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Little River Band

Biography by Ed Nimmervoll

When Little River Band formed in 1975, Australia immediately took notice. The key bandmembers were already well known to Australians. Lead singer Glenn Shorrock had made his name in mid-'60s group the Twilights, a Beatles-sounding pop group that scored a national number one record with its version of the Velvelettes' "Needle in a Haystack." When the group broke up in 1969, Shorrock became lead singer of Axiom, whose "A Little Ray of Sunshine" is still an Australian classic rock staple. LRB's Beeb Birtles had been the bass player for a popular Twilights-era pop group called Zoot (Rick Springfield was a later member). When that group broke up, in search of musical credibility, Birtles auditioned as the bass player, but was instantly elevated to a front-line position alongside Graham Goble. Even LRB's manager was well-known. Glenn Wheatley had been the bassist with another of Australia's bands, and possibly its most legendary, the Masters Apprentices. Given all that background, when Shorrock and Birtles revealed they were forming a group with Goble, managed by Wheatley, it was major event in Australian music.

They had all had a shot at international stardom via England, without success. Little River Band were formed to conquer the world from Australia via America. With that in mind, they almost immediately went into the studio, even before the rest of the band had been consolidated. They were retaining Mississippi drummer Derek Pellicci and were on the lookout for a guitarist and a bass player. A very early version of the group recorded the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved" as a single, a recording that was shelved when Linda Ronstadt also happened to choose that song as a single. The blueprint for Little River Band was country-rock as practiced by exponents like the Eagles.

Their self-titled first album was released in November 1975. The following May they released a second album, After Hours, and in September of that year set off on their first trip overseas to support Queen at Hyde Park and the Average White Band in the U.S. to promote the release of the first album. Its eight-and-a-half-minute epic "It's a Long Way There" had been edited down for release as a single and was starting to make quite an impact. Graham Goble had written the song about the long trip taking his laundry back to his mother in Adelaide from Melbourne. To an America in shock after the Nixon presidency, the song took on a whole other dimension. LRB had made a big breakthrough. Their American record company decided that the second album, After Hours, was too dark, and put the band straight into the studio to record the next album, resolving to use some of the After Hours tracks and the best of what was being recorded for the band's third Australian album. In both forms the result was called Diamantina Cocktail, produced by John Boylan (Linda Ronstadt).

To date, LRB's success in Australia had been modestly in keeping with the band's place in Australian music history -- respected but not totally embraced. The single from the new album, Glenn Shorrock's "Help Is on Its Way," changed that. Another important hit in America, in Australia it went all the way to number one. The album sold gold in America, the first time an Australian act had achieved such a feat. It was followed by Sleeper Catcher, again produced by Boylan, the first album recorded in Australia to sell over a million copies in the U.S. This time, LRB's greater success was in America, with the single "Reminiscing" becoming a number three hit. This was the song John Lennon confessed he made love to during his "long weekend" separation from Yoko Ono.

For the next four years, LRB kept straddling the two continents, with the band renowned for its impeccable live performances. Internally, relationships were not as happy. From the first album on, front-liners Shorrock, Birtles, and Goble recorded separately. On the road they traveled separately. Only on-stage were they "together." Regular changes in the back line only contributed to the tensions. During one break between American tours, Goble started writing and producing an album for Australian pop legend John Farnham. He then agitated the band to replace Shorrock with Farnham. Australia pricked up its ears, but America was in shock, as this still successful band moved toward replacing the singer of all its big hits with an unknown. Nevertheless, the change was made and Farnham walked straight into the recording studio to record The Net. More lineup changes followed, including the departure of Beeb Birtles.

In all, John Farnham recorded three albums with LRB over four years. The experiment never worked. Whatever Farnham's talents, America longed for Glenn Shorrock. At the end of 1985, while LRB were seriously contemplating their future, Farnham took the initiative of leaving to start work on another solo album, Whispering Jack, an album that completely rehabilitated Farnham as the biggest-selling artist in Australia. LRB regrouped in 1988 with new management and a new record label. Glenn Shorrock and Derek Pellicci rejoined Goble, with "new boys" Wayne Nelson and John Housden added, to record the Monsoon album and its single, "Love Is a Bridge." In 1990, Goble left Little River Band as a touring member, and the band as fans had known it finally called it a day in 1991.

And yet the story continued. For a while, drummer Derek Pellicci mounted Little River Band tours with a lineup including Glenn Shorrock. When Shorrock didn't want to meet one particular schedule due to other commitments, he was sacked, resulting in unpleasant legal action. Then Pellicci also departed, but an LRB lineup continued living and working in America, still featuring those latecomers Wayne Nelson and Steve Housden. In spite -- or maybe because -- of all this, the holiday album We Call It Christmas appeared in 2008.

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