Sunday, July 29, 2012

Still the One

We lost one of the good guys last week. I realize that the name Larry Hoppen doesn't make most people's carillons ring or give Access Hollywood any pause, but this doesn't make it any easier for me to write these words.

Yes, he made his bones as the lead singer for the band Orleans, the Woodstockers who gave us "Dance with Me," "Still the One" and "Love Takes Time." Distilling a man's life into nine minutes of music is hardly fair.

I first saw Orleans at the University of Bridgeport back in 1975. This was a memorable night for me, for I also got to see a quirky Boston band named Goodnight Louise. GL's lead singer was a vivacious brunette named Karla Jayne DeVito. In the next two years, she would change my life.

In short, Orleans was all that. I saw the original lineup (Rolling Stone would say "seminal") with John Hall on guit and Wells Kelly on drums. The vocals especially dazzled me. This was due to Larry Hoppen's amazing range, timbre and technique. For example, listen to "Dance with Me," and when the end of the bridge rolls around, try to match Larry on "I can take you where you want to go ..." And not in falsetto, cheaters. He's crossing the Sting-ian river with those notes. For the record, it's just short of a double high C. Heck, most women can't go there.

I didn't get to meet Larry--or any Orleansians--that night. But I did get to meet Karla. The next year, she recruited me for the most wonderful band I ever banged the tubs for--Orchestra Luna.

I didn't see Orleans again until 1984. At that time, my bud Michael Mugrage was on the band. Muggs is a producer, singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist ... and I'm cutting it short. He had I had worked together quite a few times, both live and in the studio.

Muggs knew that I was courting a coed at a college in Worcester. And Orleans had a gig there. I was the wheel man from Beepo. As I hung out in the dressing room, waiting to surprise my gal, Larry Hoppen came in.

I started to mumble some compliment, but Larry burst in to a big grin. "Hey, you're Ace, Michael's friend. I hear you're some drummer." He was that warm and open. I'm talking friends-in-a-minute here. That kind of warm.

Not too long after that, a friend of Mike's and mine, "Hollywood" Steve Gaspar, was planning his wedding. He approached Muggs, asking how much it would cost to get Larry to sing "Dance with Me" as the first dance at the reception. I was surprised to hear that Larry's response was, "No fee. Just an invite to the wedding."

He made good on his word. Although Michael took ill and couldn't make the day, Larry, myself and some others got up and did the tune. It was a thrill for me to try to replicate the late Wells Kelly's drum part. Larry sat next to me at the dinner, and, again, he was open and gracious. We traded music biz war stories. Musicians are prone to such banter.

Larry even got up again and delivered some more Orleans chestnuts--wowing the mostly musical crowd.

In the years that followed, Larry and I stayed in touch, albeit sporadically. I once journeyed a few miles from my home in Connecticut down to Westchester, where veteran r-and-b drummer Billy Reed had assembled a quartet. The great keyboardist Bobby Leinbach was on board. And Larry Hoppen. The band was nothing less than fabulous. I remember seeing myriad gaping jaws when Larry would let his tenor fly. He sounded as good to me as he ever did. Maybe better.

Once we happened to meet each other in New York; he was shopping agents, as was I (for literary purposes). We shared a bite and some old times. When we parted, I had no idea it was the last time I would ever see him.

Just last Saturday (July 22), I ran into Nicole Wills, a long-time Woodstock-based singer. We were introduced by her partner (and an old bud of mine) Blaise Sires. We soon discovered that we had zero degrees of separation, with many mutual friends. Of course we spoke of Larry--trading our own stories.

Three days later, he was gone.

Just because you haven't seen a friend in years doesn't diminish the grief. I have learned this in the past week.

I'm going to reach a little bit higher, old stick. I hope we can jam again one day, somewhere.


  1. How did Karla Devito change your life?

    1. Karla (a year later) induced me to join Orchestra Luna, a truly amazing band. This, in turn, caused me to move to Boston, which, when looking at the domino effect, led to even more events that helped shape my career as a drummer.