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Wayne Nelson of Little River Band Has the Music Programmed in Him

Wayne Nelson will tell you it's luck.

He'll tell you that his story -- in which he goes from being a self-taught musician to fronting one of the best vocal harmony bands in rock -- is all a matter of circumstance. But don't let his modesty fool you. 

Wayne Nelson, the Delray Beach resident and bass player for the Australian rock group Little River Band, is an awesome musician. What he calls luck, the rest of us call talent.

Growing up in Chicago, a city rich in musical history, Nelson used to accompany his parents to church, where he listened to them sing in the choir. This early exposure to music had a profound effect on Nelson who remembers being fascinated by how the individual voices could mix together to create such beautiful music. 

As a teenager, he spent hours listening to his parents' record collection, which included everything from Tchaikovsky to the Beatles, Sousa to Blood, Sweat, and Tears. He developed a deep appreciation for harmony and melodic structure, and he made up his mind on early on that he wanted to become a full-time musician.

The only problem: Nelson never took a music lesson in his life. So he learned the hard way, by jumping in head first.

"The lead singer of a band I was part of couldn't sing, and the bass player couldn't play," said Nelson. "So the drummer of the group came up to me and said, 'Look, if you can learn how to play the bass and sing at the same time, we can get rid of the other two guys and get paid twice as much."

This task proved easier than expected for Nelson, who, with his finely tuned ear and knack for harmony, was laying down bass lines in no time. As he explains it: "The music was already programmed into me. The rest just came naturally."

Chicago would serve as a proving ground for Nelson, but he knew he was destined for a bigger scene. Following the advice of a friend, he decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music, curious to see just how far his musical gifts would take him.

Initially, Nelson struggled in LA. He was playing bass in a Latin-jazz group with guitarist Jim Messina, but the songs were challenging, and tensions within the band led to frustration. Nelson wondered if he made the wrong choice leaving his friends and family behind in Chicago.

But then a call came for Messina's band to open for an up-and-coming Australian group called Little River Band. It was, by all accounts, a routine gig.

But not for Nelson.

As it just so happened, Little River Band was in dire need of a new bass player, one who also knew how to sing. Impressed with Nelson's playing, they asked him to join the band on the spot.

He accepted their offer, becoming the first American member of the Little River Band.

What's more, he turned out to be a perfect fit. He felt at home with the music, which, with its vocal harmonies and layered arrangements, reminded him more of the classical music he listened to as a kid than typical Australian hard-rock.

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Brian Zimmerman
Contact: Brian Zimmerman

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