Little River Band – Founding Members vs Original Members

Little River Band finds itself in a unique position in the music business. The band continues to tour successfully and create new music, but there are no founding members left in the band.

LRB isn’t the only successful band that has had to face the issue of attrition. Bands like Journey, Foreigner, The Guess Who, Toto, Ambrosia, Orleans, Creedence, and many more have all gone through changes in membership. Some founders are still touring, but many have left for solo careers or just stayed home. But the music lives on

This discussion about the issue isn’t looking to explain all those other situations. But many ask about the LRB situation as if it’s unique…it’s not. As bands age, there are inevitable differences of opinion, different tolerances for travel and being away from home and family, different goals to be considered, and differences in lifestyles and communication skills. Any or all can lead to a musician withdrawing from a band, or getting fired by bandmates. Over the 48 years since 1975, all those variables have happened with Little River Band.

After making the decision to form a new band in 1975, the founders – Glenn Shorrock, Graham Goble, Beeb Birtles, and Derek Pellicci – needed to find a bass player and a lead guitarist to fill out the lineup. The first two players added to the touring and recording lineup were Ric Formosa (gtr) and Roger McLachlan (bass). After a year or so and one album release, Formosa apparently decided that band touring life wasn’t for him. Legend has it that McLachlan was let go at the same time because of lifestyle and/or personality clashes. Whatever the reason, the replacements for those two were David Briggs (gtr) and George McArdle (bass).

The bulk of LRB’s early success came from songs written and recorded during the tenure of Briggs and McArdle with the founders. But that lineup would eventually change too. And the process was one that would continue to current times – when someone left or was removed, a replacement was found that brought something original to the band, and LRB moved on.

In approx. 1979, McArdle chose to leave the band and become a minister. A session bass player took over the touring responsibilities. The band also used multiple bassists for the next recording project. First Under The Wire. McArdle’s permanent replacement was found in the US while on tour in the fall of ’79 – American musician Wayne Nelson. Plans were put in place for a couple world tours, rehearsals for another record, and the making of that record in 1981. During the sessions for Time Exposure, David Briggs was very unhappy with much of what occurred in the studio. His actions caused him to be fired shortly after returning to Australia. His replacement was Stephen Housden, also discovered in a support act while LRB was on tour in Australia in Jan of 1981.

Notice that the process was the same – regardless of the reason that someone either left or was asked to leave, a replacement was found that brought something unique to the band’s lineup, and LRB moved on with the approval and endorsement of all involved.

In 1982, Shorrock wanted a break to record his own solo project. He asked for a year’s hiatus from the band’s touring and recording schedule. The founding members of the band not only said no to Shorrock’s request, but took advantage of the situation to express their displeasure with him. He was asked to leave by the other three founders.

Shorrock’s replacement was John Farnham. That choice was endorsed by all involved, including Shorrock and band management (Glenn Wheatley was managing LRB, Shorrock, and Farnham at the same time.) A year later, Birtles said he didn’t like the musical direction with Farnham as lead singer, so he left the band. He was replaced by keyboardist David Hirschfelder. One year after that, Pellicci did the same, and was replaced by Steve Prestwich on drums.

There were many different reasons for leaving the band, but LRB moved on with the approval and endorsement of all involved.

In 1986, LRB recorded its last album under the Capitol Records contract, at which point Farnham left for a solo career. Hirschfelder went with him. Prestwich left as well to pursue his writing career. Wheatley’s management contract expired at that time too. New management was found and a deal was struck with a new label to record 2 albums, but only if Shorrock was brought back into the fold as a lead singer and writer. Pellicci came with him, and in 1987 a new lineup was formed with some old faces.

The revolving door swung again. Different reasons abounded, but LRB moved on again with the approval of all involved.

In 1989, with no more labels interested in LRB, Goble decided to leave the band. He was replaced with touring personnel, but this time they weren’t added to the business structure of the band. They would be considered sidemen.

Nelson left the band in 1982 for family reasons. He was replaced by a sideman while LRB continued to tour Australia, New Zealand, and the US. He returned for the 1995 world tour commemorating LRB’s 20th anniversary. The tour was only mildly successful, and was full of heated discussions about whether to bother making new music again. The rancor resulted in Shorrock and Nelson both leaving again in early 1996. However, Pellicci and Housden carried on with American musicians until 1997, at which time Pellicci left for family reasons. Housden then created an all-Australian lineup and toured the US with them in 1998. Noteworthy in that lineup was the very first Australian bass player, Roger McLachlan. But he quit at the end of that year for his own family reasons.

With the promise of making new music with the Aussie lineup, Nelson returned to the band in 1999. He would go on to produce 5 recording projects between 2000-2006, with various Aussie and American musicians, under the LRB banner which was and is still owned by Housden.

Housden left the touring band in 2006. Since then the lineup has been US based and virtually all the tour dates are in N America, Europe, or New Zealand. More on that later in this discussion.

But the process never changed – people either left or were asked to leave. Success varied up and down throughout all those years. The future looked bright, then it didn’t, then it did, then it got ugly, then it got bright again. But throughout the entire timeline, LRB moved on. There was always energy from somewhere or someone to pick up the banner and move on.

In all cases, and as a result of that energy to not give up, good music and good live shows have been created throughout. Did the songs chart, or did they sell millions of copies, or did they create headlines? No. But did they move people who heard the music or attended the shows? Absolutely they did. Fans write in all the time to say that they didn’t know or care about Little River Band until they first heard The Night Owls (‘81), or the Other Guy (‘82), or We Two (‘83), or Love Is A Bridge (‘88), or Who Made the Moon (’00).

So where can a line be drawn when it all should have stopped for the bands in question? Which iteration of Little River Band should have been the last? Or of Journey, Foreigner, The Guess Who, Toto, Ambrosia, Orleans or any other band that has changed membership? (Maybe there’s someone out there who likes Pete Best and think the Beatles should have quit when they changed drummers and found Ringo!) Who gets to determine a band’s end point?

It’s been said that when art is confined, art dies. Some bands get formed with friends, and then they evolve because some of the friends can’t keep up, or don’t want to. Are they supposed to quit and abandon their brand because of a circumstance out of their control? Some bands suffer through a death of one of the members. Should they stop or change names and abandon their history because life happens? Some bands make agreements about membership, then people change their minds about those agreements and break them, then get taken to court to settle the disagreements. Some bands end up with no founding members left but continue to tour and record good music, fending off haters who have bought into the lie that the band was stolen!

That’s the core of the Little River Band story. There have been many skirmishes since 2005, blaming the current lineup of using recordings and photos trying to deceive the public as to who was currently in the band. That’s false. Blaming the current lineup for stealing the band’s history. Also False! But misinformation can circulate through the internet and keep false stories alive. We know that all the bands mentioned in this discussion face the same falsehoods and bad press on a regular basis. Some people get angry enough to threaten violence.

Little River Band’s response is a simple one. Through the magic of digital recordings and video, it is possible to enjoy online, or on CD or DVD, any iteration of the band that fans love and want to hear. But as is the case with all the bands in question, if you want to hear the music played live, fans must decide to attend a concert with the current lineups or stay home. That’s the way it is.

Founding members start bands. As they quit, new members can spark new energy by bringing in their originality. They might not be founders, but they can still be original and have a positive impact on a band’s music and its legacy. And art moves on…

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