Orleans and Ithaca NY
On Sunday, June 22nd 2008, Orleans went “home”
to perform at the 31st Annual Ithaca Festival
This is the story of Orleans’ deep roots in that Upstate NY town.
On Sunday, June 22nd, 2008 Orleans returned to the nurturing stomping grounds of its infancy. Home of Larry Hoppen’s alma mater, Ithaca College; home town to Wells (and Sherman) Kelly; the scene of too many club and college gigs to count …
This audio is a “collage” of 4 versions of Dancin’ in the Moonlight. It starts out with the ORIGINAL 1969 studio recording by Boffalongo, followed by a LIVE Boffalongo section. After that, you’ll recognize the 1973 HIT version by King Harvest. It ends with the modern 2005 rendition by Orleans. For the history of this song, these bands and their relationship to Ithaca, NY, please read below!
Orleans and Ithaca:
A Dance in the Moonlight for the Past 40 Years!
by Larry Hoppen
The Finger Lakes region is one of the most diverse found anywhere, and not just for breathtakingly varied topography and scenic beauty. Colleges and universities, all manner of farms, and a broad and deep palette of big business and cottage industries have all been defining features of its history and character.
Orleans has a long, special and formative relationship to this region … especially to Ithaca.
Almost immediately, my classes became secondary. It was 1967. Sgt. Pepper was new. There was, nationally, palpable and growing unrest over the Vietnam war; we had good and many bad days in the Civil Rights struggle; with JFK’s still-fresh rally, we sought the moon. Even a musically active teenager would get caught up in a climate this pervasive, intense and transformative! Playing in rock bands rather than following a ‘prescribed path’ at school, my GPA went from 3.2 to 1.7 over 3 semesters. I moved off campus, into a house with 6 friends. I had become a full-fledged ‘counterculture’ member.
I left I.C. in February 1969 after giving it ‘one last shot’ as agreed with my parents. As soon as I left, a local group with recording prospects recruited me. In its beginning, Boffalongo (don’t ask 😉 ) was Keith Ginsberg, a revered Cornell guitarist … Basil Matychak, also a Cornell guy who wrote many songs, played Hammond organ … and Ritchie Vitagliano, a locally celebrated drummer whose style was ‘original’ and definitely NOT funky or groove based (for me, frustrating). We made our debut LP “Boffalongo” (United Artists). You can (maybe) find it at websites offering used vinyl.
Sparing fuzzy details, personnel changes occurred quickly once we moved to New York City to live in a ‘communal’ band loft in the Fashion District.. Basil, the ‘leader’, left first; I think he was not thrilled that I played several instruments, including his. Keith was next. This allowed me to move from bass (where I began in Boff) to guitar (and sometimes keys, which Basil was no longer doing). We recruited Dave “Doc” Robinson, a friend from Ithaca, on bass. He was fun, tall and very cool. Doc was close with Wells Kelly – and with Wells’ older brother, Sherman. These guys WERE groove-oriented.
Sherman was readily available, providing his persona with keyboards, songs and voice. Once Doc, Sherm and I got comfy, we all agreed we now needed a funkier drummer. Wells wasn’t around, but my old roommate at I.C. Pete Giansante was, and up for it.
That group – Doc, Sherm, Pete and I – started playing some gigs – Allman Bros, Taj Mahal, Dr. John, other covers – and we learned some new songs of mine. Sherman’s, too. One of his was called “Dancing in the Moonlight.” Playing these gigs, we quickly surmised that EVERYone ALWAYS liked THAT one A LOT !! Maybe we had a hit song ???
Doc’s Cornell friend, Jim Tunick – then in NYC – owned a real recording studio. We still had connections to United Artists through twin brothers who’d been ‘managing’ the band all along, had stayed through all our changes and paid the NY loft rent. By this time, though – and not to the twins’ liking – The Boff had moved back up to Ithaca, having grown tired of NY City on no money AND homesick for the place we all called home.
In mid-1969, Boffalongo recorded the first version of Dancing in the Moonlight, but not before said twin bros got their hand(s) in the Publishing till. The recording came out on SOME copies of Boff’s “Beyond Your Head” LP. The single charted #90 “with an anchor.” 🙂
I don’t remember the rest of that night. I didn’t see John again – or Harvey – for quite a while. Wells, however, became available to drum for Boffalongo shortly thereafter, as Thunderfrog fell apart as quickly as it had come together. Ah, the record business!
The newly solid nucleus of Boffalongo – Sherman, Wells and myself – went on for a couple of years into the early 1970s. We had several good bassists … and Bob Leinbach, a close I.C. friend and Music Ed cohort, who was a mainstay on organ and vocals. (Bob would later become a member of both Orleans and the John Hall Band)
Boff played countless gigs EVERYWHERE in Ithaca: The Salty Dog, the Haunt, all manner of events at Cornell and Ithaca College; the North 40, the Warehouse and on and on. We gigged in numerous towns all over the Finger Lakes area. We even went to St. Thomas (US V.I.) as ‘house band’ for 2 months at our own nightclub in mid-1971, thanks to our Manager, Alex Brooks (who had replaced the twins). “Brooxie” would later go on to create the Rongovian Embassy in Trumansburg.
