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| 5 August 2022 | Reply

According to a recent press release: “Orleans smooth melodic pop-rock has produced timeless classic hits like “Dance with Me” and “Still the One” (both Top Six chart hits in 1976) along with “Love Takes Time” (which reached #11 in 1979). The band is known for its tight ensemble playing, gorgeous harmony vocals and inspired, well-crafted songwriting. The band was formed in Woodstock, NY in 1972 by Hall and the late Larry Hoppen with Lance soon to follow. They released their first album in 1973 and have subsequently had numerous best-selling albums over the years including Let There Be Music, Waking and Dreaming and Forever.  The band still tours consistently to great acclaim.” We get founding member and bassist Lance on the phone to discuss touring, longevity of the band, and much more…

Toddstar: Lance, thank you so much for taking time out. There is a lot going on in the world of Orleans right now. You are celebrating, I believe a 50-year anniversary.

Lance: That’s right. This is year 50 for us as a working band.

Toddstar: Looking back, 1972, and once you joined in the fold, not long after that, did you think back then that you would still be doing this 50 years later, out playing music and enjoying it?

Lance: Playing music, yes. Being Orleans for 50 years? No. No one thought that at all.

Toddstar: What is it about the band that kept it together for 50 years?

Lance: I think a lot of it comes back to the catch phrase “We’re still having fun.” And it’s still ironic, “Still the One” became an anthem for so many people for so many things, and for us as well. So to go back kind of overview, the band was a trio. I saw the band as a trio. I was still in high school. That was my aspiration, was to do what my brother was doing, and to do it with him. Lo and behold, that happened. So I got uplifted into the band that fall, after I graduated high school. And then we started recording the next year. So for the first five years, everything was on up and up, up, up, up, everybody pulling in the same direction, similar goals. And then there started to be discrepancies inside. So John left the band in ’77. We regrouped, had a hit with “Still the One” and with “Love Takes Time,” with the second version of the band. And that fell apart after a few years. And this is a recurrent theme of boom and bust, you might say. And so after a few busts, I’m figuring, well, that’s the end of that. And then the thing would come to life again, for some reason. We’d have a reason to start up again, to try it. And it would be fun until it wasn’t fun anymore. And then we would stop and take a couple of years, three years, and then we would find a reason to get back together. And so that was the cycle. At all points, there were two or three of the original four in the band, right? So we lost Wells Kelly. Well, John left in ’77, and then it was Larry, me, and Wells. We lost Wells in the 80’s, premature death. And that precipitated John coming back. So then it was Larry, me, and John. And then we did that until whenever. And at a certain point, John left again. So it was just me and Larry. And then Larry passed away, and then it was me and John. So around those central figures, we gathered other players over time. And you have quite the alumni path, probably… I don’t know, somewhere between a dozen and 20, you could count as having come through the ranks. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. So there’s basically about a dozen different iterations of the band, each with its own set of strengths and shortcomings, better at some things than other things. But yet, each of those versions carries the common thread of the vocal thing, the guitar thing, the song structures, the lyrical sensibility, all those things are consistent around the 50 years. They continue to be so. So just to wrap that up, as of March, John has come off the road, or out of the band, actually, for the fifth and final time, I think, live. He says travel is just so hard these days when nobody’s getting any younger. And he moved to Nashville last year. He got remarried. There are a lot of reasons for him to stay home. And that leaves me the position of being last man standing of the original four, which is both in a way empowering, and also a pretty heavy responsibility to keep the band integrity as it goes forward. And I believe we’re doing that. This quintet has its own sets of strengths and shortcomings, like every other version of the band. But I think we’re doing a good job of keeping the name Orleans, preserving that reputation as we go. And we are still having fun. That’s why we continue to do it.

Toddstar: It’s the only reason to do it at this point for you. We all still need paychecks and still need to pay the mortgage, but I don’t think you are standing in line for a check at any point in time. The fun component has to be the driver at this point, like you said, with John kind of stepping back and saying, “Okay, we’re done here.” The travel, everything just plays hell on you. So it’s good to hear that you’re doing it for that reason and that reason alone.

