Johnny Cooper Profile

aka Johnny Tahu Cooper, The Māori Cowboy
Chris Bourke
5 Sep 2014

New Zealand’s rock and roll pioneer was a cowboy at heart. Although in rock histories Johnny Cooper is praised for making NZ's first rock and roll recording, a cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, his most significant release was a self-penned country song, ‘Look What You've Done’.

Cooper had a busy, varied career. In the early 1950s, before he ever heard the words “rock and roll”, he recorded several country 78s. He toured Korea three times as an entertainer for the New Zealand troops. He wrote what is regarded as the first original New Zealand rock and roll song to be recorded, ‘Pie Cart Rock and Roll’.

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Members of the New Zealand Concert Party Tour in Tokyo, 1956 (l to r) Johnny Cooper, Jean Kirk-Burnnand, Stewart Gordon, Pat McMinn and John Reidy.
Photo credit: National Library of New Zealand Ref: PAColl-10069-2-06
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Johnny Cooper introduces the next contestant
Photo credit: National Library of New Zealand Ref- PAColl-10069-11-18.jpeg
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From the movie The Seekers, Manu Rere was the second Johnny Cooper single to be released, although it was the first to be recorded
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The May 1956 retail flyer for Johnny Cooper's See You Later Alligator single
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Johnny Cooper's crowd in Gisborne, 1959
Photo credit: Gisborne Photo News
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 Johnny Cooper and band in the mid-50s: Will Jones, Jim Gatfield, Johnny Cooper, Ron James and Don Aldridge
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Johnny Cooper and band in Gisborne, 1959: Monte Greening, Jim Waikato, Melvin Walsh, Johnny Cooper and Elliot Beaumont
Photo credit: Gisborne Photo News
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Johnny Cooper and band in Gisborne, 1959
Photo credit: Gisborne Photo News
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Johnny Cooper and Toby Twilight from Whakatane
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Johnny Cooper's show comes to Greymouth in 1957
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Johnny Cooper and band at the Labour Ball, Wellington Town Hall, 25 July 1953
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Rock Around The Clock
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An advert for the May 1956 single (with Don Richardson's Festival Five) See You Later Alligator
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The New Zealand Concert Party at the 5th Royal Tank Regiment in Korea: Jean Kirk Burnard, John Reidy, Pat McMinn and Johnny Cooper
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Johnny Cooper and writer/historian John Dix with friends, 1990
Photo credit: John Dix collection
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Rock Around The Clock, released in September 1955, it was the very first rock and roll record released outside the US and was issued in New Zealand before the Bill Haley version
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Johnny Cooper and group in front of a touring Overland Crusier in the 1950s
Photo credit: National Library of New Zealand PAColl-10069-21-09.jpg
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Entrepreneur Johnny Cooper entices contestants and budding artist to his talent quest - probably 1958
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Johnny Cooper and Pat McMinn entertaining in the mess, Korea
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Johnny Cooper
Photo credit: National Library of New Zealand Ref: PAColl-10069-11-06
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The 1957 78rpm single Pie Cart Rock And Roll, the first locally written rock and roll song released
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Jimmy Carter performs a solo
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Johnny Cooper and The Range Riders
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Blackberry Boogie
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Released in early 1956, the 10-inch LP Rock And Sing With Johnny Cooper was the first HMV album released in New Zealand by a local artist
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Johnny Cooper and Don Richardson at the Wellington Town Hall
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Lloyd Jones and Ron James from the Johnny Cooper band
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Flyer for Johnny Cooper's last single, in 1968, Cold Cold Heart b/w Break The World In Two
Photo credit: National Library of New Zealand Eph C MUSIC Cooper 1968-01
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Don Aldridge from the Johnny Cooper band
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A 1957 tour advert in the programme for the NZ amateur boxing championships,
Regent Theatre, Greymouth, advertising shows in that theatre in October. Oddly the days in October that year do not match the dates.
Photo credit: Adam Gifford collection
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Johnny Cooper and Jim Garfield
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The Breakaways on Johnny Cooper's Talent Show, Masterton 1965
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Alan Dunnage of Sonic Studios, where Johnny Cooper first recorded
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Johnny Cooper and band in the mid 1950s
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Johnny “The Māori Cowboy” Cooper - Holmes show 1990, story by Dylan Taite
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One By One, a duet with Margaret Francis, was amongst HMV's biggest selling singles of the 50s and sits in the Top 3 sellers by a New Zealand artist ever, with some 80,000 singles sold
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The Breakaways back Howard Morrison on Johnny Cooper's Talent Show, Masterton 1965
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List of some of the finalists for the £100 Talent Quest, 1965
Photo credit: National Library of New Zealand Ref- MS-Papers-11447-21.jpeg
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HMV


Impact

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Trivia:

'Pie Cart Rock And Roll' was used as the name of a 2003 New Zealand compilation, although the compilers revisited the name of the 1957 single slightly as 'Pie Cart Rock'n'Roll'