The Little River Bandís Wayne Nelson: Diamonds are Forever!

By Jeb Wright

When you have spent 34 years in a band that has a 38 year history and get slagged that your band has no founding members in it, that is a tough gig. 

Wayne Nelson lives with such a plight. Wayne, who, despite singing two of the Little River Band’s biggest hits, still has many detractors since he is not a founding member.

Nelson may be forced to listen to such criticism, but he has kept the band alive, as without his dedication and passion the Little River Band would have ceased to exist many years ago.

He has kept the band alive, as without his dedication and passion the Little River Band would have ceased to exist many years ago. 

Now, against the odds, Nelson has brought the band back with a new album on the international record label Frontiers Records.

Cuts Like a Diamond is a new collection of songs featuring rich harmonies and layered guitars and, all be damned, it sounds just like a Little River Band record.  Whether you love them, hate them, think they are the real deal or a tribute band, one must admit these guys made a good, solid and legitimate rock record in a day and age that many bands, with founding members, simply go through the motions. 

Hats of to Wayne Nelson for continuing to live his passion and perform at the top of his game.

Jeb:  Before talking the new music, I must say, I love the album cover.  That chick is HOT. 

Wayne:  She is not hard on the eyes; that is for sure.  I was only very briefly involved in that cover.  I had a misunderstanding with the label. “Cuts Like a Diamond” is the song that has the most imagery to it. 

There was some history in the title. You used to go into the studio and you used to use a diamond stylus to cut the songs.  That is only one layer of it, but in my mind, that image was big and I went to the label as artwork was supposed to be on us; we were supposed to deliver it.  I went to the label and said, “I see a diamond etching the name of the band onto something.”  I thought it could be on glass, or a rock, or something.  I saw a carving thing happening and it portrays that we are moving forward.  They thought it was a great idea and told me to send them what we had.

A friend of mine and I found a diamond and a logo and we had two elements of what we would use on the front cover.  It wasn’t even a draft, it was just us showing them what we had and we asked them for their feedback.  The record label, Frontiers, is Italian and I could see them throwing their arms up and going, “This will not do” and throwing it into the waste bin.  It was the quickest reply on any aspect of the CD that I got back from them.  They said, “We will take care of the art.”  From them on it was like, “Okay, well what is that going to cost me?” 

The first concept that came back was a girl using her ring to cut through one layer to get to another layer to get to a bigger prize.  I knew that was the portrayal of where we are at as a band.  We are on one side of the glass trying to cut through and get a bigger prize, which is getting back to being able to go around the world.  I read a lot into it from our standpoint.  Then, came the 12-page booklet of pictures, lyrics and full on stuff and I couldn’t believe it.  I have never had such great support from a label.

Jeb:  Frontiers does a lot of hard rock and melodic rock but I was surprised to see LRB on Frontiers.

Wayne: At this point in our career, for someone to knock on our door and ask for a CD of new material—which is exactly what they did—was great.  We had not worked on new material for three or four years and we were all getting the itch to do something. 

We would have done a homegrown CD and done it ourselves.  We would have sold it at the shows and done the simple artwork and sold it on the website.  The timing was perfect for the opportunity for us to step up and do something. 

Why they are doing it now and getting bands like Player and Little River Band I do not know.  I first heard of them because I played on Brian Howe’s record.  He did a solo record that I thought was stupendous for Brian Howe making a statement and saying, “I am back.”  It didn’t get any legs at all. 

Going into this, I kind of went in one foot at a time and I said, “Us doing a record for you, and going through all of the things to do that, making it, and promoting it, worldwide, takes a lot of effort and energy.  If you’re not behind this and 100% invested in this, then I am not interested.  I can find anybody to put our CD on a shelf and I don’t want to go through the promotional turmoil of this, but if you’re sincere, and you want to be involved, and be emotionally invested in the CD then we’re in.”  They said, “Yes, run everything by me that you like.” 

We filtered down over 200 songs to get the ones that ended up on this album.  The process worked because it was not one set of ears and one vision picking the music.  The label knew what they wanted to hear and they knew what they wanted to promote.  We are not the heaviest thing by far on the label. We are a step outside of their norm, but they are expanding their norm.  They saw the opportunity to take what they saw as a great lineup and a great history and move it one chapter forward. 

