Jim Carter

Jim Carter played the first notes on New Zealand’s first home-grown hit record. In October 1948 he coaxed the ethereal, slow-waltz introduction to ‘Blue Smoke’ out of his lap-steel guitar. He died in 2022, aged 103, enjoying music to the end.

On ‘Blue Smoke’ Carter’s variation to Ruru Karaitiana’s simple melody establishes a plaintive atmosphere for the singer Pixie Williams. The recording became the debut release for Tanza, New Zealand’s first indie label, and was a massive local hit, selling over 50,000 copies on 78rpm disc. 

Pixie Williams (far right) with, from left, musicians Doug Brewer, Bill Hoffmeister, Jim Carter, Keith Willet and Russ Laurence. The women from the audience are unknown. Wellington, late 1940s.
Released by HMV on 78rpm disc in 1955, ‘One By One’ was Johnny Cooper’s breakthrough hit; on the B-side was his original ‘Look What You’ve Done (Lonely Blues)’. Both songs became singalong favourites at parties throughout New Zealand. Jim Carter played guitar on the sessions.
Liam Finn, Jim Carter with Neil Finn – Nelson, 13 February 2015. Liam, who engineered the Finn/Carter ‘Blue Smoke’ session, feels the weight of Carter’s lap-steel guitar, and is tempted to take up the instrument.
Photo credit: Photo by Chris Bourke
Steel guitar virtuoso Mati Hita, second from left, with the pianist Nicky Smith and June and Jim Carter; Ngati Poneke club, Wellington, early 1950s. Born in Taranaki in 1914, Eruera “Mati” Hita is the steel-guitarist others regarded with awe, but he was never professionally recorded.
Jim Carter on his Spanish semi-acoustic guitar, Wellington, early 1950s.
Marion Waite – Detroit-born, Wellington-based “croonette” – with the Bill Hoffmeister radio band. Jim Carter on guitar, Doug Brewer on bass, and Hoffmeister is at the piano
Jim Carter with Neil Finn (right), after recording a new version of Blue Smoke in his Nelson living room, 13 February 2015 
Photo credit: Photo by Chris Bourke
In June 1949, with the release of Blue Smoke imminent, the Ruru Karaitiana Quintet re-created the recording session at the National Film Unit’s Miramar studio. From left: Jim Carter, steel guitar; Noel Robertson, bass; Gerry Hall, guitar; George Attridge, ukulele; and Ruru Karaitiana, songwriter. Pixie Williams left Wellington not long after the release of the disc, so she wasn’t present.
Once the big band era was over, Carter played in small combos in Wellington hotels and clubs. In the 1960s the Carter-Mann Orchestra – with pianist Eric Mann – had a residency at the Downtown Club
Fred Gore's 2YA Orchestra in the Wellington NZBS studio, c1946. Beside Gore is the expatriate American singer Marion Waite, who married a New Zealand pilot. Bill Hoffmeister is at the piano, behind him is radio host Burton Chadwick. Also identifiable are, from left: Jim Carter guitar, Doug Brewer bass, Vern Clare drums; on trumpets are Ray Smith, Stan Crisp, an unknown player and Dorsey Cameron. The saxophonists are, from left: unknown, Geoff Mechaelis, Eric Foley, unknown and Johnny Williams.
One of the many bands to feature Jim Carter on guitar: Johnny Williams and his Latin-Americans, 2YA studio, Wellington, 1950. From left, Allen Wellbrock, piano; Johnny Williams, claves, saxophone, flute; Bob Barcham, piano-accordion; Stan “Slim” Dorward, bass; Harry Voice, drums; Stan Crisp, trumpet; Jim Carter, guitar; Geoff Mechaelis, clarinet; Vern Clare, timbales; Jimmy Golding, vocals.
Fred Gore's 2YA Orchestra goof it up at the St James Theatre, Wellington, c1947. Standing, from left: Bill Hoffmeister, Marion Waite, Fred Gore, dancing partner, Jackie Tapp. Back row, left from Vern Clare on drums: Doug Brewer, Stan Crisp, Norm D'Ath, Brian Tattnall, Dorsey Cameron. Front row seated: Jim Carter, guitar, unknown saxophonist, Bob Girvan, Symie Tossman, unknown saxophonist.
Bill Hoffmeister – an urbane, charismatic multi-instrumentalist – was a Wellington music identity for decades. In the back row of his 2YA radio band in the early 1950s can be seen Jim Carter on guitar, Doug Brewer on bass and Vern Clare on trumpet and drums.
Jim Carter, at left, with Wellington bassist Doug Brewer. Hamming it up is Wellington drummer Gerry Hall, who played rhythm guitar on Blue Smoke.
Neil Finn and Jim Carter - Blue Smoke (2015)
Weekly Review 407: Blue Smoke pressing
Jim Carter with his NZ Music Hall of Fame pūtātara (conch shell), presented to him at his Richmond home on 21 November 2019 by APRA NZ. Jim was 100 years old when he was inducted into Te Whare Taonga Puoro o Aotearoa alongside Pixie Williams and Ruru Karaitiana. 
Photo credit: APRA-AMCOS
Jim Carter was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame in 2019. The Hall of Fame is an initiative of Recorded Music NZ and the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), whose support of AudioCulture enables the site to stream music content.


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