Glenn Wheatley, a legendary actor in the Australian music industry for over 50 years, has died of complications from COVID-19. He was 74 years old.
After playing bass guitar with The Masters Apprentices in the 1960s, Wheatley became one of the greatest talent managers and sleuths the Australian music industry had ever seen – launching and overseeing the careers of Little River Band, John Farnham and Delta Goodrem.
He was born Glenn Dawson Wheatley on January 23, 1948 in Nambour, Queensland and joined The Masters Apprentices in 1968. During his four-year tenure with the group, Wheatley performed on hit songs. ‘Mount your radio‘ (1970) and ‘Because I love you‘ (1971).
While his bassist skills were nothing to get excited about, Wheatley was a genius at deciphering contracts and soon realized the band was getting royally screwed due to poor management decisions and lack of house support. discs.
From Wheatley’s memoir Paper Paradise: Do what you want to do, a key event in 1969 that changed the course of his entire career. The Masters Apprentices were booked to entertain a then-record crowd of 7,000 at the Brisbane Festival Hall and Wheatley knew fans were paying $5 per ticket.
Although the total receipts for the night were around $35,000, the Masters Apprentices were on a flat rate and pocketed a whopping $200. The most prominent performer, John Farnham, received around $1,000. That means the developers walked away with at least $30,000 without doing much real work.
The lessons learned from this experience served Wheatley well when he led Little River Band in the 1970s and guided them to continued commercial and chart success in the United States. Under Wheatley’s leadership, the Australian band have sold over 30 million albums, spawning nine singles that reached the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. They also achieved worldwide number one success with ‘Help is in progress’ (1977).
In 1986 Wheatley returned to Australia to manage the career of his old friend, John Farnham, who had fallen on hard times and was widely considered a “has-been”.
Wheatley mortgaged his house to fund Farnham’s solo album Whispering Jack, which was a great success. Australia’s best-selling album by an Australian artist at 24 times platinum – indicating sales of over 1.68 million – it spent 25 weeks at number one between 1986 and 1987. It was also the first Australian album to be released on compact disc. The album’s first single, ‘You are the Voice’, made Farnham an icon of Australian music.
Years later, Wheatley discovered the then 15-year-old Neighbors‘ actress Delta Goodrem and encouraged her to achieve chart success and commercial success. His first album innocent eyes (2003) topped the ARIA Albums Chart for 29 non-consecutive weeks and sold over four million copies.
As well as being a highly successful talent manager, Wheatley was also an entrepreneur and led a consortium that founded EON-FM in Melbourne in 1980. It was Australia’s first commercial FM radio station and was sold to Triple J in 1985.
However, being a gambler and a maverick, Wheatley sometimes sailed too close to the wind and was convicted of tax evasion in 2007. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison but managed to reduce his sentence by informing his lawyer of ‘save one’s own skin‘.
Wheatley told the court:
“I’m ashamed of what I did. It is something that I have regretted for a very long time and I am ashamed of what I have done to my family, who must have suffered a lot.
The tax evasion conviction, however, did not affect Wheatley’s great legacy or the contributions he made to the Australian music industry.
News of his death was passed on by Wheatley’s wife of nearly four decades, Gaynor, his son, Tim, and his daughters, Kara and Samantha.
In a family statement, they said:
‘ [Glenn] had unparalleled enthusiasm and believed that anything was possible. He gave his all to support projects he believed in, whether they ultimately succeeded or not… He treated roadies, artists and fans with the same love and respect, and had time for everything the world.’
A moved John Farnham says he is “out of it” at the announcement of the death of his dear friend.
“Devastating news… there are no words, our hearts are broken.”
Glenn Shorrock, who knew Wheatley from his days with the Little River Band in the 1970s, described his lifelong friend as “a great negotiator” and “a great champion of Australian music, here and, of course, abroad”.
“He [Wheatley] I thought Australian musicians were getting a raw deal and we got a raw deal at that time. He fought for better royalty rates and more money for struggling musicians.
Nine News Entertainment editor Richard Wilkins said he was ” empty “ by the loss of Wheatley.
“It is no exaggeration to say that Glenn was one of the founding members of the Australian music industry. He opened the door, really, for other artists like INXS and Air Supply…I don’t think anyone in the Australian music industry has slept…Glenn leaves a huge hole…”
Perhaps the best tribute came from Kate Ceberano, who tweeted:
‘Glenn the rock-‘n-roller, the rascal, the dreamer, the hustler, the optimist, the manager, the visionary. Sincere condolences to the Wheatley family. Glenn the Great!
Jenny The count is a Canberra-based freelance journalist and writer.
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