CHRIS BATH: Hello. And welcome to Sunday Night. I'm Chris Bath. Also tonight, the bold and dangerous shark tagging mission that could stop you becoming shark bait. The great shark hunt a little later.
But first tonight, they made some of the sweetest, catchiest music ever. But they're now mired in one of the loudest, ugliest arguments in pop history. And it's all over a name. You don't need to be of a certain age to know and love the songs of the Little River Band, the founding members just want to do what comes naturally - perform their hits in front of their adoring fans at home and around the world.
But there's a catch -a pretty big catch -the official Little River Band won't let them. Rahni Sadler travelled to the US and Ireland to find the key players and explore both sides of LRB's massive identity crisis.
GLENN SHORROCK: I'm not the Little River Band but I certainly sound like it.
RAHNI SADLER: He's got one of the most recognisable voices in Australian music. 30 million sales worldwide, 13 Top 40 hits in the US, some of the catchiest songs in Australian history. How proud are you of the Little River Band?
GLENN SHORROCK: Well, when you say it like that I should be very proud.I don't dwell on it too much. But, uh, I think I'll go spend some of the money.
BEED BIRTLES: This is Beeb Birtles. I'm a founding member of Little River Band - and don't you forget it.
RAHNI SADLER: And here's another famous voice from our pop past. Beeb Birtles was the third part in the magical harmonies of Little River Band.
BEEB BIRTLES: Probably one of the favourite things about touring with Little River Band...I mean, 80,000-100,000 people standing in front of you. And the architect of their worldwide success
was one of Australia's most famous music managers, Glenn Wheatley.
GLENN WHEATLEY: We struck a chord and we just had the right formula of records and music at the right time. For six years, we had consecutive top 10 records. And no-one had done that.
RAHNI SADLER: When they went on to conquer the world, they carved their name in the history of rock.
MOLLY MELDRUM: And I tell you what, I would like to go up and hug every one of them for what they've done.
RAHNI SADLER: And no-one could ever take that away.
GLENN SHORROCK: You know, the security now, it feels terrific.
RAHNI SADLER: Or could they?
WAYNE NELSON: Little River Band's 40th anniversary this year. Hi, everybody. I'm Wayne Nelson, lead singer and bass player for Little River Band.
RAHNI SADLER: So, who are these guys? And why do fans in America and in much of the rest of the world think they are the Little River Band?
WAYNE NELSON: Here we go.
There's only one. This is Little River Band now. Has been for quite a while.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together one more time for the Little River Band.
WAYNE NELSON: We're now being villainised and blamed as these thieves and frauds.
GLENN WHEATLEY: You're not THE Little River Band. You own the name, that part's right. But you're not Little River Band.
RAHNI SADLER: The story of how these Americans are now the official Little River Band...
WAYNE NELSON: They had glory. They decided to walk away from it.
BEEB BIRTLES: Now I like to call them a tribute band.
WAYNE NELSON: I'm not in a tribute band.
RAHNI SADLER: And how the original, and many say best, became a bunch of lonesome losers is one of the strangest sagas in pop.
How would you describe it?
GLENN SHORROCK: Two words - bull shit.
WAYNE NELSON: That's really low.
RAHNI SADLER: What started as a friendship...
GLENN SHORROCK: This is Wayne Nelson. He's, uh, uh...What are you? He's a bass player.
American. And he's also American, too,but don't hold that against him.
RAHNI SADLER: ..has become an international tug of war over the name 'Little River Band'.
MAN: I was reading somewhere that the name 'Little River Band' came from an Australian road sign, is that right?
BEEB BIRTLES: Well, it was actually Glenn Shorrock and myself, we were sitting in the back
of a car, we were going to Geelong. And as you drive down to Geelong you pass a little place
called Little River on the way. Glenn saw the sign and said, "Oh, Little River Band."
GLENN SHORROCK: "Sounds like a band, Little River Band." "Nuh." They all said no.
They threw me out of the car immediately. (LAUGHS) You know, after two weeks
it sort of stuck, didn't it? It stuck. It's my name. I named it.