Lance: Yes. Well, like you say, we’re not ready to retire, economically or otherwise, but each of us has other things going on. So if there were no Orleans, we’d still be fine. It’s just like, as long as people want to hear this music, we want to play it. And despite the difficulties of the road and such, it’s fun to get out there and do these shows and do them with our peer group friends, like we’re doing with Pure Prairie League and Firefall and others. So yes. What else are we going to do? It’s just not just the job. It’s a calling, it’s a lifestyle. It’s part of the being this, right? Not just going to work. So it’s all those things at once.

Toddstar: Other than the current replacement for John and then Brady out, your newest member to the band dates back to 1980. So that speaks to the group, the music, the legacy that you just don’t go out and have one or two members and hire guns, so to speak, to come out and play the music with you.

Lance: Yes, we couldn’t do that, because it’s really a team effort. There’s not like a front man and then a band. It’s like, everybody has to pull a lot of weight. We have four lead singers. And so yes, to enumerate, Wikipedia is pretty up to date, but I have to go back and check it again, always. So it’s myself, my brother Lane on keys has been with us for 25 years, like since 2000 and also did a couple years in the 1980’s. The same thing is true with Fly Amero, our guitar player, who was with us for a couple of years in the eighties and came back when John left for Congress in 2005. So he’s got 20 years with us. Brady’s got four or five years now. Tom Lane is the newest edition as of last fall. Tom’s a great singer. He’s got that high voice, so he covers a lot of things, and a great guitar player. So it works. And I don’t really ever want to have to change anybody else. I mean, part of that problem is, as we’ve morphed, you don’t learn everything you already knew. So as you go through these various mutations, you lose what’s called institutional memory, where everybody can go, “Hey, remember when we played, blah, blah, blah, back in 1978? Yes. Let’s do that.” Well, nobody else knows it, but me. So it’s nice to have stability, is what I’m saying. To best of our ability, we stay stable.

Toddstar: You mentioned the current tour with Firefall and Pure Prairie League, and Orleans are going to land at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida. What’s it about your band and this tour that just lends itself to those theater or hall-type shows instead of trying to play the festivals? And you guys do that stuff as well, but you guys seem to really kind of hit the theaters and the halls. What is it about your band that kind of caters to that, and vice versa?

Lance: Well, primarily our audience is boomers, like us, but not exclusively. Their kids come and their grandkids come. So that’s a cool thing. None of us are of the stature to be playing… whatever they call it, Lollapalooza, or those kinds of things. We’re not going to be doing those festivals and things even though we did them in our heyday. It takes three acts of similar, like us, Pure Prairie League, Firefall, to fill a hall like Ruth Eckerd, I don’t think any of us could do it by ourselves. It’s just the way it is. So we like these performing arts centers to do that. I think it’s a comfortable atmosphere for the audience as well. When you have each of us doing 45 minutes or something, jam packed with hits, not a lot of filler, and the people get a good value for their money.

Toddstar: You say that, but you guys are a big draw and when you do the cruises and things like that.

Lance: Well, the cruises are another thing. It all comes down to strength in numbers. If you pack a lot of acts into a show, well, that’s more bang for the buck. Conversely, we’re doing two days before we do Ruth Eckerd, we’re playing down near Miami. It’s just us. We still do that too. When you have three acts, well, it’s a little more generalized. They like that type of music. They prefer one over the other of the acts, but we actually switch up who closes, who opens. We pass it around.

Toddstar: That’s very cool. You mentioned the similar acts and going out. A lot of bands, especially bands from your era who came up when you did and have the longevity they do, especially with a certain type of music, and I’ll use the term yacht rock. There are bands that have come out and say they almost despise the term, but you guys kind of get lumped into that a little bit. Does the branding or lumping into a genre bother you or are you simply happy somebody’s listening and gives a damn?

