John Hall was best known, for most of the first four decades of his public life, as a singer and guitarist, principally with the group Orleans -- although that group, an outgrowth of the more prosaically-named John Hall Trio and John Hall Quartet, came along some four years after he'd made his recording debut, and had shared stages with the likes of the Doors and the Who. Born on July 23, 1948, in Baltimore, MD, Hall was studying physics at Notre Dame University before he quit to pursue music full-time. He was initially based in Washington, D.C., where his early band affiliations included the British Walkers, a local group whose membership also included Teddy Spelios (aka Ted Spelies) and, at one time, had featured Roy Buchanan in its ranks. It was sometime after leaving D.C. that Hall joined the Greenwich Village-based group Kangaroo, playing bass and sharing guitar duties with Spelios as well as doing some singing alongside Barbara Keith, while N.D. Smart II filled the drummer's spot.
Signed to MGM Records, they released a self-titled LP as well as three singles that failed to chart, on which the lion's share of the songwriting went to Hall. He was, along with Keith, the strongest composer in Kangaroo, and they were a powerful enough performing unit -- especially thanks to Spelios' playing -- to get gigs opening for the Doors and the Who in 1968. Following the breakup of the band in 1969, Hall concentrated more on songwriting, providing "Half Moon" for Janis Joplin's final album, Pearl. He also played on the Seals & Crofts debut album Down Home and Bonnie Raitt's Give It Up, in between founding his own group, the John Hall Trio -- later the John Hall Quartet -- which evolved into Orleans in 1972, in conjunction with Larry Hoppen and Wells Kelly, in Woodstock, NY. During his time with the soft rock group, they would score Top Ten singles with "Dance with Me" and "Still the One."
Leaving that act in 1979, he pursued a solo career, releasing John Hall (1978) and Power (1979), as well as appearing on and co-producing the No Nukes benefit album with Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and Graham Nash. In 1981, Hall put together the John Hall Band, an act that included keyboardist Bob Leinbach, bass player John Troy, and drummer Eric Parker. Their debut release, All of the Above, arrived in late 1981 and contained the single "Crazy (Keep on Falling)." Although it was a middling hit on the pop charts, the track received significant attention at AOR, just missing the Top Ten in a chart run of nearly six months. Search Party followed a little more than a year later, but it quickly came and went, making only a minor impression with the single "Love Me Again." The group would disband as Hall stayed home to raise his daughter and address some other personal issues.
Hall continued his career writing for others (Chet Atkins, Ricky Skaggs, and Patty Loveless); issuing solo recordings; reuniting for albums with Orleans in 1990, 1996, and 2000; and forming his own record label, Siren Songs. In 2005 Hall released Rock Me on the Water, an album of songs inspired by an extensive sailing trip that took him from Kingston, NY to Havana, Cuba and to the Florida Keys, Martha's Vineyard, Cuttyhunk, and Annapolis. He also formed Gulf Stream Night with longtime Orleans drummer Peter O'Brien, percussionist Joakim Lartey, bassist Bobby MacDougal, and wife Pamela Melanie Hall on second guitar.
On the non-musical front, Hall had been serious about politics at least since the 1970s, when he became active in the public side of the antinuclear movement. He translated that into more direct involvement in the 1990s, when he became an elected county legislator in New York, as well as serving as a school board president. In 2006, however, he ventured where few musicians had ever gone before (the only one in recent memory had been Sonny Bono) when he was elected -- after an appearance on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report when the incumbent refused to participate -- as Congressman for the 19th District of New York in the U.S. House of Representatives. He became something of a giant killer in that race, defeating Sue W. Kelly, a six-term Republican incumbent in a district that hadn't elected a Democrat in 40 years. He became one of the more notable members of the 2007 freshman class of House members, not just because of his success outside of politics, but also for his sense of humor and his persuasiveness in dealing with more senior and higher-placed politicians. Hall was defeated for reelection in November of 2010. ~ Ted Damelon & Bruce Eder