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The story of the Maori Elvis

December 12, 2010

I am especially fond of one photo in the book: Ray Paparoa, the “Maori Elvis” of Pukekohe, which is also featured on the cover. (He is holding the old microphone, just above the yellow “belly band”.) The image has all the dynamism of the Johnny Devlin picture at Auckland’s Jive Centre, as used in John Dix’s Stranded in Paradise. But the perfect stance and stage costume – and his relative anonymity – also reminds me of the great image of Ersel Hickey, the unknown rockabilly star given the frontispiece in the original Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock’n’Roll. The Ray Paparoa photo comes from the Lou Clauson collection at the Alexander Turnbull Library. Clauson was one-half of the music comedy duo Lou & Simon, the Flight of the Conchords of the 1960s.

This week I got a letter from Ray Paparoa’s daughter. Here is an excerpt:

It is a lovely photo of my dad in his younger days, I’m not sure if he had met my Mum.  I think he may have, as Lou and Simon hung out with quite a few people in those days. I heard lots of stories about my dad being the Elvis of Pukekohe, My children think it’s a hoot. They think it’s great that their Poppa’s photo is in a book. My dad passed away in 1986 at the age of 45 to cancer, so I’m sure if he was here today, he would remember the good ole days, which he enjoyed very much. When dad passed I think Lou came to his funeral, and spoke with my mum and her sisters and the aunties. They were a social lot in those days. Mum and my aunties use to sing in a girl group. The Maori Community Centre was another place they use to dance and sing.  My dad still played his guitar as much as he could up till his passing: he always loved to sing …

In a June 1959 article in Te Ao Hou on the Maori contribution to the Auckland entertainment scene in the late 1950s, writer John Berry describes Ray’s ability to “whip up tremendous audience enthusiasm with his Presley-like style and rubber legs.”

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