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Orleans is an American pop-rock band best known for its hits "Dance with Me" (1975), "Still the One", from the album Waking and Dreaming (1976) and "Love Takes Time" (1979). The group's name evolved from the music it was playing at the time of their formation, which was inspired by Louisiana artists such as Allen Toussaint and the Neville Brothers. Orleans was formed in Woodstock, New York in January 1972 by vocalist/guitarist/songwriter John Hall, vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Larry Hoppen and drummer/percussionist Wells Kelly. In October of that year, the group expanded to include Larry's younger brother, Lance, on bass. Drummer Jerry Marotta joined in 1976, completing the quintet.
Early Days: from a trio to a quartet
Drummer Wells Kelly (son of Cornell's Dean of Architecture, Burnham Kelly) first met John Hall, an in-demand session player and member of the group Kangaroo, in the late 60s when he played with him in a group called Thunderfrog and later played on John's first solo album, Action, released in 1970.
In 1969 Wells joined the first incarnation of King Harvest, who would have a hit a few years later, in 1973, with the song "Dancing In The Moonlight", a song written by Wells' brother, Sherman Kelly, and first recorded by Boffalongo, a group Wells joined in 1970 after leaving King Harvest.
Hall and his wife, Johanna, had just gained notoriety when their song "Half Moon" had appeared on their friend Janis Joplin's posthumous album Pearl. Larry Hoppen, who grew up in Bay Shore, NY but relocated to Ithaca, NY to attend college in the late 60s, was also a member of Boffalongo with Kelly. Hall, who had recorded and toured with Taj Mahal and Seals and Crofts, at the request of producer/pianist John Simon, had decided to relocate to Woodstock, NY to be close to Bearsville Studios and the musical scene there.
After a swing through Europe playing guitar behind Karen Dalton on a Santana tour, Hall decided to start his own band in Woodstock. After months of playing the Cafe Expresso with different rhythm sections, Hall called his old friend Wells Kelly in Ithaca in December 1971 and asked him to join his group. Multi-instrumentalist Kelly accepted the offer on the condition that he play piano. For a brief time, the grouping consisted of Roy Markowitz on drums, Bill Gelber on bass, and Kelly on electric piano. When Markowitz and Gelber left the band, Wells told John about his former bandmate from the Ithaca-based Boffalongo. Hall encouraged Kelly to call Larry Hoppen, who accepted the invitation to join the new group, christened Orleans by Wells, in late January 1972 and for months they would play as a trio, often switching instruments during the show.
Larry's 17 year old brother, Lance Hoppen, was brought into Orleans around Halloween 1972 to play bass, freeing up Larry to play more guitar and keyboards.
Orleans found its core audience touring the clubs and college circuit of the northeastern United States, crossing paths with other up-and-comers such as Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits and Hall & Oates. Rolling Stone magazine called Orleans "the best unrecorded band in America". Showcase performances in New York gave rise to a recording contract with ABC Dunhill Records and the release of the eponymous debut album in 1973, which had been recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama with producers Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett at the helm.
The group's second record, Orleans II, recorded at Bearsville Studios, was originally released in Japan and Europe in 1974 but ABC declined to release it in the US since they felt there were "no hit singles" on the album and dropped them from the label. Orleans II was finally put out in America in 1978, combined with the first album, as a double LP called Before the Dance. It was also released as a CD in Japan in the 1990s under its originally slated title Dance With Me.
However, it was not until Orleans was heard at Max's Kansas City, then produced, by Chuck Plotkin, then head of A&R for Asylum Records, that the band scored its first Hot 100 hit "Let There Be Music" (#55), taken from their third album, Let There Be Music, released in March 1975.
The follow-up single, "Dance With Me" (reshaped and re-recorded from Orleans II with Plotkin at the helm), brought Orleans to No. 6 on the pop charts and into the mainstream of American pop music. Atypical of the high-energy, earthy, R&B/Rock n' Roll mix of styles they had been previously identified with, "Dance With Me" cast the band in a more "soft-rock" light and landed them a tour with Melissa Manchester.
