Keeping Pace with the ‘Cool Change’
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Although the Little River Band are still considered an Australian group, understandable since the group was originally formed in Melbourne, the current lineup of the band has been led by American Wayne Nelson for more than a decade. Having joined the group in 1980, in the midst of the group’s peak of popularity, Nelson quickly made his mark with his lead vocals on “The Night Owls,” introducing fans to a voice other than singer Glenn Shorrock. While Shorrock’s voice was iconic, particularly on such hits as “Reminiscing” and “Cool Change,” Nelson has seamlessly covered those duties since 2000 when he officially became the frontman for the band.
But when the group first appeared in 1975, it was something of a supergroup to anyone familiar with Australian music. The band quickly began charting with songs that not only featured Shorrock’s distinctive voice but remarkable harmonies which highlighted songs like “Lonesome Loser” and “Happy Anniversary.” Shorrock and Graeham Goble were responsible for writing most of those songs, but it was guitarist Goble who led the band through production, arrangements and overall direction, something appreciated by some of the band members more than others.
Shorrock reportedly bristled under that leadership, being quoted as saying that “it’s like having a policeman on stage with you every night.” Shorrock left for a time but returned later for a few years. When he left again in 1988, he yielded rights to the band name, which have since been given to Nelson.
Although the band first began charting with a series of hits in the 1970s, the 1980s were very good to them as well. Goble, who had written “The Night Owls” but couldn’t convince Shorrock to record it, saw Nelson’s voice as a new sound for the band, but even he couldn’t have imagined that Nelson would outlast all of them by many years.
Although the current lineup does not include any of its original members, Nelson is quick to point out in interviews that it’s the most stable lineup in the history of the Little River Band. Nelson himself has been with the group for more than 36 years, minus a break he took in the 1990s after the death of his daughter. He was brought back to tour with the band for a time in celebration of the group’s 20th anniversary but, as he said in a 2013 whatzup interview, he was discouraged by the direction the band was taking by that time.
“No one wanted to do original material anymore. They just seemed to want to show up and do the songs and leave, and that left no room for a creative life. That’s not being a musician, that’s being a robot. And even with the hits, there was so little desire to acknowledge the music that people wanted to hear. One guy didn’t want to do ‘Happy Anniversary,’ another guy didn’t want to do ‘Lonesome Loser,’ someone else didn’t want to do ‘Take It Easy on Me.’ And that left huge gaps in our history. People come to hear the songs that they remember from their first date with their wife or from their prom.”
Following that tour, Nelson left the group again, seemingly for keeps. He saw no future for the Little River Band and saw no need to continue with them. But after a few more personnel changes, Nelson was lured back yet again in 1999, and when the lead singer of that lineup departed in 2000, bassist Nelson become the lead vocalist permanently. But, not surprisingly, he was never content to be a traveling jukebox. Although happy and proud to play all of the songs that fans have come to expect from the Little River Band, Nelson’s re-arrival more than a decade ago was to mean a renewed openness to new original music.
Those new releases began appearing in 2001 with the album Where We Started From which included new songs written by current band members. With Shorrock gone for good and Goble leaving in 1992, WhereWe Started From provided the current lineup a chance to establish its own sound while allowing Nelson to make his first major mark as lead singer. To that end the CD included remakes of “The Night Owls” and “Cool Change.” Test of Time followed in 2004, and Re-Arranged, a collection of re-recordings of iconic songs using the vocals and arrangements in the band’s live shows, came in 2006. One review said Re-Arranged captured the sound of the Little River Band live without being a live album.
“These are classic songs, brilliantly performed, and captured with a real sense of the live feel that was the inspiration for the album,” wrote Martin Starkie. “It should find a place in the collection of every LRB fan.”
Two Christmas albums, We Call It Christmas and A Little River Band Christmas, followed in 2007 and 2011, respectively. In 2013, when the Little River Band last visited Fort Wayne’s Foellinger Theatre, they did so in support of their most recent album, Cuts Like a Diamond, a collection Nelson said at the time fulfills the creative needs of the band.
“Having new music gives us a fresh energy, and if our audience receives it with the same spirit as they do our older material, then we’re grateful for that. We might not get any more hit records, but we’re still doing what we want to do, still telling good stories with good music in the way that Little River Band [have] been doing for years.”
Although they have renewed their focus on new material in recent years, fans who attend Little River Band concerts can rest assured that Nelson understands and respects how audiences who come to their shows feel about their favorite LRB songs. It’s that mutual understanding between the band and its devoted following that keeps bringing the Little River Band back into towns year after year.
“We’ve toured with some bands, and I won’t name any names, but who sing their hits and then come off stage and say ‘I hate doing that song,'” he said in 2013. “You have to acknowledge how your audience feels about that music and be grateful for it. People have boats named ‘Cool Change,’ they played ‘Reminiscing’ at their weddings or their proms, they danced with their husbands or wives to ‘Lady.’ There are kids walking on this planet because their parents were listening to our songs. Recently we had a 21-year-old girl come up to us with tears coming down her face, mascara streaming down her cheek. And she told us ‘Yes, that music means a lot to the older people here tonight, but that music was played so much in my house when I was growing up and was part of my life when I was 6, 7, 8 years old.’ It’s cliché but it’s just such a part of people’s lives.”