https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/collection/hero_image11-2016/1441334_0002_crop3.jpg

Johnny O'Keefe

Johnny O'Keefe

Relive the life and music of the Wild One - Australia's king of rock'n'roll, Johnny O'Keefe.

Watch rare television footage, listen to music clips and oral history interviews, and browse two immense scrapbooks that were lovingly compiled by Johnny’s mother Thelma from 1954 to 1965.

This collection complements our Johnny O'Keefe online exhibition.

Johnny O'Keefe Scrapbook Vol 1, 1954-1961
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1293556

The first of two scrapbooks compiled by Johnny’s mother, Thelma O’Keefe, covers 1954-1961. This scrapbook documents his early years in the industry and contains a dizzying array of items, including reviews, advertisements, concert programs, posters, magazines, airline tickets and even receipts for venues hired for concerts. The scrapbook also contains a ‘Friends of Johnny O’Keefe’ fan club letterhead, envelopes, certificates and newsletters; the club kept Johnny’s growing legion of fans up-to-date with his latest achievements and upcoming events.

Johnny O'Keefe Scrapbook Vol 2, 1962-1965
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1293569

The second scrapbook compiled by Johnny’s mother, Thelma covers 1962-1965. While this was a period of great achievement for Johnny, there was also plenty of drama with well-publicised breakdowns, financial difficulties and court appearances.

Johnny O'Keefe and first wife Marianne on the balcony of Melbourne Town Hall
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Johnny O'Keefe and first wife Marianne - Melbourne Town Hall
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1441334
Courtesy:
RSN - Racing and Sport
Year:
Year

Johnny O’Keefe and first wife Marianne standing on balcony of Melbourne Town Hall before performance at 3UZ's Rock and Twist Spectacular, 1962. Photographer: Laurie Richards.

Excerpt from The Johnny O’Keefe Show – Episode 1
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
281764
Courtesy:
7 Network Australia
Year:
Year

At the height of his fame, Johnny O’Keefe left the ABC for ATN 7 to become host and frequent performer on The Johnny O’Keefe Show. Commercial television broadened his appeal even further and the show was a big hit. In this clip from the first episode, improved production values and Johnny O’Keefe’s increasing confidence as a TV performer are obvious as he begins the show singing 'I Feel Comfort in My Heart'. Material donated to the NFSA by JOK collector Jason Inmon.

JO'K and The Bee Gees on 'Sing Sing Sing'
Courtesy:
Seven Network Australia and O’Keefe Family
Year:
Year

This clip is pure gold and truly historic as it shows The Bee Gees backing Johnny O'Keefe singing the Dave Clark Five's, 'Glad All Over'.

The Bee Gees departed Australian shores in January 1967, only to return for the occasional concert tour. To find any unseen footage from their Australian teenage days is very rare. It was broadcast on ATN7 in January 1964. 

Sing Sing Sing brought popular music to Australian teenagers.  The show was broadcast on Sydney’s ATN 7 from 1962- 1965. The show was initially hosted by singer, Lionel Long and was replaced after a year by the very popular Johnny O’Keefe. O’Keefe had been seen on Australian television screens on the ABC’s Six O’Clock Rock ( 1959-1962) and Seven’s The Johnny O’Keefe Show  (1961-1962).  Sing Sing Sing was to be O’Keefe’s last TV series.

The NFSA discovered the content of this episode when the 16mm image and sound negatives were digitally scanned to ensure their preservation and availability for a contemporary audience.

The Liverpool Sound
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
11030
Courtesy:
Seven Network
Year:
Year

Johnny O'Keefe performs 'When the Saints Go Marching In' on The Liverpool Sound with visiting overseas stars Dusty Springfield, Gene Pitney, Brian Poole and The Tremeloes, and Gerry & The Pacemakers.

The Liverpool Sound was the first music special of its type to be produced for Australian televisionPremiering in Sydney on ATN7 on 7.30 pm Wednesday 27 May 1964, the program then screened around the country over the following week.

In April 1964, promoter Harry M Miller’s Pan Pacific Promotions ‘Liverpool Sound’ package tour introduced Dusty Springfield , Brian Poole and The Tremeloes, Gene Pitney and Gerry & The Pacemakers to Australian audiences.

