Frank's tuned in to sound of success

22:23, Sep 01 2014
Frank Douglas
The right notes: Frank Douglas has been part of New Zealand music history, and has also helped Taranaki musicians record their own music at his home studio in Waitara.

Not many people can lay claim to having an award-winning career in the music business but Waitara's Frank Douglas is definitely one who can hold his head up high.

A decades-long career as a sound engineer allowed him to see moments of the nation's musical history and Douglas, 80, recorded some of New Zealand's biggest artists, including Dinah Lee, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Hogsnort Rupert, a group which blew him away when he first heard them audition at the EMI studios in Lower Hutt. "I couldn't believe how good they were," he says.

An eye, and an ear, for talent has led to recognition from his peers over the years too, including in 1987 when Douglas was presented with a special New Zealand music award for outstanding service to the recording industry.

Although his musical tastes are pretty broad - "I'll play anything and everything" - one genre he has been involved with since his time back in Taranaki is country and western.

At his studio, which takes up the bottom floor of his home, Douglas has recorded up to 60 artists from the region and also helped produce the Hillbilly Country and Western music programme, which airs on Taranaki's access radio station, until recent ill health forced him to stop.

Born and raised in Waitara, Douglas retired back to the town about 14 years ago, after spending several decades in Wellington. After completing a five-year apprenticeship with the Radio Corporation of New Zealand, Douglas joined the TANZA studios in 1957 before moving to become head engineer at Lotus Studios in 1960, before it was taken over by EMI, then known as HMV.

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Douglas said he sometimes spent up to 16 hours a day in the studio, but never considered it hard work.

"You were creating something - trying to get the best out of people," the father-of-two said.

After the shock closure of the EMI studio in 1987, Douglas set up his own studio called South Pacific Recording. One notable artist who he worked with at the time was Dame Malvina Major.

"I can still see her standing there, it brings back great memories," he said.

After a battle with bone cancer more than 20 years ago, which led to part of his jaw being removed, Douglas was diagnosed with stomach cancer just over a month ago. But he still tries to keep busy and does jobs for recording companies, including transferring music from analogue tape to digital files.

Although unsure where his much loved memorabilia, thousands of records and recording equipment would end up, Douglas said he had achieved everything he had set out to do in his career and more. "I've had a wonderful life," he said.

Taranaki