Orchestra Luna

I started writing songs in New Haven on a discarded church piano, in a house jammed with artists, musicians and poets. Meanwhile, my sister Lisa, had moved to Cambridge and thought I’d like it up there. I hitchhiked, moved, and wound up in Somerville. I worked in Quincy at a group home for delinquents. With salary  saved I bought an upright, hoisted it into my 3rd floor apartment, put tacks in the hammers to brighten the sound and continued writing my weird songs. I had no ambition for any of this. I just liked doing it. Sublimating experiences, observations, romances and friendships into a safe house collection. I had to play ‘em every day or they’d be lost. (No recording devices in that house.) One summer afternoon I heard a shout outside my window. Harry Bee (who was in a management partnership with Bruce Patch) asked if I’d ever thought about starting a band. Why not give it a try? We began with my sister Lisa and a friend I’d met at an actor’s workshop in New Haven, Liz Gallagher. We learned 20 songs, adding backup vocals and a couple of solos for the girls. Once we had ‘em locked down, I put a notice up at Berklee for a bassist. Scott Chambers joined up. We added bass and voice to the 20. Lisa waitressed at a jazz bar two doors down: Club Zircon. Randy Roos (guitar) was a regular. She asked him to hear what we were working on. He was down. Randy was a phenomenon. Small, a cloud of curly hair and a composed persona. His fingers flew over the fret board and his jazz sensibility moved our repertoire into a new realm. We moved to a big mustard yellow house in Allston,  auditioned drummers and chose Don Mulvaney (who played piano and sang like Stevie Wonder). Tunes and the material expanded. Arrangements became more intricate. I wanted to enlarge the band further and asked my poet friend from New Haven, Peter Barrett, if he’d join the band as a singer/performer/spoken word artist. He did. Peter brought an entirely new vibe and presence. He named us: Orchestra Luna and the girls – The Lunettes. My sister, unsure of herself on stage, wanted guidance. I asked Barry Keating (whom I’d met in Grenada, West Indies – on a wild ride, failed movie) to choreograph. His New York friend, Basha Johnson, would design and sew clothes for Lisa and Liz. The whole picture was becoming more coordinated and ornate with props, spoken word and structure. We rehearsed at least twice a week for hours. Harry and Bruce booked us a residency at Jeremiah’s on Harvard Ave (a short walk from where we lived). The place was jammed almost from the start. Our oddball band found a following. We wound up on the cover of The Phoenix. We opened for The Cars at BU. Lenny Petze (Epic) came to Jeremiah’s and signed us up. From learning the songs and developing the ‘act’ to signing the deal – a 6 month whirlwind – made ‘winning’ in the music industry seem stupid easy. (We were so naïve.) Epic hired producer/composer Rupert Holmes and we began to record our first (and only) album. After it was completed, Ron Alexenberg (who’d take over at Epic) came to see us, heard our cover of “You Gotta Have Heart” (Damn Yankees) – played on WBCN on opening day for years – plus  our signature work: “Doris Dreams”. We went back into the studio to record both. Jane Friedman had us to play Frank Zappa’s Tenth Anniversary party. Jane was Frank’s publicist and worked with LaBelle and Patti Smith – both played the anniversary. LaBelle sang and acapella version of “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” and Patti played as a duo with Lenny Kaye. I told her to get off the stage because we needed to sound check (having no clue about the inspiration she would become down the road). We did one song: “Doris”. When we were done, Zappa rushed the stage and picked Randy up off the ground and hugged him. Susan Blond (Epic’s publicist) booked us a residency at The Little Hippodrome. We met a lot of The Famous (dropped names too many to recount). A crazy time. Meanwhile Epic signed Boston and Springsteen’s Born To Run came out on Columbia. Who were these weirdo Orchestra Luna-tics? How did they fit into the CBS roster? Not well. Steve Popovich took over at Epic, saw OL, didn’t care for us and we got dumped (Pop tried to sign Berlin Airlift to Cleveland International years later). 

(by Rick Berlin)

Published on December 4, 2019