Daryl Hall & Todd Rundgren: From Philly to the heights
Daryl HallBorn October 11, 1946 in Pottstown, PA, Daryl Hall likes to say he had the good fortune of “being in the right place at the right time.” While attending Temple University in the 1960s, already working as an artist/session man for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Hall met John Oates—at an elevator after fleeing a gang fight at a local concert. Their fortunes got better from there.
Officially forming their partnership in 1972, the duo that would become known for their unique brand or pop rock/blue-eyed soul began playing folk rock. With the support of manager Tommy Mottola and Ahmet Ertegun, they signed to Atlantic, releasing their debut, Whole Oats, that same year. After stylistic shuffling and a lack of commercial success over a few more albums at Atlantic, the duo headed for New York, and RCA, in 1976. Behind hit singles like “Sara Smile” and “Rich Girl,” 1976’s Bigger Than Both of Us made the duo superstars. Over the next decade, they released six Number One singles from a string of multi-platinum albums (including Voices and Big Bam Boom). By 1987, the R.I.A.A. recognized Daryl Hall & John Oates as the number-one selling duo in music history, a title they hold to this day.
While Daryl Hall & John Oates stormed the charts, Hall built a simultaneous solo career. With Robert Fripp as producer, he recorded Sacred Songs in 1977 (released 1980). By the late ’80s, both Hall and Oates had focused on solo projects, collaborating with each other intermittently. Hall released three more solo albums before reigniting his partnership with Oates, with whom he released four albums between 1997 and 2006.
In 2007, Hall started Live From Daryl’s House, a monthly web series that features Hall hosting jam sessions/intimate performances with acclaimed guest musicians in his own home. Guests of the popular, award-winning series have included Nick Lowe, Ray Manzarek, Sharon Jones and Todd Rundgren.
“Live From Daryl’s House changed my life,” Hall said. “I think it revolutionized music, too, because what it shows is real, not manufactured.”
In addition to the ever-growing web series and continued appreciation for Daryl Hall & John Oates (recipients of BMI’s Icon Award in 2008), Hall continues to write and record, releasing his latest solo album, Laughing Down Crying, in late 2011. “The most rewarding thing to me is meeting new people and never knowing what’s going to happen,” Hall said. “It’s the unknown that excites me.”
Todd RundgrenTodd Harry Rundgren, born June 22, 1948 in Philadelphia, began playing guitar as a teenager, starting his career as a recording artist before he hit 20. Upon leaving the band Woody’s Truck Stop, Rundgren formed Nazz in 1967. The psychedelic garage rock quartet found some success, releasing three albums between 1968 and 1971 and scoring minor hits with “Open My Eyes,” included on the landmark Nuggets compilation, and “Hello It’s Me,” which became one of Rundgren’s most enduring songs after he rerecorded it as a solo artist.
Rundgren released his first solo album, Runt, in 1970. Dissatisfied with the way the Nazz albums were recorded, Rundgren resolved to learn the art of producing himself. A production deal with Albert Grossman quickly followed, with Rundgren helming projects for Janis Joplin, the Band, Patti Smith and many more in the ensuing years.
His skills as a producer soon found their way into his solo work when he produced, sang all the vocal parts and played all the instruments (for three of the four sides) on what is widely recognized as his masterpiece: 1972’s Something/Anything?. The seminal album has become the touchstone of the power pop genre. Rundgren’s success continued throughout the rest of the decade and into the next, when he produced key albums for New York Dolls, Grand Funk Railroad, Meat Loaf, Daryl Hall & John Oates and more.
The resourcefulness that led Rundgren to become his own producer manifested itself in other areas as well. By the mid-’90s, Rundgren was experimenting with interactive CD-ROM, new video technology and had started one of the first online music subscription services, a decade before it became the norm. In addition to a steady stream of solo albums, production work and touring, Rundgren has toured with Ringo Starr, led the re-formed Cars and lectured at universities. STATE, his most recent album and 24th overall solo album, was released in April.
Of recording his own album, Rundgren told Elmore: “It’s always fun, especially when I’m picking up new ideas, exploring what people are doing and what people are listening to. Research—trying to figure out the lay of the land before you ever start anything—is probably the most fun part.”
What are you listening to right now?
Daryl Hall: I don’t listen to other bands. I sucked up enough of that years ago, on the Philly Streets, absorbing everything and making my own versions. I listen to music for information.
TR: I’ll tell you what’s on my Rhapsody. This Heat, Bon Iver, Skrillex, and Oskar Sala—I just discovered him, one of the original electronic musicians.
What was the first record you ever bought?
DH: I was ten or 11 and I got Ike and Tina Turner’s “A Fool In Love.”
TR: A 69-cent cut-out album in the local mall. I bought it because I wanted to own a record. It was a weird compilation called Bopping with probably eight different artists on it, doing all different genres of what at the time passed as rock ‘n’ roll or be-bop.
Where do you buy your music?
