JOHNNY O’KEEFE 1958-1973 – PART 1


Don’t You Know (Pretty Baby) (S Turnbull/J Marascalo) and Come on And Take My Hand (D Glasser) -Johnny O’Keefe 1960

On returning to the States in January 1960 O’Keefe was to embark on a Liberty Records-funded coast-to-coast tour of the USA to promote himself as the Boomerang Boy, the Downunder Elvis, and after assuring Liberty execs that he was an expert boomerang thrower, they decided to pit Johnny against the locals as part of his promotional activities, with cash prizes for those who could defeat the Aussie Champ. The tour commenced with solid reviews in the trade magazines Billboard and Cashbox for his single She’s My Baby, but O’Keefe proved to be an unreliable performer on the road, frequently smoking marijuana, disappearing for days on end into black juke joints, drinking excessively, and regularly losing boomerang-throwing contest to the locals, costing Liberty thousands of dollars. Simon Waronker of Liberty was dismayed and declared O’Keefe to be persona non grata, the promotional tour collapsed, he returned home depressed, broke, knowing that he had blown his one chance at international success.jok62But after buying himself a brand new cherry-red Plymouth Belvedere (below), on hire purchase of course, he would continue to behave like the big rock star that he was back home.jok74He set  a frantic pace re-establishing himself on the local music scene and had a double A-side smash hit with Come on and Take My Hand backed with Don’t You Know to notch his second #1 national hit in July of 1960.

Don’t You Know was written by US journeyman songwriters John Marascalo (Good Golly Miss Molly, Rip It Up, Ready Teddy) pictured belowjok65and O’Keefe’s old mate Scott Turner, aka Turnbull,  (Blue Ribbon Baby, Travelling Man, Ready For You). This was one of O’Keefe’s best records, the lyrics are powerful and Johnny delivers them with great conviction and uses a vocal melisma on the word “man” in the verses, the talented backing singers help to propel the song forward “Yeah I’ll walk across the burnin’ sand/ Just to prove that I’m your lovin’ ma-a-a-an/ Swing a hammer poundin’ steel on steel / Just to show my love for you is real.”

The B-side was a composition by US songwriter Dick Glasser (below), Come On and Take My Hand delivered a second solid rocker on the flipside, the song opens with pounding drums and bass and JO’K is well supported by female backing singers and a distinctive saxophone solo at the bridge.jok66Glasser had written Angels in the Sky in 1955 which was a million seller in the US for the Crew-Cuts, as well as I Will which was a hit for Dean Martin and again in the 1960’s when covered by Billy Fury.jok67He was also a very successful record producer and worked with such acts as the Everly Brothers, the Fleetwoods, Vic Dana, the Ventures and Freddy Cannon. This double-A side record was a #1 hit for O’Keefe and he would chart with no less than seven top ten hits in the period June 1959 – February 1962. These two songs were the last that Johnny had recorded at Gold Star studios in Los Angele with Snuff Garrett on March 17, 1960 and were preceded by his failed US tour, producer Garrett commented on this final recording session with JOK ” I’m sure there wasn’t much enthusiasm on Liberty’s part, or on anybody’s about the session, after all the problems we’d had with John  (on the earlier extensive tour Liberty put together to promote JOK in the US). We didn’t just come back from the tour and say “okay, let’s cut one more date, but it was possibly the last round up, the end of the hunt! One more shot to make it!” (Contributed to 4TR by Tony Watson)

Back home Johnny O’Keefe was about to enter the most tumultuous phase in his life to date, and he would be lucky to survive it. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s