Q&A: Philly Songmaster Daryl Hall

John Oates' pal talks TV, touring and Gamble and Huff

In case you’ve been hiding out in some remote cave in Tora Bora for the last five years, pride-of-Pottstown Daryl Hall (as in the guy who partnered with John Oates to bring you this, this, and some ridiculous number of other top 40 hits in the ’70s and ’80s) has created a bit of a grassroots Internet phenomenon in the form of Live From Daryl’s House, a free monthly webcast featuring performances (and cooking segments!) with Hall and guests ranging from Smokey Robinson and members of The Doors to newcomers like Philly’s own Nikki Jean. Hall recently landed a sweet television syndication deal and released his fifth solo album, and I checked in with the songwriting great to see how life is treating him.

Judge Judy, who makes over $45 million annually, told the New York Times magazine that you’ve got to get syndicated to make real money in TV. Are you experiencing a similar windfall?
Yeah, well, I’d say that syndication is a good deal. It’s sort of the equivalent in the music business of being indie. You’re not dealing with a record label, you’re not subject to someone else’s approval or too much interference. But like indie labels you have to finance it yourself. If you can do it, it’s definitely a good route to go.

Were you a natural, singing from a young age?
Singing runs in the blood for me. I come from a musical family, especially my mother. She was a vocal teacher, and she taught me as a kid. And the Philadelphia I grew up in, man, you grow up in that Philadelphia, and you are going to hear some of the best music in the world. And then I studied music at Temple.

I understand that before you teamed up with John Oates, you did some session work with Gamble and Huff.
When I was in school, I got to know them. I made a single with Kenny and Leon, and I got to know Tommy Bell pretty well. I was really part of the whole Philly scene. I used to hang out at Sigma. I was on the beat, learning from the masters, really listening to how they made records. They really were in the art of production. That’s how I learned to do what I do.

The show offers you a much more informal performance setting than most artists experience and than you had access to during most of your career, and yet you don’t get the thrill of the crowd. Do you have a strong preference of Daryl’s House vs. touring?
You know, when you do Live from Daryl’s House, there is no audience in the room, but we are all very aware of the cameras. We forget the cameras, but we know the cameras are there. And there’s a certain kinetic energy. The excitement is visible if you look at people’s faces, and it’s exciting as any live performance could ever be. It’s all very spontaneous, and these people are at the top of the game and really on their toes. There are never rehearsals. Sometimes it’s the first take. If not, it’s the second. It’s really just so exciting to do.

Do you plan to release the recordings from Daryl’s House?
We do have plans. But it’s a matter of… there’s just a lot of legal involvement when you’re dealing with other music and other guests. It’s a matter of publishers and clearances. And we are wading our way through that. But eventually, yes, there will be DVDs and CDs out there for sure.

Any collaborations you’ve been itching to get but just haven’t been able to make it happen?
No, not really. Various people are suggested to me, or I find them myself. I don’t really have a long term wish list or anything like that. I just pick people as they come. But availability is the challenge. I am a really busy guy. And my band, they are really busy people. And the artists I pick are all busy people, and I’ve got to get them up to this rural house 100 miles north of New York City. So scheduling is the hardest thing.

Have there been any that just aren’t good enough to air?
Nope. Everything we do gets out there into the world.

Are the decisions of who gets onto the show entirely your own?
It’s my baby. I created it. I’m the producer. I do have a partner producer that I brought on more recently, but I’m the person who is picking the artists, I’m picking what actually happens on the show, the food segment, the editing of rough cuts. It’s pretty much, like I said, it’s my baby.

Leon Huff just released his first new solo CD in decades. Any chance we’ll see him and Gamble on the show?
You know, having Kenny and Leon or just Leon… I’ve given that some thought. I’ve never asked them. But that would be really cool. One never knows.