Musicians behind NZ's first hit song 'Blue Smoke' to be inducted in Hall of Fame

Music 15/08/2019

The New Zealand Music Hall of Fame is set to welcome the singer, guitarist and song-writer behind the country's first hit song, Blue Smoke.

Earlier today (Thursday 15 August), it was announced that Pixie Williams, Ruru Karaitiana and Jim Carter, who helped kickstart the NZ music industry in the late 1940s, will be honoured at this year's Australasian Performing Rights Association's Silver Scroll awards on 2 October.

Blue Smoke, released in 1949, is recognised as the first record to be produced locally. In two years it sold 50,000 copies and has been covered by several international artists (including Dean Martin).

From Audio Culture's website:

If there is a “big bang” moment in New Zealand’s music history, it was made by the gentlest of melodies. For a delicate song, ‘Blue Smoke’ carries a lot of weight: it marks the real birth of New Zealand’s indigenous record industry.

It was the first song written by a New Zealander to be recorded and manufactured in New Zealand – and released on a New Zealand record label. Most importantly for a pop song, it was a hit, a massive hit. Local sales topped 50,000 copies, and Dean Martin and other luminaries recorded cover versions.

Blue Smoke was written in 1940 by Maori Battalion soldier, Private Ruru Karaitiana, a multi-instrumentalist from Dannevirke, during the Second World War. 

He recalled that one day off the coast of Africa, he was sunbathing on the deck when a sergeant came along, stopped beside him, and looked up: “Look at that blue smoke,” he said, pointing up to the smoke drifting from the funnels. “It’s going the right way – back to New Zealand – and we’re steaming farther from home.”

The song was played live everywhere in New Zealand - at dances, at maraes and at formal occasions. Karaitiana found so much success he went on to write more songs and toured as a musician.

The first NZ music label, TANZA (To Assist New Zealand Artists) was founded, as international producers showed little interest in recording NZ artists, and in 1948 they selected Blue Smoke to be the first track recorded.

That is where Karaitiana met Jim Carter and Pixie Williams, both who were in a top Wellington band at the time, and they went on to record the song together.

For a much more detailed history of this iconic New Zealand song, please visit Audio Culture's website and read their excellent write up on the origins of the song and also the people behind it.

The story has also been reported on by RNZ.