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Interview: John Oates on a Hall of Fame career, protecting his brand, and Hall & Oates having ‘the worst name in rock and roll history’

 
 
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I read somewhere that in all the recordings, it was always presented as Daryl Hall & John Oates, never just as Hall & Oates.

Never.

I walked to my record player and pulled out Private Eyes and said ‘Holy smokes!’ How did no one ever pick up on this?

It was a totally conscious decision. Daryl made a joke about it when first got together. He said “I hate being called by my last name, it reminds me of gym class: ‘Hey Hall.'” So we said, we are two individuals working together, because we actually started that way — when we first started playing together we hadn’t written any songs together. I had written a bunch of songs and he had written a bunch of songs and he said “Look, you play your songs and I’ll play behind you,” and Daryl would play his songs and I’ll play guitar. And that was our working relationship — two guys, two songwriters working with each other. And we didn’t even sing together and we actually still don’t sing together very often, it’s just never been something we ever wanted to do. We didn’t want to be the Everly Brothers, or Loggins & Messina, or whatever.

So where did the “Hall & Oates” shorthand come from? Was it a label thing?

It was just a thing. It was just natural thing that people…

But it wasn’t “Daryl & John”!

No, it could have been. Lets put it this way — we have the worst name in rock and roll history. Hall & Oates — it’s terrible.

It rolls off the tongue!

No it doesn’t.

Sure it does. Maybe because I’ve heard it so many times —

Exactly, it only rolls off the tongue because you’ve heard it so many times. It’s a horrible name. Just be totally objective about it, it sounds like a law firm or a doctor’s office or something.

Well maybe you did a favor to law firms and doctor’s offices by making them sound cool.

I don’t know about that. That’s pretty generous so I’ll take it.



Speaking of names, I gotta bring up the Hall & Oates cereal.

Are you talking about the oatmeal?

Yes.

Which one?

There was a recent issue, one from Brooklyn.

The one from Brooklyn. There were others, a lot of others. And that’s what makes this story interesting.

Ok so how do you approach something like that. A lot of people were saying it’s no big deal.

Gotta go back a little bit in time. Before that story broke, we have been defending our brand, so to speak, for years. This was not the first time, it’s just that you didn’t hear about the others. We have always been very amenable to working with people who are basically trading off our name. There’s an oatmeal brand in Nashville, a small mom and pop company. I know the owners, and we worked with them to create a simple royalty stream based on use of our name. There was a beer company in Atlanta, Holland Oates, and they had a blond-haired guy and a dark-haired guy on their label. So we realized if we didn’t do something and take a legal stand, that it would be the wild west, a total free for all.

So we established that precedent. When this other company came out, the first thing we did was contact them and let them know that we already had a precedent established to support our position. And they ignored it. So we asked them if they would like to work with us the same way all the other companies had worked with us, and they eventually agreed to it. But if you read the article, and you know from being a journalist the inverted pyramid style, the truth of the article is at the bottom of the story, which of course no one ever got to. All they saw was the headline, which kinda gave it that… kinda led you to believe it was the fat cat rock stars, you know, putting the screws to the little start-up guy. Which was totally untrue.

They didn’t want to work with you guys?

They didn’t know they could. First of all they thought it was a free for all, and we explained to them it wasn’t. And then we gave them examples of other companies who had done they same thing, and they were kinda like “Oh really?” So it was handled all very business like and totally fine — but the article, it was more fun to say things like “Say It Isn’t So” and all this other stuff.

We might have been guilty of a pun headline on that one. Do you find it humorous that all these bits of your music career have become part of pop culture, whether it’s Haulin’ Oates or Oates’ Mustache…

Well because of the name there are some easy connections to make. It’s like being spoofed on Saturday Night Live, there are a million people they can spoof, but if they choose you, even if it’s demeaning or mean-spirited, they still choose you and there’s a reason for that.

Well this was a specific product geared toward using your name. No one’s buying Haulin’ Oates because they love the granola! They buy it because they are a fan of Hall & Oates. Has there been a resolution?

Completely resolved, amicably. We took a very small override and it means absolutely nothing. If the company were to get bought by like General Foods or something, then great, everyone wins, but we’re not getting any… you know.

It was probably the company’s intent to get headlines. Now we know of this company in Brooklyn…

That’s right.

Shifting gears, let’s talk about the Live in Dublin DVD. That was the first time Hall & Oates played Dublin?

Yeah. I had played some songwriters shows in Dublin, and Daryl had played some solo shows, but we never played there together. The show sold out in 20 minutes, so we knew it was going to be a great show, and the Irish audience are great music lovers, they love to sing and everything, so we just knew it was gonna be a good show. And the other thing is we haven’t done anything visually with this new band. The new band is one of the best bands we’ve ever had and we wanted to capture that as well. There are not many things we are able to do for the first time, so it gave it cache, and that’s why we did it. It turned out good.

So what’s next for you guys?

We’re gonna do a lot of touring this year, gonna go back to Japan, we usually go every two years. There’s really a lot of demand. We can’t even do all the shows that we’re being offered.

I’m gonna focus on writing a little bit more this year. I’m producing a band for the first time in a very long time. Gonna do a five-song EP with a band out of Denver called Paper Bird. I ran into them, got a long with them and gonna give it a shot. And I’m writing a book as well.

Oh cool, what about? Your career, experiences, intellectual property theft?!?!

It’s not the Hall & Oates story by any means. It’s more about my early influences. I kept a series of journals through the whole decade of the ’70s. So it’s more based on that — before the Big ’80s. It’ll touch on that but it’s more about the early, early days. The ’80s have been so well documented, with MTV and everything. To me I have fonder memories of the early days, even before I met Daryl.

Plus then the ’80s will make for a great sequel.

Yeah.

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