While recording their next album, Waking and Dreaming, in the spring of 1976, the group was joined by second drummer Jerry Marotta, freeing Wells Kelly up to sing more and play keyboards.
"Still the One", from Dreaming (released in August 1976), cemented Orleans' relationship with the American public. While the single was climbing the charts to peak eventually at No. 5, the band did a major cross-country tour with label-mate Jackson Browne. The single was chosen as the theme song for the ABC television network (the parent of ABC Records) and has since been used for numerous commercials and movie soundtracks.
John Hall departs
The follow-up, "Reach", with John Hall on lead, peaked at No. 51 in March 1977. Around then, however, internal stresses and disagreements over material and musical direction prompted guitarist/songwriter Hall to announce his intention to leave the band in search of a solo career, which he did in June 1977 after touring commitments were satisfied. Marotta departed not long afterwards to join Hall and Oates and eventually moved on to Peter Gabriel's band.
After several months of mulling things over and working with other musicians (Larry joined Jerry Marotta in the backing band for Garland Jeffreys while Kelly worked with the Beach Boys), the Hoppen brothers and Kelly decided to continue on in late 1977, bringing in new members R. A. Martin (vocals, sax, horns, keyboards) and Connecticut musician Bob Leinbach (vocals, keyboards, trombone), who'd played with Larry Hoppen during the Ithaca years and had completed a stint with the group The Fabulous Rhinestones. The new lineup signed a contract with the Infinity Records label and their debut there, Forever (April 1979), produced the No. 11 hit "Love Takes Time". Collectively, the three Hot 100 top 20 Orleans hits have been aired over 7 million times. In 1979 Orleans continued to tour with artists such as Stephen Stills and Chicago.
In 1980 Infinity went bankrupt after a proposed deal to record an album with Pope John Paul II (who was on a tour of the US in the fall of '79) fell through. Infinity was absorbed into MCA Records, who failed to promote their next album, simply titled Orleans. This last, recorded in Woodstock, featured only the Hoppens and Wells Kelly as Orleans since the others had left earlier in the year. Nonetheless, the album featured guest appearances from all past members, including John Hall, who was in the process of forming the John Hall Band with Leinbach as a member. Orleans was produced by Englishman Robin Lumley, mixed at Trident Studios in London and featured Lumley's friend, Phil Collins, contributing backing vocals to a track.
Just after recording their 1980 release, the group added Dennis "Fly" Amero (guitars, vocals) to replace Leinbach and the lineup still featured R.A. Martin. But the band, who was on a tour of amusement parks that summer, was forced to cut the tour short when their accountant misappropriated funds leaving them in debt. Martin left, "Fly" stayed and Larry and Lance recruited their brother Lane Hoppen to play keyboards and drummer Charlie Shew (at that time going under the pseudonym Eric Charles) to play alongside Wells Kelly then replace him when he left by early 1981 to relocate to NYC.
Orleans then signed with the fledgling Radio Records and recorded their next album, One of a Kind, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the summer of '82. The album (released in September 1982) included brand new band member Michael Mugrage replacing "Fly" Amero on guitar at the request of the album's producers Don Silver and Ben Wisch. Jerry Marotta briefly rejoined the band to play on the album but was replaced by drummer Nicholas Parker after its release. But Radio, likewise, went bankrupt just as One of a Kind was hitting the record store shelves.
Back to the clubs
Now without a record label, Orleans struggled in the early 80s, playing mostly small clubs in the Northeast and at this same time, Larry and Lance formed a side group, Mood Ring, with Bob Leinbach, Nicholas Parker, singer/songwriter Robbie Dupree (of "Steal Away" fame) and various others who drifted in and out to play for fun, mostly at parties and clubs. Mood Ring played some club dates in 1984 billed as Robbie Dupree and Orleans (In the late 2000s, Mood Ring reconvened to do occasional concert dates).
But after a tough two-week stint in Bermuda in July 1984, Larry lost his voice one day into the gig due to a combination of air-conditioning and high humidity. After this, he returned to his home in Woodstock and decided to take some time off to allow his voice to heal.