While the tour passed through Melbourne,  ATN7 producer Kevin Ryder and his Sing Sing Sing production team flew south to helm a one-hour television special featuring the complete touring party.

This clip is from the all-live finale, in which program host and ‘Liverpool Sound’ local tour support act Johnny O’Keefe kicks off an energetic all-cast rendition of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’, each artist taking their turn at the microphone.

Unseen since 1964 and never sold abroad, The Liverpool Sound remained forgotten until recent NFSA digital work transferring the surviving 16mm picture and sound components. 

Learn more about Johnny O'Keefe in the NFSA's curated collection and online exhibition.

Johnny O'Keefe on 'This Is Your Life'
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
32271
Year:
Year

Johnny O'Keefe appears on the television show 'This is Your Life'. In this excerpt his parents and siblings are brought on stage to talk briefly about Johnny.

Excerpt from Six O’Clock Rock, 1959
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
599364
Year:
Year

Johnny O’Keefe initially saw television as just another gig, but soon realised the power of the medium to reach and build a national audience. The first of four shows that he hosted in the 1960s, Six O’Clock Rock ran on the ABC from February 1959 to September 1962. Billed as the ‘first national teenage programme’, it was Australia’s first live-to-air music TV program. The pressure of live television is obvious from this clip. Johnny giggles when he realises he has inadvertently endorsed Louis Prima’s movie Hey Girl, Hey Boy with a free plug on a government-owned TV station. Flustered, he forgets the name of the song he’s about to present, ‘Only Love Me’, and valiantly tries to conceal that he’s forgotten the name of performer Ernie Wilson too.

Notes by Tamara Osicka and Stephen Groenewegen

Johnny O’Keefe sings 'Shout' at Sydney Stadium, 1959
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1349308
Courtesy:
Nine Network
Year:
Year

In this clip from Lee Gordon’s Rock 'n’ Roll Spectacular (1959), Johnny sings 'Shout’ with the Dee Jays and the Delltones as part of a 1959 concert showcasing American teen idol, Fabian. The clip was included in Bandstand Salutes Johnny O’Keefe, 1966.

Johnny O'Keefe on recording 'Shout'
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
525121
Year:
Year

Johnny O'Keefe talks with ABC Radio's Terry Malcolm in 1977 about recording 'Shout' in the 1950s. They discuss changes in recording techniques, with O'Keefe telling an entertaining anecdote about placing a speaker in the women's toilets to obtain the desired echo sound on the record. He also candidly admits that the song was written in such a high-pitched key he felt he only had one chance to get it right in the studio.

Notes by Stephen Groenewegen

Publicity shot of Johnny O'Keefe holding a boomerang
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/10-2016/boomerang_1600px_x_1550px.jpg
'The Boomerang Boy' - Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1290824
Year:
Year

‘The Boomerang Boy’: Johnny holding boomerang with arms raised high for publicity shot for America's Liberty Records, 1960.

Boomerang made by Joe Timbery for Johnny O'Keefe's 1960 tour of America
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Boomerang made by Joe Timbery for Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1238097
Year:
Year

The boomerang made by Joe Timbery that Johnny took with him to America in April 1960 for his whirlwind six-week, 36-state tour. Johnny was promoting his recordings at radio stations and on TV shows such as Dick Clark’s Bandstand and New York’s The Clay Cole Show. Liberty Records promoted him as the 'Boomerang Boy’ and organised boomerang throwing competitions as publicity stunts. Even with lessons in boomerang throwing from Joe Timbery in Sydney, Johnny didn’t often win. 

Johnny Devlin and Johnny O'Keefe on Sing Sing Sing
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
35206
Courtesy:
7 Network Australia
Year:
Year

Recorded at the start of 1964, this clip from episode 66 of Sing Sing Sing features hit-makers of the day Paul Wayne, Digby Richards, Johnny Devlin and Johnny O’Keefe singing excerpts of each others’ hit songs from 1963. With obvious camaraderie they accompany and sometimes interrupt the other performances. Johhny sings Johnny Devlin’s hit ‘Stomp the Tumbaruma’, while enthusiastically 'stomping’, and Johnny Devlin returns the favour with O’Keefe’s hit ‘Move Baby Move’. Dancer, actor and choreographer Sir Robert Helpmann joins them on the set as Johnny wraps up the show and the credits roll.

