Johnny Devlin – Nervous Wreck

Sometimes it seems a bit easy to overlook just how much of a nuclear blast upon music worldwide old Elvis Presley really was. What with so many images of overweight Vegas Elvis floating around it’s pretty easy to forget that young budding singers everywhere wanted to be just like him. Now by everywhere, I don’t just mean in the good old US of A, or even the UK, but EVERYWHERE, like Wanganui, a small town in the North Island of New Zealand.

In 1955 young Johnny Devlin was playing a mix of skiffle, country & western & Bill Haley as part of the mainly family filled group the River City Ramblers (Wanganui happens to be by a fairly large river). Enthusiasm amongst his family members for music was diminishing & by 1956 Johnny was left pretty much performing solo. One night Johnny heard Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” on the radio & his life was altered forever. He soon made it his mission to track down every Elvis record he could, learn Elvis’ songs & then start cleaning up local talent shows in & around Wanganui with this new repertoire. At the time, the ranks of authentic Rock & Rollers in New Zealand were pretty thin & Johnny pretty much got to the untapped & willing teenage market first. With actual live performances by Elvis Presley not being a possibility the New Zealand youth market basically went nuts for a piece of Johnny Devlin. In no time he was “discovered” by singer Johnny Cooper, dominated his local North Island market & by early 1958 had relocated to New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland.

The next step was obviously to make a record. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) none of the major NZ record labels wanted anything to do with Devlin’s brand of Presley’s hepped up Rockabilly. In stepped Jazz drummer & budding music industry impresario Phil Warren who wanted to record Devlin for his small Prestige label. In mid-58 Johnny Devlin’s version of Elvis Presley’s version of Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” was Devlin’s debut release. Frenzied teenagers went wild for the 45 & bought it in swarms, Johnny Devlin was a star. Along with success on record came all the trappings of what was Rock stardom, screaming girls mobbing his every public appearance, tearing the shirts off his body & basically becoming a phenomenon for everything youth orientated in late 1950s New Zealand.

“Nervous Wreck” is one of several original compositions Devlin recorded during his run & dates from mid-1959, shortly before Devlin left New Zealand for Australia. Amazingly his New Zealand based superstardom only lasted 12 months, but he left a remarkably consistent & prolific recorded legacy of hot Rock & Roll/Rockabilly music on the Prestige label. His move to Australia in May 1959 was the end of his run as a New Zealand Rock idol, the country would never be the same as New Zealand youths had now seen what was possible for one of their own to achieve.

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