When the Farnham's arrived in Australia they stayed with John's Aunt Mary in Yarraman Park in Victoria. John attended Yarraman State School and Lyndale Primary School.
John's first experience as an entertainer was a concert night at school; he performed Elvis Presley's 'Wooden Heart'. The night didn't go well as his guitar was out of tune. By the end of the performance the audience was yelling for him to get off - an interesting start to his show business career!
John's first real step towards a musical career was when he and two school friends formed a band called 'The Mavericks'. They didn't know many numbers but managed to get a few gigs at school socials. They all progressed to Lyndale High School together and the group regularly played at school concerts and at the Dandenong Town Hall.
During School holidays John worked with family friend Stan Foster in his plumbing business.
He didn't enjoy school for several reasons and took up the opportunity to leave and begin a plumbing apprenticeship with Stan. John's mathematics score was lower than needed to grant his permit. A kind assistant in the Commission changed the score and he was granted his apprenticeship.
'The Mavericks' auditioned for a support bracket for local band 'Strings Unlimited' who were running a Friday night dance at the Lyndale hall in Dandenong. 'Strings Unlimited' were impressed with 15 year old John's vocal abilities and three of the members arranged to meet with him the following weekend at a 21st Birthday party 'The Mavericks' were playing.
They listened while the band repeatedly played the only five songs they knew until their set was finished and then the trio asked John to audition for their band.
John had spent the entire week practicing and when the time came to audition his voice was too hoarse to sing very much.
The band told a tense John, not to worry about it and to come back next week after his voice had recovered. That next week he sang 'House of the Rising Sun' and was formally asked to join the band.
Work with 'Strings Unlimited' was regular and after working at his plumbing during the day he would go home, change clothes and race off to wherever they were playing that night.
'Strings Unlimited' were intent on breaking into the recording scene.
The band was approached by Norm Burke to record three tracks with Al Matthews, minus their lead singer. John watched this process silently seated near the exit door of Armstrong Studios. He was assured there would be tracks to record with him as lead singer and songs were reviewed with those intentions. The good intentions ran out along with the money, the project didn't eventuate.
'Strings Unlimited' did however record a 3 song demo tape at Armstrong Studios in 1966 which was produced at their own expense. The line-up was: John Farnham, vocals, Stewart Male, lead guitar, Barry Roy, second guitar, Mike Foenander, keyboards and Peter Foggie, drums. The three tracks featured were covers of 'The Beatles', 'I Feel Fine' and 'I'm Down' and 'The Gerry And The Pacemakers' song 'Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying'.
Several years later in 1974, Ian Melthoid from the Peninsular radio station 'Southern', broadcast a 'special' on John and contacted the other members of 'Strings Unlimited', he dusted off the demo tape they had recorded for airing on the show and five copies of the tape were cut to disc at Rambler Studios and each member of the band was given a copy.
'Strings Unlimited' and Bev Harrell were sharing the bill on April 29th, 1967 at the Cohuna dance in country Victoria, when Bev's boyfriend, Darryl Sambell approached John saying that he could make him a star, and asked for his phone number. John had heard it all before and thought nothing more of it. Four weeks later Darryl phoned John and asked if he could meet with him in Melbourne. John took up Darryl's offer of management some months later when 'Strings Unlimited' had broken up.
John took a two year leave from the plumbing apprenticeship he would never return to, it was time to pursue his singing career. Darryl Sambell was from Adelaide and knew the music scene better there than in Melbourne, therefore John's first gigs were booked at The Princeton Club, St. Clair and Halfway Out. Three gigs on the same night and he received $20 for each performance. John's first television appearance was also in Adelaide on the daily pop-mine show 'Kommotion'.
Darryl scored John a session for the Ansett-ANA commercial ‘SUSAN JONES’. The theme was written by Peter Best and it was recorded by four different artists. These were pressed to an EP by Astor and distributed in a picture sleeve.
