Soul duo Hall & Oates play Monday

By Casey Phillips Article posted on Thu. Dec. 6th, 2012

IF YOU GO

• What: Hall & Oates concert.

• When: 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10.

• Where: Memorial Auditorium, 399 McCallie Ave.

• Admission: $47-$77, plus convenience fees.

• Phone: 642-8497.

• Website: www.chattanoogaonstage.com.

NO. 1 HITS

"Rich Girl," "Kiss on My List," "Private Eyes," "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)," "Maneater," "Out of T

According to a 2005 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, the average U.S. marriage lasts about eight years. Music history is full of bands that don't make it to a second anniversary.

That, as much as their half-dozen No. 1 hits and multiplatinum albums, makes the 40-year performing partnership between rock/blue-eyed soul duo Daryl Hall and John Oates all the more unlikely.

The secret to their longevity, Oates said in a recent phone interview, has been accepting each other's individuality since they met in the late '60s at a band competition in West Philadelphia.

"No one wants to be half of something," he said. "From the very beginning, Daryl and I have always perceived ourselves as individuals working together."

From the start, Oates said, their partnership didn't come with fetters, and each man was free to explore solo or side projects, which they took advantage of numerous times. Hall split off in the '70s to collaborate with Robert Fripp, and Oates took time off to start a family in the '90s.

However, they have always found their way back onstage together. Their current tour, which started Nov. 30, will bring them to Memorial Auditorium on Monday, Dec. 10.

That's not to say their approach to music has always been harmonious. The first time Hall and Oates recorded together, the result was a mess, Oates said. His rougher vocals and background in Philly's rich folk tradition didn't mesh smoothly with the cleaner vocals and soulful influences that defined Hall.

Eventually, they figured out the chemistry, and their soulful, effervescent pop music made them bona-fide superstars in the early- to mid-'80s.

In 1984, the Recording Industry Association of America announced that their album sales had surpassed The Everly Brothers' to make them the most successful rock duo to that point. They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, VH1 named them the 99th Greatest Artist of All Time, and in 2008 they were named Broadcast Music Inc. Icons.

But earning accolades has never been the goal, Oates said. They put the same effort into all their songs, whether hits such as "Private Eyes" and "Maneater" or under-the-radar album cuts.

The fact that they have those hits, however, makes deciding what to play at shows the best kind of difficult, he said.

"We have a set full of hits that people have paid to come and hear," he said. "It's a crazy problem to have."


Chattanooga Times Free Press entertainment reporter Casey Phillips spoke with Hall & Oates co-founder John Oates about meeting Daryl Hall amidst gunfire, the role independence plays in their partnership and the loss of longtime bassist John Wolk.

CP: Is the Internet lying to me or did you and John Oates meet each other in a hail of gunfire a band competition 45 years ago?

JO: It wasn't a hail of gunfire; there might have been one shot. [Laughs.] It actually was true. You can't make this stuff up. We both had singles out with our respective high school bands. We didn't know each other, but we were aware of each other. We were scheduled to promote our respective singles because a DJ was having a dance. It was in a bad section of West Philadelphia, and a gang fight broke out. We literally got in a freight elevator to leave the building. That's how we both met. Then we were both going to Temple University. My band was in the process of breaking up, so I joined Daryl's group as a guitar player. Then, that band broke up, and Daryl and I gravitated to each other.

CP: What was it that made you realize initially you shared similar tastes and tendencies, musically?

JO: We didn't realize that right away. I grew up in a small town in the country, but I was listening to Philadelphia radio. When you listen to Philadelphia radio, R&B and this underground FM music that was becoming popular in the '60s, I was exposed to everything from the world's greatest urban R&B to the most authentic and traditional American folk music.

Everyone thinks of Philadelphia as R&B, and quite rightly so, but Philadelphia has an incredible folk tradition as well. The Philadelphia Folk Festival just celebrated its 50th anniversary, and it's probably the second oldest in the country besides Newport. These great folk performers would come through and play at the small folk venues, and I would get to see them.

I got to hang out with a lot of them. This guy who was teaching me guitar used to take around a lot of these people who were being rediscovered, like Mississippi John Hurt and Son House and Sonny Terrie and Brownie McGhee. He would take them around Philadelphia, and I would hang out with them and listen to them play in the living room.

I was just in the right place at the right time. It was an incredible time to be in Philadelphia. At the same time, going to the Uptown Theater and hearing all the great R&B performers from Memphis and Detroit and everywhere else, it was just a pretty amazing place to be.

CP: And Daryl had a similar experience growing up there?

JO: Daryl wasn't into the traditional American acoustic stuff as I was. He was more into the doo-wop, street-corner, urban R&B kind of thing. What we did was combine my early influences, my folks influences, with what he had. He learned a lot from me, and I learned a lot from him. We combined those influences together, and that eventually became our sound.

