VFTS – Wayne Nelson – LRB Years
In part one of our maiden voyage of View From The Side, we started an interview with Wayne Nelson, bassist and venerable lead singer of the classic rock act Little River Band. There is such a rich history and classic back story that it felt apropos to commit the LRB years portion of the interview to it’s own special delivery. It features all of the stereotypical rock egos and melodrama that that lights up story teller segments… or perhaps Time-Life infomercial sales. Let’s jump right in!
In the business of touring bands, the ONLY thing that is truly constant is the change. Personnel changes. You are injecting a group of creative types into a bohemian lifestyle that is tempered by ego, adulation, and liberal access to vices – what could possibly go wrong? The inevitable human consequence of this equation is that those suited to the lifestyle survive, those unsuited drop out. The history of Little River Band reads much the same. As a matter of fact, when Wayne Nelson joined LRB in 1979 after opening for them with Jimmy Messina, he joined amid an extensive sequence of players.
“You might say that my audition was that Jimmy’s (Messina) opening slot on a two week tour in ‘79,” recounts Nelson. “LRB had been through three touring bassists and had used 4 other studio players between tours. They were looking for a singing bass player to pitch in on vocals; at least that was the story I was told when they popped the question at the end of that tour”.
Nelson found that there was another agenda in his hiring in that the four principal members at the time had four different directions they wanted to take the band. One of the members wanted to bring some new lead vocal potential into band and some fresh blood. LRB was actually formed in Australia as somewhat of a super group with its business model being primarily directed at taking a vocal band to exploit American radio.
Exploit it they did – for six consecutive years from the late 70’s LRB charted a top ten single each year with their songs literally playing millions of times on American radio. The rigors of constant touring around the world and pressure to continue to record hits was taking it’s toll on the chemistry of an already fractured band.
“Shortly after I joined, we began preparing for a new record and rehearsing new material,” recalls Nelson. “Glenn (Shorrock) would usually skip early rehearsals and join later in the process. So, when ‘Night Owls’ was introduced, the other guys asked me to sing it since Glenn was not there and it just got placed into the regular set with me on lead vocals. George Martin was selected to produce the new record (Time Exposure) and after recording, he and the label decided the first single would be ‘Night Owls’. It went Top Five”.
On this same project that was being recorded by George Martin at his home studio enclave on Montserrat, Nelson also sang the lead vocals on what was to end up being the second single from the project and another hit – “Take It Easy On Me”. Nelson remembers that this did not go over well with lead singer, Shorrock.
“Glenn was predictably pissed that I as the new guy was singing the lead on what was to be the second single”, remembers Nelson. “Shorrock went back into the studio and re-sang the verses and choruses of the song but didn’t have the range to sing the bridge. That was the version of the song that ended up being released as a single.”
But, this dissension began a wave of significant personnel change. Within the next few years, a guitarist/writer left, the drummer and lead guitarist were replaced and Glenn Shorrock was voted out of the band and replaced by veteran Aussie singer John Farnham. The look and feel of the band changed dramatically but they were still recording and performing some great music according to Nelson.
“After Glenn left, many people said ‘No more – you guys are done’, says Nelson. “Yet I look at those next four years with Farnham and realize we recorded some great music. It didn’t chart as well but it did generate the hit ‘The Other Guy’. But with the change of the music business as the British wave hit and disco died a deservedly slow death, our radio singles did not fare as well. Shorrock came back and left after a short unsuccessful stint. Graham Goble left in 1990 and all of a sudden, it ended up with me and the guitarist (Stephen Housden) being the only principals left with control of the name. We still had a great band and there was a demand for the music so we continued to tour”.
With this typical gentrification of a band and his legitimate contribution to lead vocals on hits, one would think that criticism of his continued touring as lead singer of the band would diminish. Nelson takes it all in stride with a thoughtful consideration that speaks volumes about his commitment to the history and integrity of the band’s legacy.
“We get the question nightly as to who is an original member,” says Nelson. “It’s difficult to really draw a line and delineate just where that ultimate original membership begins and ends. Great music has happened across many phases and versions of the band with multiple lead singers and instrumentalists, all with varied success. Yes, we’ve had a revolving door of personnel but the door is attached to a great collection of music and songs that fans still want to hear now going on 40 years. The connection to that music for fans is visceral and it really transcends the players and personalities for the vast majority of listeners. We are all greatly respectful of this rich history and every performance pays homage to what we have all created and maintained through the history of the band. Bottom line is we’re grateful fans still want to experience the band and the music live.”
LRB currently tours doing around 85 shows per year around the world. There is no doubt to his rightful leadership as he fronts the band and deftly engages crowds on a nightly basis. He covers the significantly demanding vocals with ease and a professional demeanor that exemplifies his commitment to excellence. He has surrounded himself with a group of instrumentalists and vocalists that share the vision and represent remarkable stability for the band.
“The core group of guys in the band now have been working together longer than any other combination of personnel in the history of LRB, including the founding membership,” says Nelson. “They share my desire to pay all due respect to the fabric of the material but each bring their own personal interpretation and influence to the process. We are making our own history for LRB, continuing to create new music and enhance to brand of the band.”
Little River Band released a brand new project, “Cuts Like A Diamond” with all new material in 2013 on the Italian based label, Frontiers Records. Featuring band written songs blended with songs written by Nashville, Los Angeles and even European writers, “Cuts Like A Diamond” features the trademark big vocals accented with classic electric guitar riffs and sophisticated chord progressions.
“Frontiers approached us about doing a record that didn’t just redo or rehash the old hits,” Nelson comments. “This was of course attractive to us and it represented a great opportunity for this line up to create something from scratch. There is a lot of depth creatively in the band and I believe it really shows in the writing and arrangements on the CD. So far it’s received a lot of a great critical acclaim and has sold briskly in Europe where Frontiers has an established distribution chain. We’ve inserted several of the cuts into our live show and fans are really responding well to the new music. A new song injected into a repertoire of hits is often when fans go to the john or beer stand so we’ve been pleased that they are actually staying and even singing along on the new tunes.”
The band has released a couple of singles from the CD thus far and received considerable AOR and even country airplay in many markets. It’s obvious that LRB and Wayne Nelson still have a lot left to say and continue to tour vigorously into what will be their 40th Anniversary Year. Nelson speaks confidently about the band’s future.
“We’ve really refined the operation into a well oiled machine from band to crew,” Nelson reports. “It’s difficult to stage a band across a variety of venues and productions on a nightly basis. Our guys do it with consistent excellence at which our colleagues and peers marvel. We log thousands of miles in planes and buses but all work hard at bringing a consistent show that people come out to hear year after year. We recently had a fan and his wife who celebrated their 100th and 80th shows respectively. That kind of loyalty is inspiring and it compels us to power through the perils and travails of a very unglamorous collection of hotels and long days of travel.”
Whether you’re just meeting Wayne Nelson for the first time in an autograph line or whether you trudge around the world sleeping behind him in a bunk, you immediately recognize a sincerity and humility that is unusual in the ego fueled business that is rock and roll. No big bravado here – you instead find a guy with a good mid western work ethic and no nonsense drive to be professional. It’s a great privilege that I have to work with Wayne as a band mate but it’s an even greater honor to be called a friend. I can’t think of a better candidate for my first of hopefully many views from the side. There’s no doubt that Wayne’s invitation to join the ranks of Little River Band greatly enhanced my potential views! So, at the close of this maiden voyage, I admonish you to “view” wisely, my friends.
For more information on Wayne Nelson and Little River Band, feel free to visit their website.