'Reluctant legend': Tributes flow for local country music star

The late Reg McTaggart in familiar pose. Photo: Supplied
The late Reg McTaggart in familiar pose. Photo: Supplied
Tributes are pouring in for country music icon Reg McTaggart, who died at his Arrowtown home on November 18, after having lived in the Wakatipu for roughly 50 years.

Amazingly, for the first 30 years or so he farmed a large part of the Frankton Flats. Philip Chandler looks at how he developed his musical career, and reveals his favourite party trick

Arrowtown-based Reg McTaggart, who died last month a day after his 79th birthday, is being hailed as not only a Kiwi country music legend but also a community stalwart and a humble individual with a cheeky smile.

He recorded 11 albums featuring songs by 60 New Zealand songwriters, won numerous awards in NZ and Australia and performed throughout his life — his last gig was in Cromwell just two weeks before he died.

Reg was also hugely involved with the Arrowtown Autumn Festival, as a performer and soundman, from its inception in 1985, and in 2009 became its first life member — he only reluctantly pulled the pin this year.

Dunedin-raised, apparently from a non-musical family, he got his first guitar at 9.

His first band was a skiffle group that played at school functions, and by 14, he was strumming guitar and singing in a dance band playing ’50s rock‘n’roll.

He recalled listening to the likes of Kiwi rocker Johnny Devlin on his grandparents’ old radio in their North Otago farm’s cowshed.

After school, Reg became a farm worker at West Wānaka Station, then the Lee family’s Cardrona farm, before becoming farm manager at Warepa, near Balclutha.

In the early ’70s he and his wife Judy, who married when they were 19, moved to Queenstown to manage a syndicate-owned Frankton Flats farm where the Five Mile/Queenstown Central shopping centres now are.

He’d developed a love of country music at Cardrona listening to Invercargill’s 4ZA — ‘‘I thought I must have a go at this’’, he told Mountain Scene in 2014.

Reg said he’d entertained thoughts of pursuing music full-time, ‘‘but when you end up getting married and having a family, there was no money in music’’ — he and Judy had two children, Des and Adele.

Queenstowner Peter Doyle recalls ‘‘we used to go out and play in his barn [on Grant Rd] — you could make as much noise as you liked’’.

‘‘After a couple of years of mucking around he actually formed a very good band, Kawarau County.’’

Reg also became the very long-time president of the Shotover Country Music Club.

He got involved with the Arrowtown Autumn Festival as his drummer, the late Ross Martin, founded it.

His music really took off after he won the Buddy Williams Award at Australia’s famed Tamworth Country Music Festival in 1989 — his first album, Crossing Bridges, which followed the next year, sold about 6000 copies.

For 30-plus years he became a regular at the Bay of Islands Country Rock Festival and in 1994 was the first overseas guest artist at Adelaide’s Port Pirie Country Music Festival.

He farmed in Frankton till 2004, after which he retired to Arrowtown and concentrated on music full-time.

Sadly, Judy, who’d written a song he recorded, died in 2009.

Explaining his success with country music, Reg, who got on to an Australasian ‘entertainment honour roll’ in 2016, told Scene: ‘‘I enjoy it and I think I probably understand it a bit more than what some people do, and I’ve got some very good mates on those recordings that are very sympathetic to the kind of music I play.’’

Doyle says he was ‘‘pretty laid-back and he would talk slowly, but he was quite a natural on the stage — he interacted with an audience pretty well’’.

Despite being very well known to country music fans, ‘‘he was very humble, he never acted the part of being a star … he was a reluctant legend’’.

He adds his contribution as a sound and light man to the autumn fest and many other events was amazing — ‘‘he never baulked at anyone asking him to do anything’’.

‘‘If it hadn’t been for him I don’t know what we would have done because there were no audio-visual companies then.’’

Many also recall his sense of humour including a ‘dribble’ glass which had little holes in it disguised by the pattern on it, with which he’d trip up many unsuspecting visitors, after which he’d bring out that cheeky grin.

Reg, whose funeral was in Arrowtown on Tuesday, is survived by his beloved second wife, Glenys, whom he married in August, Des and Adele, grandchildren Stacy, Josh, Kendra, Drew, Bradley and Wade, who all shared the stage with him at some stage, and great-grandchildren Baxter and Margot.