RIP Dick Orleans: Artist, wanderer and Estes Park leader
On May 12, Dick Orleans went into the mountains near Estes Park and didn't come home. At 11 p.m., Dave Orleans, Dick's older brother, got the call that he was missing. Soon after, police found Dick up in the foothills, a few yards from Fall River Road, dead after suffering a massive heart attack. The first thing Dave thought was, "Foxes."
Courtesy of the Orleans family.
Dave had visited his brother in Estes Park just a couple weeks earlier, and together they had gone to that same place. Dick, a musician and avid nature photographer, had once captured photos of the elusive black fox there. He told his brother that he wanted to see the animal again, but foxes are unpredictable. It would take time and dedication. Dave knew that it must have been the foxes that brought Dick back to the mountains that day.
During his 25 years in Estes Park, Dick Orleans had become more than just another great folk musician. He was an institution. Dick was the kind of person who made you feel like you were his best friend. He was the kind of person who sat in coffee shops to talk to strangers even though he didn't drink coffee. More than 700 people attended his memorial service.
Dick's love of nature had its roots in his childhood home in New Providence, New Jersey, where he and his siblings often went on adventures in the woods. The Orleans kids sometimes helped their father, an architect, while he was building the family home, and by the time Dick was in elementary school, he already loved to create.
In their house by the woods, each of the Orleans children was given one drawer to fill with anything he or she wanted. Dave's drawer was filled with bottle caps, baseball cards and comics, his sister's with collections and keepsakes. Dick's drawer had wires, bells, pieces of transistor radios -- things he could use to invent little gizmos and gadgets like his own homemade fuzz-tone machine. "I think seeing that drawer was when I first knew he was different," Dave says. "It's how I knew Dick fundamentally wanted to create."
Though Dick would spend his entire life building electronic gadgets, his creative energy was ultimately directed toward a different outlet: music. With a mother who had a savant-like gift for the piano and a father who had a classical bent, music was a part of the Orleans family education. Dick and his five siblings all learned to play a big-band instrument early in life. From a young age, Dick played the saxophone. He kept a picture on the wall of his Estes Park home of one of his first bands, the Penetrators. In it, he and his bandmates are wearing matching black pants and red shirts for their performance at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Dick is the shortest; he hadn't hit his teenage growth spurt yet.
After some time spent playing the sax leads on "Tequila" and "Wild Weekend," Dick realized that girls didn't swoon over saxophone players the way they did over lead guitarists. So he started stealing his brother's baritone ukulele, training himself to play until he had mastered all the guitar licks on every Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin song. Eventually, his guitar playing got so good that instead of finishing college, he lit out on his own and spent years traveling across the country playing music out of his van, which he nicknamed the Big White Whale.