Thursday, August 23, 2012

Orleans celebrating legacy, honoring founder

Orleans quartet featuring Fly Amero, Lane Hoppen, John Hall, and Lance Hoppen (John Bruno photo)

What should have been a year of celebration for Orleans_ which turned 40 in 2012_ took an awful turn when Larry Hoppen, one of the band’s founders, died last month.

“My brother Lane called me at 5 o’clock on July 24th to tell me Larry had passed. My whole world just went up in the air,” says Lance Hoppen, who joined Orleans on bass when he was just 17 years old, a few months after Larry launched the band in 1972 with John Hall and drummer Wells Kelly.

Despite the recent tragedy, Orleans is fulfilling its previously booked engagements, with Hall coming back into the fold for these shows, including the band’s performance at Wachusett Mountain’s Sept. 9 MusicFest with Little Texas, E Street Shuffle, James Keyes, and Andy Cummings.

Orleans pulled together a variety of sophisticated pop influences to build its following then crashed the mainstream in the mid ’70s with the indelible hits “Sill the One” and “Dance With Me.”

“I hate to reduce anyone’s career to two or three songs,” Lance Hoppen says. “But Orleans made its mark on Americana with ‘Still the One’ and ‘Dance With Me,’ and that’s not something most people can say. We actually got to work for 40 years because of those two songs. We always worked on new things and continued to develop songs, but we knew people were interested in the warm and fuzzies of those songs.”

At the peak of Orleans’s popularity, Hall left the band, setting up the entry of Dennis “Fly” Amero. Amero, who lives in Gloucester, regularly played around Worcester with his namesake band and the Mitch Chakour Band when not busy with Orleans.

Amero recalls making a casual remark among musician friends, wondering how Orleans would pull off the signature dual guitar parts in “Still the One” without Hall.  The comment reverberated through the league of seasoned session players familiar with Amero and Orleans, and, as the guitarist and singer put it, “in the fall of  ’79 I was on a Greyhound to Woodstock,” and entering the Orleans base camp.

“I considered myself a singer until I joined this band,” Amero cracks about the intricate vocals woven into Orleans’s signature sound.

Hall rejoined Orleans after performing at a memorial concert for Kelly, who died in 1984. Then Hall ran for Congress in 2006 and represented his district in New York until last year, during which time he left the group and Amero was back in.

Hall wasn’t actively touring with Orleans during the 40th anniversary run but jumped in to fulfill the dates already booked before Larry Hoppen died, turning shows such as the one at MusicFest into celebrations of Hoppen and his musical legacy.

Lance Hoppen points out that Orleans wrote many songs the band is proud of  (and please audiences) in the years after the big hits. One of the newer compositions_ “God Never Gives You More Than You Can Handle”_ has become especially poignant, he notes.

For MusicFest, Orleans will perform as a quartet, with Lane Hoppen on keys, Lance Hoppen on bass, and Hall and Amero on guitars.

“When we finish this calendar of events, I can’t see beyond that,” Lance Hoppen says. “There are no decisions about continuing. The one thing that I have learned over the years is that every time this band goes down it manages to get backup."

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