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Reminiscing with Little River Band’s Wayne Nelson

Little River Band joins the Moody Blues Cruise April 2-7, 2014.
Little River Band joins the Moody Blues Cruise April 2-7, 2014.
LRB website

They’re called epiphanies…moments of clarity…illuminating insights. They’re the kinds of things that inspire people to change their lives – or at the very least pummel their forehead with a well-placed palm.

And there’s no band that has elicited more head-slapping lucidity than Little River Band – mainly due to an unsuspecting listener’s sudden comprehension that, “Oh, I forgot that they did that song…and that song…and that song.”

Between 1976 and 1983 the already-successful band from the land down under enjoyed unprecedented chart success in America, establishing a record for having Top 10 hits for six consecutive years – the first group to achieve that mark.

With stellar songwriting, powerful vocals, and guitar harmonies, LRB garnered an extraordinary run of best sellers including “It’s a Long Way There,” “Help Is on Its Way,” “Happy Anniversary,” Cool Change,” “Lonesome Loser” and “Take It Easy On Me,” staking their claim as one of the great vocal bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The band’s melodic “Reminiscing” leads their impressive list of tunes with over 5 million airplays on America radio according to BMI – with the equally beguiling “Lady” close behind with over 4 million airplays.

The current lineup – Wayne Nelson (bass), Greg Hind (rhythm guitar), Rich Herring (lead guitar), Chris Marion (keyboards) and Ryan Ricks (drums) – brings exceptional arrangements and fresh energy to the band's classic hits, making new memories for audiences with each live performance.

The hitmakers take their outstanding live show to the seven seas April 2-7, 2014, sailing the Caribbean as an integral part of The Moody Blues Cruise – Return To The Isle Of Wight. Little River Band will be joining Isle of Wight Festival alums The Moody Blues, ELP’s Carl Palmer, The Who’s Roger Daltrey, Lighthouse and Shawn Phillips, in addition to notable ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s artists like The Zombies and Starship. And of course, there are those “trifling” stops in the Bahamas and Grand Turk.

In between gigs, LRB’s Nelson recently chatted with me about the Cruise and the band’s matchless legacy. The long-time bandmember confessed that there were still lessons to learn for the music veterans, even as experienced Moody Blues Cruisers.

“Yeah, we learned that playing outside on the deck is a heck of a lot more fun than playing inside (chuckling). We won't be looking to do that. We were forced in because the weather canceled us the first time. The indoor theater was no where near as good as being outside with everybody having a great time.”

“We were relatively anonymous because nobody knew we were gonna be on that cruise. I don’t remember who decided they weren’t going, but we were a late addition to the lineup. This time is different. There are a lot of people on there that are going because we’re on it and then they’ll reap the benefits of seeing the other bands.”

“But we were very, very pleased at the very genuine reaction to doing what we do. We just put on our show and had a good time with it and got people involved. They were right there with us, regardless of who they had gotten on the ship for. They saw the hit value of the band and respected its history. We had a great reaction in both shows.”

“There was a little bit more energy because people weren’t strapped to a seat. Some people sat down, but everybody was free to roam and get a different sight line or dance or do whatever they wanted to do.”

“It actually felt more free spirited on the deck of the ship than it would normally at a place where they would have security and sightline restraints. If you couldn’t see there, you just had to stand up or walk to a different level and you were good to go, so it was very cool.”

While the spirited masses were laying down their best dance moves off stage, Nelson and his exceptionally lively bandmates were more than up to the task of keeping things moving on stage. The chemistry with the current lineup provides for a gloriously refreshing feel to LRB’s roster of hits – something that’s not lost on long-time bandmember Nelson.

“What’s interesting is that other than the drummer – who just came on a couple of years ago and is a rock solid part of this lineup – this is the most stable lineup in Little River Band’s history, which is a bizarre concept.”

“Greg’s been in the band 13 years. That’s longer than any of the founding members were there. And at every point along the way, if somebody decided the band wasn’t right for them or the band decided that person wasn’t right, they left. We always thought of it as an opportunity to make the band better bringing in new blood, new writing, new playing, all of those things that keep a band fresh. Every new person has become an opportunity to look for the next ‘right person,’ if you will.”

“I've been through a ton of those lineup changes as the founding members decided to leave. Suddenly one day I was standing there and there were none left and it was up to us to carry on. That certainly is a challenge, there’s no question.”

