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Ghost Canyon

John Oates John Oates
'His Kind of Soul'

From their first hit in 1974 through their heyday in the '80s, Daryl Hall and John Oates' smooth, catchy take on Philly soul brought them enormous commercial success - including six number one singles and six platinum albums - yet little critical success. Hall & Oates' music was remarkably well-constructed and produced; at their best, their songs were filled with strong hooks and melodies that adhered to soul traditions without being a slave to them by incorporating elements of new wave and hard rock.

Daryl Hall began performing professionally while he was a student at Temple University. In 1966, he recorded a single with Kenny Gamble and the Romeos; the group featured Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell, who would all become the architects of Philly soul. During this time, Hall frequently appeared on sessions for Gamble and Huff. In 1967, Hall met John Oates, a fellow Temple University student. Oates was leading his own soul band at the time. The two students realized they had similar tastes and began performing together in an array of R&B and doo wop groups. By 1968, the duo had parted ways, as Oates transferred schools and Hall formed the soft rock band Gulliver; the group released one album on Elektra in the late '60s before disbanding.

After Gulliver's breakup, Hall concentrated on session work again, appearing as a backup vocalist for the Stylistics, the Delfonics, and the Intruders, among others. Oates returned to Philadelphia in 1969, and he and Hall began writing folk-oriented songs and performing together. Eventually they came to the attention of Tommy Mottola, who quickly became their manager, securing the duo a contract with Atlantic Records. On their first records - Whole Oats (1972), Abandoned Luncheonette (1973), War Babies (1974) - the duo were establishing their sound, working with producers like Arif Mardin and Todd Rundgren and removing much of their folk influences. At the beginning of 1974, the duo relocated from Philadelphia to New York. During this period, they only managed one hit - the number 60 'She's Gone' in the spring of 1974.

After they moved to RCA in 1975, the duo landed on its successful mixture of soul, pop, and rock, scoring a Top Ten single with 'Sara Smile.' The success of 'Sara Smile' prompted the re-release of 'She's Gone,' which rocketed into the Top Ten as well. Released in the summer of 1976, Bigger than the Both of Us was only moderately successful upon its release. The record took off in early 1977, when 'Rich Girl' became the duo's first number one single.

Over the following 27 years the duo kept busy creating such albums as X-Static (1979 - 'Wait For Me'), Voices (1980 - 'Kiss On My List,' 'You Make My Dreams'), Private Eyes (1981 - 'I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)'), H20 (1982 - 'Maneater,' 'One On One'), Rock 'N' Soul: Part One (1983 - 'Say It Isn't So,' 'Adult Education'), Big Bam Boom (1984 - 'Out of Touch'), Ooh Yeah! (1988 - 'Everything Your Heart Desires'), Change of Season (1990 - 'So Close'), Marigold Sky (1997 - 'Sky is Falling'), and in 2002, Do It For Love.

And now, newly inducted Songwriter “Hall Of Famer’s,” Daryl Hall and John Oates are set to release their highly anticipated new album Our Kind Of Soul, on their own label, U-Watch/DKE records on October 26, 2004. The first single will be 'I’ll Be Around' and will be released to A/C radio on Aug. 30. Produced by Daryl, T-BoneWolk and Greg Bieck, Our Kind of Soul, features Daryl and John’s patented blend of Philly-style soul and melding harmonies on fourteen favorite classics as well as three originals especially penned for this album. Pioneers of a unique style of acoustic and traditional soul, it’s only fitting that Hall & Oates would release an album that pays homage to not only to their Philadelphia roots but for they’re love of all things soul.

Why was the band never called ‘Oates & Hall’?! ”Because he’s taller than me, because he’s older than me, because he’s more flamboyant than me … I don’t know, but where d’ya want me to stop?”, he laughs. ”But, here’s how the name of the band stated. It’s very interesting. When we first met we shared an apartment in downtown Philadelphia – when we were both going to Temple University - and when we put the name on the mailbox, Daryl actually was the only one who had a job. So, he put his name down and it said ‘Hall’. So, then I put my name ‘Oates’ and that was it from there on in!”

Tell me more about the first time you met Daryl at the Adelphi Ballroom in Philly ”Before we actually got together, we both had singles out on Philadelphia Radio with our local bands and we were promoting our singles and lip-synching our records at what was called a ‘Record Hop’ – which was basically a teenage dance. And, on the bill was a guy named Howard Tate and he had a song called ‘Look at Granny Run Run.’ Then there was the Five Stairsteps and then we were about to go on, but then a big, giant gang fight broke out and we ran out the back and down the steps of the theatre and split!”

How did you re-meet Daryl after that occasion? ”Well, as we were both going to the same University I actually started seeing Daryl and his group [The Temp-Tones] around campus and my group [The Masters] was kinda breaking up at the time. So, I joined Daryl’s group as a back-up guitar player.”

What was going through your heads when you were making the album cover to your self-titled 1975 record?! ”Obviously, not much,” he laughs. ”No, we were the victims of time and style. During that period of time, if you look at some of those albums that came out you had Rick Derringer and Edgar Winter all looking like drag queens. And, we had been really very unhappy with our previous album covers and so hired a guy named Pierre LaRoche who had been working with the Rolling Stones at the time - and he was a very famous make-up artist in that era. And his concept to us was that he would immortalize us … and what little did we know! And we did it with Harry King who was the pre-eminent fashion photographer of the day and it was done in a super, highly-stylized fashion and we just went for it, I mean, we were up for anything and that was it.”

Are there any of the Hall & Oates album covers that make you REALLY cringe today? ”I don’t really think so. But, I am a little bit embarrassed about being naked on the inside of the silver album over,” he laughs. ”But, other than that, no, not really. But, then again I’m not really ashamed of my body either so I don’t really care. But, I was a little too mucho-macho for my own good in those days sometimes too,” he laughs again.

Why were these albums named what they were?

ABANDONED LUNCHEONETTE - ”It really represented moving on, loss and moving through time. At that moment in time we were moving from Philadelphia; away from the safety and comfort of our youth to New York City and ’Abandoned Luncheonette’ was actually a real abandoned diner which was up near Daryl’s house back where we used to live when we were kids. And it represented everything about Pennsylvania and our youth and kinda what we were leaving behind.”

WAR BABIES - ”That was really kind of an experimental album and you know, we were war babies as we were part of that generation that came up after WWII. That was the first album that we made living in New York City and I think the chaos and the overwhelming nature of moving to New York City for the first time kinda came out in the chaotic sound of that album.”

H20 - ”We were trying to come up with a synthesis of a kind of a logo or a kind of a trademark for what we were and we just thought that it was a clever coincidence the whole ‘H2O’ and ‘Hall and Oates’ kinda thing … and it just worked!”

With the new album, OUR KIND OF SOUL due for release in October, I was wondering why you dipped back into that well instead of creating new music? ”Well, because we put a lot of work and effort into ‘Do It For Love’ which was only two years ago really, but we wanted to make another album. So, what we thought of doing was taking all of the songs that were seminal and influential and kind of defined the roots of our music and let’s play them as if we wrote them. That was the concept for making this record and I hate to talk about concept albums, but it really was. It was like what if we took these great songs and we kinda showed people that if we had written these songs, this is how we would have done them. Kinda stripped away the dated aspects of the production on the things that surround the original version and just present it as a classic song.”

So, how easy is it to create new, and yet classic-sounding soul tracks to fit perfectly on this new album? ”Well, that was the idea. We thought that if we were going to put some originals on they better really stand up. The lead off song, ‘Let Love Take Control’ was written with the thought that if there was any pressure, how are we gonna write an original that’s hopefully as good as these songs that we’d already recorded? Because we did it almost at the end of the album. And, there really was a lot of pressure to do it, but we got together with Billy Mann who we’ve had great success collaborating with over the years, and we sat down and all of a sudden I came up with this idea for the chorus. And all of a sudden it just clicked and with its lyrics it almost summed up the entire album … which is why we used it as a lead off track. We thought, well, if we’re bold enough to put an original song on an album full of these great soul classics let’s just say we’re also not afraid to lead of the album with it and see if it stands up with everything else.”

With these re-releases of your old albums for first time on CD, is it good news for you or is someone screwing you over?! ”Oh know, they’re not screwing us over. They’re just taking advantage of the fact that we have a resurgence going on and that’s normal in any business, and it’s fine for us too. It’s a good thing. If people can rediscover some of the more obscure material, some of the older material, I think that’s great.”

Will there ever be a definitive Hall & Oates box-set? ”Well, our old record companies like RCA, Atlantic and BMG are always constantly re-releasing packages of our old albums and the only real negative to it is that one day we always had the plans to release the definite box-set. But at this point there’s so many greatest hits packages out on us that it’s almost redundant to be doing that. So, we’re focusing on other things.”

Your just-released first solo live concert DVD, LIVE AT THE HISTORIC WHEELER OPERA HOUSE features the video for ‘It Girl’ … with Paris Hilton! Was this recorded prior to all her videotape hullabaloo, etc.?! ”Absolutely! We identified her as the ‘It Girl’ long before her notorious video! It’s very funny, because my DVD didn’t come out till after that had happened, even though we shot the actual music video before it happened! So, it was just one of those things. We’d written this song ‘It Girl’, and it really had nothing to do with her - it was to do with LA nightlife – and so it was just a fortuitous situation where we managed to get her on it!”

Why are John Oates solo live performances so rare? ”Because I took a very long time before I made my first solo album, that’s the first thing. But, now that I’ve done it I’m doing it a lot more often, but my bread and butter is obviously Hall & Oates … it’s a legacy that supercedes everything else. But, I’m also enjoying the fact that I have another outlet on the personal side and I think that the stuff I do as a solo artist is much more personal and singer/songwriterish. What I try and do is I try and give a little insight into where the songs came from. Tell stories. It’s much more of me getting back to my folk roots, which even though the music isn’t folky, it’s that kind of approach to a show.”

Looking back on all your albums to date, which one encapsulates Hall & Oates at their musical finest? ”Oh boy,” he sighs heavily. ”Gee, I’d like to say a whole bunch of them, but I think if I went through the eras I think it would be a little bit easier. In the era of the ‘70s, that the ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’ album is really where we made our mark on the world. I think that’s a very important album and it really did establish us as artists. And then the silver album kinda defined our sound. Our sound kinda coalesced for the first time. And then I think in the early ‘80s the ‘Voices’ album really set the course for what happened to us in the ‘80s with our great success. It was the first album we produced ourselves and it really changed everything about the way we approached our careers. In the early ‘90s, I think the album ‘Change of Season’; was a really personal record … even though it may not have been commercially successful as some of our other ones. I think it was a defining moment because it kinda set our course for where it led us today. And now, in the new millennium, I guess ‘Do It For Love’ was the first album we made, so I guess that will have to count.”

Your first hit was in 1974 and now it’s 2004, 30 years on – what’s the secret of your musical and friendship longevity? ”Well, we have a relationship that’s similar to a family relationship. It’s like we’re brothers. You know you can go apart, you don’t have to be with each other constantly, and when you get back together it’s like nothings ever changed. And you have your differences, but I think we worked those out a long time ago. And we give ourselves a lot of space both personally and professionally and we both have our separate family things … and then we get together on the professional side and it works well.”

Finally, describe Daryl Hall in just three words ”Great soul singer”

And, yourself? ”I am the horizon.”

Where does that come from? ”It’s a Zen thing. When people have always asked me to describe what makes Hall & Oates work I always say that you can’t enjoy the sunset if it doesn’t have a horizon. And so, if Daryl’s the sunset then I’m the horizon.”

Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk



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