Greg Ham, Men at Work flute player, dies at 58

April 20, 2012

Greg Ham, a member of the Australian band Men at Work whose saxophone and flute punctuated its smash 1980s hits, was found dead April 19 at his home in Melbourne, Australia. He was 58.

Police said the death did not appear to be suspicious, although the cause was not immediately known. A friend who found Mr. Ham’s body said he had not been the same since 2010, when a court ruled that his signature flute riff in one of the band’s biggest hits had been stolen from a classic campfire song.

Men at Work topped charts around the world in 1983 with the songs “Down Under” and “Who Can it Be Now?” and won a Grammy Award that year for best new artist.

Mr. Ham was perhaps best known for playing the flute riff for “Down Under,” which remains an unofficial anthem for Australia. But the tune came under intense scrutiny in recent years after the band was accused of stealing the catchy riff from the children’s campfire song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.”

The publisher of “Kookaburra” sued Men at Work, and in 2010, a judge ruled the band had copied the melody. The group was ordered to hand over a portion of its royalties and lost its last appeal in October.

Mr. Ham later said the controversy had left him devastated, and he worried that it would tarnish his legacy.

“It has destroyed so much of my song,” he told the Age newspaper in Melbourne after the court ruling. “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.”

Mr. Ham played the saxophone on “Who Can It Be Now?” He also played keyboards. More recently he worked as a guitar teacher.

Greg Norman Ham was born Sept. 27, 1953, in Melbourne. He met Men at Work frontman Colin Hay in 1972 when they were seniors in high school. The band’s original lineup included Mr. Ham, Hay, guitarist Ron Strykert and drummer Jerry Speiser. Mr. Ham left the group in 1985, and the band folded soon afterward.

— From news service and staff reports

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