Old school dynamic duo hit the road with KT Tunstall
If Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell are the architects of Philly soul, it’s safe to say that Daryl Hall and John Oates have been the ambassadors of that sound ever since the twosome released their 1972 debut, Whole Oats. And while it would take four years until Hall and Oates scored a hit with their 1976 Number 4 smash “Sara Smile,” they’ve become the best selling music duo in history, having sold an estimated 40 million records and having had 34 chart hits on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, including six chart-toppers. For Hall, it goes back to those halcyon days in Philadelphia, where he cut his teeth as a young teen performer.
“Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thommy Bell are three people who influenced me to an outrageous degree. They’re a little older than me, but we all started together, back in Philly. They define the essence of what I do and how I think musically,” he said. “I don’t have the same style as them all the time, but I’m coming from the same place as they are. They mentored me and influenced me in a lot of ways.”
Fast forward to the present-day and Hall and Oates are preparing to embark on an extensive tour with guests Squeeze and KT Tunstall that’s set to kick off with an opening show at Madison Square Garden. Known for their love of the road, the duo is switching gears from last year’s focus on playing Europe and South America to hitting plenty of venues throughout the States and a quick Toronto date. The tour’s musical guests up the ante all the more for Hall.
“KT is an old friend who has been on tour with us a number of times. And Squeeze is a band that I’ve known since the ’80s. I knew them back in the day and they’re great guys. I love their music and KT’s music,” he said. “I think it’s a great bill. I really, really love this package.”
With so many hits under their collective belts, Hall promises he and Oates will be going for as intimate an experience with the audience as you can get in a venue as large as the Garden.
“It’s going to be a great tour, playing songs that you probably think that we’re going to play. And a few songs you might be surprised by. The band is great and as always, we’re feeling good,” he said.
While Hall grew up in Pottsdown, PA, and Oates was a native of the Big Apple, the City of Brotherly Love was ground zero for the two’s future collaboration. They met at West Philadelphia’s Adelphi Ballroom in 1967 when Hall was heading The Temptones and Oates was doing the same in rival group The Masters. Gunfire rang out between gangs and the two headed to the same service elevator trying to escape.
“We were performing at one of those events where you lip-sync your record,” Hall recalled. “We started sharing apartments [shortly after that], because we were both at school at Temple. Then John went to Europe for a little while. I was doing session work with Gamble and Huff and people like that. Then he came back and he didn’t have any place to live, so I let him stay at this house that I’d restored. Then we started plunking around together and that’s how Hall and Oates was born.”
Music has always been a constant for Hall, whose own mother was in a band and who he has vivid recollections of being on stage playing with a band. (“I always wanted to be the guy in the white coat that was band leader.”) Inspired by local soul singers transitioning out of street-corner music, the aspiring vocalist also found inspiration from a number of non-Philly vocalists including Curtis Mayfield, Wilson Pickett and Marvin Gaye. Before long he was doing session work with Gamble and Huff.
“I was around it all. I was on the A Team, because I was a little young. But I used to play with the MFSB band, as well as on Clyde McPhatter and Jerry Butler records,” he said. “I played on a couple of Delfonics records and with Bunny Sigler and Len Barry.”
And while Hall has seen a lot of changes in the music industry since he started out, in many ways he’s seen it all come rather full circle.
“When I started out, I was a teenager in the ‘60s. I started out on what you’d call an indie label now. Everything was regional. You tried to get a hit in your local area. It is the same in that respect. I think the way people are trying to do it now when they start is they’re trying to get influencers to put them on their little blog playlists. It’s sort of cyber-regional. In that respect, it’s back to the early days in that way,” he explained. “It’s certainly not what it turned into, which was this corporate monster that was not conducive to great art. It was sort of the enemy of art. I’m glad to see that it’s evolved and devolved into more of the way it was when I started, but obviously in a completely different way. But it has the same principles. Start local, get a following, play live and get people to notice you in certain tribal areas. Get your tribe going and increase your life. I think that’s healthy for art.”
For Hall, it always goes back to the musical education he got from the fertile Philly music scene. It’s one he continues to draw inspiration from and sees having a global effect.
“[Everything going on back then] was a fantastic combination of people. Gamble and Huff are fantastic songwriters and so were McFadden and Whitehead and Thommy Bell. These guys were writing some really stellar songs—‘Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)’ is my favorite Philly song. That’s Thommy Bell and William Hart,” he said. “The Philadelphia legacy in some ways is bigger in the world than it is in America. You go to England, and there’s nothing bigger in England. There’s a new person every two weeks in England that’s a soul singer and they’re usually doing something that’s more Philly than anything else. I think the mark Philly had on Europe is gigantic and in some ways is bigger than Motown. There it is man. I think people in the United States don’t necessarily know what it is, but they respond to it without even knowing.”
Daryl Hall and John Oates will be appearing on Feb. 28 at Madison Square Garden, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza, NYC. For more information, visit www.thegarden.com or call 212-707-3131. Hall & Oates will also be appearing on Aug. 25 at Northwell at Jones Beach Theater, 1000 Ocean Pkwy, Wantagh (800-745-3000; www.jonesbeach.com) and on Aug. 27 at PNC Bank Arts Center, 116 Garden State Pwy., Holmdel, NJ (732-203-2500; www.banksartscentre.com).