Little River Band
Michelle LaRose talks with Wayne Nelson for Road To Jacksonville
Photographs by Michelle LaRose
Little River Band is best known for their mega-hits such as Lonesome Loser, Lady, Cool Change, Reminiscing and The Night Owls just to name a very few. Originally hailing from Australia, their name was derived from Little River Road in Geelong, Victoria Australia. Their mascot is the platypus, which is the only egg-laying mammal.
Ruling the airwaves in the ’70’s Little River Band has had sixteen Top 10 singles and by 1982 was the only band to ever have a Top 10 hit single every year for six years in a row. They have took home gold, platinum and multi-platinum awards and continue to delight audiences young and old alike.
As Little River Band criss-cross North America, bassist Wayne Nelson found a free moment in his schedule to chat with us.
Wayne: Very good. How are you?
RTJ: Good. I’m surprised you’re not out on the beach getting [sun] rays today.
Wayne: No. I’m starting to avoid rays. I’d rather be white than get sunburned.
RTJ: I’d rather be white than wrinkled and old, that’s why I avoid it.
Wayne: There you go.
RTJ: How was the show last night?
Wayne: It was fabulous. The show was really good last night. It was sold out. It was very energetic and a lot of fun. It was a good night!
RTJ: Your website refers to you as “Grandpa”. Should I address you as “Grandpa”?
RTJ & Wayne Nelson: Laughing
Wayne: You can if you want. I don’t mind at all.
RTJ: [Laughing] You’re not old enough to be my Grandpa! Are you a Grandpa?
Wayne: I am not a Grandpa. I have a thirty-year-old son. I could be but as of yet, no. I’m just “Grandpa” on the bus.
RTJ: Your new album is titled Re-arranged. The album is composed of classic Little River Band tunes rearranged, how so?
Wayne: Over the course of the last four or five years there’s been some new blood in the band. We’ve done a lot of new material. We’ve done new material with the players in a different direction than the way the band used to construct their songs and their stage set. It gets a very good response, an energetic response. I don’t mean to say that this is better, this is just different, it reflects more of the sound and energy of the 2000’s as opposed to the ‘70’s and 80’s. Every once in a while, we’ll take one of the old songs and we’ll either add a solo to it, change keys, get a sing-a-long going with the crowd or in some cases literally lift the hood and completely re-vamp the feel of the song. Keep the lyric, keep the spirit of the song, keep the vocals but let the song morph into something else as years go by. We were constantly getting feedback from people going through the line when we sign things after the show and they were asking, “Where can I get that show? I’ve got The Greatest Hits, I can put The Greatest Hits on and I can hear it the way it used to be but where do I get that energy?” So we decided to go into the studio early this year and put that energy into this new CD called Re-arranged.
RTJ: The album is only available at live shows and LittleRiverBand.com?
Wayne: That’s right. We’ve done this basically for fans that come to live shows or go to the web site. It’s not going to be available in stores. It’s not going to be online with a whole bunch of other people; it’s more of an “In-house” thing.
Wayne: New material is always being worked on with the band. You’ll hear some of the new material that we’ve had on stage over the course of the last couple years in the set tonight along with the hits. I think it’s about time. We go on an 18-month 2-year cycle for new stuff so I’m betting there will be new material in 2007. I want to do that because everybody in this line-up is a songwriter and has a songwriter mentality as well as performance so it won’t be long before it erupts. If we don’t let it flow naturally, it’s going to pop out anyway, so we’ll probably get some new stuff on stage next year.
RTJ: The band is currently a mix of Americans and Australians. How are things coordinated between members who live on opposite sides of the planet?
Wayne: Well, everybody lives in America now except one of our player’s lives in Ireland. It’s easier to get here from Ireland than it is from some places in the U.S. to be honest. One of our guys lives up in Minnesota and I can get our Irish guitar player over here easier and cheaper than I can our guitar player from Minnesota down from the woods. [Chuckling]. We don’t do any Australian flights anymore so coordinating and planning things is a lot easier than it’s been in the past.
RTJ: The Little River Band message boards are wondering where Stephen (Housden) is. He has been notably missed. He’s not on this tour?
Wayne: He’s taking a year off. He’s doing two solo CD’s. He’s doing a solo CD where he’s wrote a lot of songs with lyrics, he actually might be singing which is going to be a very rare commodity. Then while he was doing that, he’s come up with a concept for doing an acoustic record, which he’s an amazing acoustic guitar player. He’s going to do an acoustic record with a lot of multiple tunings and with an international flavor to it. Stephen needed to recharge the batteries, after twenty-five years he hadn’t missed a show. He’s just taking a few months off and writing and getting inspired. He will be back!
RTJ: Have any of the other members worked on solo albums?
Wayne: No. We’ve all been part of other projects. To date, none of us have done any solo records. I did a record with a partner called L.A. Cowboys a few years ago. We’re toying with the idea of doing another one. You never know! I think next year might be a good year for some new material from everybody.
