Lou Clauson’s death on 28 December 2013 received minimal coverage in the media, which shows how far New Zealand has moved on from the 1960s humour of Lou & Simon. But it should be acknowledged that for a few years, the duo was one of the biggest acts in New Zealand entertainment. Being just two men, with one acoustic guitar, they were portable, and affordable as a support act, so they performed with many of the leading visiting acts of the day. They were so popular they often played several gigs a night in Auckland clubs. The duo also played a lot of corporate parties, and one time they were hired to appear at a society party in Remuera – not to perform, just to mingle among the guests.
Clauson was born in 1928, and was already an accomplished entertainer with a blue two-tone Chevvy when he got on stage at the Māori Community Centre in Auckland one night in the late 1950s. He needed a backing musician, so a teenager called Simon Mehana stepped up to play double bass. He needed to stand on a stool, and of course started acting the goat. That moment a comedy act was born.
Before that, Clauson had run one of the first rock’n’roll dances in New Zealand. On Labour Day 1956 – 22 October – he performed his own song ‘Papakura Boogie’ in front of 600 dancers at the Karaka Hall, South Auckland. On December 1, he appeared at the hall again, backed by his band the Moonlets. Billy Orr was another of the music acts. In the very early 1950s, Clauson ran his own milkbar/restaurant in Papakura, the Rose Marie, which was quick to add rock’n’roll discs to its jukebox.
Clauson was a stalwart of the Variety Artists’ Club, whose obituary can be read here. The piece I wrote on Lou & Simon for AudioCulture gives some background to their act and recordings, and to the cultural context in which tunes such as ‘A Maori Car’ could be much loved. In my limited association with Lou through Blue Smoke, I found him to be affable and helpful man, and very generous to the other entertainers with whom he had worked.
Besides reflecting the zeitgeist with songs such as ‘A Maori Car’, it should be remembered that Lou & Simon also recorded straight versions of Māori pop favourites. (Clauson, a Pakeha, told me he identified as Ngāpuhi, while Mehana was Ngāti Kurī.) Their pronunciation of te reo is exquisite. Here is their medley of ‘E Rere Taku Poi’ and ‘Hoki Hoki Tonu Mai’ from 1965.