Songwriter Interviews

Little River Band founder Glenn Shorrock

by Dan MacIntosh

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That's Glenn Shorrock's voice on most of the Little River Band hits: "Reminiscing," "Lonesome Loser," "Lady." He also wrote some of their favorites: "Help Is On Its Way," "Cool Change," "Man On Your Mind."

Shorrock, who was born in England but spent his formative years in Australia, fronted a teen-pop group called The Twilights before forming the Little River Band in 1975 with five other Australians. By the end of the decade, they were consistent hit-makers in America and Australia, but Shorrock found himself having a blue with his bandmates on a regular basis. In 1981, he left for a solo career, replaced by John Farnham, later of "You're the Voice" fame. The band went on hiatus in 1986; two years later they returned with Shorrock back on the mic, a position he held until 1996 when he left for good.

The Little River Band is still active, but with no original members. The name and trademarks are controlled by Stephen Housden, who joined as guitarist in 1981. Shorrock (and his fellow co-founders) can only hint at their connection to LRB, which explains the title of his latest album, Glenn Shorrock Sings Little River Band.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): I wanted to start by talking about the new album, which is an album of older songs. One of the big hits, "Reminiscing," which was sort of jazzy in its original recording is even more jazzy now. What was the inspiration to reconfigure that song?

Glenn Shorrock: It's a very jazz-influenced piece of material. I've played it live with an acoustic feel before. But for the album, I just wanted to re-create it for a smoky jazz club, with just me and a piano and acoustic bass and drums. It's gotten a lot of reaction though. People like it. I'm happy with it. The song itself is unique. Graeham Goble wrote that. That's his most famous song, as far as I'm concerned.

Songfacts: Let's talk about the act of reminiscing. What are you most likely to reminisce about, when you reminisce?

Shorrock: Good question. My short-term reminiscing is not real good, but my long-term reminiscing's not too bad. But that's just the way it is with people my age. You walk in the room and say, "What did I come in here for?"

Songfacts: Do the songs take on new meaning for you over the years? And if so, which songs have changed the most since you originally recorded them?

Shorrock: In general, no, because I've been singing those songs now for 40-something years. They're my bread and butter, you know, as well as my body of work. They feed me. They're my kids. But if I dress them up a little bit or strip them down a little bit, then I discover a little more. When I get rid of the noise of an electric band, it sometimes frees a song up, but by and large I couldn't really pick out a song that has radically changed.

I've taken a little bit of risk when you see the title of the album, Glenn Shorrock Sings Little River Band. People go, 'Wasn't he in Little River Band?' But that's the reason I did that. To make people scratch their heads and say, 'I'm going to listen to this and see what it's all about.' People might say, 'I prefer the original.' And that's fine. I think I've kept the originality of the songs before they were recorded. Maybe I've gone out on a limb here and there. By and large, I'm very happy with it. I'm happy with my voice, the way it sounds. I'm happy with the freshness of it. Little River Band ex-manager Glenn Wheatley is still my friend and I played it to him. He said, 'Man, it's just great. I love it! It's even better than the originals.' He grew up with those songs and he was our manager through the whole purple patch that we went through. I just hope the people take it for what it is and that it hasn't spoiled the material. I don't think I have.

Songfacts: Are there songs on this album that you sing better now than when you originally recorded them?

Shorrock: Yeah, all of them. I think my voice has improved. It's got more nuances to it now. More dynamics.

The recording period of those early Little River Band songs, we were trying really hard to be commercial. We constructed records, rather than get together and just say, 'OK, roll it!' Now, you do it and you may do another take, but not 150 takes of one song like we did back in the '70s.

Songfacts: I work at a performing arts center, and last weekend we had Jack Jones who is, I believe, 81, if I'm not mistaken. And there's something to be said for someone who has that much life experience and invests his songs with all that accumulated wisdom. Do you think that when you sing some of these songs, that your experience makes them better?

Shorrock: Absolutely. I feel that the longer it goes. It's a great feeling. Your audience grows along with you and they keep coming. So, I might be doing something right.

And I enjoy it. I don't think I ever sing a song exactly the same way twice. There are always nuances. You know, if I've had a fight with the wife five minutes before going on stage, then sometimes I'll take that emotion on stage with me. If a friend has died, or whatever, you subliminally take that with you. Songs like "Cool Change" or "Home On Monday," they're personal reflections on myself and they relate to the audience I'm singing it to. And that's all you can ask for as a songwriter – that great connection.

Songfacts: When you sing "Cool Change," do you picture a specific place?

Shorrock: Yeah, there are a couple of places. I live on Sydney Harbor. I live on the harbor side. And back in the '80s, I was experimenting with a bit of sailing. I bought myself a little sailboat. I remember those days. And I also have a great love of the South Pacific. Along with a friend of mine, we built a holiday home in the Fiji group and spent wonderful times up there through the '80s and '90s, so that springs to mind when I sing:

If there's one thing in my life that's missing
It's the time that I spend alone
Sailing on the bright clear water


That's easily conjured up in my mind.

Songfacts: How do you feel about your music being part of the "Yacht Rock" genre?

