Biography: From their earliest days as a favorite at colleges and clubs in the Northeast US … to studio and live collaborations with industry greats Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Little Feat and others … to Top 10 success with bona-fide classics … now celebrating their 35th year of creating musical history together, Orleans has continually demonstrated “depth”.
"Depth": A word used to describe sports teams who are multi-dimensional, movies that must be seen many times, art that continues to reveal hidden meaning. In the throwaway world of Rock & Roll bands, how often do you see real depth? For the past 35 years, Orleans has defied industry pundits and career counselors by doing many different things well.
Formed in Woodstock, NY in 1972 by John Hall, brothers Lance and Larry Hoppen and the late Wells Kelly, the band's name was inspired by the legendary city of New Orleans. As Orleans went about perfecting its recipe of eclectic material, including R&B seasoned with Cajun and second-line roots, Alan Toussaint, Neville Brothers and Meters tunes were among the mix. The quartet's music evolved and refined in a more mainstream direction as they developed their unique pop/rock sound, which led Rolling Stone magazine to christen them "the best unrecorded band in the country."
A round of showcase performances in NYC gave rise to a recording contract with ABC Dunhill Records and the release of the eponymously titled first album in 1973. Later signing with Asylum Records, they produced chart-topping hits including Dance With Me, Let There Be Music, Love Takes Time, Reach and, of course, their American standard, Still The One. Adding to each other’s strengths, John was the most prolific songwriter while Larry supplied the lead voice for the radio hits. Just three of Orleans’ classics have a certified combined airplay total of over seven million.
After Orleans established national radio popularity, Hall left in 1977 to pursue a solo career, as Still the One played ceaselessly as the ABC TV network theme song. Since then, it has been and continues to be used for countless media commercials and movie soundtracks.
Orleans (the Hoppens and Kelly) continued to tour and record, scoring a Top 10 hit with Love Takes Time in 1979. Following Wells’ untimely death in 1984, a memorial gig reunited the Hoppens with Hall. Larry confides, “It was with that turning point and the perspective it brought that we started to refer to our Orleans project as a perpetual ‘work in progress’“.
By 1986, a reunited Orleans had cut the Grownup Children album under the direction of famed Nashville Producer/MCA label chief, Tony Brown. 1990 saw the group’s double live CD anthology release, first in Japan and later in the states. Two tours of Japan, an appearance at Woodstock ’94, and the Can’t Stop Rockin’ Tour with Fleetwood Mac, REO Speedwagon and Pat Benetar in ’95 were highlight of the early 90s.
Orleans has been performing live nearly every year since 1972, ALWAYS with at least half the original members. They do it the old-fashioned way – they sing and play their own stuff. Their oldest fans are bewildered and amazed at the fact that they still sound as good as - or even better - than ever … especially their vocals! Younger fans are simply impressed. Everyone agrees - these guys “still have it”.
Among music fans in America there is a broad consensus that, for some time now, music on radio, TV and elsewhere has generally lacked intelligent lyrics and memorable melodies. Many also express concern that the music their kids regularly hear is not suitable for young ears. This group’s music has always been family-friendly, intelligent and melodic, well before those things were issues. Still The One is so mainstream and has such mass appeal that, during the 2004 Presidential campaign, it was used by both the Republican and Democratic parties!
When John announced to Larry and Lance in late 2005 that he intended to run for Congress, no one was surprised. With Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash, he had co-founded Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) in 1979 and co-produced the Madison Square Garden concerts and Warner Brothers triple album No Nukes. The same activism resulted in John’s election to the Ulster County (NY) Legislature and Saugerties Board of Education.
All 3 made contingency plans: Orleans would play shows with Hall as schedules allowed while simultaneously reintegrating Dennis “Fly” Amero, who had played guitar with the band when John went solo earlier on. Now that Hall is a U.S. Representative (D-NY, 19th) first and foremost, he and the Hoppens agree that, on the rare occasions when it is possible, all three Orleans co-founders will still gladly reunite.
You might be surprised to know some of the broad and deep connections Orleans has woven into the fabric of American music, going back to early 1970s. Songs composed by members (mostly John) have been covered by James Brown, James Taylor, Chet Atkins, Bonnie Raitt, The Fifth Dimension, Bela Fleck, Linda Ronstadt, Oak Ridge Boys, Barbara Mandrell, Bobby McFerrin, Ricky Skaggs, Janis Joplin, Steve Wariner and numerous other notable artists.
The members of the group have sung and/or played on records by Michael Franks, Graham Parker, Little Feat, Jackson Browne, Ricky Skaggs, Bonnie Raitt, Planet 9, Robbie Dupree, Blues Traveler and many other artists. They have, in turn, had Michael Brecker, Blue Mitchell, Chet Atkins, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Bernhardt, Bela Fleck, Tony Levin and many others help out on their albums.
Orleans may be the only American band to have sung on a number one Country record (Steve Wariner's You Can Dream of Me, which John co-wrote) and a number one Jazz record (Michael Franks' Dragonfly Summer).
Orleans’ Dancin’ in the Moonlight CD was released in 2005 to fans eager for the band's first new studio recording in ten years. It includes a great version of that song, which Larry first recorded with its writer, Sherman Kelly (Wells’ brother) back in 1969, before their friends King Harvest hit with their own version in 1973. The rest of the album is what Orleans has always done - great original songs with terrific arrangements, vocally and instrumentally, superb lead vocals, memorable melodies and lyrics … and a surprise guest or two!
Few popular music groups have been performing and recording with their original members for decades (and even fewer can claim that it has been a vehicle for a United States Congressman), yet Orleans still currently performs around the globe. Original members Larry and Lance Hoppen are now joined by youngest Hoppen brother, Lane, on keyboards, drummer Charlie Morgan (best known for his many years with Elton John), and Dennis “Fly” Amero on guitar, filling the space left by John Hall’s recent election to the US Congress! They're consistently in demand for performances at fundraisers, private functions and positive cause-based events.
Recently, the band filmed its first-ever live concert DVD. Released in November of 2007, it features an expanded roster including both John and Fly, performing much of Orleans’ musical legacy from its three and a half decades. Some of that audio comprises the 2007 SONY CD release We’re Still Havin’ Fun and Orleans, including Hall, currently appears on PBS’ ‘My Music:The 70s Experience’, (filmed in May 2006).
Most recently (December 2008), the CD Obscurities brought smiles to long-time fans by exposing a collection of previously unreleased studio recordings. Mostly well-produced demos recorded as far back as 1977 and up through the late 90s, the collection also includes Orleans' first new master recording of the new, post-Hall era. Entitled The Moment, this is just a taste of things to come ... as the journey continues!