One Month Later …
It’s Friday night, August 24th, 2012. I’m alone in my Ramada Inn hotel room in Rapid City, SD.
Tomorrow, a newly reconfigured Orleans will play “Kool Deadwood Nites” in nearby Deadwood; a very cool old Gold Rush town, I am told. The town’s name seems eerily appropriate.
It was one month ago today that everything changed around here. It started as a day like any other day, but it was not to end that way.
In final preparation for what was to be a weekend of big events — the taping of a 1-hour Sirius XM radio show, an appearance on national TV (Fox & Friends Summer Concert Series) and 2 live shows (one on the Hoppens’ native Long Island, the other in Bethlehem, PA), Larry and I were emailing as usual. I saw him forwarding 40th Anniversary tee-shirt orders to our SWAG fulfillment guy, John Guertin. You know … the normal, usual, mundane business stuff we do around here. It was that way up until about noon.
That afternoon, emails to Larry went curiously unanswered. But I just figured he was out doing errands for his girls, or just on overload (which was pretty normal for him).
Around 5:00, Lane’s name popped up on my cell. “I’ve got some really bad news”, he said. “Are you sitting down? You’re not driving, right?”
I braced myself. “OK. Go ahead”, I said.
“Oh, my God! … Oh, my God! … Oh, my God! … Are you sure? … Oh, my God! … Oh, my God! …”
I must have said it 10 times before we hung up. Suddenly, my world was forever changed. My elder brother, my partner for 40 years, my comrade-in-arms through thick and thin, was no more.
This last month has been surreal. First and foremost, there’s the grief. The tremendous sense of loss. The gaping hole in the fabric of not only my world, but of all who knew and love(d) him. The sheer volume and the heartfelt content of the world-wide outpouring of shock, sadness, praise, fond memories, respect and love for that man was nothing short of overwhelming. Too much for this man to absorb; but I tried my best.
I want to express my deep appreciation to each and every person who sent an email, a text, left a voice-mail, posted on Facebook and/or engaged in conversation with me. I want to thank Bob Lefsetz for his beautiful commemorative blogpost … and those who copied all the comments and sent them to me, to make sure I wouldn’t miss them. I want to thank all the dear, old friends and colleagues who had such glowing things to say about my brother. And I want you all to know that I read (and saved) every email and text, listened to every voice-mail, and truly valued those deep-feeling conversations with my inner circle.
If I did not manage to get back to you personally, I apologize. The fact is, I was inundated with a tsunami of well-wishes and condolences. As much as I tried to be present and respond in real time, not create a backlog to respond to later, it was just not humanly possible to keep up. But I thank you all just the same.
Meanwhile, what to do? Certainly, we (Orleans) would not be able to fulfill our commitments for that following weekend. Of course not, and no one expected us to. But, as I pondered it in my state of shock, I quickly came to the conclusion that we must somehow continue; not fold, not default, not disappear, but somehow we MUST finish the work that had been started 40 years ago. THAT was what Larry would have wanted.
That’s what I wanted. So, not knowing HOW that would happen, I began to gather the troops. i called Tom Kallman, our very good friend, champion and acting Agent, and told him to NOT cancel any of the shows. I asked him to please SAVE all the shows; that we WOULD play the shows … that we NEEDED to play the shows. And Tom got busy.
I called John Hall and asked if he would be willing and available to get on board to help us finish this year’s calendar, and John said yes. Welcome back, John.
Of course, the band was on board from word one (Fly, Charlie and brother Lane).
Let me say right now that, without the tremendous commitment of this amazing team, I could do nothing. But, with all of us pulling in the same direction, we are now answering the question, “How do we do this?”
First came the actual funeral on July 31st in Sanford. FL, where Larry resided with his wife, Patty, and his twin 16 year old girls, Maeve and Claire. The service was conducted by Larry’s good friend, Beth Shafer — a Jewish liturgical musician Larry had done quite few performances with (including a fundraiser for then-Presidential hopeful Barack Obama). She began with, “A bunch of aging white rockers in a black church with a service done by a Jewish woman; Larry would have liked that!” Her eulogy was brilliant.