Notes by Stephen Groenewegen

'Wild One' by Johnny O'Keefe (clip)
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
202561
Year:
Year

'Wild One’ from the album Johnny’s Golden Album, Festival Records FM6005.

Composed by Dee Jay members John Greenan, Dave Owens and Johnny O’Keefe himself, 'Wild One’ was originally released in 1958 on the EP Shakin’ at the Stadium. Wanting to capture the feel of his live shows, the first version of 'Wild One’ had the sound of a concert audience dubbed over the top of the recording. This clip is from the second version of 'Wild One’, as released on Johnny’s Golden Album (1959), and featuring a fuller, richer sound.

Johnny's car crash, 1960
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1349308
Courtesy:
Nine Network
Year:
Year

In this clip, from a 1966 Bandstand special, Johnny talks to Brian Henderson about returning from his disappointing American tour and the lead-up to his horrific car crash in June 1960.

Front cover of 'The Wild One' tour program
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/10-2016/exhibition3_1302134_1961_sa_1.jpg
'The Wild One' tour program cover
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1302134
Year:
Year

Front cover of concert program: ‘The Hi-Fi Club presents Johnny O’Keefe, the Wild One, backed by the Fabulous Hi-Marks’, c1962.

Personality Squares: featuring Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
490941
Courtesy:
Fremantle
Year:
Year

This clip features a 1967 guest appearance by rock'n'roll star Johnny O'Keefe on the Channel 10 game show, Personality Squares.

Celebrities were asked quiz questions and contestants had to guess whether their answers were correct or not. Also appearing as a guest on this episode was actress Jacki Weaver.

Compere John Bailey mentions that Johnny will be starting up a new show on Channel 10; he is referring to Where the Action is, Johnny’s short-lived final TV series which was on air less than a year.

Notes by Tamara Osicka and Stephen Groenewegen

To Love (Na Agapas)
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1241061
Year:
Year

The most unusual Johnny O'Keefe song in the NFSA collection is a recording of him singing 'To Love’ in Greek ('Na agapas’). Performed live at either a concert or an event such as a wedding, it was recorded on a small seven-inch lacquer record some time after 1962. The tune is based on 'La Paloma’, composed by Sebastián Yradier in the 1860s, which has featured in many recordings including Elvis Presley’s 'No More’ (1961). 'To Love’ was first recorded in May 1961 by Ral Donner, an American singer known for sounding like Elvis.

Johnny’s Greek record may have originated from a suggestion by George Yiannopoulos, who ran the Greek emporium next door to Johnny’s father Raymond’s furniture store. George had launched a record label for Greek artists but his daughter Olga was a fan of Johnny’s, so George arranged a meeting through Raymond. When Johnny dropped by the emporium, George encouraged him to try singing in Greek. It begins with a brief spoken intro from Johnny in which he says, 'I’ve been practising pretty hard’.

Johnny O'Keefe poster featuring 'The Wild One' stamp design
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Johnny O'Keefe poster featuring postage stamp design issued in 1998
Year:
Year

Johnny O'Keefe plastic double-sided poster featuring the postage stamp design, issued in 1998. The colourful design features leopard print clashing with a more subdued background as 'The Wild One' strikes a characteristic pose at the microphone.

'You Hit The Wrong Note Billy Goat' by Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
303011
Year:
Year

In 1955, Johnny heard 'Rock Around the Clock’, performed by Bill Haley and His Comets on the soundtrack to the movie Blackboard Jungle. It changed his life forever. Within a year he had formed a rock ’n’ roll band, Johnny O’Keefe and the Dee Jays, and was regularly performing at suburban dances in council halls, police clubs and during the interval between films at Manly’s Embassy Theatre.

Johnny met Bill Haley when he toured Australia in March 1957. Haley gave Johnny his song '(You Hit the Wrong Note) Billy Goat’ and it became the first song recorded by Johnny O’Keefe and the Dee Jays.

Self-published press release for Johnny O'Keefe's debut single
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Self-published press release for Johnny O'Keefe's debut single, '(You Hit the Wrong Note) Billy Goat'
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1293556
Year:
Year

'Facts about Figures': self-published press release for JOK's debut single, '(You Hit the Wrong Note) Billy Goat', 1957.