RTJ: Many bands that have had a 30-year reign such as yourselves have seen countless member changes as you have also. Can you introduce us to the current line-up?
Wayne: Sure can! Our keyboard player is Chris Marion. Chris was in a band in Nashville called Western Flyer. He has done a lot of projects with a lot of different bands and recordings in Nashville. Prior to us, he was playing with a girl named Alison Brown. He comes from a gospel and country and songwriter, singing and keyboard playing background.Our drummer, not so much this year but last year, we shared him a lot with Vince Gill… Our drummer is Billy Thomas. He was also in a band out of L.A., a country-rock band called McBride & the Ride. They had a number one song on the country charts in the early to mid ‘90’s. Billy does a lot of sessions and a lot of vocal work in Nashville and plays drums for Vince then turns around and comes over and plays rock n’ roll with us.Our guitar player is a producer/song-writer, he’s the guitar player that’s subbing for Stephen this year and his name is Rich Herring. He’s an excellent player, very economic and tasty with his placement of soloing and different studio sounds. Stephen is very much a ‘live performer-player’, Rich is more of a cerebral player and he’s really going over well with people who want to sit and absorb and watch. Rich sucks you in while he’s playing guitar because you’re drawn to watch how intense he is. He’s a very good player. Greg Hind has been in the band for seven years now. He is Australian and lead vocal, lead singer, songwriter. Myself playing bass and singing lead vocals, I’ve been in the band for twenty-seven years now. So that’s us.
Wayne: Very much so! There’s no question and it’s always been that way. When the band was ‘up-and-coming’ and starting to reach out for international success they made it very, very clear and very known that the intent was to capture the American market. While they were intent on doing that they had support from Australia but was a very pub oriented, hard rock, tough rock place. More like INXS or Midnight Oil… not as broad based and not as pop-e or blues-e as America. Another band down there that was very popular was a band called Cold Chisel… hard-core… and AC/DC of course. Rock n’ roll bands. As the success continued in America there was a buzz for the band and there was a curiosity factor. After a couple of years of success in Australia, the income and the tour dates all started weighing very heavily towards America. Our tour schedule became less and less and less in Australia. There were little spurt where we would give it a shot but America has been the predominate place for us to tour for many years. We still tour in Europe a little bit, the Orient a little bit and New Zealand a little bit. There’s been an upsurge of popularity over there. Far and away, America is the band’s most popular country.
RTJ: You produced the album “Where We Started From” amongst others. Is it hard to wear two hats at once or do you feel that you have more freedom to do what you want when you are producing yourself?
Wayne: Oh boy, that’s a big question. It is difficult to wear two hats… to be the producer and be the performer. I can do it a lot easier as the bass player because as the bass player, my main criteria really doesn’t get in my way. My main criteria is energy and a good feel for producing the rhythm tracks. When it comes to singing lead, the hard part is to produce the amount or reign back the amount of emotion and the performance of a lead vocal. I literally gathered the band together for a group opinion about, “Is that good enough? Did I capture what you wanted as a songwriter?” So it’s harder to do that. When you talk about freedom, to do what you want when you have a history like Little River Band and you go to produce a new CD in the band’s twenty-sixth year. There are, I wouldn’t call them boundaries, I don’t feel like we were confined by those but there’s an expectation, there’s a standard and there’s a sound that a lot of times you stay within those parameters in order to do two things; live up to the history of the band, number one and number two, not freak people out who will say, ”That doesn’t sound like Little River Band! That sounds like Prince!” You don’t want to go so far outside the norm that it doesn’t feel like the band that you’re in. When you are surrounded by good musicians you can do it! You can go in a lot of different directions. Within the boundaries of Little River Band, there is freedom to do what ever you want to do. I love a lot of different kinds of music. One of Little River Band’s strengths is also a weakness. We’ve done all kinds of music with all kinds of production and sometimes we leave people behind and I didn’t want to do that with Where We Started From I wanted to make sure that everybody knew that the philosophy and the integrity of what Little River Band has done in the past was still there. Lyrically, vocally and musically. I wanted to stay within the boundaries for all of those reasons and I’m very proud of Where We Started From. I was proud of the effort and the lyrics and the songs. I think it was a very, very good representation of the extent of the band’s career. Know what I mean? We’re in our thirty first year now. The songs that we’ve done for those new CD’s have been on stage and people have accepted them as being part of the string, part of the history of Little River Band music. I’m proud that we were able to do that and continue to.
