New Year Honours: Johnny Devlin, NZ's Elvis

Johnny Devlin
Member of the NZ Order of Merit

His performances around the country were so popular in the 1950s that screaming women tore his shirts off and he became known as "New Zealand's Elvis Presley".

His debut single Lawdy Miss Clawdy topped the charts and sold more than 100,000 copies, becoming the first gold record awarded in New Zealand.

And now, yet another honour has been bestowed on one of the country's first rock'n'roll stars, Johnny Devlin, who has been made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to entertainment.

Speaking to the Herald from his New South Wales home in Australia last night, Devlin said he was rapt when he found out by way of a letter that he had made the Order just days ago.

"It's exciting. I've got it [the letter] right here in front of me. I feel very, very honoured.

"You don't know why you get these things but I guess they must have realised that I've put a lot of hard work into the entertainment scene since 1958."

The honour was a "fantastic" way to celebrate his 50th anniversary in the entertainment business, which he commemorates this coming month.

Devlin noted personal career highlights as performing for the Beatles' tour in 1964, supporting Abba in a television special, and the standing ovation he received in Auckland in October when he was presented the New Zealand Herald Legacy Award at the New Zealand Music Awards, an honour which saw him become the second inductee to the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame.

"That was something I'll never forget."

The latest honour would be fighting for space, along with the Legacy Award which took "pride of place on my mantelpiece".

"If I keep getting all these awards, I was telling family, I'll have to extend the house," he joked.

Devlin was also proud of selling more than 100,000 copies of Lawdy Miss Clawdy, which he believed remained a record.

His rebellious style, mimicking that of Elvis, provoked outrage from older generations in much the same way as occurred in the United States, but he gained greater acceptance when it was realised he also performed charity shows for hospitals and the intellectually disabled as part of his tours.

He continues to support charities today, performing every Christmas Day for the Exodus Foundation which supports homeless people in Sydney.

Devlin wrote the official song for the 1972 Commonwealth Games, The Games are On. He was awarded a Macquarie Tune Table Award, the Bandstand Award, for his contribution to fostering New Zealand and Australian musical talent.

He continues to write music and plans to release further albums with his band, the Tornadoes.

He intends to spend six months of every year in New Zealand with the band and vows that his music will always be released in New Zealand first.

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