John Farnham is my favourite singer of all time - He is the first Australian to have hits in the national music charts in the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's.
After an unsuccessful talent quest at school where he attempted to play the guitar (which his uncle Alf had tuned for him), he decided that he hated school. By the time the auditions came around at the end of the school day, the guitar was quite out of tune. Nevertheless he played and was promptly asked not to participate in the contest. After that he could never be bothered with school again.
His first band called The Mavericks, was formed during high school. They knew four chords and played at the school socials. During this time, John got a part time job working with a plumber and after high school had finished decided to take up an apprenticeship with his employer’s company, Caulfield Heating. He stuck this out for 2 years all the while playing gigs with The Mavericks on Saturday Nights. One Saturday night, however, was to change his life. Nick Foeander from Strings Unlimited came up to the 16 year old John, asking him if he would like to audition for the band as a singer. He auditioned a couple of months later – and got the job! It was some 18 months later whilst singing with Strings Unlimited that his first manager, Darryl Sambell “discovered” him.
Those first months with Darryl were hectic – John would finish work on a Friday, shower, change and have a spare set of clothes packed in readiness for a 850 km (528 mile)drive to Adelaide. He would do the gig and then set out for home, arriving in the early hours of a Monday morning just in time for the start of the working week.
John got his first big break singing the now famous Susan Jones TV ad commercials. Not long after this he was to record his first hit Sadie. Sadie was a big gamble – it was commercial, sure but it was also corny. The radio stations wouldn’t play it. It was only after a Four Corners TV segment on how a record company promoted an unknown, which featured the song, that they were willing to play it at all! After John made an appearance on Uptight singing his song, the station’s switchboards were, however, inundated with calls requesting a repeat of the song. Sadie ended up being the biggest selling Australian hit of the 60’s. John was on his way!
The next few years were great for John. He signed with EMI and in 1969, following a large number of hit records, John was named “King of Pop” for the first time. In 1970 he released his second album, Looking Through A Tear, which, within a month, had sold more than 50 000 copies and won him the “King of Pop” award again. In 1971, he won “King of Pop” for the third time and starred in the musical Charlie Girl. He also released 2 more albums. In March 1972, he was crowned King of Melbourne’s Moomba Festival. He went to Tokyo to receive an award for “Most Outstanding Performance of a Composition” at the World Popular Song Festival. He also won yet another “King of Pop” award during this year as well as another gold record.
On 18 April, 1973 John got married. He married Jillian Billman, a dancer in Charlie Girl. She was 17 and he was 23. Their marriage has outlasted a lot of show biz marriages – they are still married now some 30 years later. During this year he recorded 2 albums, won another “King of Pop” award and performed in the musical stage show, Pippin. In July 1975, he recorded his last album for EMI and then two more singles for Festival Records in 1977 then disappeared from the
At 10.30pm in February 1981 John received a phone call from Glenn Wheatley. Glenn Shorrock, Little River Band’s lead singer had decided to quit the band. Would John like to replace him? John and Jillian talked over the decision over a bottle of wine until 4am in the morning. The answer was “yes”. With Little River Band John went on to record three albums, including the hits Playing to Win, Down on the Border and The Other Guy. Although he enjoyed moderate success with LRB (who by this time were themselves experiencing financial troubles)finally he had to admit that he worked better on his own and
In 1985, Glenn took a punt on John – one which stays dear to John’s heart to this day. “Glenn believed in me so much that he “mortgaged his house” so I could make this album.” “He put his money where my mouth is” is John’s favourite quote of that time. Glenn states “It was more than confidence in John; it was more a commitment. I always felt he could do it”… I simply had to go for this; it was as important to me as it was for John”. Whispering Jack was born!