Lance: So they call it yacht rock. They used to call it soft rock. I mean, what’s in a name? It’s basically pretty white, suburban music with influences from all over the place. So if that’s the genre, great. 2012 is when Larry passed, and I thought that was going to be the end of the band. That was year 40. I just wanted to finish the year, and we did that. Then somebody stepped forward and said, “if you want to continue, I can make it happen.” He became our new manager. That resulted in the 2013, what was called the Sailing Rock Tour, because Yacht Rock was already trademarked and taken. This was trying to do that, but not do that. And on that tour, that summer tour, we were the house band. We supplied the rhythm section plus more, for everybody. It was Christopher Cross, us, Gary Wright, Firefall, John Ford Coley, Robbie Dupree, Player, and Al Stewart. They were all on the show, and I was the music director. We would play, we would sound check and then play music show for all the acts. A lot of work, lot of heavy lifting, and a lot of fun, because everybody did three to five songs. Every song was a hit. It was two solid hours of nothing but hits. The audiences just loved that. I really enjoy doing that as much or more as just playing Orleans shows. It’s nice to have that diversity and the challenge. So we continue to do that. Later in the year, we’ve got a show like that, where it’s The Baby’s, Firefall and then us. With us Orleans, we’re also backing Peter Beckett from Player, Walter Egan who had Magnet and Steel, John Ford Coley’s on the show, and we are the band for them. So this is a variety of ways to keep Orleans going and keep it interesting and fun.

Toddstar: Sounds like a cool lineup as well. You mentioned something, and it kind of hit something in the back of my head, where you said it’s fun to have the diversity to be able to play just the straight up hits, and to be able to delve into maybe some other catalogs or what have not. At the risk of upsetting fans or anybody that reads this, are there any of those songs that you play that, when you know it’s coming in the set, you just think, “Not again?”

Lance: No, not really. I’m constantly monitoring how everything’s going over. I’m pretty good at writing sets that have a nice energetic flow to them. I really believe in variety. That’s why we switch up singers and styles, grooves. But I’m constantly on lookout for, is this going over? Is this not going over? I’ve been thinking specifically this week, I’m looking at our entire history of catalogs. What is it we’re missing here that we could add, that would be really, really cool? I’ve come up with a couple of things that will be challenging to implement, but once we get them down, they will enhance and upgrade what we have now. I’m constantly looking to upgrade, as opposed to improvise. There was a time when the band was really, really great at that, at jamming and extended stuff and making it up as we go. These days, our strength lies in arrangement and specificity and knowing what’s next, like a play, right? You have a big start, a middle and an end. I’m constantly looking at that structure to see if we can improve, but no, we don’t play anything we don’t want to play. We don’t play anything we dread playing if that was the question.

Toddstar: You segued right into where my follow up question was headed in that. Is there anything in the archive that you’d love to play that you just haven’t? You said you have come up with a couple of songs, but is there anything out there that you would love to play again, that you just know it can’t be done?

Lance: There are things that are just, they were hard at the time and they’re harder now. Like a song like “Half Moon,” for example, which kind of put us on the map, and was on the first album and was a staple of the show for many years, and decades actually. It’s really difficult. And it’s very John Hall-centric. What he was able to do that was most amazing to me, to play these really intricate guitar lines and then sing lead over top, and that’s not easy. So that song. I’ll tell you another one that was always really difficult, “Waking and Dreaming.” I haven’t done that in a long time. So there’s just been things that just wouldn’t fit this current lineup. Other things fit it better. There are things that we can’t do anymore that are very Larry-centric. Without him, there’s no point doing certain songs anymore. On the other hand, we had to adapt, with Larry being gone, how are we going to do these hits? Who’s going to sing what? We came to grips with that early on. I think we’re doing a fine job of that, but a lot of things had to be jettisoned because they were no longer currently correct for the ensemble. We have to go where our strengths are.

Toddstar: That stands to reason. Lance, if you could go back and talk to yourself in 1972, what piece of advice would you give yourself, knowing what you know now?

Lance: Save some money. Don’t imbibe so much. Be more humble and less… ‘There’s always more where that comes from.’ As a pep talk to myself, I would’ve said, “Be more confident in your abilities,” because I was not. I was playing with an older, more accomplished crowd. So those would be some key items, I would think.

Toddstar: I appreciate the time and I wish you well with the tour, as it moves on. I hope you knock them dead over at Ruth Eckerd Hall. I can’t wait till my schedule can line up so we can be in the same town at the same time.

Lance: Well, thank you, Todd. Appreciate it.




Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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