'Be Careful of Stones that You' Throw by Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
291804
Year:
Year

First recorded by Hank Williams in 1952, Be Careful of Stones that You Throw is the only country and western song Johnny O'Keefe ever recorded. It tells the story of a young woman, shunned by her neighbours, who dies while heroically saving the child of one of her critics. Following the winding up of his television career, this cautionary tale resonated with Johnny, who thought he was being written off by his peers in the television and music industries.

Johnny talks about the early days of rock'n'roll
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1349308
Courtesy:
Nine Network
Year:
Year

In this clip from a 1966 special episode of TV’s Bandstand, Johnny O’Keefe and fellow rock pioneers Col Joye and Digby Richards reminisce about the thrills and perils of performing live in the early days of rock 'n’ roll.

Johnny O'Keefe sitting at the base of a camera holding a broom on the set of 'Sing Sing Sing'
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Johnny on set
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1008790
Courtesy:
7 Network Australia
Year:
Year

Johnny sitting at the base of an ATN 7 camera holding a broom on the set of ‘Sing Sing Sing’.

Johnny O'Keefe kissing a tortoise
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Johnny O'Keefe kissing a 'kidnapped' tortoise
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1010250
Year:
Year

Johnny kissing a tortoise that he ‘kidnapped’ from Adelaide University students as part of a publicity stunt, 1961.

Johnny O'Keefe talks about 'Be Careful of Stones that You Throw'
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
765663
Year:
Year

In 1977, Johnny O'Keefe talks about having a nervous breakdown in 1965 and being dropped from his television show on the Seven Network. O'Keefe embarked on a rock'n'roll tour around the country, playing mostly regional and small venues. He says he recorded a cover of Hank Williams 'Be Careful of Stones that You Throw', the only country and western song O'Keefe ever recorded, in answer to the industry critics who thought his tour represented a big comedown from being a TV star playing big stadiums in the capital cities.

Brown suit and lace shirt worn by Johnny O'Keefe
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/10-2016/image.ii_1519f66e3f0b8747.jpg
Brown suit and lace shirt worn by Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1245469

Brown suit with lace shirt worn by Johnny O’Keefe, c1970s. 

Fantales promotional chocolate box with image of Johnny O'Keefe
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Fantales promotional chocolate box with image of Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1238105
Courtesy:
Nestle Australia
Year:
Year

Fantales promotional chocolate box with image of Johnny O'Keefe (back view). 

'I am a Friend of Johnny O'Keefe' metal pin badge
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/10-2016/badge_2_square.jpg
'I am a Friend of Johnny O'Keefe' metal pin badge
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1238092
Year:
Year

'I am a Friend of Johnny O'Keefe' metal pin badge, c1957.

Johnny O'Keefe looking bored rehearsing with dancers on the set of 'Studio A'
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/10-2016/1009950_0002.jpg
Johnny O'Keefe rehearsing with dancers on the set of 'Studio A'
Courtesy:
7 Network Australia
Year:
Year

Johnny O’Keefe rehearsing dance moves with a bored look on his face on the set of the TV program 'Studio A'.

Vic Simms on Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
792538
Year:
Year

When singer-songwriter Vic Simms was a 15 year old starting out in the music business, Johnny O'Keefe played him some of his new songs and asked for his honest opinion of them.

Johnny O'Keefe standing on set in front of boom mic and camera
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/10-2016/1010270_0002.jpg
Preparing for action
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1010270
Courtesy:
7 Network Australia
Year:
Year

Johnny O'Keefe on set in front of boom microphone and camera at Channel 7 studios in Sydney.

Johnny O'Keefe with his parents
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/10-2016/1290957_0002.jpg
Johnny O'Keefe with his parents
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1290957

Photo of Johnny with father Raymond and mother Thelma O'Keefe, c1970s.

Cover of ‘The Fabulous Johnny O'Keefe Show’ concert program from 1964
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/10-2016/1302134_1960s_tv_2.jpg
Cover of ‘The Fabulous Johnny O'Keefe Show’ concert program from 1964
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1302134
Year:
Year

Cover of ‘The Fabulous Johnny O'Keefe Show’ concert program from 1964 tour of Perth, Kalgoorlie, Geraldton, Bunbury and Albany, WA.

