The Smoke’s slight, long-haired guitarist Brett Tauri left home at 15, got his own flat (not yet the teenage rite of passage it would become), learnt one of the new instruments of teen rebellion (the bass) and grew his hair long, copping the usual redneck flak around town.
At 16, Tauri hit out for America, playing guitar on a cruise ship headed for San Francisco, where he scored a slot as a guitarist in a club band. He returned to New Zealand in 1965, bringing with him an early Gibson fuzzbox, a pre-1966 Fender Strat and a rare Gibson 335 gold-topped fretless bass.
Tauri joined Shapes of Things, who, as their Yardbirds derived-name implied, were a raucous R&B band that gigged around Auckland. They secured a Palmerston North residency before breaking up in early 1966 after 15 months together. After the breakup Tauri spent a brief period in New Plymouth’s Rex and the Roadrunners, then returned to Auckland.
He didn’t have to look far for his next musical partners. Behind his parent’s Te Koa Rd, Panmure fence was the Nixon residence. Tauri’s sister, Jenny, was married to Roly Nixon, a veteran of South Auckland groups, including The Size Five with Len Monk on bass and stand-up drummer Lester Dempster, who’d been playing bands since 1965, most recently in the (other) Size Five. The group was completed by 19-year-old singer Ray Nixon.
Tauri had two amps jacked up in series, one to distort the hell out of the signal and the other to boost the distorted sound.
The newly christened Smoke played their first show at the infamous Battle of the Bands at the Auckland Town Hall in January 1967, when a bogus Australian promoter skipped with the proceeds and the prizes.
The Smoke attracted the attention of local promoters, identical twins Keith and Kevin Prohl, who set them up with South Auckland residencies at the Tudor Lounge in Glen Innes, Glen Innes Intermediate School and the Point England Presbyterian Church Teen Rages.
New manager Fred Brown was a salesman at the Otahuhu Begg's Music Store, a well-known chain store of the era that Tauri showcased Fountain Thunderbird 55 Combo amps for. Brown ushered the band into Astor Studios to record two Tauri compositions.
Their producer was one of the best, Wahanui Wynyard, and the songs were outstanding. So they did it live. Tauri had two amps jacked up in series, one to distort the hell out of the signal and the other to boost the distorted sound.
‘No More Now’ was one of the Smoke’s rave numbers, a loosely structured, semi-improvisational jam. The topside, the tightly structured ‘Never Trust Another Woman’, is a classic beat ballad with a hard R&B backbone, psychedelic backwards guitar and a biting lyric sung by the rapidly maturing voice of Ray Nixon. They were polished stage favourites and they recorded well enough for Astor Studios to whisk them off to RCA Victor in Wellington for consideration.
The response was positive and the Smoke returned to the studio in March 1967 to re-dub the harmonies. The original demo recordings were used as the musical backing as RCA Victor didn’t want the natural sound lost.
‘No More Now’ sold well in the Auckland area, gaining the band a lot of work. It also made good ground in the Dunedin and Christchurch charts, and sold well in the United States, England and Germany, where it had good radio play on Radio Berlin.
Unbeknown to the band, the ‘No More Now’ photo session involved the presence of a nude model called Christine. Roly explains: “It was the photographer’s idea, and the wives and girlfriends had to stay outside. To stop them coming up the stairs, he locked the doors, but they found out about it afterward. They said they wouldn’t have minded if they’d been able to come up, but objected to the underhanded way it was done.” Exit married men Roly and Len.
Lawrie Opai (bass), late of The Green and Yellow, and Peter Sanford (organ, guitar) were the new Smoke recruits. Sanford’s Jansen Transonic organ added another dimension to The Smoke’s sound, allowing them to play the songs of the rising crop of organ based groups such as the Spencer Davis Group, The Small Faces and Procol Harum, in amongst their "pop" Hendrix, Deep Purple and Cream numbers.
Opai, an excellent bass player, added more drive to the sound, but on reflection, Lester Dempster thinks they lost something in the transition. “Our overall sound became fuller and more versatile, but we lost that sexy unique guitar sound.”
The Smoke played the second Auckland Battle of the Bands at the Auckland YMCA to a raucous collection of fans from their South and East Auckland strongholds. Down south, the band ruled, playing a residency at Otara’s Hacienda Club, and in Manurewa. They featured at the big Blast Off ‘68 show at the Auckland YMCA with Larry’s Rebels, and over on the North Shore, at the Surfside, and Takapuna RSA Hall.
C’Mon ‘68 put them on the box. The band wasn’t allowed to play the wild ‘No More Now’, instead opting for The Who’s ‘Boris The Spider’ and Chicago Transit Authority’s ‘I’m A Man’.
The Smoke returned to Astor Studios in late 1968 to record their follow-up single, a version of Procol Harum’s Someone ‘Following Me’, together with a third quality Tauri composition, ‘Control Your Love’, which featured a swinging dance beat, wild Tauri guitar, and a reflective lyric. They played one final Northland tour with Larry’s Rebels, with Earle White drumming. Then, like their name, they were gone.
Brett Tauri played in several bands in New Zealand thereafter, including The Byble, before shifting across the Tasman where he worked as a session guitarist well into the 21st Century.
Lester Dempster - drums
Len Monk - bass
Roly Nixon - guitar
Lawrie Opai - bass
Peter Sanford - keyboards
Brett Tauri - guitar, vocals
Earle White - drums
Ray Nixon - vocals
The Smoke were initially called Freddy Foo and The Creepers. It didn't last.