Johnny O’Keefe produced more Top 40 hits than any other Australian recording artist. He had a total of 29 hits spanning 1958 – 1974, five number ones and another eight in the Top 10.
He also released more records than any other Australian rock artist – 53 singles, 52 EPs and 65 albums (he appeared on 111 LPs in total).
O’Keefe made his stage debut at the age of four when he played the role of Dopey in the Waverley College production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. John was unable to read or memorise the script and so improvised his way through the entire play.
In January 1957, Johnny O’Keefe formed his backing group The Deejays and together they became Australia’s first genuine professional rock act. Never short of confidence, Johnny bluffed his way to his first recording contract with Festival Records.
Out of frustration at not being signed, Johnny began telling people he had signed with the label and ‘leaked’ the story to Valda Marshall, a columnist at the Sydney Sun Herald.
Ken Taylor of Festival Records read the story and tauntingly telephoned Johnny ‘congratulating’ him on supposedly being signed to the label.
The conversation did lead to an audition and Johnny was eventually signed to Festival, and became the first Australian to make the local charts in March 1958, with Wild One.
O’Keefe’s second single, Love Letters In The Sand, was so bad that he had Festival delete it from their catalogue, and for many years denied its existence. The disc became a collector’s item selling for hundreds of dollars.
During his 1960 tour of the USA his record company promoted him as ‘The Boomerang Kid’ and arranged a boomerang throwing competition in New York’s Central Park as a publicity stunt. The idea was that anyone who could beat ‘The Boomerang Kid’ was given $5.
Unfortunately, Johnny arrived drunk and as a result, he beat only two of the hundreds of people who had turned up. The stunt cost Liberty Records thousands of dollars.
On 27 June 1960, Johnny’s red Plymouth Belvedere collided head-on with a truck on the highway near Kempsey. His car was virtually demolished and, at first, it was feared Johnny’s injuries would be fatal. He eventually made it out of hospital in just over two weeks.
In January 1960, O’Keefe hit #1 with She’s My Baby, and the following year I’m Counting On You became the biggest selling single of 1961.
Also in 1961, John wound up in a Tooting Bec (London) mental asylum after an abortive American tour.
In June 1975 O’Keefe lodged a thirty page submission to the Australian Industries Assistance Commission requesting a grant of $153,000 to take a packaged Australian tour to Russia. His request was denied.
Johnny O’Keefe died on 5 October 1978. His last public appearance was on the Seven Network’s Sounds programme taped on 30 September.In 1987
In 1987 Iggy Pop recorded a version of Johnny’s The Wild One retitled Real Wild Child, for inclusion on his album Blah Blah Blah, The song was released as a single and became a huge hit in the US and Australia.