BY RON NETSKY
I can still remember seeing a poster in Philadelphia in the early 1970’s advertising a show by Whole Oats at a small coffeehouse. Within a year, the duo had put out an album with beautiful harmonies and a song by Daryl Hall with a chorus saying “Don’t want to spend another fall in Philadelphia.”
They didn’t have to. They were off to New York, where they changed their name to Hall & Oates and never looked back.
But, Hall says: “You don’t ever leave Philadelphia. It’s certainly the birthplace of a lot of ridiculously good music.”
Hall was 18 in the mid-1960’s, when he played a talent show at the Uptown Theater. The prize: cutting a single with two emerging producers, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
“I won,” Hall said in a recent interview. “I went in the studio and started a relationship with them. I already knew The Intruders, The Stylistics, and the Delfonics from hanging out. It was the early Philly Sound. I got involved in doing studio work, writing songs. Then I started working with John Oates.”
But Hall’s main inspiration was at Motown. “Smokey Robinson was my hero,” said Hall. “I just wanted to be Smokey. If you want to pick me apart and figure me out, what he did as a songwriter and a singer has a lot to do with the way I sing.
“I just sang with him a couple of days ago. I was in Charleston hanging out. Smokey was down there, so I called him up. I went up on stage with him, and then I did something I never do: I sat in the audience and listened. I realized how much of what I do is what he does. It was really an ear-opening thing.
When Robinson was Hall’s guest on “Live From Daryl’s House,” the web-based show Hall will bring to the jazz festival, the musicians segued from Hall’s “Sara Smile” to Robinson’s “Ooh, Baby, Baby.” The melismatic styles of the two singers were obviously linked.
Hall was the lead singer on blue-eyed-soul classics like “Sara Smile” and “She’s Gone” and guilty-pleasure hits like “Kiss on My List” and “Rich Girl.” Hall & Oates sold more records than any duo in history.
But when that phase of Hall’s career ended, he was looking for the next chapter. Judging by the spirit of his webcast, he’s found it. The formula is simple. Guest artists visit his house, perform each other’s songs with his phenomenal band, chat, and have a feast.
“It comes out of joy,” said Hall. “It comes out of me doing what I was made to do. I’m the kind of musician that’s comfortable in a lot of different genres. Most musicians aren’t allowed to do that. You get pegged. What are you? You’re a country singer, you’re a soul singer, you’re a pop star, you’re a metal man.
“Thing is, I’m all of those types. So I don’t even know if this was conscious, but I was looking for a way to express myself to the max. A show like ‘Live From Daryl’s House’ is the only way you can really do that. Only through working with other bands, singing their songs and interacting with them singing my songs, can that really be pulled off.”
From the start, Hall’s webcasts have been free.
“There’s a certain amount of payback in it,” said Hall. “I’ve been really lucky in this business. I’ve been treated well by my fans. But there’s also another thing. I figured, if I do this, it’s a way to draw people in. I haven’t made any money on this yet, but this live show is the beginning of me getting something back as well, so that we all win.
When he brings his “house” to Rochester, he’ll have a stage set identical to his music room, but it won’t be exactly the same.
“What makes my show unique is that it’s all generated from a no-audience standpoint,” said Hall. “It’s a funny balance. When you do it live, in order to make it like the show, you have to have this combination of involving the audience so that they feel like they’re on stage with you and, at the same time, sort of ignoring the audience and interacting between ourselves on stage so that you get the feeling of being a fly on the wall.”
His guest on the tour will be soul-blues artist Keb’ Mo’. “He’s a really cool guy,” said Hall. “Musically, we clicked beautifully. Personality wise, we have a back-and-forth thing on stage, and I think it’s going to be a natural ‘Daryl’s Housey’ kind of show.”
Hall’s latest album, “Laughing Down Crying,” finds him in top form. Songs like “Crash and Burn” and “Get Out of the Way” are highly personal.
“All of these songs are a narrative of my life,” said Hall. “I think that’s what gives them whatever power they have. They come from very strong emotions and experiences. I’ve never deviated from that. I don’t think I’ve ever written a song that didn’t have some relationship to what was actually going on in my reality.
“The two you picked were more tumultuous examples of that. There are songs about how good things are, but there are songs like those two about how things are pretty fucked up in my world and the world at large. That’s all part of the grand picture.”
Before our conversation ended, I couldn’t help mentioning another Philly singer who I thought influenced Hall’s style, the late Philippé Wynne of The Spinners.
“You just mentioned my second biggest influence in life,” Hall said. “You’re giving me goose-bumps saying that. He’s the man. Nobody ever sang better ad libs than that guy.”
Hall was talking about the stream of conscious lyrics that sometimes come at the end of a song. Jazz artists call it improvising.
“The whole thing with ad libs is you cannot think it through. You have to just open your mouth and whatever comes out…. It’s gospel. It’s getting the spirit and letting it own you. Philippé was a master of it, and I try my best to do the same thing.”
Daryl Hall’s “Live From Daryl’s House,” with guest Keb’ Mo’, will be in Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre on Thursday, June 28. The performance is sold out.