27 Jun 2019

Blue Smoke: Warm memories of NZ's first pop hit 70 years on

11:40 am on 27 June 2019

New Zealand's first-ever pop song, Blue Smoke, is being remembered 70 years on since its creation.

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John Shears, 90, worked on the original recording of Blue Smoke from start to finish. Photo: RNZ / Jonathan Mitchell

Blue Smoke was the mastermind of Dannevirke man Ruru Karaitiana in May 1940, before Pixie Williams' rendition was released in June 1949 and became an instant hit.

A ceremony - filled with lots of music - to remember the pair was held in Wellington at the National Library last night.

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Photo: Supplied

Seventy years ago Ms Williams recorded Blue Smoke in a studio in central Wellington.

History was being made. Blue Smoke is recognised as the first record to be produced locally - from recording to pressing.

It was released under the New Zealand owned label - TANZA - To Assist New Zealand Artists.

Nine years earlier, Ruru Karaitiana wrote the song while aboard a war ship in World War II. It's understood he was off the coast of Africa, when a sergeant said: "Look up and see the blue smoke."

Ninety-year-old John Shears worked on the original recording from start to finish.

"I was assistant to the sound engineer and I was operating the cutting lathe. In those days we had to cut records - none of this stuff that you've got (today)," he said.

That recording went on to sell 50,000 copies and was top of the charts.

"Pixie was not a trained singer - she just had natural Māori voice. She didn't want to do it initially but eventually she said yes," said Mr Shears.

George Boraman's late wife knew Pixie Williams. He spoke about their special bond.

"Well, when I first met her with Jane my wife, Pixie [was] very shy and my wife was very shy and then they established a pattern that I saw time and time again. Whenever they got together they'd sit up talking right through the night and in the morning," he said fondly.

Mr Boraman is a music buff; he has thousands of 78 records spread across a couple of houses.

"It's not the number - it's the quality," he joked. "I've probably got three, or four, or 5000, something like that," he said.

Mr Boraman said he had "quite a few" Blue Smoke records.

Chris Bourke wrote a book about Blue Smoke and New Zealand's early music industry. He joined many others at event at the National Library last night.

Bourke said it was a fitting tribute all these years on. "It's Pixie's performance that took it around the world and people like Dean Martin wanted to record it themselves," he said.

Ruru Karaitiana and Pixie Williams

Ruru Karaitiana and Pixie Williams Photo: Supplied

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