Jeb:  “The Lost and the Lonely” captures that classic Little River Band sound perfectly. 

Wayne: I had input on that song.  The demo that came to me starts with that big vocal and I knew that was a Little River Band opening and chorus.  It came from Nashville and we did a little tweaking, but the sound is undeniable Little River Band.  I wanted something that would hit people into the face.  People will remember the opening to that song.  I hope we can have the album be accepted.  The songs all have great depth to them. 

Jeb: How do you keep that vocal sound seeing how many people have come and gone in and out of the band?  

Wayne:  Anytime anybody comes into the band they’ve got to pass the test and be able to sing that way with us.  We’ve auditioned and been around some people who were good singers when they were singing by themselves, but when it came to knowing their part and singing their part like they were singing a lead vocal—it is a whole different concept and it intimidates some people.

The thread back to the original three singers is me and it rests on my shoulders.  To take that forward, every single person who had come in since 1980, I have been part of the audition process, or part of teaching them the vocals and showing them the parts and making sure that everything was tight and strong. 

This lineup…one of the guys has been in the band for 13 years, which is longer than any founding members were in the band.  This line up is seven years old and is the most stable lineup since 1978, and even then, that lineup was only together for two years because the bass player left.  George McArdle, the left-handed bass player was not on First Under the Wire. There were three bass players on First Under the Wire.   When I met them in 1979, they were using a fourth bass player who would go on the road with them.  Before I joined the band, there were six bass players; it was crazy.  None of them sang and that was kind of the deal.  I was in the right place at the right time.  They wanted a bass player who could sing and that was stable enough to say in the band.

We never let go of that concept, so at any point, if someone came to us at any point after I was the only guy who was connected to those original guys, and asked me if we could do a Little River Band album then I said, “Absolutely, let’s go.”  There was no hesitation to go back in the studio and do a Little River Band that the world will hear with Frontiers.  We’ve been making music and doing albums that nobody knows about for the last 14 years.   

Jeb: You can be the biggest purist but if you listen to “Lost and Lonely” or “Forever you Forever Me” and “You Dream I’ll Drive” these are Little River Band songs. 

Wayne: It is so gratifying to hear you say that.  That process of selecting the songs was huge.  Once we got that nailed down, then we stretch a little bit, but we always come back to the LRB chorus and the layered guitars.  We do it all, but we do it 2013 style. 

I was the first filter for these songs and we had to choose the write songs.  I had a lot more songs chosen than the label did.  I was ready to go with 30 songs and I got knocked back because they had the more objective ears and I value their opinion a lot. 

It feels right for the 38th year of the band. I’ve been in the band for 34 of them.  I went with my gut and I am very happy to hear someone who knows the history of the band say that.  This is the extension and progression of the band.  This is not a step backwards at all. 

Critics will say that we will never be the same three guys who were in the band before us and we won’t ever be those same three guys.  They didn’t invent three-part harmonies.  They had a good blend and they wrote good songs…absolutely, no question.  There are a lot of great singers out there and the guys in the band today get that concept and this band still kicks people’s butts when we step up and sing. 

Jeb: When you came into the group did you realize there was a lot of turmoil in the band?

Wayne: First and foremost, they were a great band, they had great songs and they had a record deal in the works with Capitol Records and it was a great opportunity.  It was a career step.  It was a huge challenge to get on a plane by myself and go to another country and walk into rehearsals with this international band.  It was a new proving ground for me. 

Did I know about the turmoil?  Absolutely not.  I watched these guys play for 15 to 20,000 people in arenas and I didn’t see this interactive performance, as they were all on separate levels on this quirky sort of stage.  Nobody performed with each other.  I thought the bass player and the drummer…I wanted to get in his face and lock this thing down more.  It was kind of like the band was on autopilot.  I saw a challenge for me. 

When I got into the personalities of the band, I found out that there were four distinct factions.  Lead singer, lead guitarist, one of the guitar players vacillated between the other two and then the major songwriter.  The major songwriter was the one who told me that they had been watching me play and that they wanted me to come down and play with them.  I thought I would be the utility bass player and I can get in the drummers face and I can do what I do.  I thought it would be really fun.  Then I find out that the real motive was that the major songwriter didn’t like the way the lead singer was interpreting his songs and that he was looking for a new guy to stand up there and sing his songs. 

