Greg Ham, Flute and Sax Player for Men at Work, Found Dead at 58
UPDATED: Australian police say an autopsy turned up nothing suspicious in the death of the musician who played the famous riffs on the No. 1 hits "Down Under" and "Who Can It Be Now?"
Local police have ruled out foul play in the death of Greg Ham, a multi-instrumentalist who was a key member of ’80s hitmakers Men at Work.
Ham was found dead Thursday at his home in Melbourne, Australia. He was 58.
Homicide detectives initially said there were “several unexplained circumstances” surrounding the case, but the results of an autopsy Friday showed nothing suspicious about the musician's death.
Results of the postmortem have not been publish, so the cause of death remains unknown. But the The Sydney Morning Herald reported Thursday that a close friend said Ham had been using heroin and drinking heavily in the wake of the “Down Under” lawsuit. “The whole case had undone him,” the paper quoted the friend as saying.
Ham played the familiar saxophone riff in Men at Work’s breakout hit “Who Can It Be Now?” and, even more famously, supplied the flute hook in the bouncy follow-up single “Down Under.” Fueled by heavy play on MTV, both hit No. 1 in the U.S., in late 1982 and early 1983, respectively. Fueled by those hits and a third, less popular — though equally catchy — single, “Be Good Johnny,” the group’s debut album, Business as Usual, topped the Billboard 200 for 15 weeks and has sold 6 million units stateside
The band received the best new artist Grammy in 1983, still the only Australian act to win the category.
“Greg Ham was a multitalented musician and songwriter,” Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow said Thursday. “His playing style made a distinctive mark on Men at Work’s hits, helping them to become one of the success stories of the new wave era. Our deepest sympathies extend to his family, friends and fans worldwide, who will continue to enjoy his work as part of musical history.”
But the fluttering flute riff that drove the reggae-flecked “Down Under” became the focus of a bitter court battle. In June 2009 — 28 years after the song’s release — Men at Work was sued for copyright infringement by Larkin Music, which owned rights to the 1935 children’s rhyme “Kookaburra.” Larkin alleged that part of the “Down Under” flute riff was lifted from “Kookaburra.” A court agreed and awarded 5 percent of the song’s royalties since 2002 and going forward to Larkin.
Men at Work appealed the decision, but in October, the Australia high court refused to hear the case.
Ham, who did not write “Down Under” and was unaffected by the royalties lien, was said to be devastated by the decision. He told Fairfax Media at the time, “It will be the way the song is remembered, and I hate that.”
Ham, born Sept. 27, 1953, in Australia, also played keyboards and harmonica for Men at Work. The band came together during the late ’70s in Australia and was signed to Columbia Records in 1981. But despite immediate local success, Business as Usual’s U.S. release was delayed for half a year. After its stateside bow, the band toured North America as the opener for Fleetwood Mac.
The band’s sophomore album, Cargo, arrived in May 1983, with Business as Usual still on the charts. It spawned two more Top 10 singles and MTV staples in “Overkill” and “It’s a Mistake” but couldn’t duplicate its predecessor’s popularity, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and eventually going triple platinum.
A third album, 1985’s Two Hearts, stalled at No. 50. Ham left the group during the ensuing tour, and the group split soon after.
Ham reunited with Men at Work frontman Colin Hay in 1996, and the band toured extensively. The band also played “Down Under” during the Closing Ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
''He was the funniest person I knew,'' Hay said Thursday. ''We shared countless, unbelievably memorable times together.' I love him very much. He’s a beautiful man."
Ham is survived by wife, Linda Wostry, from whom he was recently separated, and two children.
Watch the video for "Down Under" below.