Gary James' Interview With Larry Hoppen of
He's a founding member and the voice of Orleans. He's the singer of such classic songs as "Still The One", "Dance With Me", "Love Takes Time" and "Let There Be Music". B.M.I. has certified "Still The One" and "Dance With Me" with a combined airplay of over six million!
His vocal and instrumental talents have been featured on tours and albums by artists such as Graham Parker, Michael Franks, Felix Cavaliere and Livingston Taylor. Recently, he's been touring the world with RPM, whose members collectively enjoy twenty-five Gold albums, twenty-six Platinum and Multi-Platinum albums, fifty-seven Top 40 singles, twenty-five Top 10 singles and ten number one hits.
He is Larry Hoppen.
Q - Larry, you make your home in Florida these days, but you're originally from Bayshore, New York?
A - Well, yeah, pretty much. I was born in Green Port, but the family grew up in Bayshore. That was my parent's family. My family moved from New York down to Florida in 2000. I grew up in Bayshore and wound up in Ithaca, when I left Long Island to go to school. I was in Ithaca for about five years and then I went to Woodstock in '72 and was there until 2000.
Q - How'd you make the adjustment from living in New York to Florida?
A - Well, it's easy to take the weather in Florida in the winter. It's a little brutal in the summer. It's very, very hot and humid. At least where we are it's inland, near Orlando and it's pretty hot in the summer time.
Q - Do you remember the '70s and all the gigs you used to play in Syracuse?
A - I remember a lot of it, yeah.
Q - You played Onondaga Community College.
A - There were a lot of 'em up there. There was Le Moyne College. We played Syracuse University a bunch. There were nightclubs up there. We played up in Rochester, Utica and all those places, a lot. When Orleans started, that was basically a big part of the world we lived in.
Q - Did you play the Brookside in Syracuse?
A - I don't remember playing the Brookside. I remember the name though. I just don't remember if we played there or not. The clubs in Ithaca we played a lot. We played the Salty Dog and a place called The Haunt and a place called The North Forty. But, in Syracuse I think it was more a college thing for us. We would play colleges more than clubs up there. We played all the time. Back then, there were lots of places to play, unlike now. It was just a good situation.
Q - Syracuse groups were under the impression that in order to get a record deal, you had to play a showcase club in New York for a night, maybe two if you're really lucky and hopefully you'd be seen by a record company executive and signed. But that's not how it worked for you, is it? You played one of those showcase clubs for months on end before you were signed.
A - Yeah. We played a few different showcase places for a really long time. We played the Mercer Arts Center, which was way down in the Village. I don't remember, we played there weeks in a row, but I think we did appear there three or four times in a period of a few months, for a week at a time. We kept wanting to showcase. We were getting interest and eventually landed a deal with ABC Records, which was our first one. After we got dropped from them a few years later, we went back and showcased at Max's, Kansas City. And that was another situation where I think we did a week with The Dixie Hummingbirds. We played a different week I think with The Fabulous Rhinestones. You couldn't just say, OK, we're gonna showcase on Thursday night and expect to come out of there with anything worthwhile. You had to be there long enough for the word to get around and the buzz to be around; there's this band down there. They've got really great songs. They're really good. It's a grapevine thing.
Q - So ABC Records caught your act at one of these showcase clubs, correct?
A - That is correct. We had a lawyer who was setting all this stuff up. He was connected. He wound up later managing Barry Manilow. He knew what he was doing. I think that helped us a lot, in terms of getting this stuff set up the right way. After ABC expressed interest, it wasn't like, "Oh, yeah. We're gonna sign you tonight." It was like "yeah, you guys are pretty good. We'll come back." So, that happened. At a certain point I remember that Gary Katz, who was producing Steely Dan, came down with Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan). And remember this was 1973 I think. Apparently Fagen said to Gary, "Well, they're good, but you don't want to sign them because they're too commercial. (laughs) That's one of the things that you remember.
Q - And ABC Records only stood by you for a year?
A - I think that's being generous.
Q - They dropped you a year later?
