Lance Hoppen of Orleans – Interview

The pop rock band Orleans, formed in 1972, will be marking their 50th Anniversary in 2022. Orleans is best known for their hit songs, “Dance With Me” (#6 in 1975), “Still the One” (#5 in 1976), and “Love Takes Time” (#11 in 1979). However, the band has released 13 studio albums, 4 live albums and 6 compilation albums. On September 27th, I sat down via Zoom with Lance Hoppen, original member of the band, to catch up on the latest Orleans news.

Interview and photos of Lance Hoppen by Rebecca Wolf. Band photo and logo courtesy of Orleans.

RW: It’s interesting, your band was one of the last bands I photographed before we left for the pandemic.

LH: At Bergen PAC, right? I know we had played there recently. Do you recall with whom?

RW: Yes, it was Poco and Pure Prairie League.

LH: So, basically the same show except there is no more Poco. Unfortunately, you know Rusty passed away earlier this year, which is why there is no more Poco.

RW: I probably have some good pictures of him from last year.

LW: That would have been 2019 right or was it 2020?

RW: Just before the shutdown, it was in February 2020. So, what did you do with yourself during the lockdown period?

LH: Well, you know at first it was like… Wow…..what I was thinking was 90 days. Something like this will pass quickly, you know? But, then gigs started getting pushed further and further. Once we realized this wasn’t going to change in 90 days we started to reapply ourselves and that took the shape of……I had a huge library of videos of us from over the years, so there was that. Then I scoured YouTube for whatever anybody else had posted and I collected this database of videos. It was pretty extensive and a lot of it was really good and it spanned the decades. I organized it into shows like 30 minutes or an hour. We did a show in Japan in 1991 that was captured for laserdisc and was cut it up into three sections. There were a lot of shows from Opus 40 and Woodstock over the years. I organized them by year and posted them as a show. We even had footage from a club date we did in 1973 that some college kids captured on black and white multi-camera. It was really energetic and captured the band in its infancy.

We had all this stuff, so we made a video every Thursday. That ran its course for about 30 weeks. The other thing we did [was] four new productions for YouTube. “Beautiful World” was the most recent song. We did a remake of “Mission of Mercy” that was I think really good, and I forget the third. Then we did a brand new song called “Home.” It’s not a new song but new to Orleans, something John (Hall) had done in the 90s. So, the first thing we did, what everyone was doing, was an in-isolation video.

RW: I was going to ask you about your in-isolation video.

LH: We had to all learn home recording, those of us who didn’t have a facility like me. I never needed it or used it. First thing we did was “No More Than You Can Handle.” I discovered that one of my friends, Rob Arthur, who’s in Peter Frampton’s band, is a really good video editor. He helped us finish that in a better way than we would have done it. From there we hired him to do these other videos, so then we had four songs. I said, “Well maybe we should make a new album,” and then it was… “Well, before we make a new album, how about we make a Christmas album.” That had more of a deadline to it. Everyone recorded in their own facility. It took about six months but we made this Christmas album which is actually being released on October 8th. It’s a very eclectic, kind of quirky. It’s not your traditional sing-along carol kind of album. There are some traditional [songs] but it’s mostly new songwriting. I got one song from Little River Band, one from Ambrosia and Hall had some songs. The good news/bad news about Orleans is we’re very eclectic stylistically… R&B, pop rock, reggae, California. All that, it’s just who we are. This album reflects that. That’s what we did in our time off. We got it done just before we hit the road again. Actually, we didn’t get it done before we hit the road. June 5th, I think was our first gig and this album was completed a month late on July 3rd, but we got it done and it’s out for the season. 

RW: Are you happy to be back on the road? Do you feel safe back on the road?

LH: The shows are good. The travel was really ridiculous. It’s getting better but for a while there you couldn’t even know if you’re going to get where you’re supposed to go. Between the weather and the shortness of staff and the cancellations and the rerouting, it’s nightmarish travel. That’s the hard part. Plus, it’s not fun wearing a mask for hours and hours and sit in the airport, it can be really grueling. So, that’s the un-fun part of it. But, the shows themselves are very gratifying. To actually play and to get audience feedback, share the love again, it’s really good.

