Kevin Johnson

Kevin Johnson was born in Rockhampton, Queensland, the only child of Richard and Elinor Johnson. He spent his early years in a tiny town called Tungamull, between Rockhampton and the coast where his father worked as a timber contractor and his mother ran a local post office/telephone exchange.

His Mother was a good violinist and tried to teach Kevin the violin at an early age, but gave up when he showed a total lack of interest in music. It was not until Kevin’s late teens that he became infatuated with the music of the day and he consequently “bought his first guitar”, and after singing in Rockhampton’s beer gardens, progressed to the Beatles era and to “buying all their records”. With a local group called The Candymen he aspired to “sounding like Paul” while playing at the local dances.

Kevin was employed at this time in the Queensland Public service, in the Department of Main Roads, playing and singing at night and writing songs in his spare time. These songs eventually came to the notice of Col Joye, one of Australia’s original rock stars, who signed Kevin to his publishing company. For the next couple of years, he wrote songs for singers on the Col Joye/Jacobsen label (ATA).

He transferred to Brisbane where he continued to write for other Australian artists, and married his wife, Jill, also from the Rockhampton area.

After a year in Brisbane, they moved to Sydney where he recorded his first single, “Woman You Took My Life” on the ATA label. This record was picked up by Decca Records in England. Kevin then signed with a small independent company called Sweet Peach and wrote and recorded his first LP called, “In The Quiet Corners Of My Mind”.

This album received great critical acclaim in Australia, and Kevin then wrote and produced his next single, “Bonnie Please Don’t Go” (She’s Leaving) which topped the charts in Australia and was released for him in the USA. A cover version by Jim Ed Brown in the USA became a hit in the US Country Music charts. The song has since been a great success in other countries for Kevin and for other artists who have covered it.

Following on the success of “Bonnie Please Don’t Go” (She’s Leaving), Kevin signed a three year writing/recording deal with Tree International, a giant publishing company based in Nashville, Tennessee. They paid him a weekly advance and enabled him to leave his day job and concentrate on writing, and, after an initial period of performing in Australia, he returned to Brisbane and stayed there for a year writing songs. It was during this time that some of his most introspective songs, like “Shaney Boy” about his eldest son, Shane, “Iridescent Shadows”, “Kedron Brook”, and “Over The Hills and Far Away, were written.

After a year in Brisbane, he moved back to Sydney and continued to write songs for his forthcoming LP. One of these songs was “Rock and Roll I Gave You The Best Years of My Life”. Kevin left Tree International and signed with a new Australian production company called Good Thyme, and immediately produced his first single for them, “Rock and Roll I Gave You The Best Years of My Life”. This landmark song was picked up immediately for release in the USA and has since become a hit in almost every country in the world. Kevin’s version was charted in the US, UK and many European countries. There have been to date scores of recorded versions by various artist around the world, with total sales in the tens of millions. Subsequently, Kevin released his second album after the hit single, “Rock and Roll I Gave You The Best Years of My Life”.

Despite the offers to work overseas that followed, the outstanding success of “Rock and Roll I Gave You The Best Years of My Life” and “Bonnie Please Don’t Go” and many other songs, Kevin remained at home in Sydney with his family performing around Australia and writing songs for his next LP “A Man of the 20th Century”. One of the songs off this LP, “Scotty”, was written for his youngest son Scott

To coincide with the release of his album “A Man of the 20th Century” Kevin embarked on his first overseas tour. He taped TV and radio specials and appeared in concerts in Switzerland, Germany, Ireland and many other European countries.

Since then Kevin has written and recorded a number of albums of original material, has headlined concerts, TV, in Europe Australia, and other countries and has had his work recognized with numerous awards.

