Fifty years ago, that fateful telegram invited JPY to audition for the original Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The show would finally launch his pop career after a few false starts.
On opening night in May 1972, he met music guru Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum, sparking an unlikely friendship. Soon, JPY became a regular guest and part-time host on Countdown.
“I had a healthy disrespect for Molly, as he did for me,” says the 71-year-old, still most famous for his much-loved global hit, Love Is in the Air.
“We just got along really, really well from the beginning. I’ll never forget Molly on the dance floor that night!”
On JPY’s first Countdown appearance, bizarrely dressed in a sailor’s suit to sing his top 10 single, Yesterday’s Hero, he was dragged offstage by a live audience of screaming teen girls. Later, he famously revealed his pal’s secret nickname by introducing a segment with, “Here’s boring old Molly with boring old humdrum!” It stuck.
ABC bosses gnashed their teeth at the mayhem, but viewers loved the irreverent Glaswegian, whose family arrived in Oz on Australia Day in 1962 when JPY was 11. He was working as a sheet metal apprentice when schoolmates persuaded him to sing in their band.
“I never, ever had aspirations to be on stage,” grins the grandfather of three, who recently embarked on a hectic JPY: 50 Years Young – The Anniversary Tour.
“It just wasn’t me. That’s why you see this petrified person in those early clips. I was frozen with fear!”
Along the way, of course there have been doldrums as well as highlights.
“Absolutely, I’ve been down sometimes,” admits the outspoken Men’s Shed Association supporter and mental health advocate.
“Anybody who tells you they haven’t been depressed is telling you a lie. I reckon it’s part of the human condition,” adds JPY, proud host of The Shed Wireless podcast.
“It’s not something to panic about, as long as you recognise it for what it is and get help if you need it. There’s a lot of people you can speak to – Lifeline and places like that are marvellous at what they do.”
He’s a contented bloke, pottering at home on NSW’s Central Coast with Lynette, his partner of 50-plus years.
These days, JPY enjoys fishing at nearby Lake Macquarie, and dropping by his local Men’s Shed for some male companionship.
“I love the whole idea,” says JPY, now an honorary member of the fraternity. “Basically, it was something to get the old b-----d out of the house! I go and have a chat down there every now and then.”
With a stack of happy memories and no big regrets, JPY sums up his remarkable life modestly.
“This sheet metal worker has gone way beyond what he thought would ever happen!”
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If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website.