Welcome to “Original Rock Legends!” To celebrate Geva’s final show this season, the hit musical Million Dollar Quartet directed by Hunter Foster, I’m taking you through a musical journey, uncovering the history behind the songs featured in Million Dollar Quartet.
This week, we’re exploring the legends behind Jerry Lee Lewis’ music:
“Real Wild Child” aka “Wild One”-Recorded 1958, Released 1974 (Original by Johnny O’Keefe, 1958)
Evidently, the British weren’t the only rock stars to invade the US; early rock history indicates a few significant crossover points between the US and Australian rock ‘n’ roll scenes. Johnny O’Keefe’s “Wild One” (released as “Real Wild Child” in the US) is one of the best examples of this back-and-forth musical exchange between the US and Australia.
Johnny O’Keefe, more affectionately referred to as “JOK,” is heralded as Australia’s first national rock star, though his moment of fame remained brief. With the release of his first single, “Wild One,” in the summer of 1958, JOK became the first rock musician to appear on the national Australian Top 40 charts. He was also the first Australian rock star to sign with an international label (US Liberty), and the first to tour the US in 1960.
The Guardian suggests that JOK was inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis when crafting the baseline for “Wild One”—not an implausible hypothesis, since the rock movement began in the US and JOK only had American examples of the genre to inspire his early work. As for the song’s story, JOK’s guitarist in the Dee Jays, Lou Casch, said “Wild One” was inspired by a brawl they encountered while performing in a venue above a wedding party in Sydney.
Though JOK’s career stalled when the Beatles hit the scene, his legacy lives on through his hit single “Shout,” as well as through famous covers of “Wild One,” including Iggy Pop’s 1986 recording (renamed “Real Wild Child”). And even though some doubt whether JOK is rightfully credited as a co-writer of the tune (along with his fellow Dee Jays, Johnny Greenan and Dave Owens), his testosterone-fuelled performance on the number solidified JOK’s place as the “The Wild One” in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Jerry Lee Lewis covered “Wild One” (listed as “Real Wild Child” in Million Dollar Quartet) at Sun Records in 1958, but released the recording in 1974 on Rockin’ And Free, an album full of previously unissued Sun sessions. This highlights another anachronism in Million Dollar Quartet: In the musical, Lewis sings “Real Wild Child” just before Carl Perkins walks into the recording session in 1956, but the song didn’t exist for another two years.
Let’s listen to Johnny O’Keefe’s original “Wild One”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZF9rS90U3-U
By comparison, here’s Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Wild One” cover: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inb1z-qjxIU
Some of you may also be familiar with Iggy Pop’s cover, renamed “Real Wild Child”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=def3ob2h-1s
Thanks for tuning in to “Original Rock Legends!” We’ll be back on Monday with more stories behind the legendary musicians who defined rock ‘n’ roll. This program is sponsored by Geva Theatre Center, where the Million Dollar Quartet comes back to life, LIVE onstage, now through June 25th. Until next time, rock on my friends!