As the 1970s were winding down, Little River Band had already graced the charts numerous times with songs that are indelibly imprinted into our mass consciousness. Songs like “Lady,” “Cool Change,” “Help Is on Its Way,” “Reminiscing,” and “Lonesome Loser” had all charted before the 1980s dawned. The lasting legacy can be found in the continued support of fans around the world and in pop culture references like Will Ferrell’s comedy The Other Guys.
But even as the first wave of Little River Band success was at a peak, there were some changes, some not entirely cool, within the band. Friction developed among the founding members, outside projects became a higher priority, and personnel changes were already beginning.
One of those changes came in the form of new bass player Wayne Nelson who joined the band in 1980. Coming from the Jim Messina Band was less surprising than the fact that Nelson also came from Illinois, a marked difference from the bandmates who were then from Australia.
Nelson quickly made his mark, singing lead on two LRB hits, as lead vocalist on “The Night Owls” and sharing vocal duties with Glenn Shorrock on “Take It Easy on Me.” Shorrock left in 1982.
Trying to take it easy
With so much coming and going, Nelson certainly couldn’t have suspected that this year he’d be on the cusp of celebrating 40 years with the band and is now not only the lead singer but the man behind the scenes that makes it all work.
Despite the upcoming milestone, however, Nelson has no plans to mark the occasion.
“Not really,” Nelson said in an interview with Whatzup. “There are a lot of people who want me to do something, people trying to coerce me into making a big deal out of it. But I don’t want to. I’d rather we just keep moving forward.”
Some of his reticence stems from continued bad blood among previous members. Nelson refers to 2015 as when the “s--- hit the fan,” including a cease and desist order from former bandmates over the use of early recordings in advertising current shows.
Nelson is sensitive to the fact that he’s now the longest-tenured member, but doesn’t regard himself as the most important.
“In 2015 the band was 40 years old, next year it’ll be 45,” Nelson said. “I’d rather put the focus on the band and the music rather than myself. I’ve outlived quite a few people, musicians and singers who have been with Little River Band, but I’m not saying that I’m more important than any of them. People get upset because they think that I’m doing that. Little River Band has been through a lot of personnel changes. When I came in, the change had to happen. The bass player quit. There have been a lot of great players, great musicians who have played with the band.”
Nelson’s 40-year run has not been without interruption. He left in 1996, frustrated by the band’s disinterest in making new music, something he thought to be vital to the continued growth and evolution of Little River Band. He returned in 1999 and immediately turned that around.
Since 2000 LRB has generated new music regularly. A couple years ago, Nelson thought that a portion of their catalog needed to be given new life. The six-disk set, The Big Box, was released in 2017.
“We’ve left all of the commemorative box sets to other people,” Nelson said. “The Big Box was different from what other people have done, focusing on just the new music that we’ve done since 2000. When I came back to the band, I knew we had to start making new music, and we had an album in 2000, one in 2001, a live album in 2003, a Christmas record, and we put out a DVD with live footage of us playing with an orchestra. I wanted to compile all that represented the second half of the band’s history.”
A mix of old and new
Nelson said that while much of their setlist is comprised of the early material, they do play newer songs at every show. One in particular has become a fan favorite.
“The Lost and the Lonely,” a cut from their 2013 album Cuts Like a Diamond, is a tribute to the military, and Nelson said it strikes a chord with audience members of all persuasions.
“No matter what your politics, putting all politics aside, it is a huge choice for someone to decide to join the military and go somewhere to serve our country,” he said. “It’s huge for the young person who’s doing it, it’s huge for their family and loved ones. And every night when we play that song, we get a standing ovation. New music is important because it’s what gives a band staying power.”
Nelson has also taken on duties as the band’s bookkeeper (“It’s easy to do if you have Quick Books”) and tour manager (“It never fails that eventually you feel like you work for them instead of them working for you”). But it’s his face and voice that have represented the band for many years — even if he’s not going to make a special fuss about it. His life has been Little River Band almost around the clock for quite some time, but he doesn’t believe it’ll last forever.
“I don’t know when I’ll retire, but I know there will come a time when I won’t be able to do it physically, as a vocalist,” he said.
“But I want to be here in 2025 to celebrate the 50th anniversary. I want to release an album with an orchestra, I’d like to release an album of new music. I want to do it for our fans as a thank you for keeping us on the road as a band all these years.”
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