Little Richard concert program.
This concert program has significance as a record of Little Richard's Australian tour of October 1957. The tour was eventful because it was the first time Johnny O'Keefe performed at one of Lee Gordon's 'Big Shows' and because of Little Richard's dramatic decision to quit rock 'n' roll.
The tour featured Little Richard (with his band that included crack sax player Nat Douglas), along with three other American acts -- Gene Vincent and his band the Blue Caps, Eddie Cochran and Alis Lesley (dubbed 'the female Elvis').
The Blue Caps, who were also meant to provide backing for Eddie Cochran and Alis Lesley, were removed from the plane in Honolulu due to an error with the airline reservations. The promoter Lee Gordon urgently needed a replacement band and O'Keefe agreed to lend his group the Dee Jays, as long as he too could perform. The tour's first show, at Wollongong's Crown Theatre, was later described by O'Keefe as 'the most important Stadium show' he ever appeared in. O'Keefe won over the hostile audience and his subsequent performances on the tour made quite an impact.
Australia had never before seen anything like Little Richard. The most flamboyant star of the first wave of American rock 'n' roll, he made his entrance in Melbourne wearing a green jewelled turban, a canary yellow suit and a crimson cloak. In what the press described as a 'strip tease', he caused 'a near riot' by peeling off layers of clothes until he was left wearing only the turban and a pair of 'pyjama trousers'. The sight of what one newspaper called 'an American negro rock 'n' roll exponent' singing bare-chested to screaming Australian girls was a matter of concern for concert reviewers. Newspapers reported on the shows and the behaviour of audiences in a tone that suggested that parents should start to worry. O'Keefe learnt greatly from Little Richard's stagecraft, with one newspaper review referring to O'Keefe's 'pelvic prostrations' and 'simulated epileptic fit'.
The Soviet Union had just launched the Sputnik satellite and, as it passed over Australia, Little Richard underwent a powerful religious experience, an apocalyptic vision of his own damnation. During a domestic flight he became convinced that the aeroplane was on fire, panicked and began to pray. On October 11 1957, while crossing the Hunter River on the Stockton ferry on their way from Williamtown airport to a concert in Newcastle, he threw four diamond rings into the water as a gesture of his faith, witnessed by members of O'Keefe's band. Sensing that the end of the world was imminent, Little Richard cut his tour short, flew home to be baptised, took up bible studies in Alabama and was ordained a minister. For the next few years he performed only gospel music.
O'Keefe and his band became a regular support for international acts promoted by Lee Gordon. By the time of O'Keefe's last big Stadium show in August 1961, he had become so appreciated by the Sydney audience that they drowned out the headlining American singer Jimmie Rodgers with chants of 'We want Johnny'.