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Little River Band docks at Robins

By ANDY GRAY

Staff writer

Wayne Nelson of Little River Band always is on the lookout for that magical “ping,” whether it’s on stage or in the recording studio.

“There’s overtones created by voices working together, and when they blend and when they really chime together, there’s notes being created that aren’t being sung,” Nelson said. “It’s an actual physical vibrational thing.

“Good voices create overtones and undertones … The right blends create more notes up in the atmosphere in the room that weren’t being sung by human beings. It’s a matter of the combination of frequencies. I call it a ping. When the vocals ping, you hear it. There’s a special moment when you find that special sound.”

Little River Band has produced more pings than a pinball machine in its 47-year career. Between 1976 and 1983, the group had 13 top 40 hits in the United States, songs like “Help Is on Its Way,” “Cool Change,” “Reminiscing” and “Lonesome Loser.” They will likely be a part of the set when Little River Band performs Friday at the Robins Theatre.

Nelson is the longest-serving member of the band, but the American-born singer and bass player isn’t a founding member of the group, which started in Australia. LRB had a problem keeping bass players in its early years.

After watching Nelson play bass with Jim Messina, who was opening for LRB at the time, they invited him to join the band, in part because the new bassist also could contribute to that signature vocal blend.

“First of all, they were looking for a bass player that would stick around, but also a bass player that sang and in the range they needed. Little River Band vocals are very athletic. They take their toll when you’re doing a lot of shows and a lot of recording. Voices get burned out after a few years. You have to take care of yourself. I’m not saying they didn’t, I’m just saying it was a natural move that someone needed to help out, if you will. I happen to be right in the range to help out.”

Nelson was tapped to sing lead vocals on a track for 1981’s “Time Exposure,” his first album as a member. The producer on the record was legendary studio master George Martin, best known for his work with The Beatles.

“It was honestly surreal,” he said. “I’m singing a lead vocal in a studio for George Martin for the first time ever. I’d never sung a lead vocal in the studio. I’d never sung much at all in the studio. It was all live the stuff that I had done prior to that. To sing a lead vocal with George Martin, this is crazy.”

The song, “The Night Owls,” was picked by Capitol Records as the lead single from the album. It peaked at number 6, the highest-charting of the three top 15 singles that came from that release.

Nelson is joined in the current lineup by Chris Marion, keyboards and vocals; Ryan Ricks, drums and vocals; Colin Whinnery, lead guitar and co-lead vocalist; and Bruce Wallace, rhythm guitar and vocals.

“The five of us are very versatile now,” Nelson said. “There are three guys who can sing on top, two guys who can sing on the bottom, there’s two of us that can go in the middle. It’s really easy to move things around. The guys in the band are now hearing what I’m hearing and it just becomes an easier thing to go, ‘That’s the one. That’s the magic. Lock that one in.'”

These days they’re singing those harmonies for three generations of fans — the ones who grew up listening to them, the children who heard the songs from their parents, and those who’ve embraced LRB and other acts that fall into what has been christened “yacht rock.”

The group that The Eagles’ Glenn Frey once called “the best singing band in the world” certainly fits in that genre.

“Yacht rock is all about melody and a style of music production that had a lot of vocals, a lot of layered guitars and synths,” Nelson said. “If you listen to Loggins & Messina and Hall & Oates and Orleans and Ambrosia and Little River Band, Player and on and on, all of those things fit into that style.

“I think we’re a mainstay. I’ve got it on in my car because that’s what I grew up with, too, and admiring those kinds of productions … I do think Little River Band is part of what’s at the heart of yacht rock. I will proudly stake our claim in the yacht rock marina.”

Nelson is proud the current lineup can recreate those yacht rock favorites, but he’s also proud that the band hasn’t become a heritage act that quit making new music in the last century. He said one of the songs that regularly gets a standing ovation during its concerts is “The Lost and the Lonely” from its 2013 album “Cuts Like a Diamond.”

The current lineup already is working on new material for an album Nelson would like to release before the band’s 50th anniversary in 2025. The recent addition of Wallace to the group is driving some of those musical decisions.

“There was a time when we took ourselves very seriously about what we would say and how we would say it. It had to have this deeper meaning. A lot of what we’re writing right now is about having fun and enjoying life, so it’s kind of fresh, a new attitude if you will. Bruce is happy as he can be about being in the band, so the live show has taken on a new energy. It makes me smile to think about it.

“As soon as we got the live show squared away, we started working on new material and it’s just like, ‘This is fun.’ We’re just having a good time and writing some fun music.”

If you go …

WHO: Little River Band

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Robins Theatre, 160 E. Market St., Warren

HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $35 to $85 and are available at the Robins box office and online at robinstheatre.com.

agray@tribtoday.com

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