“The Night Owls” was the first song we rehearsed.  We did two six-week tours and then it was time to rehearse for the new CD.  We picked a producer, George Martin…oh my.  The first thing that came in the room was “Night Owls.”  The lead singer, Glenn Shorrock, was in Sydney.  Glenn doesn’t come down for all of the routine rehearsals, as he has a different status.  He comes in when the band has shaken off the cobwebs.  We would sing the songs and then we would hit the road.  Working on new material was a whole different set of rehearsals.  This was the routine of the band. 

While Glenn was away, Graeham [Goble] plops “The Night Owls” into the rehearsal.  He said I should sing it.  I thought I would sing it until Glenn gets here, as he is the lead singer of the band.  Glenn shows up and I learn a verse, and he learns a verse, and we split the verses.  Everybody comes back to me and says, “Dude, you have the happening voice.  Why don’t you sing that song?”  All of a sudden Glenn is looking at me and his eyes shrink a little bit.  He is like “There is another lead singer on the stage.” Beeb [Birtles] sang some lead, but not on any of the hits, and he sang less and less as we went along.  

We get to the studio and George Martin picks my lead vocal for “Take It Easy on Me.”  The new guy was then singing lead vocals on both of the new singles and Glenn goes, “Well, this doesn’t work for me.  We can’t have this happen.”  That was in 1981, and in 1982, he was asked to leave and we went on a whole new course. 

By then, I knew full well what the politics within the band was.  I was the new guy and I still didn’t have a vote. I put my hand up and I said, “He’s the lead singer.  He’s the conduit with the record label.  This is crazy.“  The lead guitar player had been fired two months earlier, so two major songwriters were gone within six months and I am like, “Uh oh, what’s going on.” 

Jeb:  You had some huge hits right before all of that as well.

Wayne: The fifth and the sixth year of that span we had a top ten single.  The wave was going great and I wondered why we’re doing all of this.  So, Glenn leaves the room and Graeham immediately says, “John Farnham, I want him as the lead singer.”  You can’t deny that he is an incredible singer and a great talent.  He stands in there and our vocals just went up a notch with power. 

John and I were both power singers and it was really amazing.  The door was swinging and one major guy went out, but another guy came in that just kicked ass.  I was like, “Okay, if that is the way the politics go in the band then I’m all in and lets go kick ass.”  Then Beeb left and then the drummer left and suddenly there is no one in the room but me and Graeham, who have ever been on the stage together.  It was a crazy time; it was really crazy.

Jeb: Tell me what it was like being in the room with George Martin. 

Wayne: We recorded in Montserrat, at Air Studios, which was his version of The London Studios, but on a Caribbean, tropical volcanic island.  It was stunning.  He had to set ground rules—he knew he had to set them.  We were not allowed to talk about the Beatles until dinner time.  Like a bunch of kids, we would wait for the dinner bell and then we would all scramble to hear him talk.  He would open the floor and we talked about Yoko and we talked about the tension with George Harrison and we talked about why Pete Best left and why Ringo came in.  We talked about George’s arrangements and orchestrations.

The engineer for our album was Geoff Emerick, who was the engineer for all of the legendary Beatles albums.  There was history all around us.  It was truly incredible.  As soon as dessert and coffee was served then all questions were over and we would go back to work.  We would pound him with questions and we had him laughing and having fun.  I am a huge Beatles fan and we would go album-by-album and ask him about all of these ideas.  It was really, really cool. 

Jeb: What did he bring to the Little River Band?

Wayne:  Time Exposure was the album.  We kept asking him if he would play.  One day, he comes out unannounced, puts the headphones on and sits down at the Wurlitzer because he heard that part in one of our songs and he knew he had to do it.  We were not only with him, now he is playing on one of our songs; we’re tracking with George Martin.  It was too stinking cool. 

He took two songs back to London and put orchestral arrangements on them. 

As a producer, he helped us sift through a lot of bullshit.  He had so much respect from all of us that when he said something about a song you just knew he was not taking sides, he was speaking musical truth.  He sorted through a lot of the political crap because people believed in what he was saying.  I don’t know if anyone else would have been able to do that.  We had three Top 10 singles off of that album and it was quite an achievement. 

Jeb: Did you produce the new album? 

