Johnny O'Keefe: Rocker. Legend. Wild One.
From the July 18 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, where Tragedy was selected as their Pick of the Week:
'My brother was bass guitarist for Normie Rowe when Barry Gibb played a demo of the Gibbs' latest recording at rehearsals one afternoon in Sydney. It was Spicks and Specks, the single that, after a string of flops in Oz launched the Bee Gees. Jeff Apter's record of their rise, fall and rise really gets you in. Especially those heady days in Britain in 1967 when they turned out a string of hits. But there is deep sadness in the tale too, for when they sang Tragedy they couldn't have known that was in store with the untimely death of Maurice, younger brother Andy and, more recently, Robin. Apter brings the story up to the moment, Barry Gibb, after an extended time channel surfing on his couch, rousing himself to do the Mythology tour.’ —Steven Carroll
Tragedy was published in the UK
and North America by Jawbone Press in June 2016 and a new, smaller format edition of the book was published in Australia in March 2018. You can hear me speaking about the book with radio station 4KQ.
Writing Johnny O'Keefe: Rocker. Legend. Wild One. was yet another intriguing trip back in time for me, starting with the madness of the Sydney Stadium shows in the 1950s and then diving headfirst into Johnny's sometimes turbulent 1960s and onwards into the last decade of his life. Everyone I spoke with had vivid memories of the man; JO'K put the "large" into living large. But Johnny was many other things, too: a husband, father, son, trailblazer, outspoken supporter of the local music industry, bandleader, recording artist, lover of fast cars (an obsession that nearly brought him undone), philanthropist and much more besides. He squeezed plenty of living into his 43 years.
Here's some great footage of JO'K in action, tearing it up. First is She's My Baby, then the immortal Shout.For more on JO'K, this is the perfect place to start. The book will be widely available, but if you have any trouble tracking it down you can email me through this site, or try here.If you go to the Facebook page for the site, you can hear me going head-to-head with Adam Spencer and Andrew O'Keefe (JO'K's nephew) on ABC 702. I've also spoken about the book with radio legends — and JO'K insiders — Bob Rogers (on 2CH) and John Laws on 2SM, and sat down with David Campbell (who's played JO'K in Shout) on Channel 9's Morning show. I launched the book at the Spice Cellar in Sydney and spoke about it as part of Biography Week at the NSW State Library.
In their August 10 edition, the Sydney Morning Herald's Spectrum chose the book as its Pick of the Week, as did The Age. 'A series of hits, such as the groundbreaking Shout, took JO'K to fame,' wrote Steven Carroll, 'as well as drugs, grog, gruelling schedules, nervous breakdowns and various sanatoriums. It was a relentless pace that destroyed his marriage and eventually, at the age of 43, his life. [This book is] one for rockers past and present.'
A strong review of the book apeared in the Unwind section of the Sun-Herald. 'JOK quickly recognised the primal power of rock'n'roll and the potential of television,' notes reviewer Daniel Herborn, 'and embraced both. Headstrong, he became the "crotch-grabbing, eye-rolling king of the Sydney Stadium". Jeff Apter tells his story with suitable energy.'
The National Film & Sound Archive have launched an amazing study of JOK entitled A Little Bit Louder Now. I'm proud to say my book was used for the project.