The Roots Report: Sunshine Tour Heads to Twin River

Okee dokee folks… “Soft Rock” came about late in the ’60s and perfectly mellowed in the ’70s. That era spawned many great bands and songs that are still heard today. Three groups that rocked us gently then will be casting their light sounds in Lincoln when the Sunshine Tour pulls into Twin River on Friday, July 12. Pablo Cruise, Orleans and Firefall, the pinnacle players of the soft rock genre, will be bringing their many, many hits and more to the casino’s Event Center stage.

I have been a fan of these three bands since the mid ’70s. So much of a fan that last year I booked John Hall (and Fly Amero) of Orleans to headline the Providence Folk Festival. I used to call these bands a guilty pleasure of mine but nowadays, I consider myself a proud fan. The instrumentation, catchy melodies and lush harmonies are what gave these bands and their songs over 40 years of staying power. Last week I spoke with founding members of each Sunshine Tour band about what they have been up to and what to expect from the show.   

Pablo Cruise released its first album in 1975, but it wasn’t until 1977’s A Place In The Sun that they gained widespread notoriety with songs such as “Whacha Gonna Do” and “A Place In The Sun.” The Bay Area band consisted of David Jenkins (guitars, vocals), Cory Lerios (keyboards, vocals), Bud Cockerel (bass, vocals) and Steve Price (drums, percussion). When asked about the band name their response was always, “’Pablo’ represents an honest, real, down-to-earth individual, and ‘Cruise’ depicts his fun-loving, easy-going attitude toward life. Original bass player Bud Cockerel had previously played with the band A Beautiful Day, known for their song “White Bird.” Bud left the band in ’77 to start a new project with his wife, Patti Santos, who also had been in A Beautiful Day. Bruce Day was brought in as the new bass player, and his first album with the band was 1978’s Worlds Away album, which spawned the hits “Love Will Find a Way,” “Don’t Want to Live Without It” and “I Go to Rio.” In 1985 the band took, what turned out to be, a 20-year hiatus.    

In 2005, they got back together and have been touring and recording ever since. Today the band consists of original members Corey Lerious, Steve Price and David Jenkins, as well as new members Larry Antonio and and Robbie Wyckoff. I called founding member Corey Lerious at his SoCal home and we chatted about his work and the band. When asked what he did during the hiatus Lerious replied, “I worked on TV and film scores…I am a composer, you never stop doing that! One thing I did a lot of work on was ‘Baywatch’…they have all just been re-released in HD to over 120 countries!”

I wondered about the new members of the band and Corey told me, “Robbie was on tour with Roger Waters and sang all of the David Gilmour parts, he also worked on Disney projects… Larry is a top session bass player and is in high demand and is extremely busy but always makes time for Pablo Cruise …the band we will be playing with is the best we have ever had and we still have three original members!”

When asked about new material, Corey talked about their latest single “This Time” and he added, “It’s always nice to keep bringing things out, especially with the band we have now!” As for what we should expect from the Pablo set on the 12th Corey said, “We play the cream of the crop of the repertoire…there is also a lot of comedy, we have great chemistry in the band…it’s a fun and friendly show!” For more, luxury line to:   PabloCruise.com

The band Orleans, originally formed in Woodstock, NY, by John Hall, brothers Lance and Larry Hoppen, and Wells Kelly, has been performing fairly regularly, with founding and new members since 1972. The band produced chart-topping hits including “Dance With Me,” “Let There Be Music,” “Love Takes Time,” “Reach” and, of course, their most famous, “Still the One.” Over the years, original members Larry Hoppen and Wells Kelly passed away and other members have come and gone, but the core of the band still remains. Today, Orleans includes John Hall on guitar, vocals; Dennis “Fly” Amero on guitar, vocals; Lance Hoppen on bass, vocals, Lane Hoppen on keyboards, vocals; and Brady Spencer on drums, percussion, vocal. I spoke with John Hall via phone just after Orleans’ soundcheck for a show they were playing in New Jersey.