A - Well, what happened is this: the first album came out, along with Rufus' first album, Steely Dan's first album and I don't remember what else. I think they way that they did it was apparently to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck. If that's the way you do it, OK. It's not really a good business plan, but that's what happened. So, our album was a critical success, but didn't sell a lot of copies because they really didn't have a hit single and they really didn't do a lot of advertising. That album came out in late summer of '73. About a year later they were ready to put out another album, which we'd made over the winter in Bearsville. It had "Dance With Me" and "Let There Be Music" on it. They heard the record and said "we don't think this record has any hits on it, so we're gonna drop you." And they did. That's when we went back and showcased at Max's, Kansas City. That's where Asylum Records had Chuck Plotkin come down and have a look at us and he wound up signing us with David Geffen to Asylum and re-recording "Dance With Me" and "Let There Be Music", which was how we got on the radio. The point about ABC is simply that they didn't have any sense of what they were doing, where Chuck saw a way to make that work. I think David Geffen was a much better businessman than Jay Lasker, who was running ABC at the time. ABC actually got folded into MCA not very long after that. That was at a time when record labels were doing well. This was before labels started having big trouble. ABC couldn't make a go of it even when labels were OK. That gives you a little insight into maybe why. (laughs)
Q - When I hear stories like that, I understand why record companies went into decline.
A - David Geffen started a label because he was passionate and had a sense that he could do well. He put Don Henley together with Glenn Frey. He signed Joni Mitchell. He signed Linda Ronstadt. He signed us. He signed Jackson Browne. He knew what he was doing. But a lot of the labels were basically doing what everybody else was doing. They were all just trying to make money. It was a very corporate thing even back then. There was no vision. There was no passion. We were in our early twenties. We didn't know then what we know now. Suffice it to say that the state the labels are in, they brought it all on themselves. Nobody's gonna be doing any benefits for them.
Q - How did Orleans form?
A - It was in collage at Ithaca, in '67 and then I quit in '69. At some point, probably in late '68, I went over to a frat party at Cornell. I wasn't playing at that frat party. I was playing down the block. I walked into this frat party and it was very, very crowded. I couldn't see anybody, but I could hear the band. I heard this drummer and the drummer was just fabulous. So, I made it my business to find out who the drummer was and it was Wells (Kelly). I said, I'm gonna have to meet this guy at some point. I remember that and then a year or two later I was in New York City with my band Boffalongo and a couple of those guys in the band knew Wells and knew this guy who owned a recording studio down in the Village. They said do you want to go down to this jam session with Wells and this guy John Hall and Harvey Brooks. I didn't know any of these guys. I was very enamored of the whole thing. I was impressed. I was eighteen years old. So, I said "Yeah, let's go." We went over there and when I walked in, those guys were already playing. When I walked in they were playing an instrumental version of "The Age Of Aquarius". I just basically, without skipping a beat, picked up a guitar which was available and another amp and started harmonizing on guitar with John, before we even said hello. So, that's how I met John and actually played with Wells the first time I met him. Wells ended up being in my band Boffalongo, until the end of 1971. Wells and I and a bunch of other guys had this band called Boffalongo that was in New York City and then up in Ithaca, where Wells is from. Wells wound up getting a call from John Hall in very, very late 1971, like Christmas or something. John had just moved from New York City to Woodstock because their apartment, him and his wife Johanna, had their apartment broken into one too many times. They said screw this, we'll move up to Woodstock. They were able to do that because they had Janis Joplin cut their song "Half Moon". They made enough money from that to buy this house in Woodstock. John called up Wells and said "Hey, do you wanna start a band?" So Wells quit my band, Boffalongo and moved down to Woodstock. At month later both of them called me up and said "we have four guys in the band. Two of them are quitting. If you can come down, we'll make it a trio." I said yeah and that's what happened. Boffalongo happens to be the first band that recorded the song "Dancing In The Moonlight", in the recording studio where we had that first jam. The guy who wrote that song is Wells Kelly's older brother Sherman, who's still alive and we see each other and talk regularly. So, that's kind of a long, full-circle history about that song and the band 'cause we have a new album that came out called "Dancing In The Moonlight" in 2006. We finally covered that song as Orleans.
Q - How was it determined that you would be the lead singer in Orleans?
