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
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
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.