Thanks to two talented young musicians jumping a service elevator to flee a gang rumpus at a record hop in Philadelphia back in 1967, the world has had the opportunity to enjoy a most innovative and unforgettable platinum-status hybrid fusion of rock, pop, R & B and soul. Daryl Hall and John Oates’ musical union spawned an illustrious career for the duo, which has been rife with Number 1 hits such as “Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My List” and “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” and Top Ten singles including “Sara Smile,” “She’s Gone” and “You Make My Dreams.” In 1987, the savvy music makers were recognized by the Recording Industry Association of America as the best-selling duo of all time, a massive honor they still hold title to, thanks to sales of albums in excess of 60 million. In 2003, Hall and Oates were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Hall and Oates still thrive creatively, touring together and also flourishing as individual artists, with recent projects such as Hall’s multi-award winning web series and now nationally syndicated television show, “Live From Daryl’s House,” which features Hall jamming with various colleagues from Cee Lo Green to the Blind Boys of Alabama in a home-grown setting, and Oates’ “Good Road to Follow,” a collection of fresh new songs digitally released each month, which are eclectic musical collaborations of Oates with myriad artists such as Vince Gill and Hot Chelle Rae. And at long last, Hall and Oates are making their Jazz Fest debut this year, taking the Gentilly Stage by storm on Sunday, May 5 at 4:00 pm, to put on what is sure to become a legendary performance. “New Orleans Living” spoke with Hall and Oates about their fondness for New Orleans, Oates’ bygone mustachioed days and the gratification of having produced fabulous music that has stood the test of time to be rendered classic.
Hi Daryl! It’s wonderful to hear that you and John will headline the New Orleans Jazz Fest this year. Is this your first time performing at Jazz Fest?
Hall: Yes, it is actually. Over the years we’ve played in New Orleans and all over Louisiana countless times, and I don’t know why this is our first time performing at Jazz Fest. We certainly fit into the Jazz Fest format, so better late than never.
With your rich history in the soulful city of Philadelphia, it must be cool for you to be able to visit New Orleans, another awesome music town.
Hall: Yes, I feel a real affinity for New Orleans. After spending so much time in Philly, another serious music town, I can resonate with the music and the people in New Orleans. The city has made some really wonderful contributions to music. And it goes without saying that I want to eat a lot of great food while I’m there. I love looking at the antiques on Royal Street, and really, I just like to walk around the streets of New Orleans and take it all in.
You are fond of restoring historic properties, so checking out the architecture in New Orleans must be a blast for you.
Hall: Yes, I love history and involving myself in historic restorations. When I’m not doing my music, I’m building homes! I enjoy taking full notice of the buildings wherever I am, and New Orleans has some seriously beautiful architecture. That is another aspect of New Orleans that I truly love.
Got a great memory of New Orleans you can share?
Hall: One that really stands out is when John and I were the kings of Mardi Gras at the Endymion parade in 1989. It was raining and freezing for the parade but we really had a blast. It was exciting and thrilling and miserable all at the same time! I don’t know how many hours we were on that float but it felt like forever. People were going crazy! I remember we played music until early the next morning at the after-party at the Super Dome, and the Nevilles played there too.
Fate is a funny thing: you and John actually met while trying to escape a gang fight in the 60s in Philadelphia that may have involved guns and chains swirling about, right?
Hall: Yes, that is true. I was in the band The Temptones and John was in The Masters and we both had 45s out, and we were at this record hop where you would go and lip-sync your records. A fight erupted and chaos ensued, and people fled the scene and John and I happened to jump into the same elevator together. That’s how we discovered we were both students at Temple University and that’s when our friendship began. Yeah, that was typical Philadelphia! (Laughs).
Hall and Oates’ music has been sampled and recorded by other artists over the years, heard in everything from Simply Red’s “Sunrise” to Jimmy Wayne’s “Sara Smile,” so that must be a big compliment after all those years of making music you believed in, from the 70s through the crazy MTV years of the 80s through today.
Hall: Yes, it is. As an artist, you aspire to be inspirational to other musicians and I’m proud to say that we have done that. And John and I have been through so much in this industry, we’re beyond friends—we’re brothers at this point. The only possible way we could have survived those times was by staying true to ourselves and to the music. I’m certainly no fan of rock music videos and that kind of thing, but MTV was good for some things like understanding television. I learned how to be a VJ for VH1 so it did have its benefits.
Well, your series “Live From Daryl’s House” is so “anti-music video” since it features you and musicians like Smokey Robinson or Todd Rundgren just hanging out and playing live music, which is quite different from the over-produced singing shows on television now.
Hall: You’re exactly right. That was the goal with “Live From Daryl’s House.” Those shows are not rehearsed in advance; the musicians come over and we come together and play music. We’re hanging out and doing what we want to do, which is playing great music. And I never know what to expect from each show, it’s very spontaneous, but something great and unexpected always occurs during these live tapings. Having Smokey Robinson on was surreal, because I have idolized him since childhood, and Todd and I go way back. I really enjoy all of the musicians who have performed on the show; they’re true professionals. And my band is amazing. I’m not a fan of the music shows out there today and “Live From Daryl’s House” is the opposite of those shows.
