Maybe Orleans never quite achieved the stratospheric sales of similar, harmony-based ‘70s bands like America, Firefall or Pablo Cruise, but two songs – “Dance With Me” and “Still the One” – have transcended the decades, appealed enormously to consecutive generations and turn up with regularity on playlist after playlist today. That’s a big rumble on the rock ‘n’ roll Richter scale.
John Hall, who co-wrote both of those tunes with his then-wife Johanna, was a founding member of Orleans, and will be there, playing lead guitar and adding his vocal parts, when the band appears at the Capitol Theatre Saturday (April 24).
Along the way, Hall took a detour unprecedented by any other pop musician: He served a term in the United States House of Representatives, for New York’s 19th congressional district.
Hall got back to where he once belonged (playing and singing in Orleans fulltime) in 2012.
“Music came first – I grew up in a very devout family, where we also sang a lot,” Hall tells the Catalyst. “And we listened to all kinds of music, a lot of classical, and I grew up playing piano from when I was 4 and a half. And French horn in school. Organ in church. So there’s a natural connection there.
“But I also feel like I got a strong dose of faith and the sense of responsibility that goes with it. Which includes being a good steward of the earth. But there’s a parallel between music and politics, especially the campaigning: You’re the product. You’re onstage saying ‘Listen to this,’ selling a solo or trying to convey the lyrics in a song. And you’re used to being in front of people. So that really helped me as a candidate.
“If you’ve been doing frat parties and having beer bottles thrown at you, you can handle hecklers pretty well.”
Hall’s “steward of the earth” philosophy first showed itself in 1979, when along with Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and others he organized M.U.S.E. (Musicians United for Safe Energy) and the legendary No Nukes fundraising and awareness-raising concert at Madison Square Garden.
Before Mr. Hall went to Washington in 2006, he’d served in the county legislature in Ulster County, New York, followed by two terms on the county school board. “Running for office was never, to me, about wanting to do a career change,” he explains. “It was about wanting to get something done.”
Hall formed Orleans in 1972 with fellow multi-instrumentalists Wells Kelly and Larry Hoppen. Shortly after they’d begun performing as a trio, Lance Hoppen – Larry’s younger brother – joined on bass and harmony vocals.
“Dance With Me” hit No. 6 in 1975, with “Still the One” going to No. 5 the following year. Both singles, featuring Larry Hoppen on lead vocals, were certified gold. “Love Takes Time,” released in 1977, just missed the Top Ten.
The band’s fortunes began to fade quickly after those hits. Hall left for a solo career, followed by Kelly, who died in 1984 from a drug overdose. The Hoppen Brothers recruited new members as the years passed, including Lane Hoppen, the youngest sibling, on keyboards. Hall reunited with the others numerous times over the decades.
Larry Hoppen committed suicide in July 2012.
“You know,” Hall ruminates, “we miss Larry. We miss him instrumentally as much as we do vocally. He was an incredible multi-instrumentalist. But I think he would want us to continue. It’s our job. We just keep going at it.
“Larry had the tenor voice that people associate with Orleans. There are plenty of bands that have lost members and still go out and perform under the same name. Lance and Lane Hoppen both have extraordinary voices. I’ve been singing with Hoppen brothers for 50 years! We blend really well together, and we’re used to singing together. It’s a sound.”
The present-day lineup includes Hall, Lance Hoppen, Lane Hoppen, Dennis “Fly” Amero (guitar) and Brady Spencer (drums).
Saturday’s Capitol Theatre concert will be Orleans’ first show in more than a year. The pandemic has kept the musicians off the road and in their respective homes (Hall and Lance Hoppen both live in Nashville, while Lane is a resident of Orlando).
With politics in his rear view mirror, 72-year-old John Hall is once again all about the music, and the legacy of Orleans.
“We’re still getting close to half a million streams on one of the streaming platforms,” he says. “And that’s astonishing to us. But we’re grateful for it, and we count ourselves blessed and lucky both.”
Tickets available here.