The death of Wells Kelly/reunion with John Hall/relocation to Nashville
In the meantime, Kelly went on to join Steve Forbert's Flying Squirrels in 1981 and also played with Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers before joining Meat Loaf's Neverland Express in 1983. While on tour in England with Meat Loaf, Wells was found dead on the front stairs of a London flat at which he was staying on the morning of October 29, 1984, after a night of too much partying.
Wells Kelly's untimely death was the catalyst for a reunion of Hall and the Hoppen brothers. John and Bob Leinbach joined Larry up in Ithaca to play at a memorial for Wells (Lance had been unable to make the wake due to another commitment). Then in 1985, through the Halls' connections in Nashville, the reunited lineup of John Hall, Larry Hoppen, Lance Hoppen and Bob Leinbach relocated there and by 1986 Orleans had cut the Grownup Children album, with guest appearances from heavyweights like Chet Atkins, Ricky Skaggs, Steve Wariner and Bela Fleck, under the direction of Nashville producer/MCA label chief Tony Brown. During their Nashville period, the band added bassist Glen Worf and drummer Paul Cook (who was eventually replaced by Tommy Wells) for concert dates.
Return to the northeast
By 1988 John and Larry began to realize that while Nashville was a great place for them as songwriters, it was not so accommodating to Orleans' career as a band. They decided to relocate their activities back to Woodstock, NY and brought in New York native Peter O'Brien on drums. Lance decided to stay in Nashville to work on sessions and writing and was no longer available for all Orleans' gigs, so bassist Jim Curtin joined to be Lance's sub, as needed, between 1989 and 1994.
Orleans slowly re-established their presence in the Northeast over the next couple of years. In 1990 Robbie Dupree approached them to make a live album, mostly for their growing fan base in Japan. Two shows at Woodstock's Bearsville Theater were recorded, as the group was joined by Lance, Bob Leinbach, Paul Branin (sax, guitar) and special guests: Rob Leon, John Sebastian and Jonell Mosser.
The double Orleans Live CD set came out in Japan in February 1991, followed in April by their first trip to perform in Japan (with a lineup of John, Larry, Lance, Leinbach, O'Brien and Paul Branin). 1993 saw the American release of Orleans Live: Volume 1, a single disc CD version and the first release on the band's own Major Records label. Live Volume 2, featuring the rest of the show, was soon to follow.
Still without a "traditional" label in the USA, Orleans recorded a new album, Analog Men, for the Japanese label Pioneer. It came out there in 1994 and was followed by a return to Japan for more shows. Later that year, Orleans played at Woodstock 94, which was practically in their backyard, in Saugerties, NY. Bob Leinbach once again rejoined the group for this show and continues to make occasional guest appearances with them.
The following year found them touring as an acoustic trio (John, Larry and Lance). While most of the venues were small listening clubs, the real highlight of '95 was being the opening act on the Can't Stop Rockin tour with Fleetwood Mac, REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar.
Yet another new album, Ride, was recorded at John's Saugerties studio and released through an independent label, Dinosaur Entertainment, out of New Orleans. Ride emerged in the summer of 1996 and included just a couple of reworkings of the best and still unheard-in-the-US tunes from Analog Men. The single "I Am On Your Side" even began to make its way up the charts, but the label proved inexperienced and it folded shortly afterward, killing the song's chances for more radio play.
Four year break and resumption
Orleans continued on, but in late 1997, decided to take a break. John and Lance were spending more and more time in Nashville doing sessions and touring with various Nashville-based artists and Larry, who'd remarried and started a family, relocated to Florida in 2000 and formed his own Larry Hoppen Band. Since 1997 Larry was also involved with Voices of Classic Rock, who since 2003 have been known as RPM (Rock & Pop Masters), a touring, constantly shifting, group of lead singers of popular 70s/80s groups (Toto, Survivor, Santana, Rainbow, etc.).
