"There's a thunder storm 'a brewin'/And the day is turning gray
There ain't much to say about the weather/The shower stall is leakin'
And the ceiling's fallin' in/And I'm getting twenty bills to every letter
I've got to move myself out to the country/I'm lookin' out for any place at all
I'm gonna spend another Fall In Philadelphia"
In 1972, Autumn in Philly didn't look so hot to native sons Daryl Hall or John Oates, Temple University grads who befriended each other several years prior as part of this city's then-burgeoning R&B scene. "There weren’t rivalries as everyone thinks there was amongst the bands then," says Oates, talking about his first non-Hall recordings versus Hall's initial non-Oates singles. "Everyone knew everybody else by their records. After Daryl and I met at WDAS radio record hop, we just kept seeing each other around." Then one day, the pair noticed that there was no one else around. "We just gravitated to each other."
The subsequently released album Whole Oats, from which the above-quoted "Fall in Philadelphia" comes, wasn't rocketing up the charts. The pair's other albums didn't fare better, and by 1974, H&O were ousted from the Atlantic label. Just one year later however, Hall & Oates moved to RCA, and into a soul-pop hit-making phase that rarely stalled, yielding hits like "Sara Smile," "Do What You Want, Be What You Are," "Private Eyes," "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)," You Make My Dreams" and more. Fast-forward to this October and the duo may not still live in the area – Oates in Nashville, TN and Boulder, CO; Hall in Millerton, NY where he films Live from Daryl's House – but will happily return to the scene of their original crimes in time to open The Fillmore on October 1.
Ask Hall about what he recalls about first gigs he and Oates shared as an act, and the singer/composer and now television producer isn't ready with specifics. "I don't know if actual stages matter, because at the spots we were playing like little cafes in Germantown or downtown, they were these 65 seat things where there was no wall between us and the audience. You couldn't even say audience, as we were just playing to our neighbors and friends. It was a very communal sort of feel."
Oates remembers just a little bit more about the duo's 1970 start when the once-mustachioed guitarist joined Hall's then-band as a temporary backup musician until no one else but the twosome were left standing and working together as one. "I don't even think we had formalized everything, but the first show was at Hecate's Circle in Germantown then an art gallery on South Street – just an electric piano and an acoustic guitar and 30 friends of ours."
It's a good thing Oates has such recall ("Daryl too; we go back and forth on who remembers what"), as he is authoring an autobiography with journalist/researcher Chris Epting based in part on the songwriter's voluminous set of journals penned throughout the entire decade of the 1970s ("starting on the day I graduated Temple in May 1970 until 1980, 15 books, over 30,000 pages"). Starting at his birth and concentrating more on the 90s and into the present, Oates is quick to say that it is not a Hall & Oates biography. "Saying that, it is impossible to tell my own story without talking about THAT story, they're so intertwined." Rather than focus on Hall & Oates' massive success between 1975 and 1990, Oates will center on the development of the duo at the start of its career, "the little known, undocumented stuff," says Oates. "We really struggled when we first got together and for quite some time and that's what John is focusing on, which is good," says Hall, who has no intention of writing his own memoir ("Oates is the keeper of that flame") but, has his hands full with Live From Daryl's House.
"I let people into my house, how much more autobiographical can I get?" says Hall, with a laugh, talking about the syndicated program where he invites musicians and H&O fans into his home in upstate New York to sing his songs. While that series heads into its tenth year, another successful Hall television show, Daryl's Restoration Over-Hall on the DIY Network, won't carry on at present, "as I have personal issues that keep me from that series," says Hall obliquely referencing his recently-announced (days before this interview) divorce filing from his wife of six years, Amanda Aspinall.
"I got a lot of material from what's going on, some big bizarre experiences, so I'm writing quite a bit and can’t wait to get into the studio," says Hall. He's not talking about recording Hall & Oates songs. Neither is Oates when he says he's planning new albums. Each man has his own unique and different set of songs apart from their H&O hits – Oates with six solo acoustic folk blues projects that traffic in rustic Americana and Hall with five big blue eyed rock/soul albums. "My point of view is that anything great that is Hall & Oates in the future lies in its past," says Oates, not trying to be cryptic, but rather referring to a deep catalog of hundreds of H&O songs. Hall mentions that as they got older and over being hit-making childhood friends – which they still are – their need to rely on each other in terms of recording dissipated. "You grow up and get your own life, have a certain artistic individuality that you no longer want to share," says Hall. "That we care so much about what we've done as a duo is what keeps us together."
This brings us back to Philadelphia and two teens making music in the shadow of the Sound of Philadelphia and the glow of Gamble & Huff. Hall & Oates have been tied to Philly since they duo’s inception. It's as if this city is a third member of the group. There was indeed a minute in the late 70s and early 80s where each man blanched at being referenced for its relation to Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese and the sonorous Philadelphia International Records sound. "It's true, but only because we wanted to expand our horizons," says Oates. "I was looking ahead, not back, and wanted to be international; a person of the world," says Hall.
And yet, Hall & Oates remain proud of their heritage and history with this city.
"I never lost sight of who I was and where I came from and am still so happy that I started there," says Hall of Philly. "Everything I do stems from that connection. That will never change."
Oates adds that whether its folk music from its coffee houses or R&B from the WDAS dances they once attended as teens, the duo that is Hall & Oates owes everything to Philly. "No matter what, when push comes to shove, we represent the city that we were raised in."