The opening music was “Let There Be Music” played from a CD and, as Larry’s voice poured from the PA speakers, we all were viscerally moved. Many of us broke down.
As the service continued there were many impactful moments. I was grateful to be able to say a few words, and even more grateful that, whatever it was I said, it seemed to come out OK; sufficiently poignant but not too heavy, with a good deal of humor and laughter for all mixed in.
Then came more music, when I was joined by Lane, John Hall, Fly Amero, Charlie Morgan, long-time friend and Orleans alumnus Bob Leinbach, and Orlando-based drummer/friend Randy Nichols. The contemplative, somewhat melancholy lyrics of Time Passes On gave way to a joyous, uplifting rendition of Reach, which had the entire congregation singing! Indeed, music has healing powers.
The following couple of weeks were filled with an endless to-do list of time-critical tasks to accomplish. For one thing, we were offered the opportunity to do a make-up date on Long Island for the show we had to cancel that dark first weekend. The only catch was it had to be on Friday, August 17th … only a short 2 weeks out.
My initial question was “Can we do this?”, but I quickly reframed the question as “How will we do this?”. I learned long ago that the quality of the question asked determines the kind of answers one gets. And answers we got. Long story short, to play this particular show, we assembled a version of Orleans comprised of both current and former members.
Added to myself, Lane and Fly (who had just had septum corrective surgery 10 days prior to the show … we weren’t sure he was going to be able to get on a plane, let alone sing if he showed up) were John Hall (returning for his first show with us since an appearance at Mohegan Sun Casino last March), Bob Leinbach and, subbing for Charlie Morgan (who could not make that date due to his own time-crunch pressures) was Ithaca-native Charlie Shew (the first drummer ever to succeed Wells Kelly). Just to sweeten the pot, Joe Bouchard (from Blue Oyster Cult) attended to be “utility man”, playing mandolin, acoustic and electric guitars and even a little bass.
No rehearsal; just some memory-jogging homework, assigned by email, and everyone descended on Manorhaven Park. The only problem was with the weather. After opening with Let There Be Music (sung by me, a whole step down) followed by Crazy (a la the John Hall Band), the clouds opened up, complete with thunder and lightning. Show called on account of rain.
But wait! Just one more! And the crowd danced in the rain to Still the One. Seeing the cloud had passed overhead, we were allowed to continue. So we squeezed in Time Passes On and Dance With Me before the heavens poured down buckets. And that was that.
So now it’s a week later and here we are in South Dakota — Fly, Charlie, John, Lane and me. Tomorrow will again be a bit of a baptism by fire, since we have yet to actually play a gig in this configuration. But we have a plan … we have a mission … and we have the determination to carry it out.
I want to not forget to thank our Social Media Director, Steve Eberly, and our Virtual Assistant and Publicist, Lisa Walker, for manning their posts commendably. Also, our 2 most excellent Production Managers, Mike Malfesi and Marc Lewis. Without those guys, we’d be lost.
There’s so much more I could say, but it’s probably time to start winding this down. I guess I’ll finish by saying that I love and miss my brother. But I know that his spirit lives on … in the hearts and minds of those of us left behind, in the musical legacy he left the world, and in that place we all go when we leave this earthly plane.
If the object of a life is to leave the world a better place than when you came into it, then Larry certainly succeeded. He’s irreplaceable; a one-of-a-kind. In the 40-year history of Orleans, he is the ONLY one of us who never missed being on a single show. Even though there are many strengths to this band, his voice was the unmistakable centerpiece.
So how are we to continue? One day at a time, as best we know how, figuring it out as we go.
Thanks for being along for the ride.
Moving on …
Well, OK … I have put this off as long as I can stand!
Why is it so hard for me to sit my ass down and write? It’s not that I don’t know how.