The Whispering Jack album broke all sales records in Australia. It sold over 1.7 million records worldwide. It all began in the loungeroom at John’s home. The songs were chosen from demos that John had collected over the years plus tapes that were sent when Glenn sent out the word that John was looking for material to record (there were literally thousands). Glenn, John and Ross Fraser (who later went on to become John’s record producer) finally weeded out the 10 best songs of the lot. John did have a few songs that he had written himself but “they weren’t as good as the songs I was getting from other people”, although he did write the song Let Me Out for the album. He also co-wrote Going, Going, Gone with David Hirschfelder and Ross Fraser.
The hit song, You’re The Voice, nearly didn’t even get listened to. It was given to Ross Fraser who even wondered whether it was worth playing. Once he did hear it of course, the rest is history. He loved the song so much that he decided it was a “must” for John to sing. He drove the half hour drive to John’s house and played it for him immediately, after playing the demo many times in his car on the way. Ross was convinced the song had to go on the album. John played it once and knew, like Ross, that he “had a once-in-a-lifetime song”. The album was recorded in 6 weeks in the garage under John’s house before being sent to a studio for the final touches. Brett Garsed and David Hirschfelder (who had long been a mate of John’s) from LRB were to join him on this album and become founding members of the John Farnham Band. Whispering Jack, $150 000, a year in the making, 6 weeks in the garage, 1 week putting it altogether, another week of adjustments and laying down vocals for another 3 weeks and the album became reality!
went on to sell over 1.2 million copies.
Despite achieving No. 1 status in Australia, Canada, West Germany, and Scandinavia, as well as top 10 status in Britain, Spain and Italy, nothing happened in the United States! This was possibly due to the mix of the songs – in the US, every song has to be remixed to their taste but this was never done with John’s songs! John states that to make it work in America, he would have to go and live there – he is not interested in that. No one would be happier than him if it did work in the states but if it didn't – well he has more than enough work here in Australia to keep him busy. “I don’t know whether I necessarily want the world. I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing”.
In 1988, John was named “Australian Of The Year”, Australia’s Bicentennial Birthday Year (He had become an Australian Citizen shortly before the awards so that he would qualify). I was lucky enough to go along to the official luncheon which was held in Perth in honour of his award where he performed an impromptu version of Help without any musical backing. He was fantastic! The Farnham’s second child, James, was born in January 1988, just days before he won his Australia Day award, therefore, Jillian was unable to make the trip to Sydney to see her husband receive the prestigious award.
In 1992 John took on the starring role in the Australian concert version of Jesus Christ, Superstar. The musical attracted an audience of over 1 million people Australia wide and became Australia’s highest selling album of that year. In 1994, John was inducted into the Victorian Rock Foundation's Hall Of Fame and in 1996 he made the Australia Day Honours List. He was awarded the Order Of Australia in recognition of his contribution to the music industry and for his services to charity.
1997 marks 30 years in the music business for John Farnham. In honour of this occasion he released 3 albums – An Anthology summing up his hits that he has had over the years. Every year brings word of his retirement from the music industry but John loves to perform and I personally, look forward to his next concert!
John's next concert, "The Main Event", with Olivia Newton-John and Anthony Warlow, was nothing short of brilliant. I was lucky enough to score front row tickets and even though I think that the Burswood Arena in Perth is really too vast to properly maintain the great atmosphere we're used to at the Perth Entertainment Centre, it was still fantastic! (although I did miss the fact that people did not run right up to the stage as is usual at John's concerts). I must say I gained a new respect for Anthony Warlow through that concert too - he has a wonderful voice! And Olivia, well....Olivia was great too - I loved the numbers she did from Grease. But all in all it was easy to see that John was the most popular performer of the night - and rightly so!
Unfortunately, ill health prevented me from attending John's last concert here in Perth but I did get to go to his I Can't Believe He's 50
Most of the information on this page is from John's Biography - "Whispering Jack - The John Farnham Story" by Clark Forbes.
Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 Shaz's Ostomy Pages. All rights reserved.
If you would like to use any of the images in these pages, please email me to get permission. Thanks.