CP: When you first tried collaborating, was the chemistry immediate or was it something that took time to develop?

JO: We had some common ground in the R&B stuff, especially The Temptations. We both really loved The Temptations; we had a lot of common ground there. It was that that kind of pulled us together. With the first recording we did, it was really pretty bad. It sounded awful, actually, and we thought, “This will never work.” But eventually we found a middle ground.

CP: What about that first attempt didn't work?

JO: We didn't know how to blend our voices. Our voices were so distinctly different. Daryl had an almost classically trained voice with pure tone, and I had a very rough tone. The two tones together - [pause] - we eventually learned how to do it .

CP: Many duos don't last nearly as long as you and John have. What is it that has kept you together for so long?

JO: Greed and desperation. [Laughs.] No, we have a unique relationship. Duos, as you kind of alluded to, are a very tough dynamic to deal with. People in duo always want to be individuals. I think it's just in our natures; no one wants to be half of something.

From the very beginning, Daryl and I have always perceived ourselves as individuals working together. It may seem like a subtle point, but if you look at our albums, every album from the very, very beginning, you will see Daryl Hall & John Oates, you will never see “Hall & Oates.” That was a very conscious thing that we agreed upon early on, that we were two guys who would work together and work separately and work with other people in whatever form it took to make it happen.

CP: Have there been any rough patches over the years that threatened to split you, and if so, how did you weather those periods?

JO: You know it's odd, but no, there actually haven't. I know it seems like I'm lying to you, but the truth is, there have been times when we haven't been in agreement with where we wanted to go, but during those times, we basically just didn't do anything. We did solo projects.

Daryl did solo projects very early on in the '70s. He wanted to work with Robert Fripp. He was getting into experimental rock, and that wasn't something I felt comfortable with and wasn't into. So he went off and did it, and it was great. What he brought back from that experience took us into a place maybe we wouldn't have gone.

I took most of the early '90s off to build a house, get married and have a kid. I did things I really wanted to do as a human being, not just as a performer. That changed my life completely, and when I came back to Daryl, I brought a whole different approach and attitude.

I think maybe the reason we're still together, to make it a little more simple, is that even though we're very different as people, we both respect each other's individuality. We've never put restrictions on each other.

CP: When you take time to do things on your own and come back, do you find that whatever changes you've undergone make it hard to find that common ground?

JO: It's really funny, but when we get back together, it's like time has stopped. It's really odd. I'm going to experience it tomorrow. We haven't been on the road in quite a while, but we have a show tomorrow, and I'm going to go there not having played the music in months, walk on stage and it will seem like nothing has changed.

It's really strange. I can't even describe it to you. The only thing I have to do is refresh my memory with chord changes and things like that. When I play solo, which is more than I play with Daryl at this point, I play some of those same songs, but I change the key and do them in different arrangements. I'll play “Maneater” and “Out of Touch,” and I have a different arrangement when I do it solo. I have to remember, “Uh oh, I have to put my Hall & Oates hate on again.”

That's just little technical things, though. The actual experience is just surreal. It's weird. [Laughs.]

CP: Has the success of your partnership and all the No. 1's and Top 10 hits changed how you perceive yourself as a musician?

JO: Absolutely not. Our success and our hits, especially, are a byproduct of our hard work and dedication to music, in general. They weren't the goal. They were never the goal.

People really misunderstood us, especially in the old days. They thought we were a hit-making machine with a secret code to AM radio or to Top 40 radio and had some kind of pact with the devil or something. I don't know what the hell they were thinking. The reality is, we put the same amount of work into every song and album as the ones that became No. 1's and No. 3's and No. 2's. That is a byproduct of the work we did.

Certain songs just rose to the top and captured people's imaginations. We left it up to the record company which ones to release to radio. There wasn't a moment on an album where we put less effort into a track. Every song was an album track to us until it became a hit.

CP: Since you were so creatively invested in every song, did it sting when a song you expected to do well didn't achieve the success you anticipated?

JO: Well, yes and no. Once a song was chosen and picked from the album to be promoted as a single, if it went up the charts, we were thrilled, and if it didn't, we had something waiting in the wings or we went on to a new album.

Here's a perfect example of that. We put out “The Silver Album” [“Daryl Hall & John Oates”] in 1974 or 1975, and we released maybe three singles from that. I think one might have gotten into the Top 15, another got in the Top 20 and the other got in the Top 30. So they weren't exactly hits. We had mentally moved on. We were ready to start writing and working on another album.

We were in Europe on our first European tour. We were in England, and we got a call from our manager saying that a small R&B station in Toledo, Ohio, started spinning “Sara Smile” as an album cut. So many people were calling the radio station that the record company decided to release a fourth single. Think about that in the light of the record business today. How many bands get to release four singles, much less four from the same album. Then, of course, it became a huge hit.