Excerpt from 'Shout' by Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
291301
Year:
Year

An excerpt from 'Shout', a cover version of The Isley Brothers' song, and Johnny's first big hit.

Letter sent by Johnny O’Keefe to 3000 ‘Sing Sing Sing’ club members, apologising for the tardiness of his reply
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/10-2016/exhibition_1302134_1963_sing_sing_sing.jpg
Letter sent by Johnny O’Keefe to 3000 ‘Sing Sing Sing’ club members
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1302134

One of 3,000 letters sent by Johnny O’Keefe to ‘Sing Sing Sing’ club members, apologising for the tardiness of his reply. At the time celebrities faced the challenge of individually responding to huge amounts of fan mail.

Johnny O'Keefe entertaining the Australian troops in Vietnam
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Johnny O'Keefe entertaining Australian troops in Vietnam
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1290842
Courtesy:
Department of Defence/ADF
Year:
Year

Johnny O’Keefe performing for the 1st Australian Task Force at Nui Dat, Vietnam, 1969.

Trevor Rippingale on Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
537286
Year:
Year

Trevor Rippingale, band member of Johnny O'Keefe and the Deejays, talks about Johnny O'Keefe's tremendous showmanship and rapport with his concert audiences.

She's My Baby by Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
291386
Year:
Year

Johnny O’Keefe first visited America in November 1959, convinced he could make it in the birthplace of rock 'n’ roll. Almost by chance, he managed to arrange a meeting at Liberty Records where he signed a five-year recording contract.

He recorded 'She’s My Baby’ in Los Angeles in late 1959 with producer Snuffy Garret and the best session musicians Liberty could find, including drummer Earl Palmer and guitarists Barney Kessel and Scotty Turner.

'She’s My Baby’ was released in Australia on 7 January 1960 and became his first number one record. The song has a slick and polished sound, because of the superior production facilities and experienced staff available in America at that time.

Newspaper billboards announcing death of Johnny O'Keefe and Pope John Paul I
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/10-2016/640791.jpg
Newspaper billboards announcing death of Johnny O'Keefe and Pope John Paul I
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
640791
Year:
Year

Photo of newspaper billboards outside a newsagent announcing the death of JOK and Pope John Paul I in October 1978. Photographer: Peter Luck.

Mockingbird by Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
297978
Year:
Year

Throughout the late 1960s and into the ’70s, Johnny O'Keefe continued to perform and release records. His last Top 10 hit came in 1974 with his version of 'Mockingbird’, sung with Margaret McLaren. He recorded ‘Mockingbird’ in October 1972 and released it in the middle of 1973, well ahead of the Carly Simon-James Taylor duet, but both versions charted nationally in Australia at the same time in 1974, with Johnny’s version reaching number eight in the Top 40. The original was recorded by Inez and Charlie Foxx in 1963.

Notes by Stephen Groenewegen

Johnny O'Keefe on social issues
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
258710
Year:
Year

This is a segment of a longer recording made in 1972 for an unidentified radio station where Johnny, in brief grabs, introduces himself and gives his thoughts on various social issues. In this extract, he talks about the influence of television on children, whether drugs should be legalised, the pressures of fame and the value of friendship and his thoughts on God, including whether or not God might be a woman.

Notes by Stephen Groenewegen

Dressed For Success 'Shake Baby Shake'
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
546208
Courtesy:
Archdiocese of Sydney

In 1959, Johnny O'Keefe claimed he had 40 suits all worth over 100 pounds each. Tailors known to have made costumes for Johnny include Andy Ellis, Pineapple Joe, Len Taylor, Vince Gerbino and his mother Thelma.

In this radio interview from the 1970's, Johnny explains the inspiration for his flamboyant early costumes and, amid much laughter, why he stopped wearing them.

Notes by Stephen Groenewegen

Johnny O'Keefe close up, smoking with broom in hand
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Johnny O'Keefe on the set of 'Sing Sing Sing'
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1008790
Courtesy:
7 Network Australia
Year:
Year

Johnny holding a broom and smoking a cigarette on the set of ‘Sing Sing Sing’.