Updated.. March 10, 2009...
I think the best way to start is by saying Wells, was a very gifted and multi-talented musician who brought a lot to Orleans. Of course he's known best for being Orleans drummer, but what you may not know is that he was also a very talented keyboard player, and a gifted songwriter with a a wonderful voice. His music had a wide range of style that could be very picturesque like "Mountain" or "Sunset", or a bit whimsical like "Siam Sam" or "The Bum," but what all is songs had in common was great melody and lyrics.
Wells, music career started prior to 1968 although I'm not sure of the year. According to one resource one of his earlier bands was Thunderfrog. I believe he first met John Hall prior to 1969 and he would later play on Johns' first solo album "Action" released in 1970. Anyways, back to 1969 Wells joined the first incarnation of King Harvest. They would have a hit a few years later in 1973 with the song "Dancing In The Moonlight". A song written by Wells' brother Sherman Kelly and first recorded by Boffalongo, a group Larry was part of at the time. In an interview with Larry, it was approximately 1969 when Wells and Larry met for the first time at a jam session that also included none other than John Hall. This would mark the first occasion that Wells, Larry, and John played together.
In 1970 Larry's band Boffalongo released their second album "Beyond Your Head" which included Shermans' song quot;Dancing In The Moonlight". The song was recorded with Sherman on
vocals and piano, Larry on lead guitar, and Wells is credited as playing the Timbalis (which is a Latin percussion instrument). Still a member of King Harvest Wells left that band in 1970 and joined Boffalongo where he would remain thru most of 1971, until he was asked by John Hall to move to Woodstock to form a band. Wells accepted the offer and left Boffalongo and joined John in December 1971, and soon afterward Boffalongo would disband. According to the liner notes of "Dance With Me: The Best Of Orleans," originally Wells was to play keyboards, while the drummer and bass player ended up being only temporary members that soon left the band in 1972. This prompted Wells to contact former Boffalongo band mate Larry Hoppen to join them. Larry accepted the invitation and for awhile they would play as a trio often switching instruments during the show. Eventually they decided to add a fourth element to the band, none other than Larry's younger brother Lance who would become their permanent bass player, and this was the birth of Orleans, a name suggested by Wells.
Wells history for the next few years is fairly well documented. Orleans would release an album every year from 1973 thru 1976 with Wells, contributing one song per album with the exception of the 1975 release "Let There Be Music." In 1976 the band would release their "Waking and Dreaming," album with new band mate drummer Jerry Marotta who joined the band to allow Wells more time on the keyboards. This would also be the bands first lineup change. The album contained the Wells Kelly song "The Bum," and the song "Siam Sam" which didn't make the album, but did appear as the b side of one of the singles released from
the album. The song wouldn't be released on a proper CD until 1997's "Dance With Me - The Best Of". As 1976 drew to a close the band had 2 successful albums both of which had top ten hit songs, and like a lot of successful bands tensions began to mount over various issues. One issue being that both Wells and Larry wanted more of their songs on future albums. The growing tensions prompted John Hall to leave the band in the middle to end of 1977 to pursue a solo career, and soon afterwards Jerry Marotta left the band. During this period it's uncertain if Orleans "officially" broke up, but they were definitely on temporary hiatus until either 1978/79. From a 2007 Glory-Daze interview with Larry Hoppen he recounted from 1977 thru 1978 Wells worked with The Beach Boys (more on this further down), and Lance and Larry toured with Garland Jeffreys.
When Orleans regrouped in 1978/79 Larry, Lance, Wells and were joined by two new members Bob Leinbach and R.A. Martin, and released the "Forever," album in 1979 on Infinity Records. Wells did contribute the song "Isn't It Easy," however it was sung by Bob Leinbach. The album went on to be a success with the hit song, "Love Takes Time" and by all accounts this should've propelled Orleans onto bigger and better
things, however this wasn't to happen. Bad business decisions on the part of Infinity Records forced the company into bankruptcy, and Orleans along with several other artists were carried over to MCA Records, the parent company of Infinity. The band once again reduced to the trio of Larry, Lance and Wells fulfilled their contractual obligation to MCA Records releasing their self-titled album in 1980. This album would be interesting in many ways as It featured more songs and vocals by Wells and Larry than any other Orleans album up until that time, it was also the first time Lance contributed a song (2 to be exact) and sang lead on both, and all former members of Orleans appeared on the album in some capacity. Unfortunately, the album received barely any promotion from MCA and after its release the band was yet again without a record company. It was shortly after this Wells chose to leave the band. While I'm not sure as to why he left, I can speculate that
it had to do with the uncertain future of Orleans at the time.
