Many noteworthy bands ascended from the greater Boston area during the early-to-mid-60s. Some of them made it to the national and international stage while some of them simply “made it” locally. Some never made much more than a footnote in Boston musical history. But one group created a unique vibe of their own and etched an indelible stamp on the Boston rock & roll scene and beyond. Known initially as The Orphans, a name that soon after evolved into just Orphan, they broke ground in the Brockton-Avon area, performing in ballrooms across the New England area, sharing the stage with many popular acts of the day and becoming a well-respected local phenomenon that served as musical influencers and songwriters for stars, rising stars of the day, and some yet to be.
Orphan was the brainchild of singer, songwriter, and guitarist Eric Lilljequist whose mom suggested to him when he was nine years old, “You’re going to play an instrument.” Armed with a giant Kay archtop guitar, Eric began honing his craft and around 1962 at age 13, along with three other friends, he formed his first band, The Allurs, a group and name that eventually evolved into The Orphans. They spent “hours in the barn” practicing before performing at schools and local sock-hops around the Brockton-Avon area.
Influenced by another local folk musician and mentor Edward Mottau (who became their first manager) and the rocking blues sounds coming from artists like Chuck Berry, Orphan began to get noticed and eventually attracted the attention of Peter Casperson, then of Castle Music, who became their second manager and started booking them into more serious gigs around greater Boston. This included the still running The Atlantic House in Provincetown, also and affectionately known as the A-House, where they performed for an entire summer, packing the house nightly.
Around this time Orphan also began writing their own material and going through a few member changes which brought in bass player Bobby Kocor and guitarist-keyboardist-singer Wiley Crawford. They eventually caught the attention of Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell, two A&R guys from the Epic division of Columbia records. Orphan was signed to record nine songs — leading to four 45 RPM singles, one song eliminated for “not being ready” — and it was their first real break by recording at CBS studios in NYC. One of their more notable and commercially available tunes from that time was “There’s No Flowers in my Garden” written by Linzer and Randell, complete with great harmonies and full orchestration.
They opened for many popular hit-makers of the day including Wilson Pickett, Mitch Ryder, the Rascals, and Dionne Warwick. While backstage at a Dionne Warwick gig she remarked how great they could sing and Wiley started singing “Walk On By” in her exact key which earned him a great big hug. Not too many young musicians can claim to have had such a cool and memorable experience as that.
Member changes were never far away for Orphan. After learning and touring endlessly and opening for so many other popular artists, they found themselves coming into a sound of their own and landed a contract with London Records. More band changes led to a refinement in sound toward a more folk-rock direction and focusing on songwriting and vocal harmonies. Dean Adrien who also played guitar and sang replaced Paul Colarusso on drums but eventually he switched over to guitar. Wiley left the band and was replaced by Bruce McPherson adding a jazzy element. Then Steve Abdu came aboard on bass and Richard “Shtix” Adelman joined them on drums. Richard played on their second London recording and toured with them before later becoming the drummer for Donna Summer. Another drummer, Bobby Chouinard, formerly with local soul band Utopia played with Orphan on their third London album and toured with them at that time before going on to become one of the most powerful and respected musicians of the late ’70s and into the ’80s drumming with many notable artists of the time—Billy Squier, Peter Wolf, and Alice Cooper.
While recording at Intermedia Studios in Boston, Orphan were introduced to Jonathan Edwards and his band Headstone Circus and collective elements of their music began to coalesce with shared songs and performing on each other’s recordings. Orphan and Jonathan often performed together and they served as Jonathan’s backing band on his 1974 release Lucky Day, a live album recorded at the (then) Harvard Performance Center. In total, Orphan released three albums on the London label, Everyone Loves to Sing (1972), Rock and Reflection (1973), and More Orphan Than Not (1974). Orphan has also had long association with Tom Rush and went on the road with him during the seventies, backing him up on vocals and guitar. He also recorded with Tom on two Boston Symphony Hall live albums—New Year (1982) and Late Night Radio (1984). To this day, Eric still performs with Tom on occasion.
The hugely underrated Orphan had a lot of fun building a musical legacy, evolving their unique brand and becoming one of the highlights of the Boston music scene. Elements of Orphan still perform today, as Eric Lilljequist and Dean Adrien can “orphan” be found performing in smaller venues around the Boston area.