Shorrock: Fine. In fact, I hope that's a vehicle to get me back in front of an American audience again on one of those yacht rock tours. I'm ready to come. Unfortunately, the promoters who are interested in me joining that show get threatened by the existing Little River Band legally. So, they go, 'Oh s--t! I don't want to get involved in that stuff,' and they say, 'I'm sorry Glenn, we can't use you.' And I say, 'Of course you can. Legally, you can. I can show you the agreement we signed. It says I'm able to call myself the original singer of Little River Band, as long as Little River Band is 60% of the size of my own name,' which is kind of weird. So, they just go on and forget about it.

I'm chipping away at it and hope somebody's brave enough to support my coming over there. It's been getting to the point that this has been dragging on for 10 years that I've been trying to get back there, and I'm thinking to myself, 'Oh, f--k it! I'll just come over there anyway.'

Songfacts: When you released "Lonesome Loser," was there any hesitation on the record label's part to release a song with a rather negative song title?

Shorrock: Not an obvious one. It's something that I thought of, briefly. But it's such a strong song and it's about redemption, as well. That didn't really hinder that as the release of that as a single.

The one that was a surprise to us when Capitol decided to put it out as a single was "Reminiscing." We thought that was a bit of a radical song, but it turns out that's the most-played Australian song on American radio. I wish I'd written it.

Songfacts: I don't want to get into the whole legal battle, but it just seems to me that the voice that sings the song is such a significant part. You can't disassociate your voice and your unique style from the song. And I don't understand how the band can try to carry on trying to replicate what you originated.

Shorrock: Well, everybody's entitled to make a living and it still keeps our songs out there, in its way. You're right. Can you imagine someone singing "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" other than Jagger? Otis Redding did a fair go of it, so maybe I picked the wrong example.

Wayne [current LRB frontman Wayne Nelson]'s a great singer. He was when I was with him, and he still does a fair shake of it. I've got no problem with them doing it, except when they try to con people into thinking it's me there. They put my photograph there, and stuff like that. That's not kosher, is it?

Songfacts: The notes to the new album state the tracks were recorded live. Are some of them first takes?

Shorrock: No. I can't think of one that's a first take. They were done in a day and a half. Two days. There were a couple rehearsal days. The pre-production of the album was more important in a lot of ways. Just to get the right feel for the songs.

You mentioned "Lonesome Loser." You know, we steered away from the a capella opening harmony and just set up a groove that fit like "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," if you listen to it in that respect. It's funky, it's good. I wanted the record to sound funky. I wanted it to sound live.

Songfacts: When people talk about what made Little River Band great, they talk about vocal harmonies. Can you tell me how much of your input led to the vocals? Did you do some of the arrangements?

Shorrock: Yes, of my own songs. But by and large, Graeham was the harmony master. He was the Brian Wilson of the band. He sings the top high harmony. He and I, our personalities, were chalk and cheese, and sometimes I fought against the block harmonies a bit. I like organic roots, acoustic music.

But he's a great songwriter and a great harmony singer. The three of us were. Beeb [Birtles] and myself grew up in the '60s singing all these Beatles songs and Crosby, Stills & Nash songs. We copied everything, harmony-wise. I like singing harmony. On this record, I didn't purposely try to re-create that. There wasn't much of a point. I might as well go in a different way, yeah?

Songfacts: Let's talk a little bit about your solo work. You haven't been the most active as a recording artist. Is that something that will be changing?

Shorrock: Good question. I haven't had a hit in a long while. People are more interested in what they know me for, not what I'm trying to do. My songwriting has dwindled because of that. I'm not getting any real positive feedback. I'm not even getting any real radio airplay. It's the old adage, it falls on deaf ears. So, I'll keep singing the old songs.

I've got ideas in my head all the time. Here in this country [Australia], we've got a population of, what is it, 25 million? So, you've got to diversify your entertainment value a bit. And I've dabbled in musical theater, television presenting, radio DJing. I've just played a part in a movie that's not been released yet. I've also done a pilot to play a part in another TV pilot, a spoof on the cruise line industry where I play a version of myself, which is not particularly attractive.

Songfacts: Do you like acting?

Shorrock: Yeah, I've dabbled. I like playing something out of character. Before I heard Elvis sing "Heartbreak Hotel," I listened to The Goons and Peter Sellers and British humor. That's always been with me and I have a talent for impersonations, as well, so I've employed that over years in a revue-type show. Yes, so I've diversified.

I think the next thing might be a classic songs album or a crooner album. Visit the Perry Como, Andy Williams era, which I call The Cardigan Era.

Songfacts: There's a great documentary about Colin Hay of Men At Work. And although he continues to write and record great songs, he struggles to find an audience because people only want to know what he was then, with Men At Work, and not what he is today. You're blessed to have the catalogue you have, but part of you must want people to know who you are now, as much as who you were then, right?

Shorrock: Oh yeah, that's the double-edged sword, right? It's frustrating sometimes. But, you know, I've rationalized that over the years. I'll sneak some surprises in there. When I say surprises, I think back to a line from a verse of a song I wrote on my first solo album, when I left LRB. The song is "Will You Stand With Me" and the line is, "I'll pass on mediocrity, but I'll cherish the surprise."

April 12, 2019
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