June 14, 2018
On recordings, on the radio and on stage, Little River Band are known for feel-good hits like "Reminiscing" and "Help Is On Its Way."
Behind the scenes, the band's mellow image has been marred a bit by feel-bad discord.
The person who often finds himself at or near the epicenter of this discord is an unlikely candidate for trouble stirring: current lead singer Wayne Nelson, who comes across on the phone as an earnest and principled guy.
Nelson, a Chicagoan whose first big break in the music business came when he toured with Jim Messina, joined Little River Band as a bassist in 1980.
Nelson was the only American in a band full of Australians and he joined at a time when the Australians weren't really getting along with each other.
"Little River Band's history is that it was an assembled band," he said. "It was constructed from four different acts that were successful in Australia. Management saw an opportunity to put together a vocal band with good writers. The business plan was: 'We're going to conquer American radio.'"
The business plan worked, Nelson said, but the personalities weren't always in sync.
It didn't take long after the band tasted its first American success for egos to clash.
An essay on the defunct Australian music site Howlspace had this to say about the state of the band in 1976:
"... the band also needed an outsider to control the frictions and competition between the band members. Since the first album, as much as possible, (Glenn Shorrock, Graeham Goble and Beeb Birtles) recorded separately in the studio.
"Everybody knew best, if you know what I mean," Nelson said. "The guy who wrote 'Lonesome Loser,' he knew best. The guy who wrote 'Cool Change,' he knew best. So the factions started to go to war."
Nelson said he was totally unaware of that dynamic when he joined the band.
"I arrived, and then I immediately started to feel this tension about what the direction was going to be," he said. "
Nelson was thrilled to learn that Beatles producer George Martin had been chosen to produce the 1981 album, Time Exposure.
"I thought, 'George Martin can certainly tame the crowd here,'" Nelson recalled.
It didn't work out that way.
"I just watched this wholesale war going on about how it was going to be," he said. "George did his job, but the guys made it very difficult for him."
It would be foolish to chart here all the firings, angry departures and returns to the fold that have happened throughout the band's history.
Nelson quit the band in the mid-1990s, largely because of a family tragedy.
But there were other factors.
"I went back to the band for the 20th anniversary," he said. "And the attitude at that point was, 'No new music because then we'd have to talk to the press and we'd have to promote.' It just didn't jibe with the band's politics.
"We limped along," Nelson said. "We performed 11 songs the same way every night. There was a lot of drinking and a lot of crap. It was not worth leaving home for. So I stopped in '96."
Nelson said the band ultimately "shot itself in the foot," which is to say, it let internal strife capsize external success.
Eventually, a Nelson-fronted version of Little River Band was formed by guitarist Stephen Housden, who owns the rights to the name.
Birtles, Shorrock and Goble subsequently tried to tour as Little River Band but Housden successfully stopped them from doing so in court.
In 2015, however, Shorrock prevented the current incarnation of the band (which has no founding members in it) from performing most of its best-known hits on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
That same year, Housden appeared on an Australian program called Sunday Night and stated that he would never let Shorrock, Goble and Birtles perform under the name Little River Band.
"Not in this lifetime," he said. "They'd use it as a grandstand to send more rubbish towards us. I can't see why I should give them a platform to do that."
What Little River Band is now that it wasn't prior to 2000 is comprised of people who are eager to collaborate on new music and who actually enjoy sharing a stage together, Nelson said.
The people who say that the current incarnation isn't the real deal are probably unaware that fans started saying the same thing in 1977.
"The first two guys to be removed from the band were responsible for the first record," Nelson said. "I always say, 'By that logic, Little River Band ceased to exist in 1976.' So where are you then?"
Nelson said he bears no ill will toward people who are loyal to any former Little River Band lineup.
"But please don't call me a fraud," he said. "I've been in the band for 38 years, and I have watched all this stuff happen. I have been part of every lineup change since 1979. You don't put the label of fraud on me for wanting to continue something that those guys all walked away from.
"Little River Band [have] always been good," Nelson said. "If you prefer the '77 version of Little River Band and you have DVDs and CDs of that version, God bless you. If you want to hear new music and you want to hear Little River Band still being played with energy and still being put out there by a member of the band who was original to five of the hits out of the total of 11, then please come and check it out."
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