Excerpts from an Oral History interview
BY CRISPIAN WINSOR
The NFSA's Crispian Winsor remembers Glenn Wheatley – the musician-turned-manager of Australian stars like John Farnham, Little River Band and Delta Goodrem.
A Musical Apprenticeship
Glenn Wheatley (1948–2022) started his musical career playing guitar in Brisbane blues band Bay City Union. It was through performing on the Melbourne circuit that Glenn met the lead vocalist from The Master’s Apprentices, Jim Keays.
At the time, the band were going through a transitional phase and looking for replacements for some of their original members, including principal songwriter Mick Bower. Glenn joined on bass in early 1968 and, with the addition of other new members (guitarist Doug Ford and drummer Colin Burgess), the classic ‘rock’ line-up of the band was complete.
In the following clip from an NFSA oral history interview he recorded with Jen Jewel Brown in 2014, Glenn talks about the enormous popularity of the Master's Apprentices in the 1960s. They were drawing bigger crowds than the Beatles, prompting Glenn to invent the 'door deal', so the musicians could get a cut of the takings:
At this phase of the band’s career, the songwriting partnership of Keays and Ford was taking shape and they were still a popular live band. But they were regularly in debt, because of disinterest by their management and lack of financial reward from gigs. After parting ways with their manager in early 1969, Glenn Wheatley took over management duties, including bookings and promotion, the beginning of his eventual move from musician to manager.
Although he kept playing bass until the band split up in 1972, Glenn focused on getting the band more money as well as opening a booking agency, Drum, with Adrian 'Ada' Barker. This agency booked and promoted other Australian bands including Company Caine, Tamam Shud and Jeff St John. In 1971, it merged with 2 other agencies to form Consolidated Rock with a young Michael Gudinski. This early stage of Glenn's management career put him in good stead for when he later focused on management full-time.
Finding the Voice
After working in England and America for a few years, Glenn returned to Australia to manage the band Mississippi, who morphed into Little River Band (LRB) in early 1975. LRB were led by former Twilights vocalist Glenn Shorrock, along with former Mississippi members Beeb Birtles (also previously in The Zoot), Graeham Goble and Derek Pellici. The band became incredibly successful. After struggling for so long in the UK with the Master’s Apprentices, Glenn set his sights on America with LRB which proved to be the correct move. Nine of LRB’s singles reached the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 with ‘Reminiscing’ hitting No. 3 in 1978.
During the time he managed LRB, Glenn also started managing John Farnham. John had been a big star between 1967 and 1973 but had seen his music career start to dwindle in the late 1970s. With Glenn, John worked on a comeback album – Uncovered (1980), released on Glenn’s own record label, Wheatley Brothers. Although there was success with a slow ballad version of The Beatles’ 'Help', which reached No. 8 in Australia, the album wasn’t the huge hit that either hoped for. However, his connection with Glenn saw John replace Glenn Shorrock as vocalist for LRB in 1982. While initially successful in Australia, John ultimately left LRB to focus on his next solo album.
Glenn believed in this album – Whispering Jack – so much that he re-mortgaged his house in order to fund its recording. It turned out to be one of the best moves of his career as Whispering Jack (1986) went on to become the highest-selling album in Australia by an Australian artist and turned John Farnham into a music legend.
In this clip from his oral history interview in 2014, Glenn talks about the phenomenal popularity of the single 'You're the Voice', thanks to a no-holds-barred vocal performance from John:
This success resulted in Glenn Wheatley becoming one of Australia’s most prominent music managers. Although known principally for his work with Farnham, Glenn managed other artists, including Delta Goodrem.
Glenn has had an ongoing relationship with the NFSA as well, and recorded an oral history interview in 2014. Given the influence he has had on different aspects of Australian music over such a long period of time, he will be sadly missed.