JOHNNY O’KEEFE 1958-1973 – PART 1


Shout (Parts 1&2) (Isley Brothers) – Johnny O’Keefe and the Dee Jays and the Delltones 1959

 Great R&B hits of this era like Shout, What’d I Say (Ray Charles) and Night Train (James Brown) became standards of the genre and had their genesis in the choirs of African American churches.jok44This song originally emerged from a verbal ad lib by Ronald Isley at a Washington concert in mid-1959 with his brothers Rudolph and O’Kelley ( above left to right Ronald,O’Kelley, and Rudy)  while they were performing Jackie Wilson’s Lonely Teardrops and Ronald threw in “WELLLLLLLLLLLLLLL… you make me want to SHOUT” and Rudy and O’Kelley joined in on the improvisation. The crowd went wild, and RCA executive Howard Bloom suggested they make it their first single. On July 29 1959, the Isley Brothers went into RCA’s Studio B in New York, with producers Hugo Peretti (left below) and Luigi Creatore (right below), along with friends and relatives in the booth and along the studio walls, to create the vibrant live ambience, of the definitive recording of Shout. jok47The improvisation between the brothers that was the catalyst for this recording was so typical of the gospel choirs the Isleys’ sang with in their neighborhood church, that their local church organist Herman Stephens, from the First Baptist Church of Cincinnati, even played on the original recording, which became the Isley’s first hit.

O’Keefe had hit the top 20 several times in 1958 following the release of The Wild One with So Tough, as well as the poignant and more reflective self-penned ballad Why Do They Doubt Our Love (#8 in June) and a cover version of Swanee River (#12 in September), but it was his version of the Isley Brothers classic that would resonate with fans in 1959 and still does today. O’Keefe opens the song with a shouted vocal melisma as he sings “weeeelllllll” which promises that we are in for a wild ride and as his vocals become huskier and the Delltones  (below) urge him on, we know that we need to get on board.jok50The listener is shamelessly and euphorically manipulated by the rise and fall of the volume and the stop and go intensity of the song, the sexual urgency of the record is unmistakable, its simple two chord structure heightens the sense of accessibility and complicity for the listener, and the lyrical sexual innuendos come thick and fast “Don’t forget to say you will/ Don’t forget to say, yeah/ Say it right now baby…/ Say that you love me/ Say that you need me / Say you wanna please me/ Come on now…”The melody is conjunct and moves in leaps, O’Keefe’s word painting exhorts us “to get a bit softer now” and “get a little louder now” and is aligned with the rise and fall of the music and would only be equaled many years later when Led Zeppelin unleashed their graphic and orgasmic rock anthem Whole Lotta Love.jok49The Dee Jays (above) render solid musical backing, tenor sax, alto sax, drums, and guitar, and the Delltones on vocal backup use staccato and accents to emphasize key words and capture the call and response dynamic with O’Keefe, that the Isley brothers would have known so well from their gospel-singing days in church. Despite international versions abounding O’Keefe took this song to #2 nationally and it was one of his best recordings and a live performance favorite.

Monochrome vision of a live performance of this number by JOK and the Delltones at the Sydney Stadium is featured as our video clip of the song, it has been used by the ABC TV’s Rage to open each week’s show and so give generations of R&R fans a sample of the carnal energy and dynamism of the Wild One at his peak. The clip is shot from below which emhasises the dominance of the singer and the vocal backing group the Delltones, all are tightly bunched together on stage like a coiled spring, with first O’Keefe shaking and thrusting his hips, and raising his arm in the air to whip the audience into a frenzy, while the Delltones are swaying and leaning into the shared microphone in vocal support of the Wild One. This is hands down the most dynamic footage from the early days of Australian rock and roll, it was a national #2 hit and should have been O’Keefe’s first #1, he achieved that the very next year with She’s My Baby in January 1960.

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