- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2007

The music-making team of Daryl Hall and John Oates may be one of the most pervasive pop culture influences of our time. Rock and hip-hop artists have sampled them. Wannabes on YouTube have mimicked them. Alternative hip-hoppers Gym Class Heroes even named their last series of concerts the “Daryl Hall for President Tour.”

Some 40 years after the dynamic duo’s first encounter in a Philadelphia elevator, they’re still being name-checked on an almost daily basis — like two weeks ago, when the songwriting stars of HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords” were on National Public Radio raving about their shaggy-haired predecessors.

“It’s flattering, and it makes you feel good because you think you’ve influenced a new generation of musicians,” says Mr. Oates. “The way I see it, it’s really part of the continuum. Daryl and I were influenced by a lot of the musicians of the early ‘60s. We looked up to them and respected them, used them as jumping off points. Now, newer bands are doing that for us. That’s the way it should be.”

Back when they were first finding their musical footing in the world of Philly soul, Mr. Hall and Mr. Oates grabbed the baton from soul and doo-wop groups like the Temptations. As they ran with it, they began to develop their own blue-eyed blend, which they would later dub “rock ‘n’ soul.”

Perhaps songs like their Top 10 hits “Sara Smile” (inspired by Mr. Hall’s girlfriend and released in 1975), “You Make My Dreams Come True” (1980) and “Maneater” (1982) weren’t all that profound; that sort of comes with the pop rock territory, which prizes simplicity and transparency. Yet whatever the musicians did, they did with aplomb, lacing their otherwise simple song structures with soulful vocals, undeniably catchy hooks and crisp, clean melodies.

Mr. Oates likens their style of tunes to a postcard image. “It’s just a simple, straightforward, honest statement, and sometimes that’s the most successful thing,” he says.

The tactic worked well enough for the twosome commercially. They’ve sold more than 60 million albums and scored eight No. 1 hit singles over the years, making them one of the most successful duos of all time. Their craft also has been recognized by the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, which inducted the artists in 2004.

Since the duo’s heyday in the 1970s and ‘80s, Hall and Oates‘ chart dominance has fluctuated and eventually faded, although the musicians have continued to record both solo and collaborative work and perform live.

Right now, they’re staging the Soul Violins Tour — which, true to its name — actually boasts a string quartet. Mr. Oates says this new addition (made just a few months ago) is bringing a fresh feel to the familiar music.

Longtime fans may also note that the artists have updated their look, opting for slightly toned-down, less trendy attire. Mr. Oates is also a little less hairy (no more mustache) and Mr. Hall a little more so.

“We try to keep it interesting,” says Mr. Oates.

Hall & Oates perform at 8 p.m. on Monday at the Music Center at Strathmore (www.strathmore.org).

Stax attack

It’s a momentous time for Stax Records, the Memphis, Tenn., home of soul music. This year marks the label’s 50th anniversary, the 40th anniversary of Stax legend Otis Redding’s death, the 35th anniversary of the imprint’s massive Wattstax concert, and the dawn of a new Stax era that began with Concord Music Group’s recent revival of the long-quiet label.

For 13 young musicians linked to this legacy, it’s also a year to remember, but for entirely different reasons; it’s when they were handpicked from the Stax Music Academy to play classic R&B; songs at some of the country’s most hallowed halls. Loosely linked to the label, the Academy is a Memphis-based program that mentors at-risk youth.

Yesterday was the first out-of-town stop for the middle- and high-schoolers (dubbed the Summer Soul Tour Band), and it was a doozy: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. After several other shows at high-profile digs, they’ll hit the Kennedy Center on Wednesday.

“This is the first time some of these kids will have gotten to take a trip like this,” says Stax Music Academy artistic director Ashley K. Davis. “It’s more than just playing music; it’s an educational trip and a cultural opportunity as well.”

To Mr. Davis, he’s merely helping Stax come full circle. He explains that back in the label’s heyday, “There were all these musical icons that lived in the neighborhood who could sing and play music who had no outlet, and today, it’s no different really.”

Mavis Staples’ and Isaac Hayes’ shoes may be tough ones for teens to fill on the concert stage, but the director says that his musicians aren’t daunted. “We’re doing ‘Dock of the Bay,’ and the kid who’s singing it is the youngest in the group — he’s 13,” says Mr. Davis. “He’s got to be about four feet tall, just a little shrimp of a guy. He’s the total antithesis of Otis, but this little kid has got a big voice on him. A big voice.”

The Stax Music Academy students play Wednesdayat 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. The show is free.