Kevin Stephen Johnson (born 1943, Rockhampton, Queensland) is an Australian singer-songwriter, most active in the 1970s, and is best known for his 1973 song "Rock and Roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life", which peaked at #4 on the Australian singles charts. In Australia, Johnson had a top 20 hit with "Bonnie Please Don't Go" (aka "She's Leavin'") in 1971.
Johnson is the only son of Richard Johnson (timber contractor) and Elinor Johnson (post office / telephone exchange operator) and began his singing career in Rockhampton with the Candymen. In the early 1960s he worked for the Queensland Department of Roads as a clerk; playing and singing at night and writing songs in any spare time. Some of his songs came to the notice of rock and roll star Col Joye who signed him to his publishing company. Johnson relocated to Sydney and recorded his first single, "Hayman Island" in 1967 on Joye's ATA label. He followed with "Woman You Took My Life" in 1968 but neither single had any chart success. In 1969, he signed with independent label, Sweet Peach. His first hit single "Bonnie Please Don't Go" aka "She's Leavin'" from 1971, peaked at #12 in Melbourne, #2 in Sydney and #15 nationally.
"Rock and Roll":
Johnson moved to the United States and wrote songs for Tree International for two years while vainly attempting to record his own songs. Johnson's best known song, which charted in several countries, was "Rock and Roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life" in 1973. It peaked at #10 in Melbourne, and at #4 on the Australian singles charts. The song was written by Johnson, who became frustrated with his US record label, Dial Records, in Nashville, Tennessee and told them he was about to leave. Johnson was informed that other artists had already recorded his song, so he quickly recorded and released his own version on the Australian-based Good Thyme label through Festival.
According to a 2002 interview with music journalist, Debbie Kruger:
the song reflected his frustration with his own stagnation, and the futile attempts of Australian artists trying to break into America or England
--Debbie Kruger, 2002
Johnson wrote about a singer recalling his childhood dream of being a star and followed his life through his musical work, with some close breaks until he is faced with the ultimate realisation that he is not destined to become a star. It ends on an upbeat note from the would-be celebrity proclaiming "I thank the lord for giving me the little that I knew".
According to rock music historian, Ian McFarlane, it is one of the most covered songs written by an Australian with 27 different artists recording it in 1975 alone. Covers include fellow Australians Col Joye and Digby Richards and international artists such as Mac Davis, Terry Jacks, Gary Glitter, Joe Dassin (in French), The Cats and Tom Jones. Some cover artists, including Mac Davis, leave out the lyric "... I'd never be a star" for a happier ending. Others, like Gary Glitter, leave out the upbeat ending in the Johnson version for a more somber ending. In the U.S., Johnson's single went to #73 on the Billboard singles chart in 1973, Jacks's went to #97 in 1974 and Davis's became the biggest hit, reaching #15 in 1975.
Johnson re-wrote this song to be "Aussie Rules I Thank You for the Best Years of Our Lives", for the official Australian Football League (AFL) Centenary Song in 1996 and was used as an anthem before AFL games. This would be used as the closing theme for the "Foster's Aussie Rules" highlights show in the U.S. for the rest of the 1990s.
Johnson formed JAM (Johnson Ashdown McClellan) with Doug Ashdown ("Winter in America" aka "Leave Love Enough Alone") and Mike McClellan ("Song and Dance Man"). They have toured around Australia through the 2000s.