RAHNI SADLER: They had a name and instant vocal chemistry. We rehearsed a section
of It's a Long Way There, and in full voice 'cause we sing very loud. When we hit that,
"It's a long way there, "It's a long way to where I'm going..." ..just all of a sudden we heard
this blend between our voices. And we looked at each other and thought, "This is really good.
"I think we can do something with this."
RAHNI SADLER: The long road was America. Then, few Australian artists had cracked the world's
biggest music market.
GLENN WHEATLEY: I was rejected at least 10 times, I mean, from major, major companies. I just kept at it. I finally - Christmas Eve, 1975 -I got a phone call from Capital Records saying, "We want to sign you."
GLENN SHORROCK: And we did our first tour in 1976, opening for the Average White Band
in Virginia, a college town. They gave us a standing ovation and encores. We looked at each other and said, "Hmm, not too hard after all."
RAHNI SADLER: That was your first US gig.
GLENN SHORROCK: First gig. Yeah. I thought to myself, "Well, maybe we can do this."
RAHNI SADLER: They toured the US relentlessly, strategically hitting every possible market
to make sure their music and their name caught on.
BEEB BIRTLES: Well, you know, our first tours over there, we were away from home for, you know, five months at a stretch, which is a long time to be away from home. The guys who were working as reps for Capital Records loved us because we never said no
to anything just to get our name out there.
MAN: What changed you from the unknown Little River Band to the world famous
Little River Band?
RAHNI SADLER: They toured for the best part of five years far away from wives and children. The pressure spilled over into their music.
"I'll be home on a Monday," that's literally what you said, isn't it, to your wife?
GLENN SHORROCK: That's from a letter...from a phone call, I beg your pardon. "Can you guess
where I'm calling from? "It's only the echo on the line." "No, I'm OK. I'm fine. I'll be home... I'll be home on Monday."
RAHNI SADLER: Their hits began to reflect the trouble that was brewing within the band.
GLENN SHORROCK: It's a bit like a marriage, when you're married to five other guys. Fairly unnatural situation sometimes.
RAHNI SADLER: Cool Change became one of their biggest hits, but it also foretold
the break-up of the classic line-up.
GLENN SHORROCK: We all needed a break at that time. That was one of the reasons why we parted company because I was feeling that we should take a year off and recharge our batteries a bit and, you know, go away and write some good tunes again.
GLENN WHEATLEY: LRB was pretty difficult and pretty headstrong in a lot of ways. There's no doubt that we had our moments and there were some frightful disagreements. But it was all because we were all passionate about what we wanted to do.
BEEB BIRTLES: It got to a stage for me where I said, "Glenn, I just...I can't work with you anymore. "You know, I can't do it."
RAHNI SADLER: You were forced out.
GLENN SHORROCK: I was voted out, yeah. But I probably wasn't showing enough...commitment.
I get moody. Privately, I get moody. And within the group I get moody. I'm known as Grumpy in the group. But I didn't expect to be leaving the band, you know. I...I wish I'd still been there,
you know. If I'd have been there still, all this wouldn't have happened really.
RAHNI SADLER: The band played on with a series of different members. The line-up changed repeatedly. Eventually all of the original members drifted apart. But in 2000, they decided to bury the hatchet and head out on a reunion tour. As plans got under way, they got a very nasty surprise.
WAYNE NELSON: There's only one. This is Little River Band now. Has been for quite a while.
So, this is LRB 2015, everybody.
RAHNI SADLER: The old LRB discovered a new LRB had become THE Little River Band. And we found them in Tucson, Arizona. How many times a year do you perform? And how much fun is it?
WAYNE NELSON: Anywhere between 80 and 100. And it's never not fun to see that. As a matter of fact that is truly what it's all about is to connect. Night after night you connect with people.
RAHNI SADLER: Wayne Nelson is the lead singer. He started out as LRB's bass player in 1980.
This line-up makes a good living playing the biggest hits like they're their own.
WAYNE NELSON: Singing and being part of something for 35 years, it's a blessing now. But now in the band's 40th year and keeping things moving forward with new music, no, no way did I have any clue that it would go that far.
RAHNI SADLER: What do you know about the band?
WOMAN: From Australia, tons of hits in the '70s and '80s.