A - (laughs) Well, if you look at all the albums with John on 'em, you would come to the conclusion that John was the lead singer, by volume. But, what happened was, I wound up being the lead singer on all the hits. I had the radio voice. We'd get into the studio to record these songs we'd been playing on the road for a while and they were in keys that just weren't any good for John to sing. So, by default I got to sing them and it worked.
Q - Did you write "Dance With Me" and "You're Still The One"?
A - No. I did not. John and his ex-wife Johanna. She wrote the lyrics mostly and he wrote the music.
Q - Do you know anything about how long it took them to write those songs?
A - Well, I can tell you that "Dance With Me" took a long time. John had the guitar lick and brought it into a rehearsal in 1974. I really liked the guitar lick and said "Wow, you gotta finish that." And then two months later, I think they had the finished song. I don't think they worked on it all the time. The way I remember it being told to me is that John suggested they called it "Dance With Me" or Johanna suggested that and John said "No, that's too simple." So, they tried coming up with something more clever than that and eventually she came up with a whole lyric based on "Dance With Me" and it certainly worked. Keeping it simple is a good thing. "You're Still The One" was someone that had been divorced, a friend of theirs, was over to the house. She said everybody's always writing songs about breaking up. It would be nice if somebody wrote something about staying together. I think that was the impetus for that. I don't think that took a long time.
Q - When ABC-TV adopted or adapted "You're Still The One" as their theme song, it must've really brought in the royalties for John.
A - I don't know how to comment on that. I would say they didn't use our version. The use of the song, certainly for two-plus years cemented the song in the consciousness of the entire American public, which has really been good for us. Certainly, you would think it was worth a lot of money.
Q - I saw a piece on CBS on John Hall recently. He's now a Congressman?
A - He is.
Q - What district?
A - He's in New York's 19th District, which includes Westchester, parts of Duchess, Putnam and Orange County. I don't know if there's any other ones in there. We're proud of him. We've always been politically active, all of us. But, if anybody was gonna be a politician, it was gonna be John. So, nobody was shocked when he said "I'm gonna run for office." He pulled it off. We're gonna be doing a fundraiser with him in Washington, D.C. and there's a couple of other guitar slinging new congressmen that are gonna jam with us. (laughs) So, it's pretty cool.
Q - You also play on other people's CDs. You're a session player?
A - Yeah. Well, I'm not really a session player. I have a lot of friends who make records. Like, I'm in the Robbie Dupree Band. Robbie had "Steal Away" in the early '80s. Last year we played in Japan. We just cut a new album of his in March, near Woodstock. So, I play with people like that.
Q - When Orleans was put together in 1972, did you think the group would still be playing all these years later?
A - No. I don' think any of us thought about it. My reality when I think about it now is that I grew up in a musical family. My parents met in a Big Band. They were working musicians. So, I grew up around that and started playing trumpet when I was eight. By the time I was twelve I had my first band and was playing electric guitar. So, on the one hand I'm pretty sure I'll be playing until I drop dead. On the other hand, when you start a band, you don't think I want this band to last ten years or twenty years. You just say, well I want to have this band and maybe your goal is to have hit records or whatever. So, that was our goal. Our goal was to have a really good band and be cool and make a living and have hit records. And here we are thirty-five years later with a whole lot of water under the bridge, but most of it is really good and we're still making a living. We've got a brand new 'live' album coming out in conjunction with the DVD we coming out. The 'live' album is coming out on SONY and the DVD may also come out on SONY. It's new material, not just the hits, so thirty-five years later we're still doing what we did when we started, except we're older and wiser now. We know that we're not gonna have a hit record the way we used to have a hit record. Nobody's gonna have a hit record the way they used to have a hit record.
Q - I don't know how a band would even attempt to get a CD played. The audience is fragmented and the media is worse than fragmented.
A - It's all marketing. The thing is, even if you have a great song, that's good. But your great song also needs to probably have a video with it or some sort of visual connection; needs to be on maybe a TV show or needs to be a ringtone or it needs to be in a movie. You know what I'm saying? You just can't succeed on the merits of a song the way that it was possible when the markets and the mediums weren't so scattered.
Q - I loved Top 40 radio.
A - Right. But that's over. That's just the way it is. (laughs)