The EP's were used for promotional purposes and given to customers who flew Ansett-ANA at the time. Apparently John was paid only $40 for what has today become a mega rare EP.
EMI producer, David McKay first became aware of John from his regular appearances on the pop-mime show,' Kommotion' and immediately recognised his talent. John’s signing to EMI for release on the Columbia label was facilitated by a private performance before McKay, backed by the band, Zoot. This was when his career really started to take off and he recorded 'SADIE'. Life would never be the same for John Farnham again.
'SADIE' was very cleverly marketed. Publicity stunts included advertisements placed in newspapers for cleaning ladies, and an Electrolux vacuum cleaner making an appearance at the launch. A huge success, 'SADIE' reached No. 1 and stayed there for 6 weeks, remaining on the chart for 23 weeks. It was the largest selling single by an Australian artist in the 60's, selling a huge 180,000 units.
Following the success of 'SADIE' the single, EMI/Columbia issued Johnny's first album also titled 'SADIE', which went on to achieve Gold Status. Johnny's second album ‘EVERYBODY OUGHTA SING A SONG’ was also released in 1968. On April 15th, 1969 the ABC screened a one hour 'Johnny Farnham' TV special.
‘LOOKING THRU A TEAR’ was released in 1970, followed by ‘CHRISTMAS IS JOHNNY FARNHAM’. Many singles were released but failed to chart, in fact, he was kept out of the charts until October 1972. John was, however, still popular and won many awards. Four more albums in 1971 – ‘JOHNNY’, ‘THE BEST OF JOHNNY FARNHAM’ (World Record Club with two different covers) 'EVERYBODY OUGHTA SING A SONG' was re-released with an on-stage picture cover and an album titled 'TOGETHER' was recorded with Allison Durbin. Several singles were also released but again failed to chart. John also recorded a track for the UNICEF 25th Anniversary album.
In 1971 he starred in the musical 'CHARLIE GIRL' where he met and proposed to Jillian Billman.
In 1972 John was crowned King Of Moomba and released the album ‘JOHNNY FARNHAM SINGS THE SHOWS’.
Finally, the single ‘ROCK ME BABY’ gave John his first chart success in nearly three years, climbing to No.13. The single that followed ‘DON’T YOU KNOW IT’S MAGIC’ also made the top 20 and won an award for 'The Most Outstanding Performance' at 'The Tokyo Song and Music Festival'.
On April 18th, 1973 John married Jillian Billman at St. Matthew's Church Of England in Glenroy, Melbourne.
Released shortly after his wedding was the album, HIT’S MAGIC ROCK N’ ROLL and later that year, the live album ‘JOHNNY FARNHAM SINGS THE BIG HITS OF ’73 LIVE’.
John spent most of 1974 performing in 'Pippin'. He also starred along with Colleen Hewitt in a 13 part variety show called ‘It’s Magic’. ‘JOHNNY FARNHAM SINGS THE HITS FROM THE MOVIES’ was released.
There were initial plans to go to the United States in 1975 to try to give his sales and career a boost, but those plans were shelved and John stayed in Australia.
John travelled to Darwin to perform in a relief concert to aid victims of Cyclone Tracy. Although extremely popular, the record buying public deserted John and once again singles failed to chart. John recorded his last album for EMI, JP FARNHAM SINGS.
Darryl Sambell was the one who sold SADIE to the radio stations, gave John his 5 consecutive 'King of Pop' awards, made him 'King of Moomba', put him in a musical, endlessly toured him and put him on the front page of every Australian newspaper. He had worked tirelessly to promote John after being the first one to truly recognize John's great talent. Australia's first pop star had emerged. However, personal differences began to stifle their relationship and what once had been fun was now a chore. The rift that had been slowly growing between John and Darryl was complete nine years and three days after it started. On 12th January 1976, it was made public that John and Darryl had split.
In June, 1976 John did a fundraising show along with other celebrities to help Italian earthquake victims. TV work was still coming in and he was hosting the show 'Opportunity Knocks'.