In the summer of 2001, nearly four years after their last gig, Orleans (John Hall, Larry, Lance and Peter O'Brien, with Bob Leinbach guesting) reunited on Labor Day weekend to play the Opus 40 Amphitheatre in Saugerties. After this, the band decided to remain together and continue on.
In 2003, having subbed gigs for Peter O'Brien the previous year, Charlie Morgan (ex-Elton John) became their new drummer and brother Lane Hoppen rejoined the band on keyboards after nineteen years.
Orleans continued to play live and record. Their latest studio album, Dancin' in the Moonlight, was released in late 2005. After this, the band's lineup was Larry, Lance and Lane Hoppen, Charlie Morgan and the returning Dennis "Fly" Amero (who replaced John Hall when he began his campaign for Congress in 2006) on guitar.
In 2007 Orleans released a live DVD/CD, We're Still Havin' Fun, recorded in August 2006 in Pittsfield, MA, which included both John Hall and "Fly" Amero, as well as the three Hoppen Brothers and drummer Charlie Morgan. Also appearing at this show were special guests: percussionist Manuel Quintana and Charlie DeChant (from Hall & Oates) on sax.
Congress calls for Hall
During his 2006 bid for a US Congressional seat, Hall appeared with the group on rare occasions. On November 7, 2006, Hall was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives from the state of New York. He was reelected in 2008. During the 2010 midterm elections, a political ad parody supporting John Hall's opponent, Nan Hayworth, promoted the fictitious organization Young Voters for an Orleans Reunion Tour as a means of removing Hall from Congress (Hayworth indeed defeated Hall in the election).
The death of Larry Hoppen
Orleans continued to write, record and perform. In 2010 there were repeat performances in both Washington, DC (in support of DCCC) and in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (fundraising for the Nana Baby Home, the orphanage there). The writing and recording of new material was always a high priority for the band.
Original band member Larry Hoppen passed away on the evening of July 24, 2012, of an apparent suicide.
In August 2012 Lance posted the following message on the band's website: "We mourn the sudden loss of brother Larry Hoppen. However, we will undertake to finish this year's calendar of gigs in his honor. Larry would have wanted that. The touring band is now mainstays Lance and Lane Hoppen, "Fly" Amero, Charlie Morgan and returning co-founder, John Hall. Please keep us in your hearts and prayers ... and please come join us as we celebrate life's continuation. Let There Be Music"! On September 16, 2012 Orleans played a memorial show at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock. They were joined at this show by Bob Leinbach, who sang "Forever" in memory of Larry.
Since this tragic time, Orleans has made the decision to carry on with a lineup consisting of: John Hall, Dennis "Fly" Amero, Charlie Morgan and Lance and Lane Hoppen.
John Hall - guitar, vocals (1972-1977, 1985-1997, 2001-2006, 2012-present)
Dennis "Fly" Amero - guitar, vocals (1980-1982, 2006-present)
Lance Hoppen - bass, vocals (1972-1997, 2001-present)
Lane Hoppen - Keyboards (1980-1984, 2003-present)
Charlie Morgan - drums, percussion, vocals (2003-present)
Larry Hoppen - keyboards, guitar, trumpet, vocals (1972-1997, 2001-2012)
Wells Kelly - drums, percussion, keyboards, vocals (1972-1981)
Jerry Marotta - drums, percussion (1976-1977, 1982)
R.A. Martin - keyboards, saxophones, horns, vocals (1977-1980)
Bob Leinbach - keyboards, trombone, vocals (1977-1980, 1985-1986, 1990, 1991, 1994, 2001, 2012)
Charlie Shew - drums, percussion, vocals (1980-1982)
Michael Mugrage - guitar, vocals (1982-1984)
Nicholas Parker - drums, percussion (1982-1984)
Peter O'Brien - drums, percussion (1988-2003)
Paul Branin - saxophone, guitar, backing vocals (1991-1994)
Paul Cook - drums, percussion (1986)
Tommy Wells - drums, percussion (1986-1988)
Glen Worf - bass (1986-1988)
Jim Curtin - bass (1989-1994)