(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )
It’s a Friday night in July, and Richard Orange is relaxing in the living room of Gary Simon Bertrand, the Lafayette artist, landscaper, and drummer with whom Orange headed up such legends of Lafayette’s 1960’s rock scene as Thomas Edison’s Electric Light Bulb Band and Shackles.
“We were also the Mafia for a moment,” says Orange. “Remember that?”
Bertrand says no, but maybe he’s just playing it safe; no need to get one’ kneecaps broken. And it's just as well--Orange would rather talk about favorite charity anyway: “It’s a wonderful organization out of San Francisco called Bravekids.org,” he continues. “It’s helping families and kids that are in a lot of pain because of catastrophic illnesses.”
Eager as he is to promote Brave Kids (it was started by one of his ex-girlfriends), Orange, whose shoulder-length hair matches his surname, hasn’t driven from Memphis to Lafayette today for purely philanthropic reasons--that is, unless promoting Richard Orange and the Eggmen (Sun Studio/706), his new album, is an act of good will.
Granted, fans of such elaborately produced ’60’s pop masterworks as the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle will feel charitable towards it. Recorded over the course of three years at Memphis’s Sun Studio, it skims the cream off the top of the hooky trippiness that’s long made psychedelia a guilty pleasure and whips it into a delectable froth. From the chiming Rickenbackers of “All the Way to China (Hole in My Heart)” to the full-fledged lysergica of the nine-minute “Yuppie Pie/No. 5,” Eggmen not only demonstrates good taste, it tastes good too.
The long-overdue follow-up to Zuider Zee, Orange's 1975 Columbia records album with his group of the same name, Eggmen is clearly not the work of a man who values quantity over quality. Still, the forty-something Orange doesn’t want to make his audience wait another quarter of a century before seeing album number three.
“And," he jokes, I don’t think I would want to see my audience twenty-five years from now either.”
A native of Dallas, Orange moved to Lafayette in 1965 during his seventh-grade year and enrolled at a school he knew simply as “Judice.”
“Everybody thought Richard was 'Cary Colts,'” says Bertrand.
“Yeah,” says Orange, “because I’d just come from Cary Junior High, and its team was the Colts, so I had a sports bag that said ‘Cary Colts.’ They all wanted to beat me up for putting my name on my gym bag! Every other day I was having fights, in Beatle boots--”
“And a corduroy jacket,” Bertrand interrupts. “That didn’t go over too good either.”
At least not among boys.
Several years and a rock-band or two later, however, Orange found himself quite popular with girls thanks to their inability to resist a young man in a corduroy-jacket-and-Beatle-boots uniform. “We were too shy to talk to girls,” he recalls, “but, if you were on-stage, the girls would talk to you.”
Eventually, Orange and Bertrand moved the act to Jackson, MS, where before becoming Zuider Zee it was known briefly as Fair Murphy Wormwood (with business cards reading “Tired of the same old burger? Taste us! Tender, juicy, digestible muzik”). Then, in 1975, with the Columbia deal in place and sessions for the Zuider Zee album underway, Bertrand left the group.
Orange, however, kept on. Despite the fizzling of Zuider Zee, he persisted both as a performer and a songwriter, placing "Paper Heart" with the ex-Go-Go Jane Wiedlin and "All the Way to China (Hole in My Heart)" with Cyndi Lauper, whose version--re-titled "Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China)"--went top-ten in Australia.
Orange also finally came to grips with what has been both the biggest blessing and the biggest curse of his career: a distinctively Beatle-esque singing voice.
“People made such a big thing out of it,” says Orange. “I’m sure they thought it was a compliment, but when you hear it thousands of times, you begin to ask, ‘What am I, an impersonator?’
"I tried so hard not to sound like McCartney that I ended up sounding like Lennon.”
On his new album, Orange faces the dilemma directly: The song “Beatlesque” makes his previous Beatle-esque moments sound like so much Beatlemania. “That’s sort of my to-hell-with-it track,” says Orange. “The word play and many of the things that were done on ‘I Am the Walrus,’ ‘Penny Lane,’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’--we did it all in one track.”
And speaking of magical history tours, does Orange think the Judice bullies would’ve fought him less if they’d known his name wasn’t “Cary Colts” but “Richard Orange”? “No,” he says, smiling. “I think it would’ve been worse.”