Men At Work’s Greg Ham 1953-2012

By | Published on Friday 20 April 2012

Greg Ham

Greg Ham, a multi-instrumentalist best known as a member of Australian band Men At Work, has died aged 58. He died at his Melbourne home. The circumstances around his death are not yet known, though we know he was found by police after friends became concerned for his well-being, having not heard from him for a week.

Melbourne-born Ham became friends with Men At Work frontman Colin Hay in the early 1970s, and joined Hay’s band, which became Men At Work, more or less at its inception in 1979. He played various instruments for the outfit, including the saxophone, though is probably most notable for contributing the distinctive flute riff to the band’s biggest hit ‘Down Under’ which, of course, later became the subject of a drawn out copyright dispute.

Ham stayed with Men At Work through much of the band’s main years of activity, even when other founder members were eased out, and Hay’s original collaborator Ron Strykert chose to leave. Ham left the band in 1985, while they were still touring their third album, and the group, with Hay the only original member left in it, wound up the following year.

Hay reunited with Ham ten yeas later under the Men At Work moniker, undertaking various reunion tours in subsequent years, and performing ‘Down Under’ at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. That activity became less frequent in recent years though, with the band more frequently talked about in the context of the copyright lawsuit over the flute riff in ‘Down Under’.

Australian courts ruled that the riff had been lifted from the famous Aussie folk song ‘Kookaburra’ without permission, and that the company which now owned the publishing rights in that song was due a cut of the royalties from Men At Work’s biggest hit. After losing an appeal on the dispute, the band criticised ‘Kookaburra’ publisher Larrikin Music for having demanded such a high cut of the royalties to begin with (60%), saying that had it pushed for something closer to the 5% the courts awarded the company, an out of court settlement could have been reached, saving much hassle and heartache.

Ham himself said the copyright dispute had left him “shattered”, telling Fairfax Media: “It will be the way the song is remembered and I hate that. I’m terribly disappointed that that’s the way I’m going to be remembered – for copying something”.

As well as performing, Ham also did some work in music education, and dabbled in acting occasionally.