EMI no longer wanted to record John, however they released ‘JOHNNY FARNHAM’S GREATEST HITS’ album to cash in on John's previous success. Festival records signed John, however the relationship was short lived with only two singles being released.
John really just wanted to stay home with Jill, buy a house, a car and settle down and he believed if the worst came to the worst he could survive in the industry by playing the clubs and doing TV spots. John approached Kenn Brodziak to take over as his manager and he had a fairly regular income under Kenn's management, not enormous amounts, but consistent money.
John started production on 'Bobby Dazzler' playing the part of pop star Bobby Farrell. By 1977 John's career was starting to pick up, he was hosting 'Opportunity Knocks' and narrating the ABC wildlife series 'Survival'. He was enjoying a lot of public exposure. John continued his ongoing commitment to 'good causes' by participating in the 'Yooralla Telethon’; he did two commercials, for the 'Red Cross Doorknock Appeal', and the 'Channel 10 Christmas Appeal’.
John was performing regularly on the 'Don Lane Show ' and 'Denise Drysdale Show'. His last performance in 1977 was the Melbourne 'Carols By Candlelight'.
John and Jill were able to spend a lot of time together, even holidaying overseas. But John still couldn't get a recording contract. He began to feel unhappy with himself, playing the same old songs, in front of indifferent bands. Things were slowly going downhill, and he began to stagnate, became lazy and overweight. He just wasn't being fulfilled. John really wanted to sing, that's what he was, a singer. The only work John could get was acting roles. He appeared in a play called 'Roberta' which Kenn did not really want him to do, so he quoted an enormously high payment figure, asked for the No.1 dressing room and a part for Jill. It was accepted.
In 1978 he narrated 'Survival' a wildlife series on the ABC.
John and Jill visited their friends Colleen Hewett and husband Danny Finlay in the USA in 1978. After negotiations, Danny took over as Johnny's manager. Danny believed John's act was tired, and that he needed new songs. Danny believed he should cut down John's exposure and to re-shape his career. To earn a decent living, John made numerous appearances on 'The Don Lane' show and played the Sydney clubs. John was still unsatisfied and wanted to get into rock, rather than cabaret. A business venture between Danny, Colleen, John, and another partner, a restaurant in Melbourne, failed miserably, and they suffered badly financially. John lost his holiday farm, but his accountant managed to save his family home.
John was hit with an outstanding tax bill. The financial pressure was mounting.
In 1979 John and Jill returned to the USA on holiday and visited Las Vegas where 'The Little River Band' was playing at the 'Aladdin'. They met up with old friend Glenn Wheatley, LRB's manager, who arranged for them to see the show. John was really impressed with LRB's success and after the show went backstage. John approached Glenn about getting a band together to make an album. He thought Glenn could get him back into mainstream music once again. After six months of thought, John told his close friend Danny that he was going over to the 'Wheatley Organisation'.
John and Jill’s first son Robert was born on 27th September.
Glenn signed John to the WBE Records on January 1st, 1980 and suggested Graeham Goble do an album with John. At the time John was perceived as a Cabaret artist, and Graeham was locked into the current music scene. The 1980 album 'UNCOVERED' made everyone look twice at John Farnham, he still had 'the voice'. It sold 55,000 copies and took only three weeks to record.
The first single from the album was ‘HELP’, John's own arrangement of 'The Beatles' hit (which Tina Turner was later to copy) and it gave John his first chart success in nearly seven years. It also changed a lot of people's minds about John. He had shown them that he no longer was just that fresh-faced plumber’s mate who sang Sadie. It made everyone, the public and those in the music industry take note. John's popularity was rising again.
John and Glenn put together 'The John Farnham Band' and they went on the road to do a tour of the pubs.
In 1980 John starred with Debbie Byrne in 'Farnham and Byrne'. Two more singles were released and John was presented with the 'Mo Award' for 'Entertainer Of The Year'.
