Interview by Danny Coleman
“The tour? Well this tour has always been more about the book but also the music as well,” says John Hall, former U.S Congressman and a co-founding member of the classic rock band Orleans.
Hall and his very talented opening act, Phoebe Legere, will be taking the stage at 7:30 p.m. on February 1 at Woodbridge Middle School located at 525 Barron Avenue in Woodbridge, NJ.
“The book,” to which Hall refers is his memoir and is titled, “STILL THE ONE: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Journey To Congress And Back.” “I finished it over the last several years because I just kept remembering things and people that I’ve met over the years. I started recalling things from conversations I had in elevators or discussions that I would have with vets on a canoe trip that I took every year. When I was a member of congress, I was the chairman of the sub committee on disability. Each year, I’d take a trip down the Hudson river with veterans who had been wounded. Some had loss of limbs and honestly, they were better Kayakers than I was and we’d trade stories and ultimately, no matter who I spoke with they would say, “You should write a book” and I often thought about doing so. I think about the things that I’ve done from touring with bands, music, running into John Kerry in the hallways of congress, elevator rides, the Green Zone in Iraq; I lost my brothers, my mom and my dad in a three year period since 2010 and I just kept remembering things so I decided to do something about it.”
When listening to Hall speak, one can not help but feel his appreciation for the road he’s traveled and the experiences that he’s had from music to the House of Representatives. “I was in a band called Kangaroo that played this place in Greenwich Village called Cafe Expresso and our first night there, Jimi Hendrix comes walking in and sits down right in the front row. James Taylor had a band called The Flying Machine and they would perform in this club called the Night Owl, we’d finish up our set and I’d run over there. James and his band took over after Lovin’ Spoonful had left to go on tour and could no longer perform there. Sometimes we would alternate sets with them or other bands and this place was a dry club, they didn’t serve alcohol. Hendrix, Bob Dylan with Tim Hardin, lots of….” and his voice trailed off as he seemed to be searching for an apt description of such a fascinating time, not only in his life but in that of our country as well. “It was an incredible piece of American history that I was part of and I didn’t even realize it; actually I’m not sure that any of us did. I think about it, I went from talking to Janis Joplin in her living room to talking about the Affordable Care Act with Nancy Pelosi; talk about two different circumstances.”
Whether he was organizing the No Nukes Concert, playing music or writing legislation, Hall feels that he’s always had to prove himself. “I’ve been on boards, run for office and even in music; I’ve been underestimated every time. In politics and in music you are selling a product. I’ve been heckled, had things thrown at me and I’m neither as good or bad as my best and worst reviews. You’re hot until your not and music, politics and radio all have much in common; remember the “Payola” scandal in radio? Have you ever heard a song and thought, geez how’d that get on the radio? That’s because there was money behind it. In politics, if you don’t have the ability to raise money it’s nearly impossible to run, you’re in trouble. Money is the unifying faction between music and politics but music is better. Helping vets, building bridges, those things feel really good but music is more satisfying and better for the soul.”
During his time in government, Hall was involved in the Affordable Care Act but lists his bill which sped up veterans disability claims as his greatest accomplishment while in office. “I remember receiving my Selective Service notice and having to go register for the draft. I remember standing against a wall, practically naked with 200 others and they’d go down the line and I was told to go home and they’d keep me informed; one year went by and they never called me back. Years later I was elected to the House of Representatives and Nancy Pelosi came to me with an unusual request for a freshman member and that was to chair the sub committee. I had campaigned against the war in Iraq so I ran on that and my number two was healthcare. My biggest impact during my time in office was a bill that I got passed unanimously without one dissenting vote to speed up veterans disability claims. Those claims used to take six months and my bill required the V.A. to pay immediately upon verification of the disability. These veterans return damaged emotionally, physically, some can’t work, can’t deal with people; they hear a loud noise and some of them dive under their bed and they didn’t go there that way. Everybody voted “Yes,” it was an amazing experience. There was not one debate, nor amendment and President Bush signed it as soon as it hit his desk.”
Hall says that Orleans has been, “Pretty much constantly going” and that even though he departed from the band in the late 70’s to pursue a solo career, that the group kept going. It was a sad event which brought them all back together; the death of co-founder and drummer Wells Kelly. “When Wells died, we all got together at his funeral and we sang a bit. We were all kind of excited that we still sounded great together and we looked at each other and said, “Maybe we should try doing this again” and we did. While I was in Congress, I was replaced by Dennis “Fly” Amero. He is a great guy and I really enjoy performing with him; he’s got a great voice. We sound like Orleans even though me and lance are the only surviving original members.”
So as Hall tours promoting the book he enjoys telling the stories and continuing on the Orleans tradition. “I like relaying the stories and intertwining them with the music. In Woodbridge, those coming to the show will hear some stories about crossing over from music to politics and back again, some Orleans, some new unreleased stuff, it feels like coming home again. I will review my musical life, and political career; I hope the people find it funny (laughs).”
Opening up for Hall will be the exciting Phoebe Legere. This attractive veteran of the music industry has 15 albums to her credit and has been making music since she was, “Able to walk.” “John and I are both community activists who write hooky pop songs,” she stated with a slight laugh; “I am honored to be opening for him, he’s a hero with positive messages and it will be fun.”
Legere plays seven instruments, among them are piano, accordion, guitar and cello and has a stunning vocal range. “I started playing piano as soon as I could reach the keyboard somewhere around the age of three,” she said in a soft almost whimsical voice. “I also walked across the street in my diaper to where a piano teacher lived because I could hear the music coming from her house. I actually wanted to play guitar as I got older but my mom wouldn’t allow it; she thought it was unladylike. I had my first professional performance at the age of nine when i was paid to play the organ in church.”
Legere is a descendant of the Abenaki Indians and a full fledged Acadian whose family crossed the border from Canada into Maine. “My bloodline is that of a Shaman. I sing in Abenaki as well as in French; I have an album that i was asked to do that is entirely in French.”
As a young lady with many seeds to sow and the desire to perform music; Legere became a runaway as a teen and worked as a musician and an actress/model. “Radio saved my life when I was a kid,” she started softly. “Radio got me through some rough times. I ran away from home when I was 15 and became a professional musician. It was the music on the radio that kept me together instead of turning to drugs or worse. I was signed to a record deal with Epic Records when I was a teen aged girl. I was 16 years old and I had 10 people who were assigned to me; each made over $100,000 dollars and the way I see it, i’m doing all of their jobs today by myself. I figure that I’m worth over a million dollars; No? (laughs)”
The rough times paid dividends for her persistence, or should we say, perseverance saw her through. Phoebe has appeared on major television shows in the UK as well as the U.S. and has been in film and on screen and as an opener for Hall, Legere says that it will be anything but dull. “Well, I’m going to play my songs,” she said with a sweet, matter of fact tone. My songs combine contemporary themes such as, computer dating, texting, you know’ things that help us all figure out who we are these days. I’ll be performing on several instruments, perhaps even two at a time. On stage, I don’t even know what to expect but it will be great fun that is for sure. I learn a lot of things from the children that I work with, they teach me a lot. Kids with disabilities, autism, etc.; they all just have a different way of communicating and they are brilliant and inspiring.”
Phoebe will also be performing selections from her upcoming release called, “Heart Of Love.” “I am releasing it on February 14; quite appropriate I think. This is a group of songs, poems, tall tales, about life on the road, birth, death, grief, brothers and lovers in my Americana style. My blues, folk, country and storytelling all rolled into one. This was what I envision music was before machines and if you pre-order it, you’ll get a handmade by me, heart shaped lollipop with it.”
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)