Johnny Devlin: How Would Ya Be (Ode)

 |   |  1 min read

Johnny Devlin: Nervous Wreck
Johnny Devlin: How Would Ya Be (Ode)

I was too young to be swept up in the fervour surrounding Johnny Devlin, New Zealand's first shirt-rippin' stage-ragin' rock'n'roll star.

But my older sister certainly had a Devlin EP -- sponsored by Coca-Cola as I recall -- which I later poured over.

When I think about it though my sister was more into beatnik cool in the late 50s than rock'n'roll, so maybe it was my parents who had the Bill Haley and Jerry Lee Lewis 78s, the copy of Bill Justis' Raunchy (the song which, by playing note perfect, got George Harrison a job in the Beatles) and that Devlin EP.

My favourite Devlin track was Matador Baby, one of his many originals. (What I didn't hear at the time of course was how the sax solo was so jazzy -- because Claude Papesch, like most early rock'n'roll musicians in New Zealand, came from that background.)

Of course mostly Devlin covered American rock'n'roll songs -- notably Lawdy Miss Clawdy which was a massive hit for him -- and so earned the reputation as the Kiwi equivalent to Elvis.

In retrospect however -- as this superb compilation allows -- Devlin's choice of material was more edgy than Elvis' and his tough-minded material puts him closer to the rebel spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Titles alone tell of the attitude: I Got A Rocket In My Pocket, You're Gone Baby, Real Wild Child (the Johnny O'Keefe song covered by the Crickets and more recently Iggy Pop), Cast Iron Arm, Gotta Lotta That . . .

Compiled with typical care by John Baker (short essay, great photos, the disc replicating an old Prestige label single), this is proof that New Zealand had a thrilling homegrown rock'n'roll star, and that the Devil -- and Devlin -- had the best tunes.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Music at Elsewhere articles index

Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victime (Matador/digital outlets)

Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victime (Matador/digital outlets)

Remarkably, it has been more than 15 years since Elsewhere started to write about what has been called “desert blues” or “Sahara blues” out of the Tuareg (and beyond)... > Read more

Anna Coddington: Luck/Time (Loop)

Anna Coddington: Luck/Time (Loop)

If the Volume exhibition at the museum in Auckland shows us nothing else it is that – from Fifties rock'n'roll to contemporary r'n'b – New Zealand musicians have been adept at... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Louisiana Shrimp Etoufee

Louisiana Shrimp Etoufee

In my travel book Postcards from Elsewhere I write about being in cajun country in Louisiana where the bayou seems mysterious and the food is exceptional. That chapter about Breaux Bridge and... > Read more

BURN YOUR BRIDGES. BURN YOUR BRIDGES, CONSIDERED (2003): The phlegm and the fury

BURN YOUR BRIDGES. BURN YOUR BRIDGES, CONSIDERED (2003): The phlegm and the fury

As regular readers will know this column happens when I pull an album off the shelf at random and sit down to give it some consideration. It's in the random nature that sometimes it might be an... > Read more