It is often said that you can tell a lot about a person by the company they have. There is some truth in that. But you can tell a lot more by what is said about someone when they die.
When Glenn Wheatley died on February 1, aged 74, the outpouring of tributes painted a picture of the man. The rock star, the hustler, the rascal, the dreamer, the optimist, the manager, the visionary, the husband, the dad, the gentleman. Always the gentleman.
One of the most touching greetings came from the most unlikely of sources, AJ Maddah, the hard rock and metal lover who ran the now defunct Soundwave Festival.
“Indie promoters are constantly skating on thin ice,” Maddah wrote on social media. “We were in a tough spot at the end of 2004 and were losing all hope when #glennwheatley stepped in and trusted us to promote John Farnham and Tom Jones in Perth. Rest in peace my dear friend. I will never forget your kindness.”
Independent promoters are constantly skating on thin ice. We were in a difficult situation at the end of 2004 and were losing all hope when #glennwheatley stepped in and trusted us to promote John Farnham & Tom Jones in Perth. Rest in peace my dear friend. I will never forget your kindness. pic.twitter.com/pQQpduQHwA
— AJ (@iamnotshouting) February 2, 2022
As a rock’n’roller, Wheatley flew higher than all of us. In just four years, The Master’s Apprentices has made enough noise to earn a place among the immortals, in the ARIA Hall of Fame. “Because I Love You” is epic and timeless, the type of track that never fails to produce goosebumps. Wheatley was, at the time, the heartbeat on bass.
In 1972, Wheatley changed direction, but remained in music. He would work alongside the groups rather than within one. It was a masterstroke, and history tells us so.
Wheatley guided the careers of John Farnham (2003), Glenn Shorrock (1991) and Little River Band (2004), all of whom are inductees into the ARIA Hall of Fame. It’s only a matter of time before Delta Goodrem, another artist spotted early by Wheatley, is brought up. Farnham’s Whispering Jack and Delta innocent eyes are among the best-selling albums of all time in these regions.
My only contact with Wheatley was in 2006, when I lived in London and worked with Billboard as editor of world news. I was asked to lead an Aussie music night for the City Showcase event, when I got a call from Wheatley. He had read Christie Eliezer’s column and wanted to introduce one of his bands.
Many traits were evident on the call: the con man, the optimist, the manager, the gentleman. In the end, the bill for the showcase was now stacked and included three-time ARIA award winners The Audreys.
We chatted about life, music, and work, and said goodbye.
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Wheatley has made mistakes in life, mostly with money, and paid dearly for it. That’s not why you have to remember him.
His greatness can be summed up in one simple fact: he had two incredible careers in music. First, as a rock’n’roller. Then, as a talent manager and impresario.
The late Michael Gudinski was a master of the independent music industry, his band Mushroom operating two dozen businesses in every corner of the entertainment world. MG was the first to admit he couldn’t play a note.
Regan Lethbridge and David Morgan of Lemon Tree Music are doing a great job guiding the careers of Tones And I, Tash Sultana, Budjerah and others. Earlier, they enjoyed a decade-long career — and multiple APRA and AIR Award nominations — with Bonjah. New Zealand music professionals won’t be holding their collective breath for a Hall of Fame call.
Wheatley was the rarest of musicians. A Hall of Fame inductee rock star who traded his guitar for a suit and guided several artists to the top of the charts and the Hall of Fame. It is a rare achievement.