Thu, Feb 9th, 2012 12:00 am

Reminiscing: LRB playing at Wildey

For The Telegraph

EDWARDSVILLE — Little River Band has been a part of the American music scene for more than 30 years, still touring nationally and internationally, playing songs that hit home for multiple generations.

Wayne Nelson, LRB lead singer and bass guitarist, said no matter where they go, fans tell stories of memories they associate with the old hits, and they always have a lot of energy for the band.

"We have people of all ages that like our music and come to our shows," he said. "It’s not just the adults who knew us in the ’70s and ’80s. They have brought their own children through the years, who at one time were sitting on their shoulders, and now they’re in the crowd dancing and singing and bringing a new age group to the audience."

Little River Band is considered one of the top Australian bands of all time, and the first to hit it big internationally.

Scoring 13 singles in the Top 40 U.S. Billboard charts and six in the Top 10 — with "Reminiscing," their biggest hit, topping out at No. 3 and said to be one of the most frequently played songs in the history of American radio — LRB was a force to be reckoned with in the 1970s and 1980s.

Coming next week to the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, Little River Band’s roots began in Victoria, Australia. The group was named for a small town between the city of Melbourne and Geelong (jee-long), a smaller city about 20 miles away, when the original band members were driving to one of their first gigs.

"They didn’t have a name picked yet," Nelson said, "and as they’re driving along, they saw the exit sign that said ‘Little River,’ and that was it."

The group soon became a popular, well-known group in Australia, and in 1976, its first American hit album was with Capitol Records, "It’s a Long Way There," with a Top 10 single of the same name.

Nelson was not one of the original members but joined the group in 1979, four years after LRB began touring in the United States. Since then, other Americans have played in the band, but Nelson was the first. Soon after joining, he served as lead vocalist on "The Night Owls" and "Take It Easy On Me," both Top 10 hits.

Other familiar tunes in the group’s repertoire include "Lady," "Lonesome Loser," "Cool Change," "Happy Anniversary" and "Man on Your Mind."

In 1982, LRB became the only act from anywhere to have a Top 10 single in the United States for six consecutive years. The group has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide.

Nelson became involved in the group by chance. He grew up in north-central Illinois, moving to Chicago as a teenager. He sang in church, and his parents were a little taken aback when he switched to rock and roll. He played with several bands in and around Chicago, then moved to California, where he met Jim Messina (later of Loggins and Messina) and played in his band for two years. Then one fateful night, Messina and his band (with Nelson on bass) opened for the Little River Band.

LRB was looking for a bass player and noticed and liked Nelson’s style and sound.

"They asked me if I would be interested in playing with them, and I was extremely flattered," Nelson said.

But he turned them down, planning to stay with Messina. In the end, he called the LRB office and, luckily, the offer still stood. The rest is rock ‘n’ roll history.

Nelson attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and later returned to his alma mater with LRB as part of the college circuit, which the band played in the vein of Midwestern bands such as Kansas, Styx and REO Speedwagon.

"We played at Northern, Western (Illinois), University of Illinois, Knox College and Monmouth," Nelson said. "That was always a great time."

And having a great time playing and "doing what they do" has been a hallmark of the Little River Band.

"We really enjoy ourselves, and over the years, we’ve loved playing in Alton and the St. Louis area," Nelson said. "It’s always a great night."

The group still performs extensively, playing the old hits, some new arrangements of the old songs, and continues to produce new material.

LRB’s current lineup also includes guitarists and vocalists Greg Hind and Rich Herring; Mel Watts on drums and vocals; and Chris Marion on keyboards and vocals.

In recent years, the band released the CD "Test of Time" with 11 new recordings, and produced two Christmas CDs and a couple of compilation albums.

Little River Band, a Carmen Concert, will perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15, and Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Wildey Theatre in Downtown Edwardsville. Tickets cost $65 (includes post-show meet-and-greet with the band), $55 and $45, and can be purchased at Pick three of the five shows that remain in The Wildey Classic Rock Series and save $5 for each show selected.

Tickets for Wishbone Ash, another Carmen Concert, also are on sale now for the May 7 show at the Wildey Theatre.

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