The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) pays tribute to ‘The Wild One’, Johnny O’Keefe, with a new online exhibition titled Johnny O’Keefe: A Little Bit Louder Now – featuring rare radio and television clips, and the never-before-seen scrapbooks compiled by the singer’s mother Thelma.
Johnny O’Keefe was Australia’s first rock ‘n’ roll star, with hits including Wild One, Shout, She’s My Baby, and many more. He also had a significant presence on Australian television, hosting some of the earliest music programs: Six O’Clock Rock, The Johnny O’Keefe Show and Sing Sing Sing.
Through his music, television clips, interviews and memorabilia, Johnny O’Keefe: A Little Bit Louder Now takes audiences back to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in Australia and confirms Johnny’s role as an Australian icon.
“In 2014, Johnny O’Keefe’s brother kindly donated more than 700 items of memorabilia and recordings to the NFSA,” said Sound Curator Tamara Osicka. “Barry wanted to ensure that his brother’s achievements in both the music and television industries were preserved and recognised.”
Highlights from the online exhibition include:
Thelma O’Keefe’s scrapbooks – 578 pages compiled by Johnny’s mother, between 1954 and 1965. They contain personal items such as postcards and letters to his parents, and a large amount of press clippings. Through these scrapbooks it is possible to track, page by page, Johnny’s meteoric rise in the music and television industries, as well as his setbacks and struggles.
O’Keefe in Greek – Possibly recorded live at either a concert or an event such as wedding, the origins of this unique sound recording remain unknown. Recorded on a small seven inch lacquer record, we hear Johnny singing his song To Love which he released in 1962, in Greek, and Johnny’s boomerang – one of the hundreds of wooden boomerangs that O’Keefe had made in Sydney by Joe Timbery, in preparation for his 1960 tour of the USA. The American record label Liberty Records was promoting him as the ‘Boomerang Boy’.
The exhibition also includes: Fan memorabilia – including a Fantales chocolate box from the 1960s, featuring Johnny O’Keefe on the front; radio and television interviews of O’Keefe, and clips from his 1960s career as a television host: Six O’Clock Rock, The Johnny O’Keefe Show and Sing Sing Sing; and live performances – including Shout at the Sydney Stadium, shot for the 1959 film Lee Gordon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Spectacular and later shown on the Nine TV program Bandstand Salutes Johnny O’Keefe (1966).
The exhibition coincides with Johnny O’Keefe’s birthday (born 19 January 1935 in Sydney), and is now available the NFSA website: www.nfsa.gov.au/jok
Image: Close up of Johnny O’Keefe, 1961 – photo courtesy of Seven Network