As New Zealand's first major rock and roll star, Johnny Devlin had a major effect on the domestic music scene and etched the way for a musical revolution.
Dubbed the “Wanganui Wailer” Johnny Devlin's unveiling performance at Auckland’s Jive Centre featured an all-Presley repertoire and, although there was a general buzz in the audience before he commenced, no-one was prepared for what was to follow. By the time he completed his set, crowds were screaming and everyone else was in awe and disbelief.
It was then that rock and roll took over the charts, minds and culture of young New Zealand.
Johnny Devlin's first single, Lawdy Miss Clawdy (a version of the Lloyd Price classic sung in an Elvis Presley style) was released in June 1958 and created New Zealand recording history by selling an unbelievable 100,000 copies before it was even played on radio.
It was in fact the first Gold record ever awarded in New Zealand.
One of the first New Zealand rockers to leave local shores Johnny Devlin made his home in Australia after touring the country as part of a Lee Gordon’s Big Show in 1959.
Yet another Kiwi musician and probably the first claimed by the Australian’s as their own, Johnny continued his rock and roll success across the Tasman.
Backed by his high-energy band The Devils, Johnny’s accomplishment in Australia ensured his selection as a support act for The Beatles’ only tour of Australia & New Zealand in 1964.
There are many who say Johnny Devlin was, in fact, Australasia’s greatest rock and roll performer.
As well as his reputation for being a “tigerish” performer Johnny Devlin is also accredited as a successful composer cementing his title of Australasia’s King of Rock and Roll.
Johnny has written hits not only for himself but for others, such as Good Looking Boy for teenage singing star Patsy Ann Noble. He won a gold record for Riding Surfside and Lisa Marie, a double sided instrumental written for the Denvermen.
Johnny Devlin is also internationally recognised as a songwriter having penned songs for American vocalists Eartha Kitt and Theresa Brewer.
As well as recording a number of single hits in the 1950s and 1960s, Johnny recorded several notable albums between 1959 and 1980. In 1985, he toured Australia with the ‘Rock Around the Clock Show’.
His contribution to New Zealand charities in support of Down Syndrome Children is well known. In Wanganui, Johnny Devlin made a significant contribution towards the formation of the town’s War Memorial in the early 60’s.
Other significant achievements were a Macquarie Tune Table Award for having written more successful hit tunes than the Bee Gees in the early 60’s and a Bandstand Award for his contribution to fostering New Zealand and Australian talent.
Proving that you are never too old to rock and roll, Johnny continues to perform throughout New Zealand and Australia with his backing band The Tornadoes.
In August 2006, Johnny Devlin headlined Pacific Entertainment’s Best of the Best tour of New Zealand which included notable New Zealand artists Ray Columbus, Sharon O’Neill, Tom Sharplin, Larry Morris and Shane. Johnny brought the house down at packed houses in 11 cities across the nation.
Johnny and The Tornadoes have recently returned to the recording studios and recorded a number of brand new tracks for Johnny’s forthcoming appearances in New Zealand. Among them are Rock Around the Clock recorded to mark the song’s 50th anniversary of topping the charts throughout Australasia. and I Was the One, a Johnny Devlin original and dedicated as a tribute to Elvis Presley, Johnny’s idol since 1957.
In October 2007, Ode Records released a digitally remastered CD of Johnny’s 1958/59 Prestige tracks in New Zealand. The album will be distributed by MGM in Australia in September 2008.
Johnny is still regarded as an icon of the Australasian entertainment industry and is held in high regard by his peers and contemporaries. The Recording Industry Association of New Zealand honoured Johnny in October 2007with New Zealand’s first ever “Legacy Award” at this year’s New Zealand Music Awards in recognition of the enormous impact Johnny had, and in fact still has, as one of New Zealand music’s biggest stars.
In January, 2008 Queen Elizabeth 2 honoured Johnny with a New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours Awards. And in March 2008, Johnny was inducted into the New Zealand Music hall of Fame.