We talked about the current line-up of Orleans and John mentioned, “We have Lance and Larry’s younger brother, Lane, on vocals and keys…they have that ‘family blend’ of voices…I have been singing with Hoppens since 1972…and Fly is a terrific guitar player and singer and quite a character…we still have the vocal harmonies and this group is a great blend.”

Many people may not know that John Hall has connections to Janis Joplin, so I asked him to recount that story to me. “Johanna (John’s wife at the time) was writing for The Village Voice and she had just interviewed Janis and she and Johanna came back to our flat, it was around Christmas time, and we sat around singing blues versions of Christmas carols…then I played her one of my songs and she said that it sounded like a song by a young guy and then she turned to Johanna and said, ‘You’re a writer; why don’t you write a song for me’…it was the first song that Johanna and I wrote together…when Janis Joplin says ‘write me a song’ you don’t say no!…she played the song every show until she died.”

The song that they wrote was called “Half Moon” and it was included on Joplin’s posthumous Pearl album, and was also recorded by the Fifth Dimension, Chaka Kahn as well as being included on the first Orleans album.

I said to John, “I know that you are not a politician anymore (he was a Democratic Senator from NY 2006-10) and I know that you are still socially active, but I have to ask what you think about the current state of things in the US, do you have any feelings on it?”

“How could I not?” John immediately replied. He continued, “I spent a lot of time working directly on political and environmental causes, right now I’m on the sidelines, but I can still be the peanut gallery!…every record we ever made had at least one environmental or political song on it…I am proud of that…in ’73 we had a song called ‘It All Comes Back Again.’” John began to recite the lyrics to me, “There’s a man in the White House selling everyone a used car…” He added, “We had a song called ‘Wake Up’ on the second album…it was an environmental gospel song…people have been telling me how timely it is… Johanna and I wrote it and we were talking about it and she said, ‘too bad it’s so timely’…we thought by now we would have solved all of these environmental problems!”

I asked Hall what an Orleans set list consists of. “There are 18 albums of Orleans stuff…we do a couple from the first album…Fly, Lance and I wrote a song called ‘Beautiful World’, I think we played it at the Providence Folk Festival, that will probably be in the set…’Crazy’ from my solo band and ‘Power’ from the MUSE concerts have been in the set as well…and of course the hits!” For more, dance over to: OrleansOnline.com

Firefall‘s origins can be traced back to bands such as The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Spirit. One Firefall founding member, Rick Roberts, had sung (uncredited) on The Byrds “Untitled” LP and replaced Gram Parsons in the Flying Burrito Brothers. Later Roberts signed with one of Stephen Stills’ song publishing companies and recorded a solo album. A song he’d written with Stills and Chris Hillman (Byrds), ‘It Doesn’t Matter,’ was recorded by Stills. Another founding member, Jock Bartley, was a member of Gram Parson’s band The Fallen Angels. Roberts and Bartley connected and soon put together a band with bassist, ex-Spirit member, Mark Andes, and singer-songwriter Larry Burnett. They added ex-Flying Burrito Brothers / Byrd’s drummer, Michael Clarke and Robert’s high school friend David Muse on flute, sax, keys and harmonica. The name Firefall was taken from a summertime tradition of dumping a cascade of flaming embers off Glacier Point in California’s Yosemite National Park. The mid-70’s began the string of hits produced by the band. Songs such as “You Are the Woman,” “Livin’ Ain’t Livin,,'” “Just Remember I Love You,” “Strange Way,” and “Cinderella” were radio mainstays.

I spoke with two of the original members of the band about the Sunshine Tour show coming to Twin River on July 12 — Jock Bartley and David Muse. Speaking to Dave Muse by phone he told me it’s a good time to see the band as bassist Mark Andes will be out of commission starting in August for 6-8 weeks with a hip replacement. I asked Muse about his health as he has had his fill of medical issues, cancer and heart. He told me, “For an old guy I still get around a lot!…playing music is the fun part but getting there is the hard part…I get paid to travel but I play music for free!” He spoke of touring and flying and added, “When I was with Marshall Tucker we traveled by bus…I hated that…it was like riding in a Navy submarine and you couldn’t get out until you hit port.”

