By Cindy Phillips posted Aug 9, 2012
We all have a claim to fame at some point in our lives. Some refer to it as a “brush with greatness.” It’s that time when we come in contact with a movie star, sports giant, political figure or other person of perceived stature. It’s catching a foul ball at Yankee Stadium, running into Tony Bennett at the airport, sitting in a classroom with Brian Williams or sharing a drink with the owner of Funny Cide the night before the Derby. I grew up with the Hoppen brothers.
Unless you are a Boomer who has resided under a rock, you know that the Hoppen brothers make up the band Orleans. Though Lane joined the band in later years, Larry and Lance were mainstays even prior to the hits. It was Larry’s tenor voice that hit the high notes in Dance With Me and Still the One. And like so many beautiful musicians we have lost, both recently and long ago, Larry has passed from this life. He was 61 years old.
My sister knew Larry better than me. I knew him as Lance’s older brother, passing in the halls of Brentwood High School, maybe getting a nod or a hello because I was a friend of his little brother. Lance was in my class year. I had known him since middle school via my best friend, Diane. Lance and Diane were both academic over achievers. They often fought for the number one spot, competing on standardized test scores. Diane worked hard, studied harder and savored her achievements. For Lance, it seemed to come easily. He didn’t have to work at it. In fact, truth be known, he typically blew off studying to play his guitar. Music was his passion.
Our senior year, Lance was named valedictorian. No one was surprised. He had stood on the top rung of the GPA ladder all year. He was the natural choice. What did surprise us all was when the honor was stripped just as quickly. No dishonorable deed had been done. There were no rumors of cheating. There were no misconduct issues. Lance was a model student, but he was not going on to college. Instead, he was choosing to pursue his passion and be a musician – a rock and roll star. Mr. Yankowski, our principal, viewed him as a poor role model. The honor of making the graduation speech was passed to the salutatorian.
Lance was playing in a local band called The Koloring Book. In fact, I think by the time they played at our high school prom, it had morphed into Koloring Book II to differentiate from the original band members. How clever. Our prom theme song was Color My World by Chicago, back then still known as Chicago Transit Authority, or CTA. It was 1972 and the world was at our feet. Playing alongside Lance was Greg Spence, a fellow classmate who joined me at SUNY New Paltz a year later. Mike Montalbano, the band member who made girls swoon, was on the drums. Another tortured musician, Mike died way before his time.
Larry had graduated in 1967 and moved to Ithaca, NY to attend college. Like his younger brother, Larry’s mind was on rock and roll as opposed to his studies. He was playing in a band called Boffalongo along with drummer Wells Kelly. One of their signature tunes was Dancing in the Moonlight, later recorded by their friends, King Harvest.
Meanwhile, John Hall, tired of the New York City lifestyle, relocated to Woodstock, NY. A fateful phone call to Wells and Larry took the two musicians to Woodstock, leaving college life behind. Brother Lance followed suit after high school graduation, and so became the mix of Orleans. Little did they know just how far the trajectory of the bullet Still the One would go.
Hall, along with wife Johanna, penned the famed hits that Larry Hoppen’s voice brought to life. So it was surprising that Hall left the band in the midst of all the hoopla. An interview with Lance and Larry confirmed the sheer insanity of the move – one that Larry emphatically stated “should have been stopped by a good manager.” The Hoppen brothers continued playing as Orleans with a succession of other musicians, including younger brother Lane. Though they never found the fame that the hits had brought them, they continued to be respected musicians who could bring a crowd to their feet when they pulled out the oldies but goodies.
Orleans was in the midst of a hectic touring schedule, preparing for a 40th anniversary celebration, when word came out that Larry Hoppen had passed away on July 24. The music world had lost another star. Lance and Lane have lost a brother and fellow band mate. And all of us from the old neighborhood have lost our brush with greatness and we shall say we knew him when.