RW: How is touring, separate from Covid, different now than way back in the day… than in the 70s or 80s?

LH: At the beginning we had one guy in a Ford van and the gear went in there and everybody drove their own car or piled up onto the gear… it was like that. Then, once we had record deals and started making it, then you have a bus tour, which is great. That’s the best way to go, a real crew and trucks and that stuff. You play big venues and do all that. Then, once that is over…in like 1980… you know things suddenly went South for us. The 80s were not kind to us.

RW: So, why do you think that happened, because of the change in what was popular then?

LH: There’s a long story but basically, we had “Dance With Me” in ’75 and we had “Still The One” in ’76. Into ‘77 it was really good and then John Hall decided he didn’t want to be in the band anymore. So, that turned out to be a really bad choice for everybody, in retrospect, but it happened. So, we had five years of everybody pulling to the center and climbing the ladder and then it fell apart, which is very common. You know, VH1 used to have that series, “Behind the Scenes” and all the stories were the same. Band starts out, band struggles, band does good, band breaks up, and then later on band gets back together. It’s like that…. the same story exactly. So, after he left then it was scramble time. We reconfigured and had another hit, “Love Takes Time” in ’79. So, we bounced back, but you have to remember, the ‘79 oil crisis, cassette tapes, ruined the industry because people copied albums rather than buying them. So, labels cut artists, they cut staff and vinyl and oil were expensive, so everything converged. Then, the label that we had that hit, “Love Takes Time,” owned us for another album. We hoped they would let us go but they didn’t. So, we made another album for them that did nothing. It was the beginning of the 80s and it kind of continued that way for a couple albums and years. My brother Larry and I, we reconvened with John after seven years in ‘85 in Cape Town Nashville. We had an open invitation from Tony Brown, who was being groomed to be the head of MCA. We did a record for them that was neither country nor pop. We bucked the Nashville system. So, that was another like boom… up-down. That’s just our history, it’s like we’re coming in waves.

We’re still having fun. When it was not fun we just put it away for a few years and tried something else. In 1990 we got an offer to do a live record for Japan so we reconvened. We did two nights in Woodstock. It was really good and it rekindled us for the 90s. But, it’s stop, start, stop, start…always with two or three of the original guys throughout the history. That continued, John, Larry, me, up until John went off to congress. That’s when we brought a guy named Fly Amero back into the band. Fly took that spot from ‘95 to 2012 which was the tragedy of Larry’s death. Then John came back because now there was space. Then that band continued right up until August of this year, when Fly took ill. He’ll be okay but he’s off the road. He suddenly had to leave in the second week of August, and we had to scramble for somebody to take his place. That means also kind of like taking Larry’s place, so it’s big shoes. It was a very stressful two weeks of sorting and sifting referrals. Luckily, we found a guy here in Nashville, Tom Lane, and Tom’s doing a great job. Tom just finished his first three shows with us this past week. It’s rock solid. Every version of the band, and there have been many, had its pros and its cons, but every one of them was intrinsically Orleansy.

RW: I was going to ask you about that. Each time somebody new joins do you find that it shifts the dynamic in the band? Do you have to get used to people’s personalities or playing styles?

LH: Well, the biggest shift probably was from the original three and then I joined before recording, so it was four. Then Jerry Marotta joined so it was five but that was essentially all. When John left and Jerry left and we got Bob Leinbach and RA Martin, that was a different thing but it was still Orleans. It only lasted two or three years and then Bob was gone and Fly was in and then RA was gone and Lane was in. So, that was probably the biggest kind of shift. Ever since then it’s been pretty much the same. Material comes and goes. Some stuff works long term still. Some of the early stuff still works; it’s still in the show. Some of the things Larry did we just can’t do any more. Other things we adapted. We have to figure out how to do these hits and we did. So, the show consists of the staples that have always worked and then new things that come along and work, like John just did a solo album and we’re doing one of those songs. So, we continue to add things but we get new guys, so they have to learn what we’re going to do. The thread, the intention, the musical underpinning, it’s always consistent. It’s based on that harmony, the group singing sensibility, the double guitar thing, the song structure. It’s always like that.