WOMAN: This is what... You know, I grew up on this music, so I'm very excited.
RAHNI SADLER: Did you know that this band doesn't include any of the original members who recorded the hits in the '70s?
WOMAN: I did not know that. I did not. No.
WOMAN: I was not aware of that. I was aware they were from Australia. But I was not aware that it's not any of the original members.
MAN: Oh, no.
WOMAN: I thought, like, one or two of them were. But I did not know that all of them
I didn't know that. were not the original characters.
GLENN WHEATLEY: That's not right. People are buying tickets, thinking they're coming to see
the original line-up. And there's not an original member to be seen.
RAHNI SADLER: What's the song that gets the crowd going most?
MAN: Probably Lonesome Loser, Reminiscing obviously, and Lady. You know, those are...would be...you know, the biggest reaction. But there's parts of all the other seven or eight hits too.
GLENN SHORROCK: They go off as the Little River Band and perform the songs that we wrote
and performed all those years and claim it as their own in a way.
BEEB BIRTLES: It's gone from being a cover band to now I like to call them a tribute band. I like to say to people, “Oh, I think it's wonderful "to have a Little River Band tribute band out there, "they're playing all my music. "You know, it's terrific."
RAHNI SADLER: How does it make you feel when they call you a covers band, a tribute band?
WAYNE NELSON: It... Emotionally angry. They did it in the letter when they sent it back to us. "Thanks for keeping the tribute band alive." I'm not in a tribute band. Believe me, this is deeply emotional to me, OK? Uh, because I've got blood and sweat and tears in this too.
GLENN SHORROCK: No. Enough's enough. Let's get up on stage and play some music. Forget about all this bullshit.
BEEB BIRTLES: There are a lot of Little River Band fans around the world who would love to see the original line-up one more time.
WAYNE NELSON: They can talk about their history all they want, and they do. What they can't do... ..is say they are, or pretend to be, Little River Band.
RAHNI SADLER: To find out how an Australian band lost its name to an American group we had to travel to Ireland. A few hours outside Dublin is where the rights to the name Little River Band are held in the hands of a guitarist named Stephen Housden.
STEPHEN HOUSDEN: Hey.
RAHNI SADLER: Hello. Stephen, hi. I'm Rahni. Stephen became lead guitarist in a line-up change in 1981 - six years into the life of LRB.
How did you become the last man standing? Well, I've put more than half of my life into the band. I'm 63 and joined the band in '81. And do the maths, I can't do it It's over 30 years, it's half my life.
GLENN SHORROCK: And this is Stephen. He's our new boy, should I say?
RAHNI SADLER: He was part of the band when it switched record labels and became a new company in 1986.
Do you concede that the guys in the classic line-up have some rights to the name, given that they were part of the band at the beginning and did write many of the big hits -as I said, Reminiscing, um...Lonesome loser.
STEPHEN HOUSDEN: Well, I...
RAHNI SADLER: Help Is One Its Way.
STEPHEN HOUSDEN: I don't think they have any rights 'cause they left the band. In my mind,
if you're walking away from a band, you're abandoning a band.
WAYNE NELSON: Every time somebody left, the people that remained were steadfast and strong that that wasn't the end of Little River Band.
RAHNI SADLER: While Glenn, Beeb and the other originals drifted away, later recruits Wayne and Stephen stuck around.
STEPHEN HOUSDEN : I just stayed with the band. I stayed there. And, ah, I asked Wayne, "Do you wanna just become singer?" You know? You're the best anyway. So...
RAHNI SADLER: The first showdown came in 2000 when the classic members wrote to Housden,
telling him they were re-forming and taking back their name.
So you sent this letter to Stephen Housden? What happened then?
BEEB BIRTLES: Ah, we immediately received a - what I now call - a C&D - a cease and desist letter, saying that we have no right to the name nor the trademark.
RAHNI SADLER: What was your reaction?
BEEB BIRTLES: Well, unbelievable. And, you know, on top of that to be dragged into the Federal Court of Australia was, like, beyond belief.
RAHNI SADLER: When it reached the Federal Court, it was decided the name belonged to the new members. Not only could the new line-up use the name Little River Band, the old line-up was prohibited from recorded or touring under the name they'd hatched, the name they'd turned into a world-wide hit machine.
