I’m just glad that everybody still gets so excited about us,” says a grateful Daryl Hall during a few minutes of downtime at his winter home in Charleston, S.C.
Excited is an understatement for fans of Hall & Oates, the number one selling duo in music history according to the Recording Industry Association of America. At any given jukebox or karaoke joint, a mix of nostalgic Gen X-ers and retro-rimmed hipsters clap to “Private Eyes,” croon “Sara Smile” and air-sax “Maneater” as if MTV and YouTube hit critical mass in the same beat.
That era-spanning appeal isn’t lost on the 66-year-old Hall, who in late 2007 launched his Live from Daryl’s House online. A monthly mashup of music legends and up-and-comers, the acclaimed series—filmed in Hall’s Upstate New York digs—has featured everyone from Booker T. Jones and Nick Lowe to Minus the Bear and Cee Lo Green, who perform original tunes and Hall-penned standards alongside their host. The once web-only jam session has since landed in national syndication, on hi-def cable outlet Palladia and, most recently, on VH1—as much a testament to the show’s fly-on-the-wall intimacy as to Hall’s crossover charms.
This year finds the Songwriters Hall of Famer prepping his next house party: a forthcoming television series in which the Pottstown, Pennsylvania native will take his lifelong interest in historic home restoration to the airwaves. Production is in the works on the DIY Network program, which will debut in early 2014.
In anticipation of Daryl Hall & John Oates’ May 5 performance at Jazz Fest—a first for the duo, who marked their 40th anniversary in 2012—Hall takes a break to talk music, Mardi Gras and the architecture of a career built upon reinvention.
The Hall & Oates songbook is as current as ever. What do you attribute this enduring popularity to, and its renaissance to boot?
I think that there’s something about our music, you know, soul music and the kind of music we do, which is a very regional music, and I think that there’s an intergenerational aspect to it all. I don’t know the answers for it, I don’t know why our music does do that but I know in that my work with my show Live from Daryl’s House, I make it a big point, one of the points of the show is this intergenerational give-and-take between me and new artists. So I think that helps it to sort of cross over that way. I mean, there are so many reasons that it happens…
I think, also, of viral hits like Nicki Bluhm’s cover of “I Can’t Go For That.” What’s it like to observe your relevance from the birth of the MTV generation to a different kind of video generation, the online one?
Yeah, when I decided to do this show, six years ago, I really was thinking—what’s the word—I was really mining my experiences, you know… It would be like in the beginning years of MTV because, in those days when MTV was just starting out, they had no format, it was all brand new. Nobody really knew what was going on, it was all very unscripted, I would go on there and be a guest VJ and they would say, “You’ve got four hours, here’s a list of songs, of videos to play and just say anything you want and be clean.” It was very, very loose like that and I think that I got experience from doing that with John, to know how to do sort of an out-of-the-box kind of show that would resonate in the world of the internet, so I really did use a lot of those experiences, incorporated them into the beginning of Live from Daryl’s House.
Tell me a little about the visitors at your House. Now with more than 60 episodes under your belt, how do you choose whom to invite? Do you have a hit list of guests, do acts approach you, or is it a little bit of both?
I kind of take it as it comes. There are people I have had on my show, like Smokey Robinson, that were a big influence on me when I was a kid and I knew him back when I was a teenager and it was sort of a homecoming kind of thing to have him at the house. And then a contemporary like Joe Walsh that I really respect as a fellow musician who has had a lot of the similar experiences as I have. But then there’s all these bands that were sort of blind dates, really, like Nick Waterhouse and Allen Stone and it goes on and on and on that are new artists that I really think are amazing musicians and have a lot to say and I wanted to get their vibrance—of them just starting out—and sort of, what’s the word, juxtapose that against my long experiences and see what came out of it. So I don’t have any wish lists or anything like that. Every show is an experience and a surprise.
Are there any episodes that stand out for you?
