Tags: Singer Songwriters. Entertainers. Australian.
If I was to say that included in the “Entertainers of the Island” for this edition will be some reference to Farmer John, readers could be forgiven for thinking that I am talking about someone who works the land for a living but in actual fact, that is the title of a 1965 hit by someone who has been a resident of Bribie Island for over three years.
Featured Image(above): Johnny started out at fifteen
Growing up in Melbourne, Johnny Cooper was always destined for a musical career, having attended the same high school as Normie Rowe and learning the guitar at the age of fourteen. He told me that he began entertaining along with a couple of other guys at the local YMCA when he was fifteen. ‘We played at a few of the local dances and there was one place that had a boxing ring at the back of the stage.
In the dance hall, there were rows of seats on either side and one side was for the Collingwood boys with the other being for the guys from Richmond,’ Johnny told me. ‘There were always fights between these two groups and the local Sergeant who ran the dance used to grab anyone who got into a fight and send them out to the boxing ring to sort things out. We would be playing and in the background, we could hear the sound of gloves on skin and often the thump of someone hitting the canvas,’ he said. His first band was called The Monarchs and, as a bit of trivia, there were occasions in years to come when Johnny was billed as the “Monarch of Mod.”
After The Monarchs, Johnny spent some time as vocalist for The Saxons and, as he was obviously a performer that made others in the entertainment industry take notice, he was signed by the record label, W&G. He said that his first single, although being quite good, never made the charts due to not getting enough airplay.
The Monarch of Mod – Johnny was a regular on the Go Show
It was in 1965 when Johnny recorded what was to become his most popular hit out of the handful of tracks that he recorded while with the label. As the B-side of a Richie Valens cover, “Oh Donna,” Johnny recorded a Song that was written by the Searchers called “Farmer John” and, whilst “Oh Donna” was well received, it was the B-side that made it’s way up the charts. Backing for the single was by The Strangers and their members included guitarist Johnny Farrar who co-wrote some of the music for “Grease.”
His deep voice can be heard during “Farmer John” when he comes in with the line, “Now looky here.” Dis-satisfaction with events at W&G resulted in Johnny parting company with what was to be the only company who signed him but his reputation as a hard-working entertainer had already provided him with the opportunity to be a regular performer on the Channel Ten “Go” show, ‘Teen Scene” and the ABC’s “Teen Time” as well as appearing at various venues along with Billy J Kramer, Olivia Newton-John and his mate, Normie Rowe. Everyone who has spent time in the entertainment industry has some really amusing stories to tell and one that Johnny told me was about what happened because he didn’t own a car.
‘There was a very large and somewhat smothering crowd at Melbourne’s Festival Hall on one occasion that I did a gig there,’ said Johnny. ‘The police had to escort me from the building and they then asked me where I had to go. I think that they were a bit surprised when I said, “I want to go home so could you give me a lift to Spencer Street Railway Station.”’
During his time as a performer, Johnny played in all the states on the East Coast and he recalled a time when, while appearing in Brisbane, he and Normie Rowe tried racing skateboards down the hill from the Cloudland Ballroom. ‘There were still trams back then and my biggest worry was getting to the bottom and hitting a tram,’ Johnny explained. ‘I headed up a side street half way down but Normie went right to the bottom.
He was flying,’ said Johnny. Deciding to end his time in the industry, Johnny made the transition to sales and, as he had a passion for electronics, excelled in the field of computer sales, working for companies that included the manufacturers of the Commodore computer and also Atari. He pointed out that he also spent some time selling cars.
However, as these things do, changes in his personal situation resulted in Johnny returning to music and, until his move to our island, he was playing numerous gigs in the North Queensland area. Since becoming a Bribie Islander, Johnny has recorded one album, ‘It’s Not Easy,” on which all but two tracks are originals. He did say that he hasn’t really pushed it that much due to his feeling that there is an excessive electronic influence in the production.
His hit, “Farmer John” was also featured last year on an album brought out by Brash;s that was entitled, “100 Greatest Australian Singles” At present, Johnny is spending his time writing new material and he has told me that his aim now is to get together with either an established band or get one together in order for him to concentrate on his talent as a vocalist and keep entertaining. He said that if anyone is interested in teaming up with him, they can give him a call on 0400 548 542.