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Johnny O'Keefe "A little bit louder now..."
, 1999

by Ivan Durrant

synthetic polymer paint on board (frame: 129.0 cm x 98.5 cm, support: 122.0 cm x 91.5 cm)

Johnny O’Keefe (1935–1978) was Australia’s first rock ’n’ roll star. At a time when radio stations were reluctant to promote local talent, O’Keefe was the first Australian rock performer to score a chart hit with the 1958 song ‘Wild One’, paving the way to success for other Australian musicians. A raw, energetic and exuberant performer, O’Keefe recorded 30 chart hits, but his signature tune remained Shout, containing the oft-repeated words ‘a little bit louder now’. In 1959 he presided over the television show Six O’Clock Rock and he was later host of The Johnny O’Keefe Show. Despite his success, the Wild One’s personal life was tumultuous. He suffered periods of depression, was prone to violent outbursts, and in 1960 his face required extensive reconstruction after a near-fatal car crash. Drug abuse, drinking and overwork contributed to his death from a heart attack at the age of 43.

Ivan Durrant was about thirteen years old when he first saw O'Keefe on television. At the time Durrant had a 'rocker' hairdo and fancied that he resembled O'Keefe. He painted the singer as he imagined him at the beginning of his career - an innocent young boy just entering the world of rock 'n' roll. "A little bit louder now" is a line from the song Shout.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Commissioned with funds provided by L Gordon Darling AC CMG 1999
Accession number: 1999.78