Maybe, on top of all the usual reasons one procrastinates, I’m avoiding feeling what I’d rather not. It’s not like I haven’t done my grieving. I have. But I know there’s more where that came from.
Sure enough, when I re-read what I had written last time (“One Month Later” … on August 24th) in preparation for picking up where I left off, a whole new round of tears started leaking out my eyes. It’s hard to move on when the past remains so present. Still, I feel like I owe it to myself to chronicle some of this journey … and that I owe it to all of you to say SOMEthing about what’s happened, happening and may happen in the future. So, here goes …
First of all, the show in Deadwood, SD, was really quite successful. A beautiful setting … the stage stretched from sidewalk to sidewalk, raised high above the endless sea of lawn chairs assembled in the street corridor between the row of tall buildings to either side. The look and feel of the Old West permeated the place. To everyone’s delight, the band sounded way better than it should have been able to … yet it was undeniably good. That was a relief! Mission accomplished.
With the first full show behind us (and successful to boot), I headed home with a definite sense that the energy had shifted in our (and my) favor. The prior 30 days (exactly) had been a pressure-cooker of deadline chasing on many fronts simultaneously. What I didn’t mention in the previous post is that, along with everything else that needed tending to, I had to learn 18 songs in order to play at Guitar Town in Copper Mt, CO with John Jorgenson and Leroy Parnell, help move my younger daughter to college, and get my house ready to go on the market. But it seemed that all the really heavy lifting was behind me at this point … and the fact that I had had a night off in Rapid City to write a blogpost about it was the first sign that things would begin to get a little easier.
The following week was full of interviews and such, in preparation for the next round of gigs, which began at the North Shore Music Theater in Beverly, MA (outside Boston), on Friday, August 31st. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer venue than this grand old theater-in-the-round and, being in Fly’s “backyard”, there was an added hometown feel to this well-attended show. It was billed as “Orleans with special guests John Cafferty & Michael ‘Tunes’ Antunes” and, as always, JC and Tunes brought their “A game” to the show.
While the whole night was memorable, the greatest magic occurred during “Tender Years“, which you really should witness right NOW …
Two days later found us at the Levitt Steel Stacks Pavilion in Bethlehem, PA, with Orleans alumnus drummer Charlie Shew subbing for Charlie Morgan on this particular show. The thing I remember most about this gig is the venue itself … a modern, open-air stage in front of an ancient, rusting, hulking behemoth of a steel mill structure; like something right out of “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.” The juxtaposition of the old and new was nothing short of surreal.
Then home again, but only for a few days. Off to Manchester, NH, to play the Palace Theater on Friday, September 7th, where we were briefly joined on stage by James Montgomery on blues harp. Sunday the 9th found 4 of us … Lane, Fly, John and myself (no drummers) … in Wachusett, MA. Tuesday the 11th we all reconvened in Orlando, FL to once again play with JC and Tunes at the Hard Rock Live. This time we were joined by Wally Palmar of The Romantics (Talkin’ in Your Sleep, That’s What I Like About You) to play for the folks at the Solar Energy Trade Show.
I have family there. My sister, Lynda, lives in Kissimme, which is also where Lane calls home. So, after the Hard Rock show, I took a day off at Sis’ house. Being the eldest and the least connected to Larry (because, unlike Lane and me, she did not work with him on a daily basis for years on end), she seems to have taken his death the hardest. She asks questions; I offer the best answers I can. Sometimes there just are no answers.
From Orlando to Woodstock, NY, on Thursday the 13th, for a few days off prior to the scheduled memorial event. It may sound odd but, when I’m in that town, I stay with she who was my first wife in the house we bought together back in 1985. She and I remain best of friends, and she now knows me for the past 35 years, through the best and worst of times. There’s some real value in having friends like that.
