A Brief History of Orleans 1972 – 2023
Platinum hit-maker ORLEANS is now celebrating 50+ YEARS of live performances!
Praised and respected by their peers for their songwriting skills, instrumental prowess and classic trademark harmonies, their iconic radio hits, including “Still The One”, “Dance With Me” and “Love Takes Time,” still resonate with audiences of all ages thanks to continued airplay on Classic Rock radio, television, film and streaming services.
Orleans has produced a body of work spanning 17 albums and several DVDs … and they continue to be in demand for live shows, as they have been now for 5 decades. Since its humble beginnings in Woodstock NY and throughout countless worldwide tours, the band has set some very high standards. Here in 2023 and beyond, Orleans continues to meet and exceed those standards at every show, to the delight of audiences everywhere.
From their earliest days as a favorite at colleges and clubs in the Northeast US … to studio and live collaborations with great artists, including Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Little Feat and many others … to Top 10 success with bona-fide classics such as “Still the One”, “Dance With Me” and “Love Takes Time” … Orleans is now celebrating 50 years of creating musical history.
Although the makeup of the live band has seen many incarnations over the years, their oldest fans are amazed at the fact that the band still sounds as good as (or even better than) ever … especially their vocals! Younger fans are simply impressed. Everyone agrees – these guys “still have it”.
Formed in Woodstock, NY in February 1972 by John Hall, Larry Hoppen and Wells Kelly, Orleans became a quartet when Lance Hoppen joined in October of that year. Hall’s “Half Moon” was in the first batch of original song demos but, to fill out live shows, they played lots of covers. Some were Alan Toussaint, Neville Brothers / Meters tunes (hence the intended-to-be-temporary choice of name) as they went about perfecting a delicious recipe of eclectic material, incorporating rock, R&B and reggae with vocal harmony. That led Rolling Stone magazine to christen them “the best unrecorded band in the country” in early 1973.
Soon after, a round of showcase performances in NYC gave rise to a recording contract with ABC Dunhill Records and the release of the eponymously titled first album. Later signing with Asylum Records, they produced chart-topping hits including “Let There Be Music”, “Dance With Me”, “Reach” and, of course, their American standard, “Still the One” (with Jerry Marotta lending his drumming skills to their Waking and Dreaming album). Adding to each other’s strengths, John (with his then-wife and songwriting partner, Johanna) was the most prolific songwriter while Larry supplied the lead voice for the radio hits. Orleans’ classics have been played on terrestrial radio countless millions of times since they were first released and now stream constantly on all the major platforms.
After Orleans established national radio popularity, Hall left in the fall of 1977 to pursue a solo career, while “Still the One” played ceaselessly as the ABC TV network theme song. He recorded his solo album, “Power”, as well as 2 albums with The John Hall Band. With Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash, he co-founded Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) in 1979 and co-produced the Madison Square Garden concerts and Warner Brothers triple album, “No Nukes”. That same activism resulted in John’s election to the Ulster County (NY) Legislature, Saugerties Board of Education and, later, the US Congress.
Orleans (the Hoppens and Kelly), adding Bob Leinbach and RA Martin, continued to tour and record, scoring another hit with “Love Takes Time” in 1979. 1981 saw the departure of Bob, RA and Wells, as the Hoppens forged on. Following Wells’ untimely death in 1984, a memorial gig reunited the Hoppens with Hall. Larry confides, “It was at that turning point and with the perspective it brought that we started to refer to Orleans as a perpetual ‘work in progress’“.
By 1986, a reunited Hall/Hoppens Orleans had cut the “Grownup Children” album under the direction of famed Nashville Producer/MCA label chief, Tony Brown. 1990 saw the group’s double live CD anthology release, first in Japan and later in the states. Two tours of Japan, an appearance at Woodstock ’94 and the Can’t Stop Rockin’ Tour with Fleetwood Mac, REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar in ’95 were highlights of the 90s, as were the releases of both the “Analog Men” and “Ride” albums.
Orleans’ “Dancin’ in the Moonlight” CD was released in 2005 to fans eager for the band’s first new studio recording in ten years. It includes a great version of that song, which Larry first recorded with its writer, Sherman Kelly (Wells’ brother) back in 1969, before their friends King Harvest hit with their own version in 1973.
