Johnny Cooper, ‘The Māori Cowboy’

Johnny Cooper, hero of early New Zealand rock’n’roll, died earlier this month in Lower Hutt, aged 85.

Born in 1929, Cooper grew up on an isolated farm near Wairoa. He was gifted a ukulele by his uncle, who played saxophone in a Gisborne dance band. He began playing along to 78s, and would play in woolsheds to entertain the shearing gangs.

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Johnny Cooper in the early 1950s.
Source: Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: PAColl-10069-18-08

Cooper won a scholarship to attend Hawkes Bay’s illustrious Te Aute college. After attending for a time, Cooper was desperate to leave. However, his elders were insistent that he stay in school. So Cooper boarded the train to return to school from Wairoa, and instead stayed on-board and ran away to Wellington. This resulted in Cooper being disowned by his parents: “They said, you’re on your own.”

Cooper stayed in a boarding house and got a job at Karori cemetery. On Sunday nights he sang at cinemas and suburban halls. He dug graves during the day, and met bass-player Willy Lloyd-Jones. In 1953 they formed The Ridge Riders with guitarist Ron James and Don Aldridge on steel. The group wore cowboy style outfits and became known at talent quests and live shows on radio, with appearances in Wanganui and at Linton and Waiouru.

On Sundays they recorded in Alan Dunnage’s Island Bay studio, inside an old shop. A duet by Cooper became the number one 78 of 1954; Look What You’ve Done produced a double-sided hit. Cooper had written most of the song in a day: “I heard someone say ‘look what you’ve done’ and thought that was a crazy thing to say, that it would be good to sing something like that.” The song became a continual request for The Ridge Riders: “Shearing shed or anywhere, every party you went to in that period that was all you heard them play.” The song became a well-known Kiwi party song and was famously sung by Jake and Beth Heke in ‘Once Were Warriors’.

In 1955 Cooper started a solo career in rock’n’roll at town hall jamborees. He made New Zealand music history by becoming the first singer outside of the United States to record a rock’n’roll song when he recorded Rock Around the Clock with a group of Wellington jazz men at HMV’s Lower Hutt studios in 1955. As a country singer, Cooper had originally balked at the idea of recording a rock’n’roll track, and had said “What’s this rubbish? I’m not singing that.” Within a year Cooper was touted as the “undisputed king of rock’n’roll whose record sales are now far in excess of a hundred thousand.” Cooper also recorded New Zealand’s first original rock’n’roll song, Pie Cart Rock’n’Roll in 1955.

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F W Larcombe Ltd. Harry Fagin proudly presents New Zealand tour Variety round up, headed by Johnny Cooper, H.M.V. recording and television star. Johnny Cooper rocks ’em! Regent Theatre Greymouth, Wed Thurs Fri Oct 2, 3, 4. Larcombe Print [1957]. [Posters collected by Charles Cabot, for variety, comedy, and music-hall shows and performances in New Zealand. 1950-1959].. Ref: Eph-E-CABOT-Variety-1957-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22699643

Cooper’s musical talent saw him travel around the world, leading three concert tours during the 1950s to entertain Kiwi troops in Japan and Korea.

In 1957, The Ridge Riders drifted apart and Cooper started holding talent shows around small towns, including Give It A Go! Through this, he coached some of New Zealand music’s well-known names, including rock’n’roll idol Johnny Devlin, Midge Marsden (who played in Bari and the Breakaways) and the Formulya, whose song Nature was to be judged the greatest New Zealand rock song of all time.

Cooper moved into entertainment promotion in the 1960s. Good friend and fellow musician Midge Marsden says he did not so much fall from the limelight as ease himself into the shadows. “His private life was exactly that – private.”

Cooper, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, died at his home early in September.

Neighbours of Johnny Cooper knew him as a friendly pillar of the community, who tidied the area and mowed lawns for free. Friends knew him as a warm, modest and humble man, and hold many fond memories.

Syndetics book coverBlue smoke : the lost dawn of New Zealand popular music, 1918-1964 / Chris Bourke.
“Bringing to life the musical worlds of New Zealanders both at home and out on the town, this history chronicles the evolution of popular music in New Zealand during the 20th century. From the kiwi concert parties during World War I and the arrival of jazz to the rise of swing, country, the Hawaiian sound, and then rock’n’roll, this musical investigation brings to life the people, places, and sounds of a world that has disappeared and uncovers how music from the rest of the world was shaped by Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders into a melody, rhythm, and voice that made sense on these islands. The accompanying audio CD wonderfully brings to life the engaging text, underscoring seminal moments in New Zealand’s musical history.” (Syndetics summary)

Early rock & roll from New Zealand. Vol. 5 & 6.

