Gary James' Interview With Lance Hoppen Of
Orleans is best known for songs like "Dance With Me", "Still The One" and "Love Takes Time". On July 24th, 2012, Larry Hoppen, the voice of Orleans, passed away. And what a voice it was. We spoke to Larry's younger brother Lance, who happens to be the bass player in Orleans, about the future of Orleans and the history of the group.
Q - Lance, I'm sure everybody was shocked to hear about the sudden passing of Larry. How are you holding up these days?
A - I'm good. I'm catching up. It's my first day home in a long time.
Q - Yeah? Where have you been?
A - I've been everywhere since July 24th and if I wasn't somewhere else, I was head down, pedal to the metal, working here at home (Nashville, Tennessee). Late last night I got in from Atlanta. I did a gig with some friends of mine and now I get to stay home for three weeks.
Q - Lance, what is the future of Orleans? Who will take Larry's place in the band?
A - Larry himself is irreplaceable with his collection of skills. You can't call up just anybody and say "Hey, can you fill in?" Not that it's our intention anyway. I did invite John (Hall) to come back and fill some of the shows for the rest of the year, and we've been doing it that way. Basically we've divvied up Larry's stuff amongst us, depending on who was most qualified, like Fly (Denis Amero) is best able to sing "Still The One", so he got that job and he's doing a great job at it. But there's parts that Lane (Hoppen) will cover and then there's the bridge I sing. "Let There Be Music", we dropped a key and I'm singing that. I'm also singing "Love Takes Time" in its original key. All this has given me a new appreciation for his singing because that stuff is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. (laughs)
Q - I realize that.
A - So, we spread the solos around and then just jettising material that is not essential and we can't do justice anyway. But we kept the hits and spread the workload around and the band sounds really good despite his absence.
Q - I saw Orleans back in 1980 when you opened the show for The Marshall Tucker Band at the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse. You had a keyboard player then, Bob Leinbach. Is he still with the band?
A - Bob is still present on the scene. The first gig back, there were a couple of gigs we were to do that very weekend when Larry passed and they got re-scheduled. One was on Long Island as a matter of fact. That was the one that came up fastest. There were only three weeks. Actually a week went by and then it got re-scheduled. So, it was only two weeks away when we learned about it. I put together a band that was part current and part alumni and Bob Leinbach was in that band on Long Island and he also just appeared with us when he came to the memorial celebration that we held at the Bearsville Theatre in Woodstock (New York) on Sunday, the 16th of September (2012). Bob played and sang the song "Forever" that he co-wrote with Larry for the "Love Takes Time" album. So, Bob was in Buffalo (New York) with Lane before there was an Orleans. He goes back to his college days, his teenage days. When John Hall quit the band and we re-formed, Bob was in that version of the band that you saw in 1980. And then he was with us again when we re-convened with John in '85, I guess '86 through 2000. And then we switched horses again, but Bob is still very much present and he's one of our oldest, dearest friends.
Q - So people should know there is still an Orleans.
A - Yeah, there is. There is, to finish this year's calendar and not just disappear by default. That was a decision I made early on, that we would somehow do it. I didn't know how. It all came together. So, the core of the current band is the four of us who remain; Charlie Morgan, my brother Lane and myself and Fly Amero. Re-entering the picture is John Hall. Now, what happens next year, (2013) I'm not quite clear. It could continue to be that. It could morph again or it could go away. We already have inquiries for gigs next Summer (2013). I expect we'll do them. I'm just not in any hurry to make those decisions right now.
Q - I don't have to tell you that in the early 1970s, Orleans was very popular in Central New York. Where else were you as popular as that?
A - Well, that was our stomping grounds. We were based out of Woodstock, New York. We all were New Yorkers. We had big roots in Ithaca, New York. We played the club circuit, Rochester, Ithaca, Poughkeepsie, up and down the Thruway. We played all the colleges. We played out in Buffalo. We played down in New York City. Then we also played a lot in New England and then down the eastern seaboard. But you're right, our pocket, our really strongest stronghold was Hudson Valley and emanating out from there. Of course then we had radio success that went national and even international. We toured nationally with the likes of Jackson Browne, Little Feat and Melissa Manchester early on. Stephen Stills, Chicago later on. So, we played all over. We never got to Europe until recently. We got over there a couple of times. But a lot of the Northeasterners have migrated to Florida as they tend to do and so we play a lot in Florida these days. So, we still have kind of a Northeastern stronghold in Florida, but this year we were offered shows in Dallas, out in South Dakota, some pretty odd places for us. But it came through our website in direct inquiries. So that's encouraging.
Q - Wikipedia describes Orleans' sound as a "Pop / Rock band." To me, that's too simplistic. Orleans really has a sound of their own. You would agree, wouldn't you?
