April , 1985
By David Huff
Little River Band
Hey Everybody ... LRB Playing to Win ... Seriously They Are
Before the Little River Band broke through in America about a decade ago, their Australian homeland was simply referred to as The Land Down Under. Yes AC/DC had made the rock and roll world aware of the ‘thunder down under’, but it was this particular import in the mid-‘70s that shot to fame in the U.S. on the strength of the glowing harmonies and pop sounds that emanated from the mouths of Graham Gobel, Beeb Bertles and Glenn Shorrock.
A lot has happened in the ten years both musically and professionally for the Little River Band since it burst on to the American pop music scene with the single, “It’s a Long Way There” in 1975. Subsequently, the band would finally breakthrough in the U.S. with the ’77 release of Diamantia Cocktail that featured the Top Ten hits, “Happy Anniversary” and “Help is on its Way”. The group followed that up with their first platinum selling album a year later called Sleeper Catcher. It featured two of the biggest singles LRB would ever write, “Reminiscing” and “Lady.” The momentum was continued with ‘79s First Under the Wire that included the hits “Lonesome Loser” and “Cool Change.” LRB’s subsequent tour of the U.S sold out arenas from coast to coast.
The following decade hasn’t been kind to the Little River Band. Vocalist Glenn Shorrock was forced out of the band and replaced by singer John Farnham. Then the name of the band was shortened to just LRB. There is only one original member left in the band, Goble, and their last album, Playing to Win, Is a harder approach to music this band has rarely ventured into. The very survival of the band rests on whether or not its fans get on board with the new territory LRB are eager to explore. JAM editor David Huff spoke at length with the John Farnham about the change in direction, and how the future of the band pretty much rests on whether the group can pull it off.
JAM: I don't want to sound blunt, but what shook up this band, especially the music, for it to go in the direction it’s going right now?
The new blood had a major factor in the change . We also sat down and evaluated what we had been doing. We figured that we needed to come to some sort understanding of the musical direction we were going to take and get positive with this thing. That is precisely what we have done.
JAM: Did the current state of the music industry force the Little River Band to reevaluate and to an extent, totally overhaul its mellow pop image that was created in the ‘70s?
I guess that was one factor. Personally, I think we have been accused in the past of being perhaps a little less spontaneous that we could be on record. The band actually recorded an album this time rather than go through a recording exercise motion.
JAM: Had the group it reached a point in its career where it was more important to protect the legacy already created rather than build on it?
No, I don't believe so.
JAM: Then why the revolving door process of out with the old and in with the new?
I don't know if I can answer that question. It is something that I have never had to make a decision about. I have been with this band for three years. I think that it came to a point that the original members had been together for so long, it came to a stage where they couldn't communicate anymore. They couldn't talk out the little problems and they soon became big ones. Different members grew apart both musically and direction wise. People started leaving.
JAM: It was the same name but different faces playing the music?
Right! This is not the Little River Band anymore. If people come out to our show expecting to hear Diamantia Cocktail part two, they aren't going to get it from us. Graham is the only original member left. Our record company has been very patient with us during these line-up changes and they have backed us all the way. We still have the harmonies and Graham's voice is still the basic stamp of those vocals.
JAM: AS this transition has taken place, has LRB’s successful exploits of the ‘70s somewhat shielded the band from today’s harsh realities, simply for the fact you have great music to fall back on if the present fails?
I don't know because I have never really thought about it. I guess that could be a part of it. I really wouldn't have a clue in that respect. If all the old band members got together we would have to call ourselves the Little River Orchestra.
JAM: The Little River Band name has a history, a name and several classic songs. The music the band created in the ‘70s created a very devoted and passionate fan base. They are willing to give LRB some leeway, but sooner or later they’ll drift off to someone else. Do you understand what I’m saying?
I really haven't thought about that. It certainly isn’t our intention to alienate our fans. With the Playing to Win album, we all made a conscious effort to make this record indicative of the new line-up and the direction we want to take LRB. This will be the last incarnation of the Little River Band you will ever see. This line-up right here! No more surprises!
JAM: The transition the band is undertaking from its trademark vocal harmonies and pop sensibilities to a more harder edge of itself, I’d say, is a major surprise.
If we are taking a few chances so be it. We are all enjoying it. We are all stimulated by this whole affair. It's gratifying that the AOR people have been supportive of us.
JAM: When a band is trying to overhaul its image musically from an already established sound, it sounds like LRB is suffering somewhat from an identity crisis.
I guess that has to be observed. I have been a fan of the band for years even before I joined. I always felt they made fine albums.
JAM: But that was yesterday. Does the band really have the luxury to experiment musically in what seems to be a very delicate and somewhat dangerous period of time for the band?
A new image, sound, style and direction, to us, that is progression. We have always had the unit, the band, uppermost in our minds. You said something about us falling back on the name. We have never really discussed it and we have never really ever thought about it. We are still mindful of what people expect from us, but we just take this thing a step at a time.
JAM: Is LRB Graham Goble period?
No he is not. Graham just so happens to be the only original member left. He actually formed the band ten years ago. He is a large part of what this group is and he wrote some classic songs. However, without his distinctive harmony arrangements, we wouldn't have that sound, that style this band is known for.
JAM: Does he presence overshadow everyone else?
No! Graham is very conscious of LRB being viewed a single musical unit. He doesn't want this band turned into a vehicle for his own material. He wants a musical unit that will accept what he has to offer.
JAM: Honestly, could this band exist in its present form without the Little River Band tag applied to it?
I don't know. It is something that we haven't thought about and something that we hope doesn't happen.
JAM: Has new blood given this band a new lease on life?
I think that it has been a two way street.
JAM: Is the door open for past members to resume prior roles in the band? Let's face it, none of them have done anything of note since leaving the band.
It has never been shut. No person in the band would be replaced if someone did want to come back.
JAM: Why would you quit something you strived so hard to achieve and go basically go back into obscurity?
Divorce is the same thing. It happens every day.
JAM: Perhaps, but this family break-up has far reaching implications. Several key members in the past chose to walk away regardless of the consequences to themselves or the band itself. Why risk everything to attain a dream, then throw it away under the pretense of disagreeing over musical direction? That right there is what doesn’t make any sense?
I agree entirely with what you have been saying. It flabbergasts me as well. But look, when you are not giving 100% and don't want to, when people don't talk to one another, problems can only be compounded. If you don't tackle problems when they arise, they get out of hand and before you know it, the foundation crumbles and it all comes crashing down.
JAM: Is that why you have gone along with the LRB tag instead of the whole name?
Yes! It is also why we do eight out of ten songs from the new album during the set and have thrown out a heap of the old ones. Some of the material we are known for in the past we’ve stopped performing them. We have stuck our necks out with this new album. We are prepared for the flak but we believe in what we are doing.
JAM: What I’m trying to get to John is this. When you work in close proximity with other like-minded musicians, you get to know one another inside and out. In fact, you end up knowing your band mates better than you do your own family members. That’s why it has been difficult for me to understand the series of moves the group has made over the years?
You have raised some good points for which I simply don’t know how to answer them. A band is like any relationship, whether it be male or female, family member, etc. If you don't talk about the issues that are bothering you, those seemingly insignificant problems can snowball into very large ones. From an outside observers point of view, there was no working relationship with some of the band members when I joined up. I spent a lot of time talking to these guys telling them this work is hard. You have to adjust to the circumstances around you or just get out. Why be unhappy doing something that you really enjoy? If you don't want to work in a factory and spend the rest of your life doing it, then find something you actually want to do and become the best you can possibly be. That’s my advice.