Kiwi guitar great Peter Posa, favorite to many Ni-Vanuatu and whose music is still played by a Tanna man in Port Vila died yesterday, aged 77.
Known as New Zealand’s greatest guitarist, bestselling musician Peter Posa has died.
His death marked “the passing of an era in guitar music,” Gray Bartlett, a fellow guitarist who rivalled Posa’s fame through the 1960s, said.
He died at Waikato Hospital at 12:10pm on Sunday, aged 77, his family said.
Close friend Neil McFarlane said he died peacefully. “Family surrounded Peter when he took his last breath.”
In recent years, friends said the Bible had replaced the guitar as a source of Posa’s happiness. A stroke meant he was no longer able to play guitar like he used to.
“He had a strong faith, that was really important to Peter and that gave him and the family peace,” McFarlane said.
Posa and Bartlett last performed together in 2006. “Unfortunately, he wasn’t well, even then, but he was still great.”
Posa shot to fame in the 1960s and 70s, when he released 28 singles, 15 EPs, 23 albums and was known for his associations with Dean Martin, Chet Atkins, and Herb Ellis.
At the height of his career, Posa was working in some of the world’s most famous music studios. Fijian fans reportedly made him an honorary chief, known as King Peter.
He told Stuff meeting American musicians such as Frank Sinatra, people he had followed as a child, was a highlight of his career.
“[Sinatra] seemed genuinely interested. Dean Martin was standing beside him. I was thrilled, I was a fan of Sinatra when I was a kid. I always had one ear on Hank Williams and the other on Frank,” he said.
With fame, came major challenges for Posa. McFarlane described his life as “a rollercoaster ride”.
“As a youngster, he had a difficult life,” he said. He went onto tour the world. At one point, McFarlane said Elvis Presley’s own band asked Posa why he wasn’t playing guitar with them.
“There’s a sad and good side to his life but he was a really nice guy, and humble man,” McFarlane said.
A tragic car crash in 1970 kept Posa from recording and touring, for some time. He was plagued with chronic headaches after the crash which he said “wrecked” his neck. It prompted him to slow his life down.
Before the crash, Posa said his commitment to touring had been “crazy” – but he picked up passionate fans around the world.
“From 1962 to 1965 I toured continuously here, Australia and the Pacific Islands … I was young and thought I could conquer the world. It was crazy to even attempt it,” he said.
Even as he slowed down, he remained one of New Zealand’s most successful musicians.
In 2013, he received the Highest Selling Album award at the New Zealand Music Awards. In a room packed with nominees such as Lorde, Aaradhna and Fat Freddy’s Drop, Posa came out on top.
The award recognised the successful release of, White Rabbit: The Very Best Of Peter Posa. The career-spanning retrospective album debuted at number 1 on the New Zealand album chart, where it stayed for six weeks.
His most famous album, White Rabbit, was released in 1963, three years before the start of the first official New Zealand music chart.
Posa’s lifelong dedication to music was recognised in 2008 when he was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
His roots go back to the West Auckland suburb of Henderson where, aged 18, he started his band the Peter Posa Combo.
As the popularity of the band grew he was pulled aside by his government employer who told him it wasn’t a good look for a public servant to be in a band, according to music archive site Audioculture.
One of Posa’s early hits, Wheels, caused Auckland’s Queen St to grind to a halt when 2000 people tried to crowd into a downtown store for one of the musician’s album signings.
As well as being a friend, Bartlett remembered Posa as a trailblazing guitarist who brought the Les Paul style of playing to New Zealand. That style of playing two guitar tracks at a different speed evolved to be what we know now as looping.
Bartlett said he and Posa were often seen as having a “rivalry”, but it wasn’t like that. “Luckily there are a few to carry on, to make sure the guitar is kept as a wonderful instrument in New Zealand,” he said.
It was under music label Viking records that Posa would soar to his highest peaks of popularity. He released White Rabbit under the label and toured the United States, Australia, and the South Pacific under their banner.