Bebek was born in Sarajevo to Bosnian Croat parents. He showed an early interest in music, entertaining his mother's guests by singing songs he heard on the radio. He also experimented with harmonica, but abandoned it in third grade of primary school as he wanted to play guitar and sing along. His teacher, however, discouraged such intentions so Željko ended up playing mandolin instead. He soon became the school's best mandolin player and was allowed to play guitar as a reward.
At age 16, Bebek entered his first band Eho 61, which operated as a school activity for musically inclined students of Sarajevo's 2nd gymnasium. A couple of years earlier, the same band featured Kornelije Kovač who would later also go on to become famous musician and composer.
In 1965 Edo Bogeljić invited Bebek to join a cover band he founded called Kodeksi that also featured Ismeta Dervoz on backing vocals and Luciano Paganotto on drums.
Bebek spent the next couple of years singing and playing rhythm guitar with the band, helping them become quite prominent locally. As Kodeksi had perisistent problems filling the bass guitar spot, Bebek recommended young 18-year-old Goran Bregović after seeing him play with Beštije in 1969.
After a falling out with bandmates during the stay in Italy Bebek left Kodeksi in fall 1970 and returned to Sarajevo.
After returning home, Bebek revived Novi Kodeksi with another former member; Edo Bogeljić. The new band had little success, although they broke a record for non-stop playing, on stage for 32 straight hours.
The new year brought more creative stagnation as their repertoire consisted entirely of foreign covers. In December 1971, Bebek received a notice from the Yugoslav Armyto report for the country's mandatory military service and Novi Kodeksi played their last ever show in Sarajevo's Dom mladih. Twenty six years of age at this point, Bebek got married with the intention to settle down and leave the music business altogether.
Just as he was about to report for army duty in early 1972, 26-year-old Bebek received an invitation from Bregović (whom he hadn't spoken to for a year-and-a-half since the split in Italy) to record a song "Patim, Evo, Deset Dana" with newly formed band Jutro. Bebek accepted, recorded as a studio musician, and then left to serve in Pirot.
Discharged from the army, and returning home in March 1973, Bebek joined Jutro in earnest, but took a job as a clerk as a protective measure, as he wasn't yet certain about the band's creative and commercial potential. Jutro did become successful and he quit the government job to again devote to music full-time. Jutro soon transformed into Bijelo dugme, with Bebek as a founding member.
Bebek continued as vocalist and occasional bassist in Bijelo dugme from its inception in 1974. Bebek found himself to be an country-wide celebrity. He ended up spending a full decade with the band before eventually leaving in April 1984 to fully pursue a solo career.
Bebek's solo career actually began in parallel with Bijelo dugme.
In 1978, while Bregović was away serving the army stint and Dugme was on hiatus, Bebek recorded a solo album Skoro Da Smo Istiwith drummer Điđi Jankelić, old friend Edo Bogeljić on guitar and on keyboards. The album was released on 28 July 1978, but failed both critically and commercially as it sold only 6,000 copies and quickly fell into oblivion. Though the band had planned a tour to support the album, their plans quickly got scrapped following the poor public reaction.
In late 1983, just before officially leaving Bijelo dugme he recorded his second solo album Mene Tjera Neki Vrag. The album was released in 1984.
Bebek had a few major hits throughout his 11 album run. Most of his hits had strong folk influence, including "Oprosti mi što te volim", "Da je sreće bilo", "Jabuke i vino", "Sinoć sam pola kafane popio" (with lyrics by Bora Đorđević), "Puca mi u glavu", "Čašu otrova", "Gdje će ti duša", and "Da zna zora".
In 2005 he took part in 3 large farewell concerts of Bijelo dugme. In 2008, Bebek (in collaboration with Alen Islamovic and Tifa Vojicic) formed a Bijelo dugme tribute called B.A.T., which performed on numerous stages around the world between 2006 and 2009. Their 2006 "Kad Bi' Bio Bijelo Dugme" North American tour (together with Okus Meda and Tifa Band), was featured in a documentary titled "B.A.T.: Balkan Rock Nostalgia", (directed by Serb-American filmmaker B. R. Tatalovic). Bebek was one of the three featured performers alongside Alen Islamovic, and Tifa (musician), in a documentary that followed the musicians while they were on tour.
Bebek was born in Bugojno but grew up in Sarajevo. Bebek has been married three times. He has a daughter Silvija from his first marriage, and another daughter Bianca from his second marriage.
From his current, third, marriage with Ružica from Tomislavgrad whom he met in 1997 and soon married, Bebek has a son Zvonimir and daughter Katarina, named after his father and mother.
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- Tatalovic, Branislav R. (2008-2012). Documentary. IMDb. Retrieved 26 February 2012.