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Glenn Dawson Wheatley (1948–2022)

from Australian

Glenn Wheatley, by Jacqueline Mitelman, 1988

Glenn Wheatley, by Jacqueline Mitelman, 1988

National Library of Australia, 13145681

Prominent music industry figure Glenn Wheatley died in Melbourne on Tuesday, aged 74, from complications with Covid.

Wheatley’s career spanned decades, and saw him performing on stage before later ceding the spotlight to others as a highly successful artist manager.

Through his work at the highest levels of the Australian music business, Wheatley made a substantial impact on popular ­culture.

Born in Brisbane in 1948, Wheatley rose to prominence in the late 1960s as bassist in The Masters Apprentices, the Jim Keays-fronted band that became one of the most popular rock acts in the country with hit songs including Because I Love You, Turn Up Your Radio and Undecided.

Few musicians made the transition from artistry to the other side of the negotiating table better than Wheatley, who earned his first million dollars in the 1970s after he hung up the bass guitar to manage artists.

His first major success as a manager was with the Little River Band, which benefited greatly from Wheatley’s knowledge of the American music business in particular.

Wheatley produced the band’s 1975 debut album, and under his guidance Little River Band enjoyed consistent commercial chart success in the US and became one of Australia’s most successful rock exports.

After John Farnham replaced Glenn Shorrock as lead singer of the Little River Band in 1982, Wheatley began managing his old friend’s career and completely turned around both of their lives, earning each of them a fortune.

But it took a major leap of faith, as Wheatley famously mortgaged his house to finance the recording of Farnham’s 12th album, Whispering Jack.

The former teen pop idol was 37 at the time of its release in Oct­ober 1986, and if Farnham’s ­career wasn’t quite on the skids, he wasn’t particularly in favour.

Yet Wheatley’s gamble turned out to be one of the smartest ever taken in the history of Australian pop music.

Soon after its release, Whispering Jack became the pivotal moment in Farnham’s career.

It went on to spend 25 weeks at No. 1 and has been accredited 24x platinum by ARIA, indicating sales in excess of 1.68 million ­copies.

Wheatley’s 1999 autobiography Paper Paradise detailed his gung-ho nature towards business: he writes frankly that one of his worst calls was to invest $12m in The Ivy nightclub in Melbourne.

“This would prove to be a disastrous decision,” he wrote.

“I had a premonition that storm clouds were brewing over my life. What I didn’t know was that it would be a full-force ­cyclone.”

The failed investment left him on the brink of bankruptcy; he was saved from financial ruin by successfully promoting Farnham’s Chain Reaction tour in 1990, as well as the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.

His lowest moment came in 2007 when he was sentenced to a 15-month sentence for tax evasion, following a probe by the Australian Taxation Office into a system of Swiss trust accounts.

It was ironic that Wheatley was jailed for tax fraud, having spent part of his early career trying to stop the prevalent culture of greedy promoters ripping off Australian musicians.

Wheatley went on to manage pop singer and actress Delta Goodrem, whom he discovered when she was in her early teens. He helped launch her 2003 debut Innocent Eyes, which became one of the highest-selling ­albums in ARIA chart history, yet that same year Goodrem decided not to renew her contract with him.

Having taken a major risk on Farnham, though, the pair stuck together through thick and thin: Wheatley remained his manager until the end of his life.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Glenn Dawson Wheatley

Citation details

'Wheatley, Glenn Dawson (1948–2022)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 April 2024.

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