Pie cart rock ‘n’ roll : New Zealand rock ‘n’ roll 1957-1962.

Waiata : Maori showbands, balladeers & pop stars.

New Zealand Music Month Events This Week

NZMM2014_RGB_VertTo celebrate New Zealand Music Month we’re hosting a series of free performances with fantastc Wellington Musicians.
This week we have events in Newtown and Central, here’s the low-down:

Thursday 22nd 12pm at CENTRAL LIBRARY
Amiria Grenell plays in the Young Adult area.

Friday 23rd 5pm at CENTRAL LIBRARY
Andy Gibson plays in the Young Adult area.

Friday 23rd 7pm at NEWTOWN LIBRARY
A re-united Harriet and The Matches (Amiria Grenell/Jessie Moss) play the Newtown Library.

Talk: Pixie Williams, The Voice of Blue Smoke

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Pixie Williams, c1951

If you haven’t already, come along to the Central Library to see our Pixie Williams: The Voice of Blue Smoke display – it is looking (and sounding!) fabulous.

To round up the display, we will be having a talk on Tuesday 1 October at 6pm. Chris Bourke, author of Blue smoke : the lost dawn of New Zealand popular music, 1918-1964, will be speaking on the significance of Pixie Williams and Ruru Karaitiana’s hit ‘Blue Smoke’; New Zealand’s first pop song. Come along and learn more about the iconic New Zealand track and the woman behind it, as well as the city at the centre of the song’s production – Wellington in 1948.

Syndetics book coverBlue smoke : the lost dawn of New Zealand popular music, 1918-1964 / Chris Bourke.
“Bringing to life the musical worlds of New Zealanders both at home and out on the town, this history chronicles the evolution of popular music in New Zealand during the 20th century. From the Kiwi concert parties during World War I and the arrival of jazz to the rise of swing, country, the Hawaiian sound, and then rock’n’roll, this musical investigation brings to life the people, places, and sounds of a world that has disappeared and uncovers how music from the rest of the world was shaped by Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders into a melody, rhythm, and voice that made sense on these islands. The accompanying audio CD wonderfully brings to life the engaging text, underscoring seminal moments in New Zealand’s musical history.” (Syndetics summary)

You can place a reserve on Pixie’s album, Pixie Williams: For the Record, below:
For the record : the Pixie Williams collection, 1949-1951.

New Classical Music in October

October’s classical music picks feature a Spanish cello and guitar duo, some never before recorded New Zealand organs, a unique juxtaposition of Bach and Cage, and other quirky and exciting recordings that have recently graced our shelves!

Cover ImageA lesson in love. (CD)
“English lyric soprano Kate Royal devised this stunning collection, which charts the journey of a young girl’s relationship: from the first kiss and thrill of a blossoming love and initial intimacy through to the joy of a love fulfilled, to the disappointment and anger when the relationship breaks down, and ends with the girl’s acceptance and a cheeky sense of optimism about what her future love life might hold. The result is a unique song cycle – a thematic journey through the highs and lows of love, of young naivety lost and emotional maturity gained. Royal leads us through her own personal choice of song, where her innate sense of drama and her passion for musical storytelling brings a fresh and youthful interpretation of the disc repertoire. A Lesson in Love contains a mixture of well-known songs as well as some surprising rarities, with a range of song styles and languages to appeal to a broad audience.” (adapted from amazon.com product description)

Cover imageSinfonie Nr. 1, c-Moll, Urfassung 1865/66 (Linzer Fassung) / Anton Bruckner. (CD)
“With Bruckner’s first four symphonies, Simone Young follows in the footsteps of Georg Tintner in trusting the original text. She has already recorded Sym. 2-4, so this new Sym. #1 completes the mission. In all these early symphonies Young has done well. She has a natural feeling for Bruckner’s long line and doesn’t lapse into episodic music-making even when the work itself tends to be disjointed. Young is so light and fresh in her approach to this formative work, which straddles the worlds of Schubert and mature Bruckner, that even when you recognize the primitive nature of the development sections, listening is pleasurable” (amazon.com review)

Cover imageBachCage (CD)
“A young musician and composer causing a stir, not only on the club scene, but also in classical concert venues is probably a world-first. Tristano’s idiosyncratic and very personal handling of his musical pioneers, Bach and Cage. Perhaps Tristano is one of the first representatives of a new generation of musicians who no longer belong to a specific school. This generation also takes advantage of the fact that practically the whole repertoire of all music ever recorded is available on the Internet. The most diverse kinds of music stand alongside each other, taken out of their typical context and available in some would say, a more democratic form. Tristano makes use of this, stamping his mark on the world of music and providing a fresh and unique sound, unlike anything that has been heard before.” (adapted from amazon.com description)