We came up during a very different time. We came up during a time when record companies believed in artists, in terms of the long run and having a career. They believed in talent. If you had talent, they were willing to stick with you as you made your creative mistakes. That doesn't happen anymore. We were fortunate to be part of a different era.

CP: When you and John first started to make a splash, you were combining new wave and soul in a way that was pretty groundbreaking. At the time, did it feel intentionally innovative or was it just the direction you both were naturally inclined to go?

JO: I think, as songwriters, we're very much influenced by where we were and our environment. In Philadelphia, we wrote in a certain style and really represented what Philadelphia meant to us and the sounds of the city.

Here's a very unique fact that many people don't get, either. Even though we're so well known for being from Philadelphia, Daryl and I have never recorded in Philadelphia in our entire lives. We never made a record in Philadelphia.

We made our first album in New York - we made four albums in New York - we made a few albums in L.A. in the mid-'70s, and we came back to New York and made every album we ever made after that in New York. New York City was a big, big influence on our music - bigger even than Philadelphia. People don't realize that, but it was the sound of New York City.

Especially in the '70s and early '80s, New York City was the epicenter of American pop culture. L.A. was L.A., but we never really related to L.A. very well. When New Wave began in New York City, we were right there. We were going to the clubs with Patti Smith and Television and the New York Dolls.

We were there every night seeing this stuff and being part of it. It naturally assimilated into our music. It was the sound of the streets. When rap began, I remember walking into the Electric Lady Studios in the Village where we were recording, and I'd be passing guys with giant boom boxes on their shoulders. That was a new thing. This music was blasting into the streets, this rap and hip-hop and all these new beats and sampling. That stuff we just naturally absorbed. Rather than trying to just do it in its purest, we integrated it into what we were doing.

CP: How has it been performing since the death of T-Bone Wolk two years ago? Was it hard to recover from that?

JO: Yes. He was a very important part. He provided a link, a musical link, between Daryl and I that somehow kept us even more together. It's never really been the same after him. He not only was a great human being, a really good and gentle person, but also a consummate musician on every level.

He was kind of the “&” in Hall & Oates. He became that, and he was very important to us. I can't ever get over losing him. He's a very important person. I loved him as a person and as a musician. To this day, I don't think I've ever met anyone as good as him when it comes to pure musicianship. We carry on, and we're fine, but it really isn't quite the same and never will be.

CP: After singing songs like “Private Eyes” and “Maneater” for more than 30 years, has your relationship to them changed in that time? What keeps them interesting enough to keep you invested in singing them every night?

JO: Well, thank God they're good songs. [Laughs.] The fact that they are good songs and have stood the test of time is the reason we can play them with conviction and passion and not be bored with them.

If a song starts to feel a bit tired, we'll retire it for a while and bring it back with a new arrangement. Also, the guys we have in the band as the band has changed over the years, they all bring something slightly different to the same songs. So we don't really ape the original arrangements so much as we keep the essence of what made the songs good.

When we play the songs, people are satisfied because it's the song they've grown to love over the years, but at the same time, it has a new vibrancy and new life in it because of what we inject into the live arrangement.

It's a delicate balance between not losing the qualities that made the original good but at the same time keep moving it forward. We still breath life into the old songs.

It's something we've gotten quite good at over the years. The arrangements of the songs have evolved, but they've evolved in very subtle ways. Unless you're a die-hard fan and have been recording every one of our shows since the '80s, you might miss it.

CP: Do you expect to have to learn any new arrangements during rehearsals before you and Daryl get on stage again next time?

JO: No, we never rehearse. [Laughs.] We just play, just get up there and play. We'll go with whatever happens. The set will start out the way it ended the last time we played, and then who knows what will happen. The next night, we might say, “Let's try 'It's a Laugh.' ” We always try and throw in some album tracks we haven't played in a while or that somehow seem interesting.

We have a really good problem - we have a set full of hits that people have paid to come and hear. We can't afford to play too many songs that aren't hits because we have a whole set of hits. It's a crazy problem to have, but we always manage to squeeze a few album tracks in.

CP: You and Daryl have been producing your own music for about 30 years. Do you feel like the decision to take greater control over that aspect of the creative process back in the early '80s was a turning point for you?

JO: It was. It was the most important thing we had ever done. Up to that point, we had worked with some really amazing producers - Arif Mardin to start, then Todd Rundgren and a guy named Chris Bond in the '70s. Then, David Foster produced two albums in the late '70s for us.

It was during the two albums that we worked with David Foster on when we realized it was time for us to take over. I remember one time distinctly when David Foster said in the studio, “I don't even know why I'm here. You to guys are making the record.” That's when we realized, “You know what? We are, and we will.”

It also had to do with the evolution of our band. We had a live band at that point, and we wanted to go into the studio with that band and coalesce the whole thing together. It was no longer studio musicians making the record and a live band playing it. We wanted it to be one and the same. Once we did that, that's when everything changed and we had all that success in the '80s.

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