Well, there were moments in a lot of them. I’ll go back to Smokey Robinson—Smokey Robinson, my hero when I was 17, 16 years old and for me to sing “Ooo Baby Baby” with him and all these other songs that defined me as a child and to be there with him, it was a big deal. That’s a moment that I’ll always remember and that really sticks out in my mind, and then just the exuberance of the Nick Waterhouse show. I love his music, I love where he’s coming from, I like making that kind of music with him. That sticks out in my mind. You know, Allen Stone sticks out in my mind because he’s such a great guy and he’s such a great musician. Todd Rundgren’s an old friend of mine, and so to have him at the house and sort of have this almost telepathic thing that he and I do… You know, these are all moments that stick in my mind amongst, God, thousands of other moments that are equally important to me.
You mentioned soul and regional music. I know you’re from the Northeast, but I’m curious as to any New Orleans’ connection or influence.
I haven’t been in New Orleans in a long time. It’s been before Katrina, really, and I’m anxious to come back, because I love New Orleans. I have a real spot in the heart for New Orleans and the music was, of course, I was influenced by it because all R&B was influenced by New Orleans’ music back when I was a kid, but you know at the same time we incorporated it into the Philly sound when we were listening to stuff as a kid. … There’s a regional interplay between what’s real. There’s only a few places in the United States where music just bubbles out and I certainly have an affinity for any region where that happens.
Your latest solo album, 2011’s Laughing Down Crying, is an especially personal outing, informed in part by your 2005 diagnosis of Lyme Disease and the 2010 passing of your longtime bassist, Tom “T-Bone” Wolk. What’s been the reaction from fans, both of your solo work and of Hall & Oates, now that it’s been out for over a year?
I always write about what’s real to me and my experiences and observations, but in the eight years or whatever it was since I made an album, a lot of shit happened to me, as you said: I lost my best friend, I got divorced, I got married, I have a family, I have three children now. So many things happened that completely changed my life really. And as a songwriter if you are in touch with your feelings and not afraid to express them, it allows all kinds of things to come out and I’m not the kind of person who holds back so the album was a very personal album, as all my albums are. It’s just more, I don’t know, it’s more intense events that made the album more in that direction. So I think that people that like the work that I’ve done with John, I think that they probably understand what the album was all about. I’m very proud of it. I really got something off my chest and described a long period of time dealing with it in music, which is what really I like to do.
Forty years into your career, it appears you like to do a lot. How do you decide?
I do everything. It’s just a matter of time with me—how much time do I have? I do solo work, I do Live from Daryl’s House shows, I do Hall & Oates shows, I have a new show that I’m starting to work on where I restore houses, for the DIY channel… I am so busy. It’s a matter of where I can find the time to do anything because I’m doing so much, but I’ll figure it out somehow. … I have so much to do that I can’t really commit to any long road tours, so [John and I are] just playing a lot, only in little short bursts, and then I’ve got a solo record I’m working on right now for Sony, I’ve got more Live from Daryl’s Houses to work on, and as I said, I’m working on a new show about restoring an early American house.
So the next move is from one house of Daryl’s to another?
It’s my other avocation, I guess you could say. I love antique architecture. Yes, I do love New Orleans antique architecture and early American architecture, and European architecture. I mean, I grew up with it, I grew up in Pennsylvania historic house areas, in a historic house. My grandfather was sort of a house restorer so I learned it at an early age, and it is one of those things that I do have a major passion for. And now I get to, I’m gonna restore a new house to live in, I’m gonna move my operation about 20 miles away from where I am now and gonna record the whole reconstruction process.
Any chance for a remote, Jazz Fest-installment of Live from Daryl’s House?
Right now we have no plans of doing anything, because festivals are hard to film, because it’s not my environment—you know, I don’t own the environment, I’m sort of coming into something, so it’s hard to do… But who knows? I might see a potential guest that I want to bring up to the house.