“I've gotten everything from, ‘Why don’t you just give it up?’ all the way to death threats. People in Australia have threatened me to never set foot in Australia again because I've stolen something from their history, their heritage. And it couldn’t be further from the case. Those people left. I had nothing to do with their choice to go. I just decided to continue on because I value the history of the band, too much of a thing to cherish to just stop the bus and get off.”

More than once over the past three decades plus, Nelson has had to decide whether or not to stop the bus for a “new passenger’ – a challenging undertaking given his perspective on LRB’s rich history.

“I know both sides of the coin because I was one of those people that was asked to join the 'band that had hit songs.' I am one of those people. So I understand when they come in. And when the challenge was there and we had to replace somebody in the band, for them to be able to come in and have a voice, have a presence and add something or change something, it gave everybody a feeling of ownership.”

“I'm the oldest guy, been standing up there the longest. But this lineup plays these songs and the people that are coming to see these guys, they own this band too. Yes I've been there longer and my stake goes back further than theirs does, but they’re just as invested as I am.”

“And that’s partly because my attitude is, ‘Wow, look at that new angle you just got on this song.’ I've played ‘Happy Anniversary’ almost 5,000 times. Now there’s those signature things that have to be done to it, but in-between the lines, there’s a lot of leeway that a creative band can have with a song and still put it across the way people seem to remember it. The cake is the same, the icing’s a little different, everybody’s happy.”

Changing the icing no doubt helps LRB's bassist and his bandmates to keep the music fresh even after playing their crowd favorites thousands of times. And there’s no question that Nelson’s refreshing perspective has helped as well.

“There are moments when I’m concerned for whether we’re doing the right thing at the right moment for the right set of people, you know? A lot of bands don’t care. They don’t think about it. They just go on, they do their thing and good for them that they can just disconnect and be that free and loose and so on.”

“But I've always been concerned that at every opportunity we get to play our music and present it to people, we need to make it as good as we can. I want people to have fun and enjoy it. If they’re not enjoying it, I actually ask them, ‘Why are you here? Why don’t you just go? If you don’t like what you’re hearing or you don’t want to be here because you don’t like these songs, than go gamble. But don’t bring down the people around you.’”

“Those are the only moments when I kind of drift out of the job description and start over-thinking things. But I have to say that the trade off with our crowd is, you never know when it’s gonna be the song that strikes them the deepest or the happiest, or whatever it is.”

“There’s a fine line. We can't go too far, because if we go too far and don’t honor the emotion of the song, than people immediately go, ‘What are you doing? What was that?’ So we stretch as far as we can to be creative.”

“There’s always a moment when you know that, ‘Well, we just go to that whole corner of the room with ‘Lonesome Loser’ or ‘Happy Anniversary,’' or whichever one it is. I can't honestly say that I ever lose sight of the perspective. We’re there for them, not for us.”

It’s certainly easier for Nelson to maintain an evolved perspective when bandmembers knit together as well as LRB’s 2014 lineup does. And the talented bassist wouldn’t have it any other way. “I prefer the band that meshes together, that has fun together,” he professed. “There’s always a place to go.”

“I've performed on stage with some Grammy winning performers, and I would choose to be in this band over that experience. And I don’t want to name names, but there’s ego, there’s control issues, they think they know better than anybody that they hired how to play their instrument or what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s restricting to a musician and it’s restricting in terms of creativity.”

This band is listening to each other. We have a good time. I'm not being a Pollyanna about it, but we spend a lot of time on our bus and there are times when we don’t want to see each other. It’s a normal family kind of a thing. But when those lights go down and it’s time to do the show, we’re all listening to each other. We all have similar backgrounds so we can flow in directions that pop up.”

“If you’ve got somebody out there controlling you and keeping his thumb on you, it’s not fun, it’s not music, it’s a job, regardless of their individual talent or talents around you, especially if they’re bickering.”

“We toured with a band that’s a very famous duet. You would think these guys are just peace and love – and they just had the biggest knock down fights. I mean they were throwing chairs in the dressing room at each other and it was just insane (laughing) to watch what was going on. So I’ll take a talented band that gets along any day over a superstar.”

But Nelson’s understatement isn’t about to fool anyone. Little River Band is a talented band of superstars that gets along – and we’ll take that any day.

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