TR: Mostly Rhapsody and YouTube. I discover it on YouTube and consume it on Rhapsody. I’m buying a service, as opposed to a product, and the service is listening to music. Do you have physical copies of anything? Pretty much no. There’s some CDs and a changer here somewhere that I haven’t plugged in in years, and a box or two of LPs somewhere in the house.
What was the first instrument you played?
DH: My mother was a vocal teacher, so the first thing I had was vocals, literally from birth, ago zero. I was singing in church, in choirs and at home, everywhere. The first instrument I ever played was the piano, then a few other instruments, including a brief association with the trombone, which didn’t work out very well.
TR: The flute, then the clarinet. My elementary school had a music lessons program where you could rent an instrument and every two weeks or so someone would give you a lesson. I wasn’t going to make any progress with a flute. My sister wanted to learn how to play the clarinet, but she never picked it up, so I learned how to play it—sort of. I could play Acker Bilk on it.
What brought you to the instrument you now play?
DH: I had to complete myself as a writer. Today, I’ll write on the piano, then switch to guitar and go back and forth. It changes my chord structures. I got to the guitar relatively late, probably in my early 20s.
TR: I was about eight when I got a guitar, which is what I really wanted to play. I had to take three months of lessons, but lessons in those days were really stupid. They teach you how to play “Jingle Bells” on the guitar. It was acoustic; it wasn’t an electric guitar, which is what I really wanted. I got one years later for Christmas, but my parents didn’t understand that an electric guitar without an amplifier wasn’t really worth much.
Who would you like to write with that you haven’t?
DH: I’ve done a lot of collaborating, with Robert Fripp, Alan Gorrie, and I admire them all. There really isn’t anyone I’d like to collaborate with that I haven’t already. I admire Todd Rundgren, for example, but I wouldn’t want to write with him.
TR: In Utopia, all of our compositions were more or less collaborations. The things that I write about are almost too personal to me—I have a hard time articulating them with somebody else. I admire Elvis Costello as a songwriter, but he’s also someone who rarely collaborates because of the nature of what he does. Most of the people I admire don’t collaborate, they come up with something that’s very personal, and that, to me, is the difficult part of music. I’ve had collaborative sessions with other people on the basis that something might happen, and every single one of them has turned out to be a dry hole.
What musician influenced you most?
DH: I spent my time sucking up all the music I could—of course vocalists like Philippe Wynne, David Ruffin, Marvin Gaye, and of course Smokey Robinson. John Lennon for his writing.
TR: My favorite composer of all time was Maurice Ravel, and even though I have few opportunities to imitate Maurice Ravel, I still learn so much from listening to his records and get opened up to what could be done with music from listening to Ravel. I consider him, in some ways, the father of contemporary music. Not everyone will agree with me.
What was the song or event that made you realize you wanted to be in music?
DH: My first memories, from age four or five, were of being a musician. I never gave anything else a thought. The first time I got paid I was 14, and I got five bucks. As a kid, I had the usual terrible kid jobs—working in discount drug stores, etc., but after college, music’s all I wanted to do.
TR: Probably around high school graduation I realized that I didn’t have the money to go to college and I did have a modicum of talent as a guitar player. The Beatles were still together, so in 1966, all you had to do was find three other guys to at least have a stab at a musical career. In 1966, if you could play a gig on the weekend and come away with $25, you could live all week on that $25, mostly because you were flopping in somebody’s house someplace, and wearing the same clothes all the time.
I never spent a lot of time dwelling on the possibility of not succeeding. You just move from one situation to the next. As long as there’s another situation, you’re in the business. There’s a misconception about what success is in terms of being a musician: it’s simply not having to take another job. It doesn’t matter how crappy a gig is or how poorly it pays. The idea of success measured in the same terms like how much money you’re making a week, or do you own a car, a house, something like that—none of that matters as much as having a gig. Some people can’t get a gig…Then you wind up being an A&R man at a record label.
Who would you like in your rock ‘n’ roll heaven band?
DH: The band I’d like is the one I have now. John Lennon? God, no! What a disaster that would be.
TR: Eric Clapton was always a big influence guitar-wise, and he’s a very nice guy, which makes a lot of difference in a band. Sometimes you’ll put up with someone whose musicianship isn’t up to par with everybody else, but regardless of the level of their skill they contribute to the chemistry and you like spending time with them and they understand what you’re trying to accomplish. Having said that, Eric Clapton’s on guitar. The one drummer that I always regretted never getting into my band was John Siomos, who eventually wound up playing with Peter Frampton. I play with a bass player in Australia, Damien Steele Scott. Horns? Bobby Strickland. He’s somebody that I really get along with, who understands what I’m doing. I’m going to go way off chart on keyboards and say Bill Evans. If I’m going to have backup vocalists, I’m going to audition nice, young, hot women for that. Brand new ones.
What’s your desert island CD?
DH: You mean, “What’s the record that will drive me crazy?” What’s Going On would take the longest.
TR: “What CD do you love now that you will eventually hate?” Is that what you’re asking? Probably Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra. There are records like Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, which were big influences and big classics, but you listen to once and you’re just worn out from it.