‘THE BEST OF JOHN FARNHAM’ (CD) and ‘THE BEST OF JOHNNY FARNHAM’ (LP) both with the same tracks but different covers were released by AXIS.
On February 2nd, 1981, the Little River Band, who were having some in-house problems held a meeting, which resulted in them agreeing that they wanted John Farnham as their new lead singer.
LRB released 3 albums with JOhn and toured the world. They received popular acclaim, but after what was four turbulent years, John announced he was leaving the band to pursue a solo career.
While Glenn Wheatley searched in vain for a record deal and a record producer, John began the search for songs. Months rolled by, and still no producer in sight. John started working songs with sound man Ross Fraser. There was still no producer some months later so John and Ross decided they would produce the album themselves.
Glenn Wheatley mortgaged his house to bankroll the album. The first single 'YOU'RE THE VOICE' restored John Farnham to Number One for the first time in 17 years.
20th October 1986, John's first solo album in six years,' WHISPERING JACK' was released and was an incredibly huge success. Spending an incredible 27 weeks at No.1 and at last count has sold in excess of 1.7 million albums, 17 times platinum in Australia alone.
John scooped the awards at the 1987 Aria Awards, winning a total of six awards. 'WHISPERING JACK' was also an international success, reaching the top three in Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland. It remains Australia's highest selling album.
1988 was a busy year and another special one for John as his second son James, was born on 17th January. John was announced 'Australian Of The Year' for 1987 and his next album, 'AGE OF REASON' was released which debuted at No.1.
John was invited to Moscow in 1989 to launch the Greenpeace album, 'RAINBOW WARRIORS'.
'CHAIN REACTION' released in 1990, it followed its predecessors and debuted at No.1. The 'CHAIN REACTION' tour broke attendance records across the country.
In 1991 an album of live performances from between 1985 and 1991 was released called 'FULL HOUSE'. John took on the role of Jesus in the 1992 production of 'JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR'. The arena spectacular and the album were both highly successful. John is awarded the Australian Music Awards' Crystal Trophy for Outstanding Contribution to the Industry.
John continued to release albums and tour in the 90's. First 1993's 'THEN AGAIN' followed by 'ROMEO'S HEART' in 1996. He toured in support of both albums with the highly successful 'TALK OF THE TOWN' and 'JACK OF HEARTS. 1996 also sees John honoured with the Order Of Australia for Services To Music and Charity
In 1997 John's 30 year career was celebrated with the release of 'ANTHOLOGY 1, 2 and 3'. In the same year he is recognised as the Most Broadcast Australian Recording Artist by the Phonographic Performance Company Of Australia.
In 1998 he toured with Olivia Newton-John & Anthony Warlow in 'THE MAIN EVENT'. John celebrates 50th birthday in 1999 with the 'I CANT BELIEVE HE'S 50 TOUR' and the album 'LIVE AT THE REGENT THEATRE'. A concert on John's birthday at The Regent Theatre was a huge event in Melbourne; large screens projected the concert to the adoring crowds in the street. John was awarded 'The Key To The City' by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne and he ended the year with a concert held in East Timor for the INTERFET troops.
In July 2000 '33 1/3' was released and debuted at No. 1. Along with Olivia Newton-John he performed DARE TO DREAM at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. The MAN OF THE HOUR tour followed in November and December and the concerts sold out across the country.
THE LAST TIME album was released on October 7th, 2002 and sold 350,000 copies.
John embarked on his final large scale tour also titled THE LAST TIME in Melbourne on November 7th. The concerts showcased John's amazing career. It was the biggest tour ever undertaken in Australia, crossing the nation for 210 days before concluding at Rod Laver Arena on 15th November 2003. It was quoted in Billboard as the 7th highest grossing touring act of that year …in the world.
John concluded major touring holding every attendance record in the country, in fact more than 1,000,000 people have seen him perform in Rod Laver Arena alone and he continues to maintain the record for the highest selling Australian album of all time, WHISPERING JACK.
