Orpheus (band)

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Orpheus
Orpheus with Classic Logo (2014).jpg
Orpheus (2014)
Background information
Origin Worcester, Massachusetts
Genres Pop rock
Soft rock
Folk rock
Years active 1967 - 1971, 1988 - 1989, 2014 - Present
Labels MGM Records
Bell Records
BAM (Bruce Arnold Music)
Website www.orpheusband.com

Orpheus is a rock band originally 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, which has been widely recognized as a progenitor of soft rock. Orpheus recorded four albums and five singles for both MGM Records and Bell Records, including their best known hit, "Can’t Find The Time", which was composed by the group's leader, Bruce Arnold.

History of Orpheus[edit]

Beginnings[edit]

The band’s origins were in the summer of 1964 when Arnold and Jack 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]

(L-R) Harry Sandler, Bruce Arnold, John Eric Gulliksen, Jack McKennes (1969)

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 John Eric Gulliksen was added and the group rehearsed as a trio, while auditioning drummers. Harry Sandler was not the band's first choice but joined as the fourth member when the best drummer was unavailable to travel to New York for auditions. In the Summer of 1967 the still unnamed quartet settled on the name "Orpheus" and recorded a demo tape with nine songs including Arnold's original compositions, "Can't Find The Time", "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 noted arranger 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. They 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.

  • 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 have asked 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 (1969-1970)[edit]

(L-R) Elliot Sherman, Steve Martin, Bruce Arnold, Howie Hersh (1970)

By early 1969, Arnold had already sought out other musicians with whom to collaborate and perform. He has said that the real Orpheus were composed of the musicians that actually performed on the recordings such as drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie and bassist Joe Mack (a.k.a. Joe Macho Jr.). The original group disbanded in December 1969 when McKennes and Sandler were fired. Gulliksen left in February 1970 to pursue other interests. Shortly after, Arnold hired songwriter / vocalist Steve Martin, keyboardist Elliot Sherman, bassist Howie Hersh, harmonica player K.P. Burke and legendary drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie who had already drummed on the bulk of the band's recorded material for MGM (though Sandler received credit on the album sleeves).

In late 1970, the reconstituted Orpheus entered A&R Recording Studios in New York to begin recording the band's fourth album. Engineered by Fred Weinberg and legendary music producer Phil Ramone, the album would be distributed by Bell Records. Due to Alan Lorber's publishing firm, Interval Music, Inc., illegally withholding thousands in royalties, Arnold was determined to keep his own compositions off this record. As a result, the tracks are mostly his arrangements of Steve Martin compositions with BMI noting the exceptions of "Sweet Life", "By the Way" and "Tomorrow Man", which were written with Arnold. In the Spring of 1971, the group's self-titled fourth LP (now commonly referred to as "Orpheus 4"), was released along with a 45rpm single ("Big Green Pearl" / "Sweet Life", BELL 45-128). After fulfilling the four album deal for Lorber, Arnold relocated to Marin County, California in 1972.

First Reunion (1988)[edit]

Immediately at home in Marin's rich musical community which included members of The Grateful Dead, The Youngbloods, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane, Arnold continued to write, produce, record and perform. In 1976 he established a charitable foundation to oversee funding for ecumenical low-income housing, education and the arts.

In 1988, Arnold returned to Massachusetts and reunited with Purdie, Sherman and Hersh to begin recording new material for what would have been the first new Orpheus album in 17 years. These recordings included a six-piece horn section headed by world-renowned Jazz trumpeter, Tiger Okoshi and backing vocals by Boston (band) lead singer Brad Delp. Delp had been a devoted fan of Orpheus since his teens and considered it a life-long dream to perform with Arnold. Only a few weeks later, he got his wish when Arnold was asked to appear at the Boston Music Awards. Delp joined Arnold, Purdie, Sherman and Hersh on stage to perform Arnold's classic "Can't Find The Time" as well as one of his new compositions, "The Love Bite". After the show, the band returned to recording, eventually moving back out West to finish the project at George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in Marin County. Some of the tracks from these sessions were included on Arnold's 2010 compilation CD released through CDBaby, entitled "Orpheus Again".

Second Reunion (2014)[edit]

(L-R) Bruce Arnold, John Arnold, Bernard Purdie, Howie Hersh (2014)

In June of 2000, the American comedy film, Me, Myself & Irene directed by the Farrelly Brothers and starring Jim Carrey and Renée Zellweger was released by 20th Century Fox. The film's soundtrack included a cover of "Can't Find The Time" by Hootie and the Blowfish. Shortly after the premiere, Hootie went on tour and invited Arnold to join them on stage at venues like the Fillmore and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco as well as the House of Blues in Los Angeles. The following year, Arnold was the featured performer at the Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) Christmas Party in San Francisco.

Joining up with neighbor David Freiberg of Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Starship fame, Arnold continued to record new material at Freiberg's home studio and in February of 2010, his first solo effort, "Orpheus Again", was released on his own label (BAM!) and distributed through CDBaby. The CD included 10 new songs plus the 1988 re-make of "Can't Find The Time", which featured Brad Delp on backing vocals.

Performance at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Mass with the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra Ensemble conducted by Tiger Okoshi, (5/9/14)

In late January of 2014, over 25 years after performing with Orpheus at The Boston Music Awards, Arnold, Purdie and Hersh reunited in Bell Canyon, California where they were joined by Arnold's son John. The group began rehearsing for a special one-night-only show on February 15th at The Bull Run in Shirley, Massachusetts. The performance, which also included original keyboardist Elliot Sherman, featured over twenty classic Orpheus songs from the 1967-1971 period - many of which had never been performed live.

The reunited Orpheus followed the Bull Run gig with another concert on May 9th at "acoustically perfect" Mechanics Hall (Worcester, Massachusetts). That performance featured a 12-piece ensemble from the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tiger Okoshi. Additional backing vocals were provided by Bill Shontz of Rosenshontz fame. This concert marked the first time Orpheus had performed live with an orchestra - recreating the sound heard on their four classic studio albums.

Orpheus continued to tour throughout the Summer of 2014 with a July 3rd gig at the Marin County Fair in San Rafael, California, (which marks the first time the band has played West of the Mississippi) as well as planned dates in San Francisco, Boston, New York and Los Angeles.

Discography[edit]

Personnel[edit]

Live personnel[edit]

  • Bill Shontz - saxophone, flute, vocals (2014–present)
  • Steve Kaetzel - Keyboards (2014–present)

Studio personnel[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Marin Independent Journal - "Orpheus makes its West Coast debut, 45 years later"
  2. Telegram.com - "Orpheus Finds The Time To Beautifully Evoke The 1960's"
  3. Marin Independent Journal - Press Play: Bruce Arnold's "Orpheus Again"
  4. GoLocalWorcester.com - "Orpheus Gears Up For Mechanics Hall Homecoming - May 9th"
  5. The Pulse Magazine - "Classic rock meets classical music at Mechanics Hall"
  6. rateyourmusic.com (in-depth review of Orpheus albums)

External links[edit]