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John Devlin - ‘Satin Satan’ of rock ’n’ roll

Record -
Record - "Hit Tunes" by Johnny Devlin circa 1958, Devlin, Johnny (1938– ), Southern Music, New Zealand. Purchased 2001 with New Zealand Lotteries Grant funds. Te Papa

Rock 'n' roll fever swept New Zealand in the late 1950s – and Johnny Devlin (born 1938) was the country's answer to Elvis Presley. With his flamboyant suits and provocative dancing, the 'Satin Satan' was an instant hit with teens.

But American pop culture provoked 'moral panic' in other circles. Some citizens were aghast at the new music, which caused 'the body to jerk violently at regular intervals'. They also criticised 'cheap and nasty' Hollywood movies that glamorised teen rebellion. Teenagers were even caught having sex in cinemas.

Milk-bar cowboys, bodgies and widgies

'Milk-bar cowboys' were one group causing considerable concern among upright citizens at the time. Pop songs banned from the radio were the anthems of this rowdy bunch. The radio waves were still dominated by safe, sentimental songs, so jukeboxes drew these young people to milk bars. The cowboys imitated American bikie culture by racing along city streets, ironically riding British-made bikes.

Bodgies' shared the milk-bar cowboys' love of rock 'n' roll. Their slicked-back hair, flashy suits, and occasional vandalism drew widespread disapproval. One academic labelled bodgies and their 'widgie' girlfriends a 'cult of exhibitionistic non-conformity'.

© Copyright Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand.