Hall & Oates: The world’s best-selling musical duo still brings the hits
By Stratton Lawrence Special to The Post and Courier – Wednesday, December 5, 2012
If you go
What: Hall & Oates
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: North Charleston Performing Arts Center, 5001 Coliseum Drive
For more info: www.northcharlestoncoliseumpac.com
When Hall & Oates take the stage Wednesday at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, consider it a housewarming party for a new neighbor.
Amid the musical duo’s ever-growing schedule, lead vocalist Daryl Hall has decided to hang his hat in the Holy City, at least for the first half of 2013.
“I’m a big fan of antique architecture, and you’ve got a town full of it,” explains Hall. “I love coming down there, so I rented a house downtown. I’ll be out walking around. I’m going to be a resident.”
That should be welcome news to longtime fans of the songwriter and his musical partner, John Oates, who together have sold more albums than any other duo in history.
From the mid-’70s into the ’80s, the pair scored a series of hits, including six that reached No. 1: “Maneater,” “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” “Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes” and “Out of Touch.”
Throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, the pair continued to release new material, including 1997’s “Marigold Sky” and 2003’s “Do it for Love,” but none gained the traction or ubiquitous popularity of the earlier material.
Still, the duo has persisted, leading to a recent resurgence that’s largely been fueled by “Live From Daryl’s House,” a web broadcast begun in 2007 that features influences like Smokey Robinson and up-and-coming acts playing with Hall at his restored historic mansion in Upstate New York.
In the fall, the show made the jump to VH1’s sister channel, Palladia.
Hall attributes the band’s resurgence to a number of “watershed moments,” including a cameo in the HBO show “Flight of the Conchords” and the inclusion of their song, “You Make My Dreams,” in the 2009 film “(500) Days of Summer.”
“I think it’s also the loosening of the stranglehold by the journalistic community, where self-styled tastemakers decided who was cool and who wasn’t,” Hall said, echoing strong feelings about the “laziness” of music journalists that he expressed in an early episode of “Live From Daryl’s House.”
“I’ll soften the blow by saying that I think the world of journalism has had to change with the advent of the Internet, but unfortunately, a good part of my career was controlled by the press,” Hall said. “I didn’t have a whole lot of respect for the people that were in control in those days, and are still trying to grasp control now, but I think there’s a new generation of journalists that I wouldn’t tar with that brush. The Internet allows an audience to find musicians on their own and decide for themselves what’s real, what’s good, what’s bad, and all the positives and negatives.”
Hall cites his two teenage children as living examples, who seek out their music on the Internet instead of the radio.
“They don’t just listen to their own generation’s music. They listen to me, they listen to Frank Sinatra, they listen to everything, and I think there’s a new freedom in music that’s not fettered by preconceived notions that were fostered by a journalistic community who wouldn’t allow the audience to think that Hall & Oates was cool.”
Cool or not, Hall & Oates made plenty of impact on the charts while critics labeled them “yacht rock,” lumping them into a category with smooth rock acts like Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald.
Hall contests that pigeon-holing, pointing out the multigenre approach the duo took on albums like 1973’s “Abandoned Luncheonette,” which features the hit “She’s Gone” but varies between funk and banjo and fiddle.
“I’m not a person who is easily boxed into a perception,” Hall said. “I grew up in Philly, so my baby food was soul music, but other than that, I’m all over the place. Even the hit songs are all different. Not one sounds like another one, and really, that’s part of our trademark — the ‘all over the place’ thing.”
From stage to screen
That’s an approach Hall echoes in his “Live From Daryl’s House” line-ups, which have included everyone from CeeLo Green to Robinson, an early idol to the host.
“Philadelphia was sort of a second home city to Smokey. He used to come play all the time,” Hall explains. “He was a god to me. When he came to my house, it was a major, major experience. It was early on in the show, so we hadn’t settled into anything. It was all this brand-new thing, and to have him hanging out and telling his war stories was really wonderful.”
In five years of monthly filming, the show has grown from a low-budget webcast into a full-scale production featuring first-rate recording equipment and a cooking and dinner segment led by notable chefs. Hosting the program has led to unexpected collaborations, including a late-night set at the 2010 Bonnaroo music festival with electronic duo Chromeo.
“I started the show by trolling around the web, looking for people that mentioned me in articles as influences,” explains Hall. “That’s how I found Chromeo. They were influenced by my early ’80s material, so I asked them to come on the show. It’s hard to get people to drive 100 miles from New York City, so they have to really want to be here.”
With the jump to cable, the task of finding musicians for the show has gotten easier. The day before speaking with Charleston Scene, an undisclosed group flew from Seattle to record a taping, returning home immediately after.
Hall describes his current selection process as an “anti-‘American Idol’ philosophy.”
“In other words, we prefer either fantastic veterans that changed the world of music or brand-new artists that have amazing potential,” said Hall, citing recent guest and singer-songwriter Allen Stone as an example of the latter. “It benefits the musician because they get this outrageous exposure, and I benefit because I find them, and people look to me as being a go-to person for new talent. It’s a two-way street.”
Still going strong
Despite his obligations to “Live From Daryl’s House,” Hall still prioritizes the duo with Oates, emphasizing that they’ve remained together since the first meeting when they “beat it out the door together” after gang-related gunfire broke out at a 1967 band competition in Philadelphia where they both were performing.
“John and I started as brothers, and that’s never changed. We’ve taken a little time off to do separate projects, but we have a band that we gotta pay. We’re a working organization, and we have never stopped, ever.”
Surviving more than 40 years with no break-ups or infighting seems almost unheard of in the music world, a fact that Hall attributes to the pair’s mutual vision for the band. At Hall & Oates shows, they don’t play their solo material, focusing solely on music they’ve written and recorded together.
“We don’t stick to arrangements,” he explains. “There may be a structure to a song, but it evolves and evolves until none of the songs sound like they did when we recorded them.”
Hall admits that guests on “Live From Daryl’s House” have given him new ideas for how to perform classic songs, some of which transpire during Hall & Oates performances, particularly during improvisational sections. That’s part of what’s helped draw a younger crowd to their shows, rather than simply rattling off tired hits for an aging audience, Hall said.
“We’ve managed to be one of those rare bands that crosses generations, where I don’t feel at all locked in the past. It’s very freeing,” said Hall. “Our audience is now split 50-50 between people who have been watching us for years and others who are literally just discovering us. I don’t look at it as renewed interest, but I do feel like it makes the Hall & Oates experience a lot more fun.”
That’s a good time that could grow more familiar to Charlestonians as Hall joins Darius Rucker and Bill Murray among the ranks of celebrities who call our city home, albeit temporarily.
The singer even said he’s considered taping an episode or two of “Live From Daryl’s House” in the Lowcountry.
“The place I rented isn’t quite big enough, but you never know. An on-location shoot is a good possibility,” said Hall, adding, “I’m going to be doing everything here. I’ll be writing, coming up with new things, and I’ve got a new project to work on. I’m basing myself out of Charleston.”