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JO'K quotes

Many things have been written & said about Johnny O'Keefe — the quotes below are from people who knew John best & provide some insight to his character, work ethic and success. There are also four of JO'K's own quotes.

Bruce Powell
April, 2009

“I never heard him say a bad word about anyone”.

“I never thought of him as a star, he was just my son.  His fame simply didn’t hit me – it still hasn’t”.

“Johnny always wore the “Singing Ring” we gave him on the ring finger of his left hand.  On his wedding day he apologised to me and said he’d have to move it to another finger.  “Do you mind” he asked.  I could have clouted him”.

THELMA O’KEEFE (John’s mother)

“They were pretty tough audiences at the Bondi Auditorium.  If they didn’t like you, you copped a tomato.  Johnny was no exception, he got his fair share”.

RAY O’KEEFE (John’s father)

“My greatest regret is that Johnny was never properly understood.  They used to think of him as “The Wild One” and let it go at that.  But he was more – so much more”.

“When I think of all the people Johnny helped, with no thought of personal gain, it breaks my heart”.

“The last few months of his life were among the happiest we had together”.

“Johnny used to organise film evenings or have a sing-song around the piano at home with the children.  We had fantastic fun”.

“John could always find time for the very young, the very old or the socially handicapped.  He was wonderful with retarded children.  The point is he didn’t have to spend the time he did with all these people – there were no reporters or photographers about at such times”.

MAUREEN O’KEEFE (John’s wife)

“All in all Johnny O’Keefe had 33 hits.  That is, records that charted in the Top 40 in this country.  This included 4 number ones with 12 attaining top10 status.  In the USA “She’s My Baby” sold in excess of 100,000 copies and “It’s Too Late” reached No. 1 in New Orleans.  Not many artists in Australia or overseas can claim to have 33 hits to their credit”

BRUCE POWELL (April 1997)

“John’s appeal was the fact that he was brand new and exciting and I think the kids wanted to have their own identity.  There was Presley and Bill Haley but there was nobody out here.  I think that because Johnny O’Keefe and the D J’s were the very first ones and John was able to not imitate but show the world that we have our own brand of rock ‘n’ roll, the kids really picked up on it”.


“One of Johnny’s biggest hits was “Shout” and this was rehearsed and recorded in 20 minutes at 2.00 am one Friday morning.  The final vocal tracks of another big record, “Move Baby Move” were made at 1.00am in the morning, of my wedding day.  I am not quite sure whether I have really completely forgiven him for this”.

ROBERT IREDALE (Producer and Engineer)

“When J O’K came on stage, the atmosphere was electric.  He had lost none of his dynamic stage presence.  The audience went wild.  It was difficult to capture all the applause as I had the tape recorder directly facing a large speaker about 3 metres away”.

(Producer – J O’K’s last concert held at Bathurst RSL September 8, 1978 and released on Canetoad Records)

“It was during the mid 70’s that I saw O’Keefe play myself for the one and only time.  As he sweated though his set it wasn’t out of some sense of obligation that we stayed, despite our parents waiting outside to pick us up, it wasn’t because we thought this was history in the making – it was because O’Keefe put out.  It was the energy and commitment of his performance that kept us there, unified in a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll that at that moment in time belonged to nobody but us".

(Author of the liner notes for the J O’K 3CD set “Birth of Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll (1996) and author of Highway to Hell/The Life and Times of AC/DC legend Bon Scott and Stranded: The Secret History of Australian Independent Music).

“You can boo me and you can make fun of me, but you all paid your money to see me because you love me”.

“The simple fact of just being me generates upwards of $13 million a year.  I don’t get that, nor do I earn it.  It comes from record sales, money through the door, agents, musicians, waitresses and all the people involved with an artist – directly or indirectly.  I create jobs for people, staff have to be engaged.  This is something the bigwigs want to keep in mind when they are talking about the Australian records content on radio.  Do away with the present minimum content of 20% and I can tell you a hell of a lot of money will stop circulating to the benefit of Australians.

“My act is not an act, it’s me – it’s what I am”.

“None of the early musicians had any sort of feel or knowledge of how to play rock music because it was a complete reversal of anything they’d ever done in their time.  They were into Jazz  and  this was a different beat altogether”.


This is an excerpt from the liner notes of the 1964 2 record set (vinyl) released by Festival as “THE J O’K STORY”.

“Let us take a glimpse into the future.  It is A.D. 2000.  A journalist for a National magazine decides to write a feature story on the History of Australian Popular Music.  Thumbing through old magazine files at the Public Library he would come across the cryptic initials “J O’K” occurring regularly.

Further research would have told him that these stood for “Johnny O’Keefe” the motive force behind the sudden upsurge of Australian popular music in the middle of the century.  The daily press – the national magazines – the trade papers all showed him front page stories of a young man who was obviously the No. 1 entertainer of his generation, so he would note on his pad – “We start the real story of Australian Popular Music from July, 1957 and trace the meteoric rise to fame of Johnny O’Keefe”.

One thing is certain – Australia has never known another entertainer like him and all Australia watches his almost superhuman fight to reach even greater heights – and all Australia respects this mighty atom even if they cannot find it in their hearts to like him – and for all Australia this era of teenage entertainment must go down as the age with one undisputed king – the unforgettable J O’K”.

(Author unknown)