Blue smoke

Blue smoke

The musical score for 'Blue smoke'

New Zealand's first record 

In February 1949 a 78 rpm disc featuring the song ‘Blue smoke’, written by Ruru Karaitiana and sung by Pixie Williams, became the first record wholly produced in New Zealand from composition to pressing. It provided a debut hit-seller for the New Zealand-owned TANZA (To Assist New Zealand Artists) record label.

Karaitiana wrote 'Blue smoke' on the troop ship Aquitania, in 1940 off the coast of Africa, when a friend drew his attention to some passing smoke. During the war he served in the Middle East with the 28th New Zealand (Maori) Battalion. He led the battalion concert party, and he was one of the few survivors of its original 17-member choir. Although it was performed at troop concerts during the war, ‘Blue smoke’ was rejected by London publishers.

Back in New Zealand, he assembled a quintet in 1947. In October 1948, in Wellington, the quintet recorded a version of ‘Blue smoke’ with singer Pixie Williams. The backing music was Hawaiian-style, and the instruments included guitars, ukulele and a lap-steel guitar. Although Karaitiana considered it ‘a poor first effort’, the song topped New Zealand radio hit parades for six weeks, and it sold more than 20,000 copies within a year.

The song attracted strong overseas interest. English duo Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth met Karaitiana and recorded a version. In the United States covers were released by Dean Martin, Al Morgan, Teddy Phillips and Leslie Howard. In 1951 New York music trade magazines described ‘Blue smoke’ as one of the major hits of the year – a ‘musical jackpot’ with both jukebox and radio listeners. Dean Martin even phoned Karaitiana from the United States seeking more songs.

In 1952 Karaitiana became the first New Zealander to gain an Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) award of £25 for sales of ‘Blue smoke’ and a later hit, ‘Let’s talk it over’, which sold more than 10,000 copies.

Stanley Dallas

The engineer for ‘Blue smoke’, Stanley Dallas, is credited with being one of the first engineers to record an electric guitar by connecting it directly to the recording equipment, rather than using a microphone. He subsequently engineered numerous other TANZA releases, the most successful of which was ‘Maple on the hill’. This song, by country and western group the Tumbleweeds, was one of New Zealand's biggest-selling singles (about 80,000 copies).


NZ On Screen - Weekly Review no. 407, Blue Smoke:

Community contributions

4 comments have been posted about Blue smoke

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Bob Waters

Posted: 19 Aug 2017

Nice to see George Attridge recognised along with Gerry Hall. Both keen life long Wellington Musicians who were active members of the Local BMG club led by Charlie Roberts. George played a top tension Paragon Standard banjo with flair and a style taken from the Banjo masters. On Blue Smoke he played a second to top grade Aloha Ukulele ( Akai) and relates how softly he had to strum to avoid drowning out the other instruments during recording. George also played guitar and mandolin. Gerry was a masterful solo player of guitar as well as being highly involved with Hawaiian music and highly respected.

Fay Tamaka

Posted: 10 Feb 2016

My mother sung that song blue smoke and she holds the CD today, she is 87. She said at the time the song came out, she said there were 4 different versions of people singing it, for the soldiers during the time of the war, she was 12 at the time when she sung it and it was beautiful hearing a younger version singing it.


Posted: 20 Apr 2015

Am I the only person who has noticed that this song is a poor copy of Carolina Moon?
They would never get away with it these days


Posted: 26 Jan 2010

Am very keen to purchase a recording of Ruru Karaitiana Quintette with Pixie Williams singing Blue Smoke. Any assistance as to how to obtain would be most appreciated