Wayne:  We didn’t want to bring in a producer for the new album.  I don’t want to talk numbers, but producers want a lot of money and a lot of control.  Quite frankly, it was too expensive. 

Our guitar player [Rich Herring] has produced a lot of artists in Nashville, and he has a studio.  The label and I went through the song selections and once we had the songs we knew what to do.  To be honest, there are some producers who don’t know what to do and would fight against the element of what the Little River Band was. 

Putting those vocals in your face like we do is not the Nashville way.  A lot of times they have just a lead singer and a background vocal.  It was an easier choice for Rich and I to co-produce.  Left to his own devices he comes up with great sounds.  We just decided that we knew how to do this and we did it by ourselves. 

Jeb: When I started listening to Little River Band and discovered that other than the great vocals there were good guitar players...they were either layered in harmony or they would just have a great lead in the song out of nowhere.  Cuts Like a Diamond has some tasty guitar solos.  How important is that element to your sound?

Wayne: Speaking with an Australian phrase, it is light and shade.  We come with the vocals so strong that when we come out of a vocal and come into that interwoven solo, or guitar feature—a solo or a harmonized solo—it goes from three or four voices down to that one instrument.  The dynamic shifts from this big solo thing to this one instrument.  It is like taking a wide-angle lens with a telephoto and turning it from wide angle to a narrow point and then it goes back to the wide angle.  It’s a matter of knowing when to charge and when to retreat. 

Jeb: On the new album, there is a song called “Someone.”  It is not what one would expect.  How do take that song from being what it was written to be and make it into a Little River Band song? 

Wayne: That is an interesting song.  That is one of Rich’s songs, the guitar player.  It is a song that he had for over twenty years.  “I’m An Island” has been in his catalog for years. 

 “Someone” came from a demo he did twenty years ago that was very quirky and had bad keyboard sounds and electronic percussion.  The storyline was there, the guy talking about waiting for someone to want someone.  It was a great twist on a lyric and I kept going down this wormhole to this lyric.  The style of the song is fun to play.

The thing that surprised me about it was that Frontiers Records, giving their history, and they wanted this AOR thing from the ‘80s, heard that song and wanted it on the record.  We made it Little River Band by putting those vocals on it and we put it on the album Cuts Like a Diamond

When we were in discussions with the label I asked them which Little River Band they wanted.  Did they want “Lady” and “Reminiscing” or did they want “Lonesome Loser” and “The Night Owls.”  The band covered a wide array of songs.  I think we take the songs and we rein them in and build those vocals on them. 

Jeb:  You are proud of his album but this is not going to come out of the box platinum with the state of the record industry. 

Wayne: The music business has changed and for the most part it is leaving bands behind, which is a shame.  Bands that have something to say and contribute are left out.  They may have lost an edge.  In terms of live shows, I will play live with anybody, young or old, as we do what we do and we do it well.  We’ve never stopped.  We still have that roll going. 

It is all about airplay.  It is somewhere between Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. 

I don’t think this is being negative, but the reality is that we are not going to compete. We are not going to get the attention of people who are focused on those young acts.  We will get the attention of people who love the Little River Band. 

Jeb:  It’s all about the diamond behind the glass!

Wayne: One of the diamonds behind the glass is that we can get back to countries that we have not visited in twenty years.  There are places who think we are gone and that we broke up twenty years ago because there has been nothing current for them to latch onto them.  Frontiers are a European label and they are going to release it around the world. 

To get on the radio, in any genre, in any format, you’ve got to pay to get heard.  It is a fact of life.  We are going to do everything we can to take advantage of the Internet and we will take our live show to where it will take us the most good.  The touring schedule will always generate 75 shows, or more, in America, but we are hoping to expand that with the release of this album. 

I am very proud of what we did and I am especially proud of the tribute to the troops.  I am very personally proud to have been a co-producer.  The label wanted me to be the lead singer and they said I was the guy.

We have made a quality product.  People will hear this and say, “Wow, you did it.  You did it like you guys do it right now and it is strong and it is good.”  I am very proud across the board of all of the efforts from the orchestration, to the songwriting, and the recording. 

I am thrilled that at age 63, my voice can still deliver songs.  It was a great challenge and we stepped up and made something that I think is going to last.  I think it is going to sit with people really well.