A - Yeah. Defining that has always been a bit of an issue for us. Some bands are easy to categorize. We never were. We came from a lot of different influences and we incorporated them into a lot of Orleans songs, everything from The Beatles and The Beach Boys to R&B and Memphis and New Orleans and Motown and Classical music and Big Band. Just a lot of different things incorporated into our collective consciousness, The Byrds, CSN (Crosby, Stills, Nash), all that stuff. And then it would come out through us as whatever it was. We were one of the first bands to do Reggae in America. But we developed a vocal style and this double guitar thing and more than that. One of the things that was always difficult about Orleans for radio or record labels is label it. So, it was eclectic in the best sense of the word. But you have to call it something, so you can't call it all that, so you call it a Pop / Rock band.
Q - How much of a struggle was it for Orleans to get a record deal in the early days?
A - Well, you can't do it the way we did it these days, that's for sure.
Q - No record labels.
A - Right. We slugged it out in the club circuit. We would play Thursday through Sunday, same place. That's how we did it. One week here, one week there. Back and forth, making a living developing songs, testing them out. We started out in 1972 as a trio. John, Larry and Wells, and I was inducted in October of that year. So we were doing whatever we used to do in gigs. And then it was a decided action to take over the Winter and that was to go and do a showcase thing and do it until we got a record deal. In February we started a weekly show at The Mercer Arts Center in Greenwich Village, every Tuesday night I think it was. We played there six weeks and we got motivated and created a buzz. I think it was Cashman and West, the producers for Jim Croce among other people, who brought us to the attention of ABC and we got signed there, but we didn't want to have them produce us. We didn't want to sound like Jim Croce. So we got signed there and we worked it out to be produced by Barry Beckett and Roger Hawkins down in Muscle Shoals and that's how it started. We did that album, which became a cult favorite, our first album. Very lean, raw sounding. It happened very quickly. Then we did a second album for them, self-produced, and they really didn't like it, so they dropped us from the label. So we were back out shopping and again we went back to New York City. We played a week at Max's Kansas City, again in the village, two shows a night, three on the weekends. And I believe it was the very last show on the very last night that Chuck Platkin, who was then the head of A&R, VP at Asylum Records, heard the band, liked what he heard and was in a position to sign us to Asylum. He took what he heard, particularly "Let There Be Music", and "Dance With Me", which had already been recorded for ABC in fledgling versions, and they let us go. He got the re-record rights on those two songs and they were the first records we made for Asylum. "Let There Be Music" was the first hit. It was a Top 40 hit. It opened the door and "Dance With Me" crashed it down. So it was Chuck who molded as, I guess you could say, into the Orleans sound. It was that album and the one that followed, "Waking And Dreaming", that had "Still The One" and other cuts on it, that were our heyday and that's where we learned a lot about recording us and developing our thing. And we went on from there.
Q - In those days you could actually get an A&R guy to come out and see you.
A - Yeah.
Q - The thought in Orleans was that Cashman and West might make Orleans sound like Jim Croce? Jim Croce was a solo act. Where did that thinking come from?
A - Well, ironically I think the thing we kind of objected to was the weak rhythm section. They called it MOR back then, Middle Of The Road kind of sound and we did not want to be that. So we went with a funkier thing, with an R&B tinge that Barry Beckett and Roger Hawkins were best known for. That kind of served us well to get off the ground and be authentic, but what put us on the map was "Dance With Me", which was kind of a softer sounding MOR hit. It was an anomaly. It was very different that song from anything else we did in it's production and acoustic bass. The whole thing was relative to our mainstream sound and therefore when we went out, the agency placed us with Melissa Manchester, which again we were playing to an MOR crowd. So we were kind of cast into that image. In retrospect, maybe not that good, but also good in its own way. So it's been a very winding road. Later we got to tour with Little Feat, which would be our preference, that kind of act and other harder edge bands, and headline to other people as well. Then we played with Jackson Browne, also at our peak, a Summer tour with him in '76. That was a really good bill musically speaking, a good marriage. And he was a label mate as well.
Q - How about The Marshall Tucker Band? That seemed like a strange mix, but it did expose your music to Country fans.
A - Well, it's not so much Country as Southern Rock. We were not a Southern Rock band, but we've played with Southern Rock bands. We got to open for The Allman Brothers once and we did some Marshall Tucker dates and so that was good. It's good to open for other acts where you might have something in common with their fan base so that you can be exposed to a wider audience and win over fans that way. That was the whole thing and we were pretty on our game back then, so we liked opening. We liked making it hard for the headlining act to follow and also you're not in the hot seat in terms of selling all the tickets or being great, but if you come out of the gate strong, it really does well for the image. So we played with Hall And Oates. We played with Foreigner. We opened a show for The Bee Gees. These were all kind of one offs.
Q - Where did you open for The Bee Gees?
A - Nassau Coliseum. I remember that gig. Just once. We did a lot of shows early on with Bonne Raitt, co-bills when we were starting out in colleges and I could go on an on but all of it was good. Some of it was mis-cast. We did a show with Golden Earring, which didn't make any sense. We opened for ZZ Top and that was kind of a nightmare.
Q - You had a big hit with "Love Takes Time" on Infinity Records. Then Infinity Records went out of business. Did you get a record deal after that or not?
