In a classic case of pop reincarnation, John Cave (born in 1950) became Johnny Cabe, then William Shakespeare. He then scored two Australian #1 hit singles and was never heard from ever again.
Behind the scenes were ace production/songwriting guru’s Vanda & Young (ex-The Easybeats) who wrote Shakespeare’s hits Can’t Stop Myself From Loving You and My Little Angel, as well as engineering his carefully contrived image (Australia’s answer to Gary Glitter).
John Stanley Cave grew up in Sydney’s inner west where his parents ran a fruit and vegetable shop. He initially sang with beat band The Amazons but by the early 70s he was working the Sydney clubs as Johnny Cabe.
At the beginning of 1974 he came into contact with Vanda and Young, who had just recorded the backing track for Can’t Stop Myself From Loving You for another singer who was unable to handle the high notes.
The song seemed tailor-made for Cabe’s falsetto voice, and he was promptly signed for the Alberts label.
Vanda and Young decided to create a new image for Cabe. They renamed him William Shakespeare and kitted him out in glam rock gear, replete with puffed Shakespearian sleeves and gaudy fake jewels.
To top it all off, Shakespeare sported an immaculately coiffured, plum-coloured hairdo.
Can’t Stop Myself From Loving You came out in July 1974 and immediately hit #1 on the national Australian charts. With the help of regular appearances on Countdown, his second single, the Christmas-flavoured My Little Angel, also reached #1.
Two more Vanda and Young singles followed; Just The Way You Are (April 1975) and Last Night (March 1976), plus the album Can’t Stop Myself From Loving You, but none charted.
While his career was in decline Shakespeare was charged with carnal knowledge (with the 15-year-old president of his Melbourne fan club) and received two years’ probation. He continued to dismiss the incident as a set-up and an extortion attempt.
He wound up at Chelmsford Hospital in Sydney where, like his friend Stevie Wright, (former lead singer of The Easybeats), he was subjected to controversial so-called “deep sleep” and electroshock therapy at the hands of notorious psychiatrist Dr Harry Bailey.
He left Alberts in 1977 and by the middle of 1979 was back working Sydney clubs, this time as Billy Shake. In the 1980s his alcoholism and mental illness accelerated until he found himself sleeping in the toilets opposite the St George Leagues Club in Kogarah.
His career was temporarily revived in 1990 when listeners of Melbourne radio station 3MMM voted My Little Angel as the “daggiest song of its generation”.
In 2001, former Go-Betweens drummer Lindy Morrison arranged accommodation and financial assistance through the charity Support Act Limited, which helps members of the music industry who’ve fallen on hard times. Cave relied on assistance from Support Act for several years, during which time his mental health was a constant burden.
John Cave passed away on 5 October 2010 as a result of alcohol abuse. He was 61.