I mentioned to Muse that I thought his flute solos were an integral part of the Firefall sound and he replied, “Everyone plays a part…like the spokes of a wheel…Ricky sang, Jock played guitar…I was the last guy they brought in so maybe I was the icing on the cake, I guess?”

Since there are three bands and a lot of great musicians on this tour I was curious if sitting in with other sets is something that happens. Muse says, “I have but it depends on logistics…sometimes we are back at the hotel after the set…anytime I get a chance to play with someone, I do…it’s always a possibility but it hasn’t happened much for this tour.” Muse told me that the show is packed with hits and “If you haven’t seen Firefall now is the time…the rest of the bands are really good as well…but if you like Firefall and like the hits I think you’ll really like what we do!”

I also had the opportunity to talk by phone with another founding member, Jock Bartley. He had gotten in late the night before from a show in Alabama, “My flight back to Denver was nearly canceled but wound up delayed 5 hours…hey, it’s rock and roll, shit happens!”

I had read so many names coming and going from the Firefall line-up that I mistakenly thought Bartley had come and gone from the band as well, I stood corrected. “I have been the one guy who has been in the band for 43 years!… Firefall is lucky to have three original members currently in the band…a lot of ’70s touring bands don’t even have that many…I was the one guy who never, ever left and when the dust settled I guessed I was it…”

Firefall has been part of package tours and special occasion shows such as the Rock and Romance Cruise. Jock told me that they are a lot of fun and you get the opportunity to meet other bands that you never had the chance to in the past. “We’ve played, on these cruises, with America, Orleans, Little River Band, ELO and so many others…half the bands get on in Fort Lauderdale and play on the way to Cozumel and then they get off and the other half gets on and plays on the way back!” He added, “It’s a pretty charmed life I live…coming out of the ’90s, Firefall was just another band from the ’70s that had hits…we started playing these package tours and were originally closer to the bottom of the bill, but we were soon pushed to the top because people started remembering the hits and then they would hear Dave’s flute solo on ‘Strange Way’…that’s the highlight of a Firefall show.”

I revealed to Jock that Firefall was originally a “guilty pleasure” band of mine and that folks used to roll their eyes at me when I would mention them. Jock confessed, “’You Are The Woman’ is our biggest hit but in my mind it’s the lamest, white bread song that we do when we have songs like ‘Cinderella,’ but thank God we have a hit that big…for a while people were going ‘Firefall, you’re the ‘You Are The Woman’ band and they would look down their noses at you…but we prevailed…the musicianship was great and that song has withstood 40 years but believe me I have to play that same solo every night but it’s the song that everyone knows!”

One of my personal favorite Firefall songs is “Sweet and Sour” and when I informed Jock he thanked me as that was his first song to be included on a Firefall album. I expressed that I have never had the chance to see Firefall live and have always wanted to and was excited when I heard about the show so I changed my own gig so I could attend. He told me, “You’re smart to do that! There’s a lot of of history and a lot of hits especially with a line-up like Pablo Cruise, Orleans and Firefall!” I gave Jock the final word for the interview and he added, “We will probably play about 45 minutes and we will play the hits, we have to…people buy tickets to hear the hits…the cool thing about Firefall is that besides the hits we still can jam…you’ll get flute solos and extended guitar solos and it’s a lot of fun…we are so honored and happy to still be doing it…we haven’t played in RI for a long time so come on down!” For more, ember over to FireFallOfficial.com

Firefall, Orleans and Pablo Cruise will be at Twin River on Friday, July 12. Show starts at 7pm. This is a not to miss event. For more about the Sunshine Show, beam over to: www.TwinRiver.com. That’s it for now. I am always adding to my concert photos at www.facebook.com/motifri. Thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com

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