“The Boff” had a good run and a great time, but we never recorded again (except for all the gig tapes, which I made at virtually every show and still have in my ‘personal stash’ to this day!).
Shortly before Christmas, 1971, Wells got a call from John Hall to come to Woodstock, NY and form a band. Wells announced this to all Boff-ians; we realized that our Boff days were over, immediately.
For the next 9 months, our trio thrived on playing music together and trying it out on any audience that would have us. Officially, it was me on bass, John on guitar and Wells on drums. Reality was that we all wrote, sang and played each others’ instruments – well – except that I didn’t play drums. Orleans – a name we chose in haste – became known for versatility and fine musicianship, delivering fresh material (we were ALWAYS writing / rehearsing). We played a lot of different styles, you could dance to a lot of it, and we would play as long as they’d want us to / let us. We were all just having a lot of fun!
John, Wells and I began feeling the need for a fourth (to hold down the bass) soon into our adventure. Having a dedicated bassist would mean I could play much more guitar, and if the bassist sang, we’d have 4 voices! It just so happened that my brother, Lance, had begun playing bass several years earlier and was graduating High School concurrently with our search. Lance auditioned well on bass, the vocal blend gelled instantly and we all agreed: ‘What could be better?’ Orleans was thus a quartet as of November 1972. And, I do believe that, as such, our debut weekend included the Salty Dog!
Even though our home was now Woodstock, our main ‘stomping grounds’ was still Ithaca. We played the places Boffalongo had played, and it seemed like we had an Ithaca gig at least every other weekend. We did Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, Utica, Poughkeepsie, etc to fill schedules and expand our audiences, but our “backyard” was Ithaca.
The next few years truly cemented Orleans’ bond with Ithaca. Doing the Dog, Haunt and other gigs incessantly, we also made a lot of great friends, many whom we still see often. Some were at college radio and other stations as our early records got popular, first in NY’s ‘snow belt’ and Southern Tier, then upstate generally, then the Northeast and nationally. Some are simply ‘keeper’ friends we first met as fans. Ithaca is seminal to all of us.
Late October, 1984, was 7 years since Lance and I had worked with John and 4 since Wells had left ‘the core’. That’s when we got the bad news: Wells had died in England while on tour with Meat Loaf.
Wells’ family and friends gathered at the Rongovian Embassy for a Memorial event in November. John Hall and I reunited on stage there and, as a direct result, decided to start up again with Lance, as Orleans. Wells had once again brought us together, and not by accident, this was via Ithaca.
While we have played Ithaca a handful of times since the ‘primetime’ 1970s, in 2008, Orleans is particularly pleased to be reconnecting via the Ithaca Festival, as it represents the variety and values of the community. There are few places left that offer such a mix of intellectual and artistic expression, extraordinary beauty, and simple down-home comforts.
On a personal note, many people important to my life have deep connections to Ithaca. Steve Brown, legendary and recently retired Music Professor at I.C. is a ‘Major Dude’ in the jazz world, and I count him as a friend and early mentor.
Alex Brooks hosted the 35th Anniversary of the Rongo recently; MANY old Ithacats were reunited there: Sherman Kelly, “Jamo” and Karen Jamorusty; Charlie Shew (ex-Orleans drummer), several Burns Sisters and more who have meant a lot to me.
Joe Bouchard, an I.C grad and original bassist of Blue Oyster Cult, played that show with me. He now works with Lance and me often.
‘Doc’ Robinson is ‘the voice’ of King Harvest’s 1973 HIT version of Dancin’ in the Moonlight.
Huey Lewis was in the wider circle of Boff friends, as was Ricky Jay, the famous magician whom you see in many of David Mamet’s films. A dear Ithaca friend, the late Jim Sanders, was Orleans’ manager when we had our first hit – Dance With Me.
And yet another I.C. alumnus – Tom Kallman – is responsible for our coming to this Ithaca Festival! Tom managed regional bands and promoted concerts when he was there 1975-79. Orleans and Tom have been doing GREAT shows in Florida for the last 5 years, and we have plans to do much more in upstate NY and other Eastern U.S. areas.
Along with people who’ve either helped define / direct my life or have made a mark on it, I see that though I grew up on Long Island and now live in Florida, two communities shaped who I am – and the same goes for our band Orleans. One is Woodstock, where I lived for 28 years. The other: Ithaca, which does now and will always feel like home.
Orleans was centered in Woodstock for 25 years. The current group – which many fans feel is as good or better than ever – is scattered between Central Florida, Nashville and Gloucester, MA. We are all, as a band (and especially Lance and I) thrilled to be ‘coming home’ to Ithaca. We look forward not only to this Ithaca Festival appearance (our first!), but hopefully many other visits in the months and years to come!
With tremendous gratitude,