Orpheus (band)

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Orpheus
Orpheus (1969).png
The group in 1969
Background information
Origin Worcester, Massachusetts
Genres Folk
Folk rock
Pop rock
Soft rock
Years active 1967 - 1971
Labels MGM Records
Bell Records
BAM (Bruce Arnold Music)
Members Bruce Arnold
Jack McKennes
Eric Gulliksen
Harry Sandler
Bernard "Pretty" Purdie
Joe Macho Jr.
Howard Hersh
Elliot Sherman
K.P. Burke
Steve Martin
(feat. Brad Delp)
(feat. The New York Philharmonic)
(feat. David Freiberg)
(feat. Tiger Okoshi)

Orpheus is a rock band from Worcester, Massachusetts that enjoyed popularity in the 1960s and early 1970s.

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the avant garde band. Original members included guitarist/vocalists Bruce Arnold and Jack McKennes, bass guitarist Eric "The Snake" Gulliksen, and drummer Harry Sandler but many others have since been a part of the group. Orpheus recorded three albums and four singles for MGM Records produced by musical legend Alan Lorber, including their best known hit, "Can’t Find The Time," though it was later work that came to actually define the band.

History of Orpheus[edit]

Beginnings[edit]

The band’s origins were in the summer of 1964 when Arnold and McKennes formed a folk duo called The Villagers (based on their origins as a house band of a Cape Cod coffee house called the Villager). While the pair at first performed cover songs, they began developing Arnold's original material in the fall of 1964 and Winter of 1965, and soon began playing regularly at the Carousel in Hyannis.

Formation of Orpheus[edit]

By early 1967, the Villagers had gained wider popularity, performing at venues such as the Loft, the Odyssey, the Unicorn, and the Pesky Sarpint. That summer bass guitarist Gulliksen was added and the group rehearsed as a trio, while auditioning drummers. Sandler, who had been playing with a surf band called The Mods, was not the band's first choice but joined as the fourth member when the best drummer was unavailable to do some live New York auditions. In the Summer of 1967 the still unnamed quartet settled on the name "Orpheus" and recorded a demo tape with nine songs, including "Can't Find The Time To Tell You", "I'll Fly", "As They All Fall" and "The Dream". After shopping the demo tape and receiving nine recording offers, the group eventually signed with Alan Lorber and recorded their first album, Orpheus, in the fall of 1967.

The album and a single "Can’t Find The Time" were subsequently released in January 1968, and the group played a few small clubs in Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia, before making their official debut in late February of that year at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village. Shortly after, the group opened for Cream at a concert at Brandeis University. The group followed the success of their first album with the release of Ascending in 1968 and Joyful in the early spring of 1969. While together, Orpheus played on the same bill with a number of major acts of the era, including Cream, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and many others. Around this time they also provided the title song (Little Sister) for the film Marlowe starring James Garner.

Orpheus' first album was released almost simultaneously with MGM's release of the first albums of Beacon Street Union & Ultimate Spinach. These were grouped together by the label as a part of its somewhat ill-fated "Boston Sound" promotion.

The first album peaked at #119 on the Billboard Albums chart in May 1968. The single "Can't Find The Time" ultimately peaked at #80 on the "Hot 100" in 1969. It is important to note that neither Gulliksen nor Sandler play on the band's debut album. Bassist Joe Mack (a.k.a. Joe Macho Jr.) and drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie were employed by producer Alan Lorber and would go on to play on all of the band's subsequent singles for MGM. Written by Arnold, at least seven cover versions of the song exist. These include one by Rose Colored Glass, which peaked at #54 in 1971, and a version by Hootie & the Blowfish which was featured in the 2000 Jim Carrey movie Me, Myself and Irene.

Ascending peaked at #159, and also was a winner (#10) of Playboy magazine's 1969 Jazz & Pop Poll, Vocal Album of the Year category.

Joyful peaked at #198 on the Billboard chart. A single from this album, "Brown Arms in Houston", peaked at #97.

"Congress Alley" has been covered by many famous acts. Fans from their hometown, Worcester, Massachusetts still love the song about a small, dead end street where much of Worcester's original hippie community lived.

