classic and rare Australian popular music from the 1950's, 1960's. 1970's and beyond..including rock and roll, pop, beat, rock, surf and progressive, plus contemporary artists, new releases, reviews and other fun stuff



Saturday, November 8, 2014

Johnny Rebb and His Rebels - The Leedon Anthology 1958 - 1960

I want to step back to the 50's and the era of Australian rock'n'roll for this post. 

Johnny Rebb (born John Delbridge, 1939) was a mild mannered Sydney butcher's apprentice who got caught up in the swirling high tide of rock 'n' roll attention which followed his win of a theatre talent quest.

Crafty manager, Syd McDonagh, kept Johnny busy with club, suburban dance and private functions work, while he pursued a recording deal with the aid of an acetate disc bearing a primitive version of Bobby Helm's "MY SPECIAL ANGEL", EMI took him on for one single (Johnny B Goode/Rebel Rock) but lost interest when it failed to leap into the charts. Late in 1958, McDonagh approached the young Leedon Records; operated by flamboyant entrepreneur Lee Gordon to carry releases from indie American labels. They took Rebb on as their first local artist and a cover of Dough & Rusty Kershaw's "HEY SHERIFF" was rushed out for the Christmas market. It hit #15 in Sydney and #28 in Melbourne, earning Johnny a spot on Six O'Clock Rock and generating a strong female following.

From the outset, Johnny's image and recordings were at odds. Shy, well mannered and conservatively dressed, he was dubbed the 'Gentleman of Rock' by press and DJ's, and to cater to this, Leedon deliberately split the contents of his records between energetic rock and mellow ballads. However, in a live situation, he could get on with the best of them, ably abetted by his fiery young backing unit "The Rebels", Comprising Johnny Burns (drums), Johnny Charters (piano), Sonny Neville (guitar), Keith Williams (bass) and the highly regarded Jimmy Slogget (sax).

Johnny Rebb was the first Australian artist to be signed by Lee Gordon's Leedon label in 1958. (N.B. — Leedon released more hits by Australian artists than any other label in the late fifties and early sixties.) Johnny's immense Sydney popularity was reflected by the top thirty charting of "COME ON LET'S GO" before the first hit even begun to dip. By the time "PATHWAY TO PARADISE" (an original) was issued in June (a national top ten) he was off on tour through the virtually uncharted regions of Victoria and Queensland. Lee Gordon cross-promoted the records by giving Rebb the support stint to TOMMY SANDS. His popularity grew to such a high point that he was chosen to compare episodes of "Six O'clock Rock' while Johnny O'Keefe was in America.

At the very end of 1959 Johnny scored his final national hit with "HIGHWAY OF LOVE" (on the Lee Gordon rather than Leedon label). By the time he moved over to CDB/Cornet, Gordon's two labels had issued 5 singles. 3 EPs (Come On Let's Go, Highway Of Love, Hit It For Six) and an album (Some Swing, Some Sweet). His second Coronet (CBS) single, "THINK ME A KISS" in 1960 (backed with Carl Perkins' L-O-V-E-V-I-LL-E) made top ten in Sydney. Shortly after, he tried his hand in America and one single for Dot (BILLY BLUE SHOES). Returning home in 1963 he continued recording for CBS under producer Sven Libaek, his first effort being a fine version of Ronnie Self's AINT I'M A DOG. By 1964 he had joined forces with surf instrumental kings (turned R & B powerhouse) The Atlantics

By 1966-67, Johnny was singing unaccredited on The Atlantics extraordinary 'punk' singles for Festival. He finished the decade off with some moderately interesting Ramrod label issues under his own name and spent most of the early seventies overseas. Johhny Rebb died on July 28, 2014.

This compilation was released on Canetoad Records.

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