Cover ImageIbérica (CD)
“The highly acclaimed French cellist Anne Gastinel collaborates with virtuoso Argentine guitarist Pablo Márquez in a delightful release exploring the passion and soul of Spanish music. The follow up to her successful Schubert Sonatas and Bach Suites albums sees Gastinel select the pieces and arrange them for cello. The recording includes Spanish Classical music standards by Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla and Gaspar Cassadó. Anne Gastinel records exclusively for Naïve, each new release is hailed by the international press and showered with awards. Achievements include: French Classical Music Awards ‘Most Promising Young Talent 94’ and ‘Best Recording of the Year’; ‘Fnac’ Prize 1995 and 2000; Prix de l’Académie du Disque; RTL Classique d’Or 1996 and 1998; the “Choc” du Monde de la Musique, Télérama (1998, 2000, 2001, and 2002). Pablo Márquez’s recordings for ECM New Series and Kairos have received numerous awards, including the Grand Prix du Disque de l’Acedémie Charles Cros, the Amadeus Prize. Personnel: Anne Gastinel (cello), Pablo Márquez (guitar)”  (amazon.co.uk description)

New Zealand organ music (CD)
“This groundbreaking recording features organ music by some of New Zealand’s most talented composers recorded on a variety of significant instruments around Wellington, performed by Richard Apperley, Assistant Director of Music at the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul. Apperley says ‘this disc is largely a response to the devastating effect of the Christchurch earthquakes on so many churches and organs in the city. Whilst we can do little to protect the organs of Wellington should we experience a similar tragedy, it seems prudent to make a permanent audio recording of some of our finest instruments. The music of New Zealand composers has long been a passion of mine, and I’m thrilled to be able present a disc of this nature.’ The organs include those at the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, Sacred Heart Cathedral, St Peter’s Willis Street, St James’ Presbyterian Newtown, St Paul’s Lutheran Church and the National War Memorial. Of particular significance is the Norman and Beard instrument at St James’ Presbyterian church – the building is due to be demolished later this year due to earthquake risk.”  (adapted from Publisher’s description)

Hikoi / Nunns & Dyne. Journey / Nunns, Dyke, Lisik. (CD)
“Two gorgeously textured and sonically stunning works featuring some of New Zealand’s finest jazz musicians and ethnomusicologists. The first work, Hikoi, is a group of improvised dialogues between Richard Nunns playing taonga puoro and Paul Dyne, head of jazz at Wellington’s New Zealand School of Music, on bass. The second work, Journey, which is based upon Hikoi’s improvisations and composed by Dave Lisik, is a work for taonga puoro, bass, piano, tenor sax and electronics. ” (adapted from CD liner notes)

Wanted: Stories of New Zealand women 1820 to 1890

Follow my tears posterDo you have stories of women in your family who lived in New Zealand in the 1800’s?  If so, we want to hear from you!
New Zealand singer-songwriter Rachel Dawick is collecting stories from all over New Zealand, which will then be used to create a new album of songs and a national resource for libraries.

“Researching into the songs written in the 1800s in NZ revealed a large gap in terms of those by women. It was a musical history dominated by men and therefore providing only half a story. If there weren’t the songs then the next best thing would be to discover the stories and write the songs myself.”
Rachel Dawick.

Write down the stories and drop them into your local Wellington City Libraries branch by 18 May or email them to us at enquiries@wcl.govt.nz
with  ‘Rachel Dawick Stories’ in the subject line. Please note that stories provided to us are unable to be returned.

nzmmFrom 14 April – 14 June, Rachel will also be travelling throughout New Zealand, performing in local libraries, while she collects the stories.

You will get your chance to see Rachel perform in Wellington when she will be giving two free live performances on Wednesday 18 May at Central Library (12-1pm) and Ruth Gotlieb Library, Kilbirnie (3.30-4.30pm).

Want to have a listen before the event?  Check out Rachel’s previous albums on our catalogue, or listen to an interview with her via RadioNZ.

follow my tears events

Listen to NZ musician Tama Waipara on our radio show podcast!

Wellington City Libraries has a monthly radio show on Radio Access. For a recent show (27th November, 4.00 – 4.30) we interviewed Tama Waipara, singer/songwriter behind the 2009 release ‘Sir Plus and the Requirements,’ – a beautifully realised concept album rich in pop hooks and delicous arrangements.

Listen to the Tama Waipara interview here

Tama talks generously about his inspirations, lyrics and songs and the 35 minute interview includes 6 songs from his 3 albums so far.
Below are the albums featured in the show:

TAMA2Sir+Plus and the Requirements

2331191Triumph of time

10321441Leaving Paradise