Sad news, one of New Zealand’s rock’n’roll pioneers – Johnny Cooper (“The Maori Cowboy”) has died, aged 86.
Cooper retired in the 1990s and lived a reclusive life. Despite the early stages of Alzheimer’s he remained independent until the end, living along in a flat in Lower Hutt.
Cooper was born and raised in Hawke’s Bay and was seen and heard performing around Wellington in the late 1940s. He adopted country garb and had a repertoire of country and western material that saw him signed to HMV in 1952 where a string of country hits soon followed. In 1955 he recorded his own version of Rock Around The Clock and two years on he’d recorded his own composition, Pie Cart Rock’n’Roll. He had created New Zealand’s first original song in that rock’n’roll genre.
From there Cooper became a promoter and talent-spotter, introducing via his Give It A Go talent quest, Midge Marsden and Johnny Devlin among others.
Cooper might seem a footnote these days – but he was crucial to the development of rock’n’roll and popular music in New Zealand.
My thanks to John Dix, custodian of many important New Zealand music stories, for forwarding a brief bio with the sad news of Cooper’s passing.