On Saturday I drove down to Rye, NY, to meet Lane, Lynda and my niece Rebecca (Lynda’s adult daughter), who had flown up for the memorial. But on that particular day, we all descended upon our Aunt Betty. Betty is 92 and still kickin’ … the last survivor of her generation on my mother’s side. We Hoppens shared our childhoods with her kids, our cousins, and it’s always good to see that clan.
Then, finally, the BIG DAY … Sunday, September 16th … the day of the Larry Hoppen Memorial Gathering at the Bearsville Theater just outside of Woodstock.
But that story is for the next post.
A Celebration of Life for Larry Lewis Hoppen
The invitation had gone out by email to a select group of friends and family. Some of us were to forward it to lists of our own, to reach those not on the initial list.
Intended to be invitation-only event, there was some concern that the “invitations” had spread a bit too far by way of “viral” Internet word of mouth. Some people had posted the information on Facebook without thinking; some posted it on their websites; there were even press releases in several local and online newspapers about the gathering. The job of “damage control” and “containment” fell to the event’s initiator and organizer, our dear old friend and musical comrade, Robbie Dupree. In the end, the place was comfortably filled by 150-200 souls who had every right and reason to be there. They were there to genuinely honor and say goodbye to Larry.
Some were still locals; some had come from many states away. Many I had not seen (or not seen much of) in the past few decades. But many of us bonded back in the growth spurts (and growing pains) of the 70s and 80s (even the 60s), and those roots run deep. I found it heart-warming to reconnect with so many good friends of Yestertime, and I believe they felt the same. All in all, it was a “family reunion” in all the best senses of the phrase.
||Robbie did a yeoman’s job with all aspects of organizing this tribute, with special thanks going to Robert Frazza. Robert is also an old friend, former Orleans sound engineer (as well as that to many, many acts) and now the manager of the Theater. Together, they covered all the bases, making it look easy … when I know it was anything but.
The initial community time was followed by the words of several speakers, including Congressman Maurice Hinchey, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, Johanna Hall (who read the editorial written by Bob Lefsetz, adding her own commentary), and a poetic reading by famed poet Ed Sanders. A few of Larry’s friends spontaneously added their testimonies and then we moved into the musical phase of the celebration.
The “production” was minimalist. No drums; no electric guitars; all acoustic instruments with the exception of my bass, which was used sparingly. In turn. in pairs, in groups, we each offered our pieces of the musical collage. The participants included …
Robbie Dupree, Bob Leinbach (with a beautiful rendition of “Forever”, with Bob’s daughter Anna on violin), John Jorgenson, Lance & Lane Hoppen, Fly Amero, John Hall, Happy Traum and John Sebastian, with support from Joe Bouchard and Charlie Shew.
Audio/video was captured of the entire event and a DVD is being made, but I do not believe it will ever be made available to the general public. It’s only for the commemorative value to the family.
After the fact, former Orleans drummer Charlie Shew took it upon himself to create a heartful tribute video for posting to YouTube, with pictures culled from the slideshow which ran continually during the gathering. It’s set to the all-too used and message-appropriate track of “Time Passes On”, with permission from the Halls.
For a beautifully touching 5-minute audio tribute to Larry’s life, created by Ray White at the syndicated radio show “Classic Artists Today“, please click the link below:
One to Remember – Larry Hoppen
3 to 7 PM, Sunday the 16th of September, 2012. Four hours from start to finish … and then it was over. Goodbyes were said; hugs, tears, smiles and well-wishes were shared. Some retired to the nearby bar and restaurant. Some went on their ways home. Some of us went back to my ex-wife Diane’s house, where we broke bread and finished our processing together.
Then some deep, restful, healing sleep. After all is said and done, tomorrow is another day.
The “New Normal”
I left Woodstock, NY, for home (Nashville) the day after the memorial event … Monday, September 17th … via Southwest out of Albany. Thank God for simple, reliable systems that work without much thought.
Tuesday morning I hit the ground running on what I call a “re-entry day”. When I’ve been gone for 10 days, it takes a couple of days just to get things back in order at home.