RW: After Larry passed did you think at one point, I’m not going to continue the band? You were the one who was still left from ‘72 at that point. Did you feel like, “It’s going to be my decision? I’m the only one left. Maybe I shouldn’t continue the band?”

LH: That’s exactly what happened. The day he died it’s like…. WOW. I mean that was quite the phone call. I mean there was a lead up. It wasn’t like there was no warning signs but there was no particular trigger that day that I’m aware of. We were going to go to New York City and play of all things, the Fox Morning New York City Concert. You know, that was a big deal. So, we had stuff to do. We were going to host a radio show and there were really some good things on our immediate horizon. So why then? Things were tough but why that? So, I got the call and after I got over the shock I also knew immediately there were some big decisions to make. We had another eight shows to do for the rest of the year and the question first was, are we going to continue? I know enough, I’m old enough, experienced you know, to flip the question. So, the question became, How are we going to finish the year? That’s a different answer. So, I called John and I said, “Can you come back and help?” He said “Sure” and other guys, Bob Leinbach did a show or two and Charlie Shew, our former drummer, did some shows. A friend from Louisiana he sat in; you know people gathered. I just wanted to get through November. The last show I organized a benefit concert here in Nashville for his kids. So, we had eight or nine shows and I was clicking them off. I figured after the benefit show…. we’ve done 40 years, we’re done. It’s okay to be done, right? In the interim I met a guy who called me right after that show and said, “If you want to continue I have a tour for you next year.” It was 2013, the Sail Rock Tour. So, we were the house band to the whole roster. It was Christopher Cross, Us, Firefall, Gary Wright, Robbie Dupree, Player, Al Stewart, John Ford Coley. We would back them all up and we did our own five song set. That’s what kept us going. It was like, “Okay, we got through that,” so that’s 2013 and then 2014. We kept trying to keep going and it wasn’t easy. We could do like 30 shows a year maybe, which is okay. Then year after year we kept going and in 2020 we would have had a record year. We would have done 40 plus shows. Everything was firing on all cylinders, but of course Covid happened. Here we are in 2021 and it’s been nine years post Larry. Next year is our 50th year.

RW: Does it feel like it’s been 50 years?

LH: You could not have predicted…nobody could have. The Stones didn’t think they were going to go 50 years. Nobody thought that but it’s happening. We have some of the gigs from 2020 moved into next year. Some of them are going to take that long to come to fruition, probably 10 shows on the books, so we’re going to make your 50. Then we’ll see how everybody’s feeling. I was at the helm when Larry passed. It was just me and then John came back. John took ill too in the summer of 2019 and he bowed out for about six months. He was just about ready to come back and then Covid. So, I’m like the last guy.

RW: Yes, you’ve been the last man standing.

LH: Right and internally I kind of run the business, do the logistics, work with the road manager and the travel agent and all that. So, that’s just a side of it. John and I are the old guys. Lane’s been there a long time and got a couple of new guys. It’s like every 70s band story.

RW: When you tour on these shows now, like Ultimate 70s, do you like doing these compilations with all these different bands, instead of how you probably toured back in the 70s?

LH: Yeah, there’s strength in numbers. These days people don’t know who’s in the band. I mean these are not like the Eagles where everybody knew Henley and Frey. It’s really based on the music and on the hits, unless you’re a real fan. So, it’s good to play for an hour or 45 minutes in that kind of show. But, we have some shows coming up where they’re just us. So, Orleans fans will come to that and we have our 75 or 90 minutes to do our thing. Back in the day, maybe a two act show, we’d either be the opener or the headliner and we’d compete for who’s the opener. These days, some of us are over 70 and some of us are getting there. The best spot is opening because you do the last sound check and the first show and you’re done, so it’s a shorter work day. If you’re the headliner you have the first sound check and the last show. We did a show last week and didn’t start until 10:40 and the audience is ancient like us, so it’s late. They’re checking out, too. So, give me that 8:00 spot and I’m good.