Wayne: Angel House is a concept in mine that addresses family abuse. Spousal abuse and child abuse. I lost a daughter about fifteen years ago in a car accident. Shortly thereafter every report and everything that I saw that had to do with domestic violence where children who were ultimately the victims hit me in such a hard way after loosing my daughter who was my little girl. She was the apple of my eye, I just treasured her. To have her snatched away from me… I then saw over and over again somebody else’s treasure, should have been, was either dying or permanently scarred or emotionally scarred by that abuse. I started to track a way to get to it as opposed to just putting a band-aid on it. Angel House was something that I wanted to focus towards young mothers who had a chance to break the cycle, get away and change their lives and in turn change their baby’s lives and start making a difference two lives at a time. Not that the other agencies aren’t valuable or necessary for helping people survive. I was looking for a way to get at the core of the problem and try to help people turn the corner before they passed it on if you will. The concept is still there. It has been such an eye opener, such a difficult task to get other people to buy into the concept. I’ve had mercenary politicians take me all the way to the point where I had a property and they turned around and put their hand out and said, “Where’s my cut?” I said, “I don’t have a cut this is a charity. We don’t have any money, you were supposed to help me raise money to do this.” With a full tour schedule and things like that happening it has been a very difficult chore to get an actual facility and get it off the ground. I have not given up hope and I’m going to continue to try to do that where I live in Nashville and have that be my life’s work when the bus stops rolling if you know what I mean.
RTJ: The loss of a child must be the most devastating thing a person could go through. For others in a similar situation, what are some of the ways you have learned to cope with such a tragedy?
Wayne: It’s probably as varied as the people themselves. My only way was to always remember the good moments. I have a son who was also in that same accident. Staying strong for him was an absolute priority. Family was a priority. There are times when you are strong for other people and there are times when you just have to let go and grieve and let it out. Giving up is never an option. I’m still trying not to give up, but to pass on all of the good I had with her for those thirteen years. If I see other families where there are other people going through it, I am supportive in any way I can be. I treasure life and I treasure being a musician. To give up is as wrong as to be angry. It is the way it is. It’s one of those things that can’t be changed and can’t be fought. The only thing you can do is try to make something positive for the world out of what is truly tragic. Trying to make peace in any way you can so that nobody else gets hurt and nobody else dies. I know that’s idealistic. What else do you have to live up to except to live up to life? I don’t know how else to say it. You have to accept it. You’re not going to get over it. You can contain it. You can choose when you go there. You can’t get over it and you have to be ready for the fact that some day when you least expect it, it will come up and it will take you down. You just have to go down and let it happen and then get back up and move on.
RTJ: Today terrorists were caught trying to board airplanes in London bound for America. Does news of this sort make you apprehensive to travel?
Wayne: Always. Quite frankly that anger and that desperation and that kind of icy focus, people are willing to give up their own lives in order to take other lives to make their point known makes absolutely no sense to me. I don’t understand how they could look to a higher being or a higher purpose and then want to take away somebody else’s life. It’s totally senseless and illogical and yet they see total sense in it. It is for what ever higher purpose that they are doing it for. Does it make me apprehensive about travel? Of course because you don’t know who you’re standing next to or who you’re sitting next to and what they might have snuck past, with all due respect, our over blown bureaucracy and machinery and so on and so forth. There are computer hackers, there are people who are going to try and get past security and do their worst regardless of whatever technology we put in front of them. It is a very scary proposition. If you want to get into it then you don’t fly and then you don’t travel and then you don’t go out of your house and then you don’t live your life. Apprehensive? Yes. It’s tragic and there are no questions I do feel in some way that if we all stay inside, they win. I don’t see that as being an option. I don’t want to give up Florida to them, or Minnesota or Cleveland or Beirut! You know what I mean? It’s our planet and I don’t see it their way. I don’t see it with fences and boundaries and bullets because of religion and because of a higher purpose. That makes no sense to me what so ever. I’m working on… Well I can’t… I’m not going to give away my song title but I’m working on something that says exactly that. It makes no sense at all. I’m sorry, I don’t care how many of you there are, how you put your fist in the air; you don’t make any sense to me.
RTJ: What is next for Little River Band when the American tour is over?
Wayne: Thankfully after thirty-one years I don’t think the American tour is ever over. It pauses for a minute then the bus starts rolling again. We are extremely gratified that people want to hear this music and are inspired by this music. It’s a good energy that we get back from people and that we put back out there. We’ve done new recordings but we haven’t done new music for about a year and a half so I know that’s going to bubble over and we’re going to have some new stuff out next year. We’re all looking forward to the thirty fifth anniversary, which will be in the year 2010. Between then and now, there will be a lot more shows and new music next year always with a new twist to the tunes. As you’ll see tonight, people enjoy it. The say, “Oh! I remember that one! That’s right! They did that one too!” They start singing along and by the end of it they’re on their feet and it’s been a great exchange between them and us. That’s going to keep on going. It’s not going to stop.
RTJ: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with Road To Jacksonville today.
Wayne: It’s a pleasure! By the way I just wanted to throw in… We owe Jacksonville Florida a huge debt of Thanks. I say it every time we come down here. The band broke in America, in Jacksonville with an independent late night disc jockey named Bill Bartlett who started playing Long Way There back in 1976. It all spread in America from there. I can’t say that it wouldn’t have happened but he was the first one so Florida holds a spot near and dear to all our hearts.