I can still remember when I bought my first guitar Remember just how good the feeling was, put it proudly in my car And my family listened fifty times to my two song repertoire And I told my mum her only son was gonna be a star Kevin Johnson My parents aspirations for me certainly didn’t go as planned. A sporting career was on the horizon.However, kicking the ball in the wrong direction didn’t enamour me to my footy teammates, and the cricket team said emphatically “don’t come back!” And mum and dad weren’t completely impressed when I bought a guitar and grew long hair, as I set my sights on the footlights and joined the rock ’n’ roll fraternity. It was certainly a different lifestyle, and I lived it for almost two decades, before deafness brought it all to an end.
“You Are My Sunshine” didn’t have much in common with “Mash Potata Yeah”, but it was the original seed that planted my music career many years ago. I was fascinated watching my uncle George as he strummed his ancient Gibson guitar to the rhythm of the tunes of the day at family gatherings. When I was fourteen I cajoled my father into buying a musical instrument. It was a steel guitar, as my father wanted me to be able to play ‘Hawaiian Music’ - his favourite genre. So, as a budding muso, I joined the Victorian Banjo Club for lessons. But it was the sound of a rock band rehearsing upstairs that caught my attention, and I would skip lessons and go and watch the band - it was there that I fell in love with the bass guitar. So, it was back to dad for another guitar, a Maton Safire bass - cherry red. For lessons I found my way to the ‘Melbourne Music School’.
I studied hard. My teacher was impressed, and he arranged an audition for me with a real live working band. Phase 11 (two). That little band was together for almost two years. We were a hard working band, and eventually we picked up a manager who had the right ‘connections’ We started playing at all the big dances In Melbourne and country Victoria. We had the wonderful experience of backing some of Australia’s biggest stars of the era. Including: Ronnie Burns, Pat Carroll, Denise Drysdale and Marty Roan. We scored appearances on Channel Ten’s Saturday morning show ‘Uptight’. And I was thrilled when we were second billing to Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs at Broadmeadows Town Hall - a ten band shindig!
Eventually Phase 11 broke up and I branched out to more sophisticated music - trying my hand at Modern Jazz. I met a double bassist by the name of Garry Costello, probably, at the time the leading bass player in the country, He took me on as a student. And I learnt more about music in the two months I studied with him than in the previous sixteen years!
But my world fell apart when deafness struck.
My sudden descent into deafness was a deep psychological blow. I took to drinking heavily and became a recluse. For three years I lived the life of a hermit in my Burnside Village unit, unable to come to terms with my situation. As a consequence, I developed Diabetes 2. That event was what woke me up. I finally realised I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and take control of my life. I trained hard and beat Diabetes - I don’t have it anymore. Serendipity arrived in the form of a Cochlear Implant operation which was a resounding success. And to a degree I have beaten deafness as well.
Today I’m back on the music highway, although not as I once was. Band work is out of the question, but as a solo performer, the music beckons. I’m a third year piano student at this wonderful school and have a great music teacher - Mary. I may never reach my goal. But I’m enjoying the journey immensely.
Rock and roll, I gave you all the best years of my life All the crazy lazy young days, all the magic moon-lit nights