RW: Did you have a favorite band that you played with back in the 70s or 80?

LH: There were a lot of good ones. I’d say Little Feat was really the coolest band. They weren’t the big radio success band but we thought of ourselves as the pop East Coast hip version of Little Feat. We toured with a lot of people, either opening or on the bill, but Little Feat was the coolest. I love Jackson Browne, he’s still playing. That’s a real body of work. Orleans has a good body of work; we’ve got like 16 albums, there’s a lot of depth but it doesn’t have the stature of those guys.

RW: I know you started in the band at 18 but when you were 5 or 6 years old. Did you always want to be a musician?

LH: My folks were musicians. My mom was really quite gifted. She was a great singer and piano player. My dad played trump but he became a businessman to support his family. My mom played gigs until she was 40. There was always music in the house and we were always encouraged. Everybody had their thing and Larry proved to be prodigious. He could play a lot of things, just by picking them up by ear. So, it was a bit intimidating. Once the Beatles came on TV, there’s certain seminal moments… like that’s what I want to do! So, I picked up the guitar when I was 12. I had my first show when I was 14, playing the school dance and that kind of thing. When I graduated high school, I was playing five nights a week in the clubs on Long Island. I was seeing Larry’s bands, in Ithaca, NY, these college bands, and then Orleans as a trio. I’d go to their gigs and suddenly they wanted to expand and nepotism is good. I got an audition and I didn’t fail. I got lifted up into that experience and I held on for the ride because I didn’t want anybody to find out that I wasn’t really up to snuff! Here I am, 50 years later and still standing! Yeah, that was my dream. It was not for fame or wealth. My dream was to be a professional working musician and ideally to do it with Larry.

RW: And it all happened! You said you started with guitar but you ended up on bass.

LH: Well, when I say guitar, Larry left a cheapo guitar in the closet and I started plunking on one string; like “does this work?” I’d play Beatles lines on one string, really awkward, so I always gravitated to bass. I was not a guitar player by any stretch of the imagination. I’m still not great but I play. I don’t think of myself as guitar player, I think of myself as a bass player who could play some guitars. Lane automatically went to keyboards.

RW: Was that each of you purposely playing something different?

LH: Lane, like Larry, trained on trumpet. He also trained on piano and went to Juilliard for a year. That was his path after high school. He did his own thing until our paths finally met. He was in the band in the early 80s and then again around 2000 full time.

RW: So, it must be nice to at least to have him with you.

LH: Yeah, it was really good having all three of us. It was good. It worked well. I guess some brothers have a hard time working together but we had a good time.

RW: I know you’re from Long Island but you’re in Nashville now, right?

LH: I moved here in ’89; 1988 was really not a good year for me. It was the bottom of one of those slumps, when I got a fortuitous phone call. The short story is, some people I knew called me up and they had come to Nashville. They had hit records and their singing bass player had quit their band on my birthday. I got the call the day after my birthday, asking if I wanted to come to Nashville to do this 40-city tour with George Strait and Billy Joe Royal.

RW: Nice birthday present!

LH: Yeah, so it lifted me up out of a doldrum and brought me to Nashville with work. I’ve been a Nashville resident ever since ’89. It’s home. I’ve been here longer than anywhere. I have no reason to go anywhere else. I’ve raised two kids here. I’ve got grandkids. Nashville changed a lot. It’s a boom town. It’s very cosmopolitan. It’s not just country. The club scene is happening every day, every night on Broadway and 2nd Ave. There’s also the Ryman and The Opry and The Starwood, or whatever they call the amphitheater. On the riverfront there’s a big outdoor venue. A lot of big names play there, so no matter where you are on the ladder there’s somewhere to play. So, that’s my story Rebecca.

RW: Well, it’s a very good story and I’m looking forward to seeing and photographing the show again. It’s been great talking to you.


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