Vale Chris Murphy, the man who drove INXS’ global success
If Chris Murphy approached his marketing strategies and negotiating skills with a take-no-prisoners’ aggression, it was because of the books he read in his younger days to prepare for his life as an artist manager, label executive, TV producer, digital pioneer and global strategist.
These included The Art of War, a Chinese military treatise from 5th century BC, the Peter F. Drucker management books by the Austrian author, The Art of International Negotiation, Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The General In His Labyrinth, the works of Hemingway and a number of biographies including that of financier Michael Bloomfield.
“I was researching why something was a success or a failure,” he said.
The 67-year-old passed away at his Sugar Bay Ranch property in Ballina, NSW earlier today (January 16) after a month-long battle with cancer.
“Without Chris’s vision, passion and hard work, the INXS story would be totally different,” INXS members said in a joint statement today.
“Chris’s star burned very bright and we celebrate a life well lived and send all our love to his family.”
Murphy took the unknown INXS to global success in the 1980s and sales of 50 million. He supplemented their songwriting and performance skills with an element of fashion and technology.
He took a break in 1995 (Michael Hutchence dating Kylie Minogue was the last straw), while he worked on his organic farming and early adopter digital projects including Australia’s first digital radio broadcaster Digital One.
In 1987 Murphy was rated by BRW magazine as Australian Entrepreneur of the Year
When he returned to INXS in 2008, it would not be in his previous role as manager, but as a global creative strategist.
“I’ve set myself a 10-year mission to bring value to their catalogue,” Murphy told TMN at the time. “They let it drop, or rather, allowed it to drop.”
He got back the band’s ownership of their songs and signed them to his Petrol Records, which he set up in 2001 to release a series of stylish and themed world music & electronica compilations from Cuban hip hop to Japanese trance.
Petrol was one of the first labels in the world to sign a direct deal with YouTube and Apple Music.
Among projects was a series of reissues, an album called Original Sin with guest singers, remix albums, and a ratings bonanza two-part Never Tear Us Apart mini-series for Seven Network which saw their back catalogue return to the ARIA charts.
At the time of his death, he was working with theatrical producer Michael Cassell on a Broadway show around INXS music, with this writer on an INXS-related movie script, an entertainment/tech hub called The X Building in Ballina which was to include an interactive INXS exhibition and a retirement home for music executives.
By introducing INXS music to the digital space, the band found a new audience of millennials.
In 2018, INXS’s streaming increased by 48% from the previous year with strong growth in the UK, Mexico, Asia and Japan.
Late last year, their The Very Best album was awarded diamond certification for sales of 500,000 in Australia.
In recent years, Murphy also broke through psychedelic-country siblings The Buckleys, who after notching up hits in Australia, were this year poised to crack the US market.
“Chris has been our guardian angel from the day we met him and he will continue to be for the rest of our lives,” Sarah, Lachlan and Molly Buckley said.
“As with everyone who was so blessed to have known him – the strength, passion, guidance and love he ignites is forever lasting.
“We are so grateful to have walked this earth with him, our best friend, greatest champion and mentor. His spirit and light will forever live within and around us.”
Murphy’s parents ran the theatrical entertainment agency Mark Murphy & Associates (MMA) in Wollongong from 1960, and at a young age, he would accompany his father to numerous showbiz events.
At 16 he joined his mother in running the agency in 1970 after his father’s death, shifting the focus to rock acts and pioneering the ‘door deal’ where acts would get some of the income collected at the door as well as their fee.
When INXS, then known as the Farriss Brothers, first approached him about taking them on as a manager, he turned them down.
Finally, he relented and warned them to say goodbye to their wives and girlfriends as they were going to spend the next few years on the road abroad.
INXS’s success allowed him and the band to give back to the local music industry, through Rhinoceros Studios and rooArt Records which signed You Am I, Ratcat, The Screaming Jets, Wendy Matthews and Absent Friends.
“As well as his love of the music and entertainment business, CM was passionate about agriculture, horse breeding, racing pigeons, surfing and rugby,” his family said.
“His competitive spirit seen on the polo field and the ice hockey rink was alive right to the end as he fought Mantle Cell Lymphoma.”
Murphy had a reputation for not suffering fools gladly and using his acid tongue.
He told this writer it was usually more theatre than anything else. “The important thing,” he winked, “is that the other person never finds out how much of it is theatre.”