John shaved his iconic moustache years ago. Do you ever miss it?
Hall: John shaved his moustache, what, 22 years ago? He shaved his moustache and he shaved his whole head bald at the same time. It was a package deal! And no, I don’t miss it. It’s just facial hair.
Hi John! Tell us about your newly released single “Stand Strong,” which has a really great guitar riff to it.
Oates: It’s is the first song I recorded for my new project, “Good Road to Follow.” It’s kind of a musical journey and the idea is to release a song every month for a year instead of putting them all on a CD. It’s an opportunity for me to do lots of different song styles because if you don’t put them all on one record, they don’t necessarily have to fit together, and I have a wide variety of tastes. I did this song with my friend Teddy Morgan, the musical director for Kevin Costner’s band (my wife and his wife were childhood friends). That riff was kind of inspired by a Michael Jackson riff. We wanted this big, bold Americana thing with a theme of brotherhood and solidarity. I’m releasing a couple of free tracks until June, when a really big song will be released. The idea is to keep people engaged.
How excited are you to play Jazz Fest for the first time?
Oates: Oh! Very excited! We are so pumped up to play. It’s going to be off the hook. Jazz Fest is on my bucket list. I’ve been to New Orleans many times but never to Jazz Fest. It makes it even better now that we’re playing. And because of “Good Road to Follow,” I’m going into a studio in New Orleans the day after Jazz Fest and recording with some amazing New Orleans musicians and good friends of mine: Chad Gilmore, who is Marc Broussard’s drummer; George Porter Jr. is playing bass and Scott Theriot is playing guitar. I want to get these different flavors in my music and recording in Louisiana is on my bucket list too.
How cool! You are a founder of the 7908 Aspen Songwriter Festival, and New Orleans icon Allen Toussaint was featured at that festival a few years ago.
Oates: Oh, absolutely! It was a thrill to have Allen there at the first festival. Sam Bush and I sat in with him that night and that was a highlight of my life to play with him. Needless to say, Allen’s a legend and I am a longtime fan. I’m hoping to see him during Jazz Fest. He’s an amazing person. I just have so much respect for Allen and what he’s accomplished over the years and his musicianship.
Allen Toussaint is a lovely man! You seem to have many New Orleans connections.
Oates: Interestingly enough, one of the first places that Daryl and I became popular in the early 70s was Louisiana. I have no idea what happened, but somehow our music connected. We would come to Louisiana and spend a month playing Natchitoches, Louisiana Tech, Baton Rouge—you name it. So I’ve always had an affinity for Louisiana and New Orleans.
It is great to see your influence in your hometown of Aspen, like at the Wheeler Opera House. My husband and I ducked into a ski lodge in Aspen one evening last winter and there was this fantastic duo playing live music by a roaring fireplace. Come to find out, they were in the John Oates Band! We were like, “No wonder they sound like total pros!” And being from New Orleans, of course we had to have a drink or two with your awesome drummer, John Michel. (Laughs)
Oates: (Laughs). That doesn’t surprise me! That’s great to hear. That’s really nice of you Christine, thanks so much. Yes, John Michel and Michael Jude are in my band. They’re truly fantastic guys.
Some of your big hits with Hall and Oates were in the 80s, but music-wise, what has been your favorite time during your career thus far?
Oates: In the 70s, I think the music we made was more adventurous and interesting, because we experimented and tried lots of different things. In the 80s, we got into this pop thing that radio and the record companies embraced and we were kind of locked into a thing, like a monster that we created for ourselves. So honestly, even though we had the most success in the 80s, it wasn’t my favorite time. My favorite time has been what happened after the 80s and my ability to live a more authentic life and to get to this point where I have this incredible foundation of Hall and Oates and still work with Daryl, but also I love doing individual projects with all these other amazing creative people. I have the best of all worlds now, and for me, the best time is now.
In the past, music critics didn’t always give Hall and Oates’ music the critical acclaim it deserved. But that’s different today; your music is truly classic!
Oates: We didn’t really pay much attention to critics. I think because we were so successful and had so many hits, people tended to toss us off as these formulized hit makers, which couldn’t be further from the truth. If you actually listen to the big hits we had in the 80s, every one of them is completely different. It wasn’t like we were following a formula; what we were doing was writing great songs and those songs have stood the test of time. And I think the fact that we are now being appreciated for what we accomplished is very gratifying. Daryl and I never doubted ourselves. We’re just glad the world has figured it out.
Have you noticed this moustache craze lately? Women wear fake ones out in public and there are plastic moustache straws stuck in drinks at bars. Do you ever miss that amazing ‘stache you once sported?
Oates: That one? Not really. But I do kind of have a goatee thing now. Facial hair comes and goes; it’s kind of like wearing a hat, you know? (Laughs). But it’s cool, and hey, the moustache is back and it was back in the 1800s too. I think it’s kind of funny.