Back in the ’80s, when Hall & Oates were at the peak of their commercial success, there was a sprawling record store in South Central L.A. where clerks would spin discs from a tower-shaped DJ booth and restock the bins from shopping carts filled with the latest R&B releases.
There’d be a handful of Shalamar 12-inches, some Jeffrey Osborne and Kashif records, and a whole lot of Michael Jackson. But the records that flew out the door fastest were by Daryl Hall and John Oates, two white guys who grew up in the Philly Soul scene and ended up spending decades at the top of the charts.
While Hall & Oates haven’t released a studio album in a dozen years now, the duo remains a regular presence on the touring circuit. We managed to catch up with Hall — the extraordinary lead vocalist who started out doing session work with The Delfonics, Stylistics and other Philly Soul acts — in advance of the group’s show at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, to talk about his web series “Live from Daryl’s House,” problems with the record industry, and his forthcoming solo album.
Q: You recently recorded the song “Fame” for Howard Stern’s David Bowie tribute, and I understand Hall & Oates was the opening act on his Ziggy Stardust tour. Was there any particular reason you chose that song?
Daryl Hall: Well, I always liked that song. It’s loose and funky, it was outside of what David normally did. And I relate to the lyrics about the nature of fame, which is something I certainly have experienced.
Q: Back in the ’70s and ’80s, did people in the record industry see eye-to-eye with you two when it came to what you saw yourselves doing?
Hall: Well, everything was smaller and more controlled in those days. There were a lot of gatekeepers, and a lot of people with opinions that were allowed to exercise their opinions. I don’t care if they were record people or media people or whatever it was. And I am personally — well, we both are, really — pretty rebellious people, and we don’t take well to being told what to do. And of course, yes, I feel that we were not perceived by that generation quite the way that we really were, as people and as artists. But, you know, it all works out.
Q: What was that gap? How did you see yourselves, compared to how they saw you?
Hall: You know what? I don’t want to talk about it. It doesn’t matter. It’s 40 years ago.
Q: That was quite a while ago, yeah. Let’s talk about “Rock ‘n’ Soul” (Hall & Oates’ 35-year-old album), which was the name of your first real hits compilation. It’s also the name of a mid-’60s Solomon Burke album. I’m guessing that’s not a coincidence?
Hall: Well, if you want the truth, as far as I knew, I invented that term. Because somebody asked me one time, way back when, what kind of music I did. And I said rock ‘n’ soul, because it was the first thing came to my mind. I had never heard that term. And then, after that, people started using it.
Q: Over the past few years, I’ve gotten to interview Southern soul artists like William Bell, Lloyd Price and Booker T, who all talked about how black and white musicians would work together closely in the studio. Was that also the case up north when you got involved in session work?
Hall: Oh yeah, without a doubt. Philadelphia is like Memphis or any of those kind of places. It’s a very racially integrated society and, you know, everybody is in it together. And the music reflects that. It was very, very mixed my whole childhood, career and even in my life outside of music. But yeah, that was the case with every session I did in Philadelphia and at Atlantic Records, that’s the way it was. It was just everybody in the room, no matter who or what you are.
Q: You’re working on a new solo album. What can you tell me about it?
Hall: It’s sort of a lot of my roots, which goes back to some of your early questions there. I grew up singing in church — and singing soul music, obviously — and I think this record reflects that. It’s very pared down — the rhythm section all play together at the same time — not a lot of overdubbing or things like that. And it’s very straight from the heart, it’s a very personal album. So I’m just in the final stages of completion, and it’s pretty intense really.
Q: When you go into the studio to record a new solo album — you really haven’t done that many — would you say that you’re coming from kind of a different place each time?
Hall: Yeah, because I leave time between them, for the most part. And so, you know, how many have I done? I did “Sacred Songs” in the ’70s, I did the “Three Hearts” album, I did “Soul Alone,” I did “Can’t Stop Dreaming,” I did ... it doesn’t matter. But anyway, enough time elapses that I change, and what I want to address emotionally and musically just changes. And so most of the albums are different than each other.
Q: I need to ask about working with Robert Fripp on your first solo album. How did you ever get the label to agree to let him produce you?
Hall: Well, I didn’t ask them, we just did it.
Q: Good idea.
Hall: You know, it’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. So yeah, Robert and I were friends and, like with a lot of things that happened, we decided to make this record. We did it, and we did it quickly. And then, of course, I was on RCA at the time, and they didn’t want to put it out. It took them a couple years to realize that they had something worthwhile.
Q: One of my favorite moments from “Live from Daryl’s House” was you and Todd Rundgren performing the Delfonics’ “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time.” What made you decide on that particular Delfonics song, given how many they put out?
Hall: Well, I think that that’s one of the best Philly songs ever written. I mean, I started with (songwriter/producer) Tommy Bell, and I used to sit in rooms with him while he was writing. And that song, I think is really is the essence of Philly Soul. I love the chords of it, I love the surprises of it, I love the melody, I love everything about it.
Q: You’ve sold at least 13 million albums in the U.S. alone. Are you guys seeing any royalties yet?
Hall: (Laughs.) That’s funny. The music business shouldn’t really be called a business, I mean it’s not a business. Let’s put it that way.
Q: What is it?
Hall: Can I suggest the words “organized crime”?
Q: I think you just did. So what’s next after this tour? Is it about time to make a record together?
Hall: No. I think it’s time for us to keep doing what we do, and that is me going back to “Live from Daryl’s House” and completing the solo record. John has a solo record out right now. We tour together when we have the time and reason to do it. I’d say be ourselves. You know, we’re old guys. We’re not half of anything.