By the time he was seven, Posa had started playing the ukulele. While his mates were content with model planes and trains, Peter would scour the family vineyard for suitable pieces of wood to carve or cut into model guitar shapes. His father’s tools weren't safe and neither was his mother’s clothes line wire, which would be cut and unravelled for the strings, with nails banged in on the guitar head for tuning keys.
Posa received his first real guitar on his ninth birthday, a Galatone.
By the time he was 18, he had formed his own band The Peter Posa Combo, quickly a popular West Auckland band adept at playing most styles of music for any type of function.
As their local popularity grew, Posa was called aside by his boss at the New Lynn Public Service office and told in no uncertain terms that playing in bands wasn’t a good look for public servants. If he continued down that path then his chances of promotion would be very slim.
This was the motivation that Posa needed to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional musician and after auditioning for Eldred Stebbing, he was signed to Stebbing’s Zodiac record label in 1960.
Posa’s third single, released in 1961, was his version of ‘Wheels’ (originally by the American band The String-A-Longs), which reputedly went on to sell over 50,000 copies, making it the label’s biggest seller at the time.
2,000 people tried to cram into the Woolworths downtown store where Posa was giving an in-store promotion for the record.
To underline the record’s massive popularity the lower part of Auckland’s Queen Street came to a grinding halt when 2,000 people tried to cram into the Woolworths downtown store where Posa was giving an in-store promotion for the record.
After 11 singles and an album for Zodiac, Posa signed a three-year contract with Viking Records. His second release for his new label was ‘The White Rabbit’ which instantly made Posa a household name in New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and Australia where it was a Top 20 hit.
To capitalise, Posa headlined his own national tour with Bill and Boyd and Max Merritt and The Meteors. A quick succession of hit records followed, including ‘The Mad Hatter’, ‘Grasshopper’, ‘Hitch Hiker’ and ‘Gonk’ – the latter penned by Posa himself.
Viking Records boss Ron Dalton and Posa’s manager Jim Haddleton secured an American release for ‘The White Rabbit’ and arranged for Posa to spend six months there touring, recording and promoting the record. It was an exciting journey for Posa and he was given the opportunity to work in some of the world’s most famous studios, meeting some of the American artists that he most admired, including his hero Chet Atkins.
RCA offered Posa a job as a studio musician at their Hollywood Studio, but he turned down the offer, partly because his work visa was due to expire and but primarily because he was becoming increasingly homesick.
Even though Billboard had given ‘The White Rabbit‘ a B-plus rating, success had been limited in the States due to a lack of promotion by his US label Vee Jay Records, which was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Posa continued to tour New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific, where his popularity continued on the back of a staggering 17 albums, 15 EPs, and 13 singles during his three year Viking period, making Posa our most prolific recording artist during the sixties.
In 1966 Posa returned to Eldred Stebbing’s Zodiac label where he stayed throughout the late Sixties and early Seventies, recording at a more sedate pace.
A car accident in 1970 resulted in long-term health issues for Posa, eventually sidelining his music career, which ground to a halt in the middle of that decade. He would not record again until the end of the 1990s.
Posa’s composition ‘Rose (Can I Share A Bed With You)’ as recorded by Toni Williams achieved gold record status after becoming a hit in 1976.
Posa was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to entertainment in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
In 2012 Sony Music released White Rabbit – The Very Best Of Peter Posa which claimed the No.1 album spot for six weeks, making it the second longest running No.1 album of 2012.
At the 2013 New Zealand Music Awards, Posa took out the award for the biggest selling New Zealand album of 2012-13. Not bad for a catalogue of songs dating back more than 40 years.
After several years of illness, and a stroke, Peter Posa passed away at Waikato Hospital on 3 February 2019. A year before he died, he mentioned to a friend that, despite the high profile of ‘White Rabbit’, his own favourite song of those he recorded was ‘Terry’. Originally a hit for English popette Twinkle, Posa’s version appeared on the b-side of the single ‘Do You Want To Dance’ which featured his new discoveries at the time, his neighbours The Chicks. It is also on his 1965 LP Beat Guitar, credited to Peter Posa and His Golden Guitar. His Gretsch, Maton and other guitars were certainly golden.
Tributes immediately flowed as news of Peter Posa's death circulated among fans. Among them was guitarist Richard Kennedy (of The Country Flyers and The Drongos), who often performed ‘White Rabbit’ as a solo tribute. He wrote to AudioCulture: “Peter really knew how to squeeze a tune out of a guitar – not easy. Not a spare note in sight, and rarely a blue one. His clean and perky style hooked me from day one. An entertainer in the best tradition.“
Read: Peter Posa, hostage to the beat – a 1998 interview
Posa wrote a track called ‘?’ issued on a Viking single under that name. A radio contest followed to name it. The winning name was Flapjack and under that name it appeared on his next Viking LP.
'White Rabbit' is alleged to have sold 100,000 copies in NZ in the 1960s. If that figure is accurate it puts it in the top 3 selling New Zealand singles in NZ ever (the other two are The Rumour and Johnny Devlin).