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Kevin Johnson
Background information
Birth name Kevin Stephen Johnson
Born 1943
Genres rock, folk, country
Occupations singer-songwriter
Years active 1960s–present
Associated acts Col Joye
Website Official website

Kevin Stephen Johnson[1] (born 1943, Rockhampton, Queensland)[2] 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.[3] In Australia, Johnson had a top 20 hit with "Bonnie Please Don't Go" (aka "She's Leavin'") in 1971.[3]


Early years

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.[2] 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.[2] 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.[3] In 1969, he signed with independent label, Sweet Peach.[3] His first hit single "Bonnie Please Don't Go" aka "She's Leavin'" from 1971, peaked at #12 in Melbourne,[4] #2 in Sydney and #15 nationally.[3]

"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.[3] 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.[3] It peaked at #10 in Melbourne,[4] and at #4 on the Australian singles charts.[3] The song was written by Johnson,[1] who became frustrated with his US record label, Dial Records, in Nashville, Tennesee and told them he was about to leave.[5] 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.[5]

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[6]

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.[3] Covers include fellow Australians Col Joye and Digby Richards and international artists such as Mac Davis, Gary Glitter and Tom Jones. Some cover artists, including Mac Davis, leave out the lyric "... I'd never be a star" for a happier ending.[3] Others, like Gary Glitter, leave out the upbeat ending in the Johnson version for a more somber ending.

Johnson re-wrote this song to be "Aussie Rules I Thank You for the Best Years of Our Lives",[1] for the official Australian Football League (AFL) Centenary Song in 1996 and was used as an anthem before AFL games.[3][2]


Johnson formed JAM (Johnson Ashdown McClellan) with Doug Ashdown ("Winter in America" aka "Leave Love Enough Alone") and Mike McClellan ("Song and Dance Man").[6] They have toured around Australia through the 2000s.[7]




  • In the Quiet Corners of My Mind (1969)
  • Rock and Roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life (1974)
  • Man of the 20th Century (1976)[8]
  • Journeys (1978)
  • The Best of Kevin Johnson (1979 compilation)
  • Night Rider (1980)
  • In the Spirit of the Times (1985)
  • The Sun Will Shine Again (1996)
  • Songs from a Troubled World 2006)


  • 1967: Hayman Island
  • 1968: Woman You Took My Life
  • 1970: It Was Good While It Lasted
  • 1971: Bonnie Please Don't Go (She's Leaving) (AUS #15/1971)
  • 1971: All Our Favourite Songs
  • 1973: Rock 'n Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life) (AUS #4/1973; DE #47/1974; UK #23/1975)
  • 1974: Kedron Brook
  • 1975: Man of the 20th Century
  • 1975: Someday Sam
  • 1976: Over the Hills and Far Away
  • 1976: Grab the Money and Run (Charthit in Irland)
  • 1977: All I Ever Needed
  • 1979: Next Plane to New Mexico
  • 1979: Paraguayan Sunset
  • 1980: He Was Just a Boy
  • 1981: Night Rider
  • 1982: Reasons
  • 1984: Hard Act to Follow
  • 1985: Night Comes


  1. ^ a b c and Roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life ""Rock and Roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life" at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). and Roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life. Retrieved 2009-04-01.  
  2. ^ a b c d "Kevin Johnson Biography". Kevin Johnson. Retrieved 2007-09-22.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k McFarlane, Ian (1999). "Encyclopedia entry for 'Kevin Johnson'". Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1864487682. Retrieved 2009-04-01.  
  4. ^ a b Guest, Thomas J. (1991). Thirty Years Of Hits (1960-1990). Collingwood, Melbourne, Australia: M. J. Moloney. ISBN 0-646-04633-0.  
  5. ^ a b "Kevin Johnson - Rock And Roll (I Gave You The Best Years Of My Life)". Where Did They Get that Song?. Retrieved 2009-04-01.  
  6. ^ a b Kruger, Debbie (14 February 2002). "The long run". The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 2007-09-22.  
  7. ^ Chris Spencer. "Doug Ashdown article on HowlSpace". HowlSpace. Retrieved 2007-09-22.  
  8. ^ "Kirk Lorange". Australian Rock Database. Magnus Holmgren. Retrieved 2007-09-22.  

External links


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