Australian stars are mourning one of the pioneers of the Australian music industry, Glenn Wheatley.
Wheatley, who managed high-profile entertainers such as John Farnham and Delta Goodrem during his career, reportedly died after being hospitalised with COVID-19. He was 74.
The Queensland-born Wheatley was bassist for The Masters Apprentices in the 1960s, playing on the hits Turn Up Your Radio and Because I Love You.
He established the Wheatley Organisation in 1975 and became manager of Little River Band.
Little River Band founding member Glenn Shorrock told ABC Breakfast it was a sad day for Australian music.
“We first met back in the mid ’60s, he came from Brisbane and I came from Adelaide with the Twilights. The Masters Apprentices, he played bass for them, not very well I might add,” he said.
Shorrock said his old friend was passionate about Australian music and thought musicians were getting a raw deal.
“He fought for better royalty rates and more money for struggling musicians and because of people like him, we have what they call an industry now, rather than a hobby.”
Wheatley famously mortgaged his house to bankroll Farnham’s 1986 comeback album Whispering Jack, which went on to become one of the biggest-selling Australian albums of all time.
The album would revitalise Farnham’s career and the last song added to it – You’re The Voice – became an Australian pop anthem.
After mixing the initial version of the song, Wheatley was left flat so Farnham jumped back in the recording booth.
“He sang the livin’ bejesus out of it,” Wheatley said in an oral history published in 2014.
Farnham led the tributes on Wednesday, describing it as “devastating news”.
“There are no words, our hearts are broken,” he wrote.
Singer and producer David Campbell said Wheatley was “a lovely man”, and described his legacy with Farnham as remarkable.
Shorrock said Wheatley was a generous man who negotiated some great deals for musicians.
“His goal was similar to mine, to make great music in Australia and take it to the world, he did that in spades,” he said.
Entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins said Wheatley was one of three key Australian music industry pioneers who had died in the past year, including INXS manager Chris Murphy and Mushroom record founder Michael Gudinski.
“He was one of the founding fathers of the Australian music industry,” Wilkins told Sydney radio 2GB.
Later, Wilkins broke down on Nine’s Today as he spoke of his grief.
“I’m really, really sad,” he said.
“He was a couple of weeks with this insidious disease … It brings it all home, doesn’t it? I don’t think anyone in the Australian music business has had any sleep. Overnight, everyone has been texting and phoning each other.”
Wheatley also managed Goodrem, helping launch her 2003 debut Innocent Eyes.
He spent about 10 months in jail in 2007 after pleading guilty to charges of tax evasion.
His life was a rollercoaster of extraordinary ups and downs and he “lost everything” after investing in a nightclub just before the global financial crisis, leading him to living in his in-laws’ house.
However, Wheatley was always positive and the ultimate deal maker.
“He always had a deal going on – it was always going to be the next biggest thing,” Wilkins said.
The Masters Apprentices said on Facebook that Wheatley had “left his mark forever on Australian Music”.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Glenn Wheatley,” the band posted on Facebook.
“We will miss him greatly. Our deepest sympathies to his wife Gaynor, son Tim and daughters Samantha and Kara.
“Always a Masters Apprentice! With thoughts, memories and love – Brian, Mick, Gavin, Rick, Craig and Bill.”
Kate Ceberano paid tribute to Wheatley on Twitter.
“Glenn the rock n roller, the rascal, the dreamer, the hustler, the optimist, the manager, the visionary. Deepest condolences to the Wheatley family, Glenn the great!”
Singer Marcia Hines also posted her condolences.
“I woke to the sad news that Glenn Wheatley has passed away. My condolences to his wife Gaynor, and all of his family, during this ever so sad time,” she wrote.
“May he Rest In Peace.”
Tracy Grimshaw, host of A Current Affair, remembered him as “the nicest, most funny, loyal, smart man”.
“his was a life lived well and fully, but way too short,” she wrote.