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Long before Nickelback, Little River Band was pop music's guilty pleasure

It's tough to find 'serious' music lovers who admit the Little River Band's music is more than a guilty pleasure. But the band's record sales beg to differ.

By Jeb Wright

When the Little River Band formed in 1975, it was purely for commercial gain: Hit it big in the U.S. and make a lot of money.

And LRB did just that.

Although it can be tough to find “serious” music lovers who will admit to viewing Little River Band as anything more than a soft-rock guilty pleasure, the band’s record sales of more than 25 million suggest otherwise, as well as its stack of toe-tapping, country-pop hits: “Cool Change,” “Happy Anniversary,” “Help Is On The Way,” “Lady,” “Lonesome Loser,” “Man On Your Mind,” “Night Owls,” “Other Guy” and “Reminiscing” (which was John Lennon’s go-to song to shag by during his “Lost Weekend” separation from wife Yoko Ono).

Little River Band Sleeper Catcher

The Little River Band’s founding lineup was packed with veteran artists who already had names for themselves with other Aussie pop acts: vocalist Glenn Shorrock (The Twilights, Axiom); guitarist Beeb Birtles (Zoot); guitarist Graeham Goble (Mississippi); drummer Derek Pellicci (Mississippi); and manager Glenn Wheatley (Masters Apprentices bassist). Rounding out the band’s so-called “classic lineup” were guitarist David Briggs and bassist George McArdle. Talented as they were, The Little River Band’s members didn’t particularly get along. Original members flip-flopped in and out of the band for years. Nelson, who joined in 1980, kept the whole thing together — something he still does.

Little River Band publicity photo Capitol Records

Little River Band, circa 1980. Publicity photo courtesy of Capitol Records.

Without Wayne Nelson, the Little River Band would simply be a thing of the past. But LRB, which now is based in the United States, remains firmly in the present with its first new studio album in years, “Cuts Like A Diamond.” The guitars and vocal harmonies — the signature sounds of LRB — are alive and well at the hands of Nelson and his modern-day bandmates: Greg Hind (guitar), Rich Herring (lead guitar), Chris Marion (keyboards) and Ryan Ricks (drums).

GOLDMINE: “Cuts like a Diamond” is a good album. Yet, it is not always cool to admit you’re a fan of The Little River Band.
WAYNE NELSON: I appreciate what you’re saying. We have the status of the band that people don’t admit they like, but they have the “Greatest Hits” CD in the player in their car.

Little River Band Cuts Like A Diamond

GM: Despite that, from before your time to your time in the band, LRB has a classy and unique sound.
WN: We have never based our career on a haircut, or Spandex or a keyboard sound. It is all about the songs. There is one thing that is powerful, and the Eagles do this, too: We treat our vocals like we have five lead singers. We put them out front, and we let them be part of the power of the band. There are not a lot of people who can say that they have done that, as a band, for 38 years now.

GM: “The Lost and the Lonely” from the new album captures that classic Little River Band sound.
WN: The demo that came to me starts with that big vocal, and I knew that was a Little River Band opening and chorus. From that inspirational sound in that first measure, it went to a dark place. The verses, to my ears, didn’t line up with the inspiration of the chorus, or where I knew the label and I wanted this CD to go. It was not the kind of statement that we wanted to make. I went back to the writers, who are great Nashville writers, and they came back to me the next day, and I just went, “You nailed it, as that is exactly the kind of story that we want to tell.”

GM: How did you go from being the bass player to a lead vocalist in the band?
WN: I was part of the vocals, and when we did “Time Exposure” (1981), I became one of the lead vocalists. There was a night where one of the three guys lost his voice, and I had been basically a background singer who played bass. We were playing in Chicago, my hometown, and they were going to have to cancel the show. I told them that they didn’t have to cancel the show, because I had been singing these songs, and I knew the songs were challenging, but that I had understood the harmonies, as I had been singing three-part harmonies my whole life. I said, “Let’s go do sound check. I know Beeb [Birtles] is not going to be able to sing all night, but let’s not cancel the show, as we will be fine.” We did the show.

GM: Other than the commercial aspect of remaining the Little River Band, you’ve been doing this for more than three decades. Were there more reasons that the financial for you to keep the name The Little River Band?
WN: Having been through the roller coaster with the people that were there, originally, including management, and it being a foreign country to me, the whole experience was eye-opening, to say the least. It was a huge learning curve for me. In the midst of that, I have seen real reactions from people that I treasure. They are not about being rock stars or about sex, drugs and rock and roll; I’m not talking about those kinds of clichés. I am talking about people saying they got me through the passing of their father, or they got me through the Gulf War. People have said they were married to our songs. In some way or another, they are in the crowd every night.

Little River Band publicity photo

Today, Little River Band features (from left) Wayne Nelson, Ryan Ricks, Chris Marion, Rich Herring and Greg Hind. In 2013, the group released “Cuts Like A Diamond” its first new studio album in years. Publicity photo.

GM: You have earned your place in the band. You have a responsibility to the past, present and future of the LRB.
WN: If I had not been on “Time Exposure” and I had not sang on “The Night Owls” and “Take It Easy On Me” and, then the [John] Farnham years, and so on and so forth, then I wouldn’t feel right about calling what I do with this band a responsibility. Going up and down with the band for over a decade with those guys, and then to just turn and walk away from it — I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do it. This isn’t some altruistic thing where I have to keep touring the Little River Band so people can hear their music; it is more than that. I feel part of it. I went away for three years because we were not doing any more new music. As soon as new blood came in and wanted to do new music, then I was in.

We have this great vehicle with this great history, and we can combine the new music with it, and we can continue to write new pages for this story. If I ran out of gas, then I would be the first one to say that I don’t have it any more. It is a thrill, every night, to walk out onstage and to take people away from it all for an hour-and-a-half or two hours, and put them back into that place where they were when they first heard these songs. It is a gift, and it is an honor. It I can’t physically do it, then I will quit. It is not so much a responsibility as it is an honor. I would feel really neglectful to stop the bus and get off.

GM: Too many people come to quick assumptions without finding out the entire story.
WN: You’re right. Look, I get death threats because they think I, we‚ the people who have kept going, that we stole something from Australia and that we took part of their heritage as we have the trademark. The history of the band is written, recorded and digitized. It is exactly what it is. It was a business plan put together by good musicians and good singers and they aimed for the USA radio, and if they don’t tell you that, then they are not telling you the truth, plain and simple. That is what they were after.

It is written in print; they are quoted as saying it. They did it, but the thing that they created ate them up. They couldn’t continue to service it by living in Australia and not coming over here. The travel, one by one, just took its toll.

GM: You are very, very proud of “Cuts Like a Diamond.”
WN: I am very proud of this album from the standpoint of the guys that I work with. The guys that I work with catch grief from some people because they are “not authentic,” and therefore, they can’t be good, and therefore, they don’t need to be listened to, which is crap. I am proud to have been a part of the effort to showcase them, as well as making a new statement for the Little River Band. GM