John said at the beginning of THE LAST TIME TOUR that he still intended to perform live to audiences in the future, and will continue to record ...he just won't ever tour on a large scale again.
The ONE VOICE CD & DVD showcasing John's greatest hits and clips was released on October 20th, 2003 and to date has sold over 400,000 copies.
Lucky for his fans, John Farnham was true to his word, and in December 2003 he performed at Twin Towers for 3 shows. It was New Zealand's turn in February 2004 when John performed at the annual Mission Estate Winery. March 2004 saw him take the stage at Tempus Two winery and Barossa Under The Stars, followed by Sirromet Winery in May.
In February 2005 John did a series of concerts with Tom Jones. Their TOGETHER CD was released on 20th March followed by the DVD release on 24th April.
From May to June of 2005 John starred as Teen Angel in the highly successful Australian production of Grease, The Arena Spectacular.
Dairy Farmers chose John Farnham for their "Creating Greener Pastures" campaign designed to provide support and benefit for farmers, rural and regional communities across Australia.
I REMEMBER WHEN I WAS YOUNG:Songs From The Great Australian Songbook was released on 6th November 2005, a collection of interpretations of Australian classics that were written and performed by Australian artists over the last 40 years.
A series of concerts was performed in early 2006 with The SSO and MSO orchestras, a percentage of revenue received from the 'I Remember When I was Young' concerts went to the Dairy Farmers 'Creating Greener Pastures' program to help farmers and their communities.
February 18th saw John perform at the Wollongong Entertainment Centre with the Farnham Band.
Following shortly after, John and Stevie Nicks joined forces for magical double-bill shows in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and New Zealand.
John Farnham performed four songs at the finale of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony.
100% of proceeds of the SPIRIT OF THE NORTH concert in June 2006 went to assisting recovery of cyclone devastation through the Dairy Farmers Creating Greener Pastures Program.
March 14th 2009 saw John perform at the SOUND RELIEF concert in Sydney to raise funds for busfire ravaged Victoria and flood victims in Queensland.
A roar went up when the crowd heard the opening thunderclaps of “You're The Voice” and Coldplay's Chris Martin announced.....“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome to sing the Australian national anthem, John Farnham. The whole stadium sang along. it was an incredibly spine
tingling experience and the highlight of the entire day.
After an absence of more than two decades YOU'RE THE VOICE re-entered the ARIA charts in April 2009.
Fans begin an online petition to encourage John to tour. The WE WANT JACK BACK petition had more than 21,000 signatures in 10 days. On May 27th 2009 at the Lyrics Theatre in Sydney, John announced his LIVE BY DEMAND tour to take place during September and October of 2009. Plans for a new album were also announced as well as a 3 box set titled THE ESSENTIAL JOHN FARNHAM.
2010 began for fans on 29 May when John performed at the Airnorth Kimberley Moon Experience concert in Kununurra. In July it was announced that John has been chosen for the entertainment at Luna Park's 75th Birthday in October, following that John would perform his first ever a day on the green shows with three concerts in VIC, NSW and WA. The tour also included two new outdoor concert venues, RACV Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast QLD and Coopers Brewery in SA. Indoor shows include Canberra, Wollongong, Newcastle and Tamworth. JACK, John's first studio album in 5 years was released on October 15th and debuted at No.2.
It was announced on June 8th 2011 that to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Whispering Jack, John would embark on a national tour from October – November. Commencing in Adelaide on Tuesday October 4th the tour will take in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. Ten concerts quickly grew to twenty-eight. John as always, was still in demand! Before taking to the stage, John entered the studio in July to put down tracks for an acoustic/unplugged album of hits from all eras of his career. The Acoustic Chapel Sessions along with a DVD was recorded live and released on September 30th
Throughout John's career he has been involved in many charities, promoted many products and been presented with numerable awards. He is Australia's most talented and popular entertainer, engaging his audience immediately he comes on stage.
An admirable, humble, humane, ethical, hard working and devoted family man, John Farnham is truly a very special Australian Icon.