He has made many performing trips to Europe and during this time he also made two European TV specials of his own that were shown in many European countries. Kevin also appeared on numerous top shows with artists such as Billy Ocean, Frida (ABBA), James Last, Bonnie Tyler, Val Doonican, Hot Chocolate, Roberta Flack, Richard Clayderman, The Bellamy Brothers, Vicky Leandros and Boney M. He also recorded two songs with James Last in Germany, “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean” and “Rolling Home”. These were released on James Last’s album, Kaptn James auf de Reise (Polystar – Europe). This album was a million selling soundtrack of a TV spectacular of the same name, on songs of the sea, featuring a number of well known European artists, as well as James Last.

He has also appeared in Royal Command Performances before Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. Kevin has also appeared in many Australian TV spectaculars, including David Frost at The Opera House and the Dave Allen Show.

Over the years, Kevin’s songs have been recorded/played/featured by many famous artists, such as Tom Jones, Roger Whittaker, Mac Davis, Terry Jacks, Val Doonican, Harry Chapin, Cliff Richard, Doug Kershaw, Joe Dassin, Des O’Connor, Jim Ed Brown, The Cats, Sonny Curtis, Graeme Connors, Gary Glitter, John Leyton, Sonny Knowles, Wyn and Andrea, Col Joye, Johnny Devlin, Judy Stone, Little Pattie, Sandy Scott, Johnny Chester, Digby Richards, Normie Rowe, Charlie B etc. etc.

Kevin has also worked on film. He wrote the music for “Magee and the Lady” aka “She’ll be Sweet” which starred Sally Kellerman (M*A*S*H), and Tony LoBlanco (The French Connection, Honeymoon Killers) and wrote and performed music in “Fatal Bond”, which starred Linda Blair (The Exorcist), and Jerome Elhers (Weekend with Kate). Kevin also appeared briefly in this film.

He also wrote and performed songs in the Australian film “The Finder” which starred Simon Westaway.

At the request of the Australian Football League, Kevin rewrote his song, “Rock and Roll I Gave You The Best Years of My Life”, to make it the official AFL Centenary Song, “Aussie Rules I thank you for the best years of our lives” which he performed at large AFL centenary presentations around Australia during 1996.

Kevin then wrote and recorded “The Spirits of Old Sydney Town”, a song that, lyrically and musically, captures the hardships of an early convict, while still acknowledging Sydney’s timeless appeal. At the request of European leading marine biologist and whale crusader, Petra Deimer, Kevin wrote and recorded “A Whaler’s Lament (The Whales Are Singing To Me)” a song about a remorseful whaler who has come to realise the terrible mistakes he has made, a song dedicated to saving the whales. Long concerned about mankind’s treatment of the environment and the animal kingdom, Kevin then wrote and recorded “What Will We Do When The Well Runs Dry”. Those songs are included on a compilation “Songs from a Troubled World”, available only at Kevin’s website.

Over the years, Kevin did a series of sell out concerts at one of Sydney’s more famous venues, The Basement, with two old friends, Australian singer songwriters, Doug Ashdown and Mike McClellan under the name JAM (Johnson Ashdown McClellan) The concerts generated such great reactions and critical acclaim, they did many more around the country.

Kevin released a DVD of a concert he did, years ago, at Sydney’s historical State Theatre, the last show in a national tour. That DVD “Kevin Johnson Live at the State Theatre has proved to be a must for Kevin’s supporters. Containing 30 songs, running over 2 hours, and featuring some of Australia’s finest musicians.

In recent times, Kevin has been doing the occasional concerts, while writing a new collection of songs for his new album “The Devil Found Work”. As usual, this collection covers a range of different styles, and subject matter, from rock escapism, to ballads, to social comment and in keeping with his past traditions, songs for his grand-daughters.

Kevin Johnson is one of the very few Australian artists to sustain continuous International interest for over 50 years. And continuing that tradition he is now signing yet another long term deal overseas, with Repertoire Records London, who will be releasing his new album in the coming weeks.

Exclusive Interview

Here’s an interview with Australian singer-songwriter Kevin Johnson best known for his iconic and often covered song Rock and Roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life. Recorded for my radio program Retrospectives on Casey Radio in Melbourne, Australia