When John announced to Larry and Lance in late 2005 that he intended to run for Congress, no one was surprised. All 3 made contingency plans: Orleans would play shows with Hall as schedules allowed while simultaneously reintegrating Dennis “Fly” Amero, who had played guitar in the band when John had gone solo earlier on. The band then filmed its first-ever live concert DVD. Released in November of 2006, it features an expanded roster including both John and Fly, performing much of Orleans’ musical legacy from its then three and a half decades. Some of that audio comprises the 2007 SONY CD release “We’re Still Havin’ Fun” and Orleans, including Hall, recurrently appears on PBS’ ‘My Music: The 70s Experience’, (filmed in May 2006).
Hall then went on to serve two terms (2007-2010) as a U.S. Representative (D-NY, 19th) as Amero carved out his permanent place in the band, joining youngest Hoppen brother, Lane, on keyboards and drummer Charlie Morgan (best known for his many years with Elton John). Hall and the Hoppens agreed that, on the occasions it would be possible, all three co-founders would still gladly reunite. As they headed into 2012, their 40th anniversary year, plans were being made to do just that in a BIG way … but Fate had other plans.
On July 24th, 2012, Orleans suffered its biggest tragedy to date. On that day, at his home in Sanford, FL, Larry Hoppen succumbed to a “perfect storm” of long-standing, life-draining stresses. Suddenly, he was gone.
“We mourned the loss. We survived the shock. We honored his memory by keeping on keeping on,” brother Lance explains. With the return to the fold of John Hall, Orleans committed itself to (at least) finishing the 2012 calendar of scheduled performances with the help of several alumni. That mission ended in Nashville, TN on November 11th with an “Orleans & Friends” fundraising concert to benefit Larry’s children. And that might have been the end of it right then and there, if not for the infusion of energy by new management.
With the help and guidance of industry veteran Len Fico, the band signed on to 2013‘s “Sailing Rock” tour, not only playing a set of its own hits, but providing back up for headliner Christopher Cross and contemporaries Firefall, Gary Wright, John Ford Coley, Robbie Dupree, Player and Al Stewart. That year also saw the release of “The Last Band Standing” DVD and the double-disc compilation CD, “No More Than You Can Handle“, featuring several previously unreleased recordings. Among them is the title cut, which was the last in which Larry was to participate.
2014 and beyond have seen a steady stream of tour dates, including a few Rock ‘n’ Roll cruises. Orleans has often shared the stage with other contemporaries … Poco, Firefall, Pure Prairie League, Ambrosia, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett (Little Feat), etc. The configuration of Lance, John, Lane, Fly and Charlie remained intact until Charlie’s departure in the spring of 2018, succeeded by Nashville-local, Brady Spencer.
When COVID-19 hit the world in early 2020, the band adapted to the lack of live shows by learning some new audio-video home-recording skills. Working remotely from each of their respective homes, they produced a series of 4 new video tracks, released on YouTube.
Having accomplished that, they set their sights on the creation of an all new Christmas/Holidays album. The material came from various sources with most, but not all, written internally. Some songs were lifted “as is” from previously recorded lives. Some had previous starts but underwent major revisions and upgrades. Some were cut from scratch. Some are purely secular while several center around the Christmas story. With contributions from a handful of musical “ringers” … John Jorgenson, Billy Payne, Dan Dugmore, Andrea Zonn, among others … “New Star Shining” was released in September of 2021.
The band returned to the road in June of 2021. Unfortunately, Fly Amero had a personal situation that forced him to stop touring that August. After a mad scramble to find a suitable sub/replacement, Nashville-based singer/guitarist Tom Lane landed the position.
In March of 2022, John Hall decided it was time to leave the rigors of the road behind, instead opting to focus on writing and recording. Fortunately, Fly’s situation had resolved and he returned to the band full-time.
Later that year, John and Lance were invited to host the Time-Life “Summer Breeze Collection” infomercial for their latest 70s/80s “soft rock” CD offering
At the end of February, 2023, Fly once again had to remove himself from the touring band. With not much time to prepare prior to our next Rock ‘n’ Romance cruise gig, longtime friend, Mike Severs, took over the position temporarily. He was succeeded by Tony Hooper, a bandmate of Tom Lane’s for decades. So …
Here in 2023, the working live band, led by co-founder Lance Hoppen, includes brother Lane Hoppen, Brady Spencer, Tom Lane and Tony Hooper. Like all other versions before it, this roster continues to deliver Orleans’ music with the class and integrity it deserves, to the delight of audiences everywhere.
Meanwhile, the band (including John) is threatening to finish what is intended to become a new album. Incorporating the hits, the 2020 YouTube releases and a handful of all-new recordings, this promises to mine more gold for their recent golden anniversary … as the “work in progress” continues for what has become an American musical institution. Stay tuned!