Daryl Hall says the large, garish holographic photo of Martin and Lewis that he displays in his otherwise rustic farmhouse appeals to his “perverse sense of humor.” The ’50s comedy team is pictured at the height of their fame, dressed in Pee-wee Herman suits, bobbing their heads and grinning through a swirl of dollar bills. Once half of a much-celebrated entertainment duo himself, Hall sees the shmaltzy picture as a sort of bad-dream time capsule. “I have a terrible fear of Hall & Oates becoming that—two jokers with a lap full of money,” he says. “That’s a really scary thought to me.”
Determined not to become part of such a pair-ody, the singer last year uncoupled Hall & Oates, the most successful pop song team since Simon & Garfunkel, and began engineering a solo career. The 17-year partnership with John Oates that had generated sales of 41 million records and made Hall a star looked, at the time, like a hard act to follow.
And so it was. Hall, now 37, insists he isn’t dismayed that his familiar platinum touch hasn’t helped sales of his baroquely titled LP, Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine. Co-produced by Eurythmic Dave Stewart, the album makes use of complex Middle Eastern and African rhythms that mark a distinct change from Hall & Oates’ American soul sound. Despite critical acclaim for its emotional honesty and the inclusion of Dreamtime, one of his best songs, the album barely cracked the Top 30. Figuring that a follow-up single titled Foolish Pride may pump new chart life into the LP, Hall is proceeding with plans for an ambitious solo tour of the world in February. “I knew when I decided to do this that I was going to have to change the perceptions of people who are used to seeing Daryl and John. People still come up and say, ‘Which one of you guys is Hall & Oates?’ ”
To create a separate identity, Hall has had to cut some longtime ties. With Oates off producing a debut LP for the Parachute Club, the acclaimed Hall & Oates band dissolved. “I was just as sorry about breaking that apart as I was about splitting up with John,” Hall says of his backup group. His domestic partnership with longtime roommate and sometime song co-writer Sara Allen has also undergone changes. After sharing a Greenwich Village apartment for most of the past 12 years, Hall and Allen, 34, now divide time between a town house in London and a recently purchased farm in Dutchess County, N.Y. There they brew beer, occasionally hunt wild turkeys that roam their 150 acres and bed down at night on a mattress on the floor.
The happily countrified Allen says she has no interest in joining her man on tour. (“If you’re not participating, it’s boring.”) Hall’s still-boyish appeal to would-be groupies does cause concern, however, and “it’s not always easy for her,” admits the singer. “She goes through her little traumas about it, but I’m through my stage of rockin’ out all the time. And she is very ‘unto herself.’ ”
Instead of playing the backstage booster, Allen now joins the crowd at local zoning board meetings to make sure their rural community doesn’t turn into “rootsy-cutesy” subdivisions. “I’ve always loved the country,” she says. “I can sleep easiest when I lie down outside on the ground.” For Hall that turf takes a bit more getting used to. “Suddenly there are no walls, no bars on the windows,” he notes. “It’s weird. I’ve had to wean myself away from constant city living.”
Doing so has brought the rocker full circle from Cedarville, Pa., the farming community where he was born. “As a kid I always felt out of place,” he says. “I wanted to get to the big city as quick as possible.” Hall—his German-English family name is Hohl—says that thanks to tutoring from his mother, a vocal teacher, and his father, whose family choral group worked a “smalltime showbiz” circuit in the ’50s and ’60s, “I got used to seeing family members up onstage and then dragging me up. Other than that, it’s been pure luck. I was born with vocal cords the right length.”
Pipes alone aren’t his only asset, of course. During Hall’s high school days, his red topknot turned a mane-line blond and became a source of his sexual charisma. To this day his hairline refuses to recede. (“I got great hair, man; I guess I’m blessed with the right follicles.”) He also happens to be a WASP who dances, as well as sings, like the Philly soul men he idolized as a teen. “I was always an introvert as a kid,” he says. “Then, when I first kind of came out as a human being, I used to be one of those guys who’d go nuts on the dance floor, and people would gather around.”
Shortly after dropping out of Temple University nine weeks shy of graduation, Hall met Oates at a Philly record hop. The ensuing collaboration resulted in a record contract, but despite scattered ’70s hits like She’s Gone and Sara Smile, lukewarm album sales followed. “Luckily, John and I had years to develop our style,” Hall says of the duo’s first decade. “We made eight albums before we got it right [with] the Voices album in 1980. Nowadays if you don’t have immediate impact, you’re not going to get a second or third chance.”
Though Hall chafes at the image of Hall & Oates as two dependable old pop drays harnessed to make hits, he still can’t quite get used to erasing the ampersand after his name. “John and I will work together again,” he promises, “but only if we have something new to offer the world besides just rehashing the hits. That’s what that Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis picture’s significance is to me. I don’t want to have to exclusively share everything. It’s time in my life to explore myself as an individual.”