Wednesday found me in a rehearsal for a show on Thursday — Baillie & the Boys at a country fair just outside of Atlanta — with dear, old friends Kathie Baillie, Michael Bonagura, Vince Barranco on drums and me as the singing bass player. This is the exact band configuration that existed in 1989 when Kat and Mike brought me to Nashville to be part of their success. But that’s another story.
Friday and Saturday I put the final touches on my preparation for re-entry into my church community, having been gone for 2 months. I play in the band there every Sunday I’m not on the road, so I’m a very visible and, apparently, highly-regarded member. The last time I had seen any of these people was 2 days before Larry’s sudden passing. I was already gone on my anticipated 2-month sabbatical … but not in the way any of us had expected.
Not wishing to creep back in quietly, I had asked the Music Director, Sean O’Shea, if I might be the featured artist that day, and he gladly consented. For my 2 songs I chose “No More Than You Can Handle” (a recent Orleans composition which some of you have heard) and Jane Siberry’s “Calling All Angels”.
Calling all angels, Calling all angels
Walk me through this one
Don’t leave me alone
Calling all angels, Calling all angels
We’re trying, we’re hoping
We’re hurting, we’re loving
We’re crying and we’re calling
’Cause we’re not sure how this goes
I’ll let you imagine the effect those songs might have had on the audience, as well as on me as the performer. Let’s just say it was emotional.
Having aced this final high bar hurdle, I was ready for some real R&R. That Monday, September 24th was exactly 2 months to the day from the beginning of this journey. Thirty days of hell followed by another thirty days of high activity. I had earned some rest, and I took it.
For the next 3 1/2 weeks I did little in the way of work. A few no-pressure in-town shows, puttering around the house, spending time with my daughters and granddaughter … that was all I had energy for.
The last few days of that I spent with a sweet soul mate of mine in Los Angeles, as I became ready, willing, able and even eager to get back in the saddle.
Returning from LA, I headed to Jackson, TN, to play the Kool 103 oldies radio station’s listener appreciation show. This is a gig Larry turned me on to a couple of years ago, and I’ve done it every spring and fall since then. It’s the kind of show where there are 8 or 10 singers and we (the house band) play for all them … 4 or 5 songs each. So, do the math! That’s a marathon gig, which takes all day to rehearse and all night to perform … not to mention hours upon hours of personal prep time. Thank God for the Nashville Numbers system of short-hand song charting!
I started as just another guy in that house band but, as is often the case, I stepped into the leadership void and became the de facto bandleader. Hey — somebody’s got to do it, right? And it’s better to be in charge than at the mercy of the otherwise certain chaos.
Some of the show is really fun; some of it not so much. The highlights this year were working again with good pal Skip Martin, former lead singer with The Dazz Band and Kool & the Gang (he’s an excellent singer, trumpet player and a real entertainer!) and Terry Sylvester from the Hollies (how cool is it to play “Bus Stop”, “The Air That I Breathe”, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” and “Long Cool Woman” with an original member of the group?).
Larry had done this show as a featured performer 2 or 3 times previously. The last time was just this past spring, so the staff and the audience there were very cognizant of and sympathetic to his absence. As a tribute, as the finale of the show, the entire cast performed Still the One.
And now here it is … Wednesday, October 24th — exactly 3 months from “the event”. Larry’s still gone and, although I am aware of that every day, time has a way of dulling pain, and healing does take place. This is not a thing one “gets over”. This is a thing one learns to live with. Life goes on. The way things are now becomes “the new normal”. The only thing to do is get used to it.
This coming weekend, the band as it is now (John, Fly, Lane, Charlie and me) will travel to play at the Texas Country Reporter Festival in Waxahachie (outside of Dallas). At this point, we know what to do and how to do it. It will be just fine. And that’s part of the new normal, too.
Larry's Memorial Show in Nashville (Nov. 11, 2012)
LIVE and STREAMING from
One Cannery Row
Sunday, November 11th
7:30 PM (US Central Time)