After leaving Orleans, Wells joined Steve Forberts' Flying Squirrels in late 1981 or beginning of 1982. The Flying Squirrels were Steve Forbert (Vocal, Guitar), Frank Campbell (Bass), John Levanthal (Lead Guitar), Paul Erico (Keyboards) and Wells on drums. During this period Wells was still living in
Woodstock, NY and he toured With The Flying Squirrels mainly around the
East Coast. Clarence Clemons, best known from Bruce Springsteens' E Street Band, opened many of these shows and that is how he met Wells. Most likely in late 1982, Wells began working with Clemons on what would be his "Rescue" LP which was released in 1983, most likely in the Spring. In 1983, Wells joined Meatloafs' Neverland Express for his 1983 World Tour. To see the countries and cities played on the tour click HERE. Either at the end of 1983 or the beginning of 1984, Wells was back with Clarence Clemons and The Red Bank Rockers. This is documented because they played a show at Ripley's Music Hall in Philadelphia, January 22, 1984. By this time Wells had moved from Woodstock, NY to New York City for more opportunities to do session work. After he finished his tour with Clemons in 1984, he went to London to begin work on what would be Meatloaf's "Bad Attitude" LP. It was during his time in London that on October 28, 1984 Wells was found deceased due to asphyxiation.
Update....Sept 21, 2008... I received this nice comment about Wells from his girlfriend at the time that I wanted to share.
I was living with Wells at the time of his death. He was my love and my best friend and an enormous person. In his "tribute" it mentions that the writer did not have information on Wells for many of those years. Wells played with The Steve Forbert Band, Meatloaf and Clarence Clemmons and did various session dates. He moved to New York City to live with me. He had two children with his former wife Chris, Hunter Kelly and Wyatt Kelly - Wyatt and I keep in touch-he just had his own son, Samuel Wells Kelly.
There are not enough words to describe Wells. As a matter of fact, his brother Sherman Kelly and I just got off the phone together, which is what made me start looking up information again..we love telling Wells’ stories and when I hear Sherman’s laugh, I hear Wells.
Wells loved his music, he loved his children, he loved his life. I miss him every day.
Another story that was shared with me by a friend, of Wells, takes place on Halloween night of 1982. Steve Forbert and The flying Squirrels played in Gettysburg, Halloween of 1982, which had Clarence Clemons opening for them. After the show Steve, Wells and the band returned to their hotel, along with a few friends. Eventually, Wells went down to the lobby of the hotel and noticed a Halloween party taking place in the ballroom that had a band. Wells called up to his hotel room and told the other band members to come down and one by one and they'd crash the party. Wells being the first one into the ballroom asked the drummer if he could tryout his drums, slowly the rest of the Flying Squirrels entered the room and what took place was an impromptu performance by The Flying Squirrels.
- A friend who wishes to remain anonymous.
**** NEW Comment (8/12/12) ***
I was the tour bus driver for Steve Forbert, Clarence Clemons for the years that Wells Kelly worked for them. I lived in Red Hook, NY at the time not far from Woodstock, NY where Wells lived at the time. Just wanted to add a bit to the memories of Wells. I was there at the Halloween party that was written about, I played tambourine on stage that night with the guys. It was a great time.
When we were on the road, and we had time to party, Wells always was the one to make sure that the room was all cleaned up after the party so that the maid would not have to do any extra work. Imagine a bunch of road dogs cleaning up their cups, bottles, cans and other trash with Wells driving the effort. He was fun, goofy and serious when he needed to be. The big Teddy Bear.
Another time, I was driving Clarence Clemons, and he had a song called "Jump Start My Heart" that they played in the set. I went to the hotel to get the band and take them to sound check. The starter on the bus failed, we were on a slight downhill, and Wells led the pack again. The Huey McDonald and Wells got out, and while singing "Jump Start My Bus" we push started it and carried on.
Sometimes during sound checks, I would get a guitar and start singing a couple of songs for the soundman, and Wells would hear me out there by myself, and come up and start playing drums along with me. Felt great to be onstage with him. He could make you feel like you belonged, with whatever you were doing. I miss him.