By Jeff Jenkins.
In 1974, Johnny O’Keefe said, “Elvis didn’t have any impact on me at all. I liked him, I was a fan, but he didn’t influence me.
“My big influence was Little Richard.”
In October 1957, Johnny O’Keefe and the Dee Jays were part of Little Richard’s Australian tour, Lee Gordon’s second “Big Show”, which also featured Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Alis Lesley (who was dubbed “the female Elvis”).
Little Richard’s ‘Lucille’ had just entered the Australian charts.
The tour also coincided with the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik. After one concert, JO’K recalled the artists witnessing a “white thing” shoot across the sky. He remembered Little Richard screaming, “Good Lord, the end of the world is coming! I’m going to quit showbiz and serve the Lord!”
The late-great Chris Wilson wrote about Little Richard’s life-changing Australian visit on his 1998 album The Long Weekend.
JO’K was also the tour’s MC. He introduced the American rocker at the second Melbourne show: “Here he is, ladies and gentlemen, the king himself, Little Richard!”
Little Richard walked out wearing white robes and carrying a Bible. He addressed the crowd: “Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I’m not going to sing for you because I understand the end of the world is coming. I’m going to talk to you about the Lord.”
He preached for the next 20 minutes. JO’K said Lee Gordon offered refunds, but no one asked for their money back.
Little Richard also feared the plane from Melbourne to Sydney was going to burst into flames – if not for “the angels who were holding it up”.
So, he cancelled his last two Australian concerts, renounced rock ’n’ roll and announced he was returning to the US to be baptised.
As the touring party crossed Newcastle’s Hunter River, Little Richard took off all his jewellery and threw it in the river. He later told the press: “Rings are graven images … If you want to live for the Lord, you can’t rock ’n’ roll too.”
Little Richard did not play any rock ’n’ roll for five years.
Legend has it that divers still swim to the bottom of the Hunter River, hoping to find some of Little Richard’s booty.