APPRENTICE TURNED MASTER: A FEW MORE THOUGHTS ON GLENN WHEATLEY AND MUSIC



The main exploration of Glenn Wheatley, manager, mogul, family man - originally written for the Sydney Morning Herald - was posted here yesterday. Music site Jaxsta also asked for some thoughts, and this time the focus turned a bit further back.


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THERE WILL BE PLENTY of stories about Glenn Wheatley the manager who put everything on the line for an artist he believed in – and by everything, we mean all the money he had, the mortgage on his house and a fair bit of skin in the game, to get John Farnham’s album. Whispering Jack, recorded and released.


As a legacy on its own, the massive – 24 x platinum, 25 weeks at number one – success of that record and the centring of Farnham in Australian popular culture for the next four decades, would be enough for a lifetime’s bragging rights. Wheatley once joked that there wouldn’t have been a house in the country that didn’t own a copy of Whispering Jack; the sales suggest he wouldn’t have been too far wrong.


You’ll find plenty of pieces, in the business and the music press, marking the significance of his decision in the 1980s to launch Australia’s first music-driven FM radio station, EON, and eventually the Triple M network on the eastern seaboard.



For better and worse, this was the network that was built on, and then helped build further, Australian rock ‘n’ roll and its mythology, the irony being that its male-centric, larrikin humour-fuelled, beer-barbies and-icy-cold-cans-of-Coke image was a complete contrast to Wheatley himself.


And even at 74 when complications from Covid this week took him down, managers, agents, fans and others will have their share of awed opinions about his shepherding of giant careers that seemed inevitable only in retrospect, but highly improbable at the time.


In the early 2000s there was a teenage Delta Goodrem with talent but known as a minor soap star, if she was known at all; in the mid-1970s a bunch of experienced Australian musicians who in their various musical incarnations had never translated internationally, but together made Little River Band their last, big push.


Somewhere in all of that too were the property deals, taking some questionable tax advice (that landed him in jail), a partnership with wife, Gaynor, which bridged personal and business seamlessly, children and grandchildren. All of them at the very least noteworthy, some of them the best things he ever did.


(Glenn Wheatley, third from left, in The Master's Apprentices)


But for some of us, Glenn Wheatley will be occupying a corner of our memories and record collections for a long while as the bass player (and let’s not pretend it didn’t matter, pretty blond presence) in The Master’s Apprentices, one of the most important and definitely best Australian bands of the 1960s and early ‘70s.


By the time Wheatley joined in 1968, the band had had several incarnations since beginning in Adelaide as an instrumental group: moving into a raw R&B style that became known as garage punk, putting them alongside seminal Australian bands such as The Loved Ones, The Missing Links and The Purple Hearts, then easing into psychedelic pop.



It was the 1968-1972 version of The Master’s Apprentices however, which bridged pop and psychedelia, rock and early prog for hits like Because I Love You, 5-10 Man, Turn up Your Radio and Rio De Camero, and two creatively adventurous classic albums, Choice Cuts (renamed The Master’s Apprentices in the UK) and A Toast To Panama Red. Any serious music fan should seek them out.


Tellingly, Wheatley didn’t just play bass. Watching the not always reliable choices of the incumbent and figuring he could do better, Wheatley took over management of the band and set up a parallel booking agency and gig promoter company. He had plans.


In the five decades that followed a good number of artists would be grateful he did.



A version of this story was originally published on Jaxsta.com