefe was to provide maintenance for his wife and children, and pay legal, costs for the divorce. The O’Keefe’s married at Dover Heights in August, 1958, when O’Keefe was a salesman and his wife a hairdresser.

Both solicitors asked Mr Acting Justice Toose to prohibit publication of the case, on the grounds that it might affect O’Keefe’s future entertainment prospect and his ability to contribute maintenance for his children.

The judge dismissed the application.

Singer fined

SYDNEY, Friday. — Singer Johnny O’Keefe, 33, was fined $70 and had his licence suspended for a fortnight in Phillip Street Traffic Court today, after he pleaded guilty to having driven his Jaguar at 75mph at 1.35am on August 13 at Randwick.

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Saturday 3 February 1968, page 8

Singer fined on drug charge

BRISBANE, Friday — Singer Johnny O’Keefe was arrested by police on Queensland’s Gold Coast today on a drug charge. He later appeared in the Magistrate’s Court at Southport and was fined $250.

Police raided the singer’s suite at a leading Surfers Paradise hotel at 4pm and found O’Keefe with methedrine pills in his trouser pockets. It is believed police acted following an anonymous phone call.

O’Keefe said he had been appearing on a charity telethon in Brisbane and needed “a booster” to carry on.

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Saturday 28 December 1968, page 1

Musicians on drug charges

SYDNEY, Wednesday. — A member of the American Negro singing group the Inkspots appeared in Central Court today charged with smoking and possessing marihuana. Australian entertainer Johnny O’Keefe also appeared in the same court charged with possessing indian hemp. Both the stars were arrested in a series of raids in Sydney’s eastern suburbs last night.

The member of the Inkspots charged was Gaynel Hodge, a 33-year-old pianist. He pleaded guilty. Mr M. Farquhar, SM, placed Hodge on a $100 12-month good behaviour bond.

Johnny O’Keefe was charged as John Michael O’Keefe, 35, an entertainer, of Pymble. A plea was not taken when he appeared in court.

Counsel for O’Keefe, Mr T. Nymon, told the court O’Keefe had commitments “all over the Commonwealth of Australia”. He applied for a remand.

Mr Farquhar replied that he did not want to affect O’Keefe’s livelihood and remanded him to November 16 on bail of $100.

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Thursday 29 October 1970, page 12

Singer fined

SYDNEY, Tuesday. — Pop singer Johnny O’Keefe was fined $200 today for possessing the drug indian hemp. Mr O’Keefe, 36, pleaded guilty.

Det-Sgt Peter McMurray, of the Sydney drug squad, told Central Court that police had raided premises in the Sydney suburb of Woollahra last October.

When approached the defendant was seen to drop a small plastic-type envelope on to the roadway, he said. The envelope was later found to contain 10 ounces of indian hemp in vegetable form.

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Wednesday 17 March 1971, page 10

Johnny O’Keefe dies, 43

SYDNEY: Singer Johnny O’Keefe died in St Vincent’s Hospital about 9pm yesterday. He was 43.

Known as the ‘Wild One’, Mr O’Keefe suffered a heart attack after an evening out with his second wife, Maureen, on Thursday night. He collapsed at his Double Bay home in the early hours of the morning and was taken to hospital by ambulance.

Mr O’Keefe took tablets regularly under doctor’s orders to help him relax and had been in hospital five times for various drug problems and nervous breakdowns.

Known as the father of Australian rock and roll, Mr O’Keefe began his musical career 26 years ago as a wild rocker in a leopard-skin suit and had a hit with ‘The Wild One’ in 1958, the first of more than 20.

At 43, his career was still in full swing. He was in heavy demand for club acts, ran his own promotions company and with his wife owned a fashion boutique in Paddington.

JoK’s Stage Costumes

In the late 1950s, an unlikely teenage idol rose to fame as Australia’s first rock ’n’ roll star. With his hollering voice and his overtly sexual stage antics, Johnny O’Keefe mesmerised thousands of teenage girls with his songs such as The Wild One, Shout and She’s My Baby.

O’Keefe’s appeal was deftly summed up by a newspaper reviewer in October 1957 who wrote:

Teenage girls screamed in ecstasy as Johnny entwined himself about the microphone in a sweating fervent suggestion of love.

Performance suit worn by Johnny O’Keefe, 1957-58. Probably made by Thelma O’Keefe, Sydney, Australia. Collection Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Gift of Sydney Opera House Trust, 1998. On display in exhibition Icons, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

O’Keefe caught the mood of Australian teenagers as they emerged from the drab world of 1950s suburbia seeking experiences that differed from those of their parents, according to Peter Cox in his essay “Johnny O’Keefe’s Stage Costumes”. O’Keefe was a “complete showman”, writes Cox, who combined music, stagecraft and attitude to make a “forceful statement that challenged the status quo and, in the process, became a cultural icon”.

But it wasn’t just O’Keefe’s stage presence, music and attitude that made him stand out. He knew the importance of flamboyant costume in establishing his celebrity. From 1957 to 1959 he wore unconventional, outlandish outfits to attract a following.

By September 1959, O’Keefe claimed to have 20 performance suits, says Cox. They were in various textures, such as leopard skin, fawn velvet, purple sati, and colours ranging from mustard to orange, to white and pink. Each suit cost “around 50 guineas” and O’Keefe valued his wardrobe at more than £1000.

O’Keefe’s flash suits accentuated his wild image and identified him as a rebel. One yellow gabardine suit, for instance, was trimmed with black velvet and studded with rhinestones. The rest of the outfit consisted of drainpipe trousers, diamante tie, and red and gold Turkish slipper shoes studded with coloured stones and detachable tassel-type flaps.

Another noteworthy suit was garish red with leopard-print trim. To accompany it, he wore red and gold shoes decorated with fringed leather and studded with faux emeralds.

Most of his performance suits were made by professional tailors who stitched clothes for Sydney’s rock ’n’ roll elite, among them Tony Bonnici and Len Taylor, as well as Andy Ellis, who was dubbed the “Dior of the drape shape”. The garish red suit, however, doesn’t have a maker’s label, and it is thought to have been made by O’Keefe’s mother, Thelma.

This suit is also on display in an exhibition titled Icons at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. The curator of Icons and the museum’s head of curatorial, Jacqui Strecker, says she chose this object to be included as an icon because

it was something that stood out for me in terms of its flamboyant design. It just brings to life his larger-than-life persona and character, she says.

She says that even the shoes were handmade, which was indicative of his careful approach.

BRONWYN WATSON The Australian, 12:00AM September 16, 2017

What All The Fuss Was About

Johnny O’Keefe with Oz’s first rock ‘n roll band ‘The Dee Jays’ and backing singers ‘The Delltones’; performing in Sydney 1959

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