A - Back tracking from that, after John left the band on the crest of the wave, which in retrospect everyone recognized as a truly bad idea because we never gained our momentum. There was a two year lull where the band was in limbo and came back, Larry, Wells and myself and Bob Leinbach and Ari Martin and made the record with "Love Takes Time" on it. That was a very pivotal time in the record business. Blank cassette tape had come out and it changed everything. People were copying records, not buying them. Revenues dried up. There was an oil shortage. Vinyl is made out of oil. Prices went up. Everything crashed around us in the late '70s and into the '80s. Bands were being cut. Staff were being cut. We were shopping for a deal and we had interest from Epic. Serious interest from Epic and interest from this new start-up, Infinity. We wanted to go with Epic, but we made a stupid pay me offer to Infinity and they said yes. So it was just too much money to ignore. We went with them and had that one hit and they went under 'cause everything was going under at that time. They were owned by M.C.A. They were an M.C.A. affiliate and so M.C.A. acquired our contract. We were hoping they would let us go so that we could go shopping, coming off "Love Takes Time" as a hit. That would have been our preference, but no, they acquired the contract and the parent company and there was really nobody who cared and just let us go. So we made another album for them. It's the one we called "Pencil Sketch". It's got Wells and Larry and myself. It's a photograph turned into a pencil sketch on the cover and its simply titled "Orleans". It came out in 1980 and it's got some good stuff on it, but we did self-produce. There was no radio hit on it as it turned out. Then things went from there to not so good.
Q - Like when you had to go back to clubs to perform?
A - Yup.
Q - That had to be pretty demoralizing for you.
A - It was. Plus we had a falling out with Wells and Wells left. That's when Fly came in. There was a year when the band was Larry, me and Wells and Fly and Ari Martin. So it was a time of change. That summer we did like a tour of amusement parks all over the country, Six Flags, and it ended up in Busch Gardens out in L.A. But it just ground itself to a halt. Our accountant had misappropriated funds. We wound up stopping touring in debt, pretty seriously. Winter set in and things were bad. That's when we fell out with Wells and we had to keep going. Larry and I put together a couple of different versions of the band between '82 and '84 and we played every place we could play. It got worse and worse, but we kind of had to until we said we're not gonna do this anymore. We did another album in that time, "One Of A Kind", which was a very small budgeted project and yet all we could get at the time. It has some songs on it that are pretty cool. It barely saw the light of day and then we toured and toured and we just stopped. We couldn't do it anymore. Ironically, just as we did that, I think that was September of '84, in October of '84, Wells died. That precipitated a memorial service where John and Larry were re-connected for the first time in seven years and that was what started the imputes towards reforming again. So John, Larry and I reconvened, came to Nashville and cut a record here.
Q - If the decision comes down not to continue on with Orleans next year, where does that leave you? What do you do with your life?
A - Well, that's kind of the question, isn't it? The obvious question, and I'm asking myself that. I'm not gonna assume that it's over because it got over assuming it was over and crashed and burned many times and was resurrected. I never assume it's over. I'm just not prepared to define what's gonna happen yet. I'm letting that organically find its own level. So it's likely that we'll do some dates next Summer. I just don't know how many and what that's going to look like. The other thing that Larry and I had been doing a lot of, and Orleans is doing some of these as well, are those multi-singer big shows for corporate and outdoor events, often called Rock And Pop Masters, sometimes called something else. A lot of different guys to do shows with. One band, many singers. So that was our other main thrust. Sometimes we did it as Orleans And Friends, where it was the Orleans band per se doing a show. And there are shows like that already for next year continuing and I have inherited Larry's band leader status on those things. I'm actually really good at that, always have been good at that. That's for me. That's definitely for me. What those shows are called really depends on the buyer. They can name it whatever they want for their corporate event, but it's the same concept in the same core band with a variety of singers. It keeps you on your toes and it's exciting stuff to do and it's very lucrative, so that's good and I live here in Nashville. I'm a good writer, I just don't do a lot of it. I should take more advantage of that here. There's gigs here. So there's all that stuff to mine should Orleans go away, but Orleans is a tradition and an institution in a way. I guess my choice is do we do it a good service by continuing or do we do it a dis-service if we continue it in any less than a grand fashion. The fans have been very vocal in a way to encourage us to continue, "Please don't stop!" People need that music. So there's a lot of signs that say keep on going. I guess just at this minute, I'm weary. I'm weary from two months of slugging it out in the wake of my brother's passing and I need to rest.
Q - Is there an Orleans tribute act that you're aware of?
A - No. You know what I don't want to do? I don't want to go looking for a Larry sound-alike. That's not what I want to do. That's the last thing I want to do. I don't want to try and replace him. If we continue, we'll keep the best of it and try to evolve rather than just try to mimic ourselves. Let's be honest, it's not like Orleans was ever that big that someone would want to make a serious stab at a tribute band. It's one thing to be Little River Band and have had ten hits, even if it's a faceless, imageless band, they had a lot more presence. They had ten hits. That's a lot different than having had three hits. That makes a difference in the marketplace. That's just the bare bones facts of the matter. People can idealize or appreciate the music maybe to a degree beyond what the marketplace is clamoring for. So, I wouldn't advise anybody to make an Orleans tribute band 'cause they might find it a tough row to hoe. That's all I'm saying.