Meet Orleans [PHOTOS, VIDEOS]
With a name like Orleans, you’d think that the band was from New Orleans, right?
Orleans was formed in Woodstock, New York, in 1972. The name is derived from the type of music the band was originally playing: “R & B seasoned with cajun,” music inspired by Louisiana musicians (like the Neville Brothers).
Orleans started out as singer/guitarist/songwriter John Hall, singer/guitarist/keyboardist Larry Hoppen, and drummer/percussionist Wells Kelly. In the fall of 1972, the group expanded to include Larry’s younger brother, Lance, on bass.
Founder John Hall had played and toured with Seals and Crofts, and played on Janis Joplin’s posthumous album “Pearl.” Drummer Wells Kelly had played with the first incarnation of King Harvest (“Dancing In The Moonlight”), among other projects.
Orleans found its original audience while touring the clubs and colleges of the Northeast U.S., crossing paths with other artists on the rise, such as Bonnie Raitt and Hall and Oates!
New York shows brought the band to the attention of the record labels, in 1973.
ABC-Dunhill released the first Orleans album, called simply: “Orleans.”
A second album, “Orleans II” was released in Japan and Europe the following year. It was not released in the U.S., because the record label felt that there were not “hits” on it. So, Orleans found themselves looking for a new record label (more on the Orleans II album, later).
Asylum Records stepped up, next, in 1975, and the single “Let There Be Music” (from the album of the same name) became Orelans’ first chart entry, landing at #55.
The next single “Dance With Me,” (re-worked and re-recorded from an earlier album) was a BIG hit, landing in the Top-10, at #6 in 1975.
Up til then, Orleans was known for high-energy music, but “Dance With Me” re-branded them as more of a soft-rock band.
They toured with Melissa Manchester.
Spring 1976 brought the next album “Waking And Dreaming.”
And, a new drummer, Jerry Marotta, named above with the rest of his band mates. This addition allowed Wells Kelly to sing more, and play the piano.
“Still The One” solidly put Orleans in the public eye. Not only did the song rise to #5 on the charts, but it was used by the label’s parent company, ABC-TV, to promote their fall lineup through the late 1970s (as you can watch below, in a lonnnnngggg video clip).
And, the song has been used in many commercials and movies ever since!
The followup, “Reach” landed at #51 in 1977.
This is where Orleans’ lineup started to change, due in part to stress, and disagreement over music direction. Founder John Hall left for a solo career. Marotta left to join Hall & Oates (and later, Peter Gabriel).
After a few months of mulling over the future of the band, and working with other artists, the Hoppen brothers and Kelly decided to stay together, and brought in new members: R. A. Martin (vocals, sax, horns, keyboards) and Bob Leinbach (vocals, keyboards, trombone).
Orleans signed a deal with Infinity Records in late 1977, and their 1979 album “Forever” produced another one of Jersey’s Favorite Hits: “Love Takes Time” (#11/1979).
Orleans would end the 1970′s, on the road with Stephen Stills and Chicago.
The 1980′s would not be kind to the band. Orleans’ record label went bankrupt. Their next album, “Orleans” would not be promoted by successor, MCA Records. It would feature the Hoppen brothers and Wells Kelly. Plus, guest appearances by former Orleans band mates, including John Hall. Phil Collins (!) sang backing vocals on one of the songs… None would be chart hits, however.
Afterwards, the group added Dennis “Fly” Amero (guitars, vocals), keyboardist Lane Hoppen (brother of Larry and Lance) and drummer Charlie Shew (under the pseudonym Eric Charles) to play alongside Wells Kelly, and then replace him when he left in early 1981.
The band signed to another label (Radio Records), and recorded the album “One Of A Kind.” Once again, fate was cruel: this label went bankrupt in 1982, just as the new Orleans album was hitting store shelves!
The early ’80s saw a return to playing the small clubs, and work with other bands, for most of Orleans. Former band mate Wells Kelly was found dead in London in 1984, after a night of hard partying. Wells’ death helped to spur various members to reunite from time to time. Through the rest of the decade, records were made, but no hits resulted. The band spent a few years based in Nashville.
Orleans would record and tour, with varying lineups through the 1990′s, before taking a break in 1997. They would reunite in 2001, and continue to tour, with varying lineups of original members, and guest musicians.
John Hall would take some time off from Orleans, to serve in the U.S. Congress (from New York), from 2006-2010. At this time, drummer Charlie Morgan (who spent many years with Elton John) joined the band.
Sadly, founding member Larry Hoppen passed away last summer.
Orleans continues to tour…as they say: “Let there be music!”
With founder John Hall back in the band, the “Sailing Rock” Tour is planned for this summer…
What else is the band up to? Click here!
BTW: Orleans’ second album (Orleans II originally went unreleased in the U.S.) did hit record store shelves in 1978. Combined with the first album, into a double-album, it is called “Before The Dance” (see above). Check it out, to hear early Orleans!