Many ask why "Can't Find the Time" went to #1 in their market but did not chart higher nationally. It is because those instances did not occur at the same time. MGM, already in a fiscal panic, could not deliver product to all the record stores at the same time. DJs wouldn't promote records that were not sold locally. Recognizing their blunder, MGM re-released the song three times over the first three years.

Breakup and reformation of Orpheus[edit]

By then, Arnold had already sought out other musicians with whom to collaborate and perform. He has said that the real Orpheus is the group that actually did the recordings, not the foursome assembled to play the songs live later. One member was not even in the studio when much of the recording was done. Furthermore, the members of the live band seemed to be "mismatched" from the start.

The group disbanded in December 1969 when McKennes and Sandler were fired. Gulliksen left in February 1970 to pursue other interests. Arnold formed a newly constituted Orpheus with songwriter Steve Martin, childhood friend Elliot Sherman, Howard Hersh, K.P. Burke and Bernard "Pretty" Purdie. Determined to control future publishing rights, Arnold did not allow his latest material to be included on the final Lorber-produced record. The songs are mostly Arnold's arrangements of Steve Martin tunes with BMI noting the exceptions of "Sweet Life", "By the Way" and "Tomorrow Man", all written with Arnold. This Orpheus recorded one album and one single on Bell Records in 1971. Arnold disbanded that group in 1972, when he relocated to California, though he continually wrote and recorded Orpheus songs with Hersh and Purdie, making the new material available to the Orpheus fan base through his website and Facebook page: Bruce Arnold-Orpheus. In 1976 he established a charitable foundation to oversee funding for ecumenical low-income housing, education and the arts. In 1988 Arnold performed live at the Boston Music Awards with a further incarnation of Orpheus which re-enlisted Purdie, Sherman and Hersh and included the late Boston (band) member Brad Delp. Throughout 2000 Arnold performed "Can't Find the Time" with Hootie and the Blowfish in venues like the Fillmore and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and the House of Blues in L.A. In 2001 he was the featured performer at the San Francisco BMI Christmas Party. But it was Arnold's further collaborations with Bernard Purdie and second Orpheus incarnation bassist Howie Hersh that has produced some of the all-time best Orpheus recordings at Skywalker Ranch and other San Francisco studios throughout the 1990s. The latest Orpheus material was recorded at the studio of Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service star David Freiberg.

Finally, after 35 years a new Bruce Arnold cd, "Orpheus Again", was released in February 2010 on Arnold's BAM! label. It included 10 new songs plus a contemporary re-make of "Can't Find the Time". Two more bonus songs were also available by directly contacting Bruce Arnold Music. Requests for the cd overwhelmed the small company and in April they began seeking an international production and distribution deal. The new cd is now available worldwide at www.cdbaby.com/cd/brucea. "Can't Find the Time" has logged nearly a half million radio airplays in the US alone and is being enjoyed by millions more in the Jim Carrey movie Me, Myself and Irene. Over the years Orpheus has counted many notables among their fans, including musicians Laura Nyro, The B52s, The Cars, Boston, David Freiberg, Ali Akbar Khan, Steely Dan, Al Kooper and actors Chuck Norris, Chevy Chase and Pernell Roberts.

Discography[edit]

Orpheus Reborn[edit]

In 2004 original members Gulliksen, McKennes, Sandler, and Martin, along with well-known Boston area musicians Bob Dunlap and Kathi Taylor, formed a new group called Orpheus Reborn.[1] The new band made a point of being necessarily very different from the original, and strived to avoid imitating or "paying tribute" to Arnold's Orpheus since he had asked to have his name disassociated from their effort. Orpheus Reborn concentrated on new material, and performed only a few radically changed arrangements of Orpheus' songs. Although no longer performing as an entity, the group continues to add audio clips, photos and other content to its already extensive web site.

Stephen & the Snake[edit]

Late in 2007 Martin and Gulliksen began a "side project" called Stephen & the Snake,[2] which since has become the pair's primary thrust. Their efforts comprise an experimental musical form, blending elements of poetry, folk, jazz, blues and ambient sound. Stephen & the Snake have been signed to Alan Lorber's Iris Music Group, which released their first single in December 2008. The pair maintains a deep web site, including a lot of previously unavailable content, much of which is Orpheus-related.

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