MAN: Little River Band!
RAHNI SADLER: The decision was based on old contracts provided by Stephen Housden.
STEPHEN HOUSDEN: There's a clause in that agreement that we set up. The name Little River Band and LRB basically is owned by the company, no individuals own the name. If the individuals
leave the company, they have no rights to the name.
GLENN WHEATLEY: I can't even remember signing that document that was presented in court.
On the last day, all of a sudden, this photocopy of a document that had my name on it - signature.
STEPHEN HOUSDEN: I have the signatures somewhere at home. I have a photocopy of it but I couldn't find it today to show up on the screen. But it had Glenn Wheatley's... I remember for a fact we had to get Glenn Wheatley to sign over.
GLENN SHORROCK: I signed lots of things in my career. I signed lots of things, you know. So I may have signed that. I don't think I did.
BEEB BIRTLES: No. I did not. I still have the piece of paper, as a matter of fact, that I was asked to sign.
WAYNE NELSON: They know they signed it. I know they signed it. They saw it. They've seen it in court. Those documents are real. Stephen has the documents.
RAHNI SADLER: The originals have been quietly fuming for years but snapped when Wayne Nelson's band was booked on America's Tonight Show to celebrate Little River Band's 40th anniversary.
WAYNE NELSON: We are proud to be in Little River Band's 40th anniversary this year.
BEEB BIRTLES: "We're Little River Band. We're in our 40th year." Yeah, right.
GLENN WHEATLEY: It's not your 40th anniversary year. It was our 40th. You guys weren't around.
BEEB BIRTLES: You weren't even there for the first five years. You weren't even there
when we were having all of our hits in the States.
GLENN SHORROCK: I just said, if... "I'm not trying to stop the band playing on your show, "but, um, enough's enough. "You've been dragging our name into the dust for long enough "and you can tell them to go...themselves." That's what I said.
RAHNI SADLER: The Tonight Show pulled the gig.
WAYNE NELSON: Who turns down 40 million views?
STEPHEN HOUSDEN: I can't understand why they don't just sit back and collect the royalties. We're out there generating more income for them. Everywhere we play, there's more airplay. The writers are the ones who make the money.
RAHNI SADLER: Still, the new band plays on and the fans roll up and reminisce.
MAN: Who's the writer?
WAYNE NELSON: Well, the writer's... We all write but the guys that wrote the hits, they...they left the band a while ago. But all of us write. They wrote the hit songs.
RAHNI SADLER: Do you think you would have the same success without the band's huge repertoire - It's A Long Way There, Help Is On It's Way, Happy Anniversary, Reminiscing,
Lady, Lonesome Loser, Cool Change? For which I think none of you guys were in the band
when those songs were written.
WAYNE NELSON: That's correct.Right. No. I don't think we would have the same success.There's no way to pretend that now isn't based on then.
RAHNI SADLER: Why don't YOU guys, ah, get a different name and make new music?
STEPHEN HOUSDEN: Because Little River Band is a well-known name, as you know.
RAHNI SADLER: And this Little River Band is not planning on heading back to where THAT name was coined.
WAYNE NELSON: I still, to this day, have gotten death threats about, "Don't dare come back to Australia "because, you know, you've stolen this thing from us."
RAHNI SADLER: What do you hope happens in the future now?
GLENN SHORROCK: That I get to America...again. I haven't got much time left. And I'm not gonna look so gorgeous as I do now.
BEEB BIRTLES: If there was any possibility at all, I would love to do it. But...who knows? Nobody knows.
RAHNI SADLER: It is the 40th anniversary year...
STEPHEN HOUSDEN: Yeah.
RAHNI SADLER: The guys say they'd just like the opportunity to perform themselves as Little River Band. Would you ever allow that to happen?
STEPHEN HOUSDEN: Not in this lifetime.
WAYNE NELSON: Thank you very much! We love ya.
BEEB BIRTLES: That's the biggest of shame of Little River Band is that anybody who goes to see this band called Little River Band at the moment, you know? Whether they know they're the real people or not, it's a joke, musically.
CHRIS BATH: Rahni Sadler reporting.