John Hall Interview
Singer/songwriter/guitarist John Hall got his start with the group " Orleans." Formed
in 1972, Orleans played the upstate New York bar circuit -- between Ithaca
and Woodstock. Frequent visitors to Syracuse, Orleans was always very popular
with the University crowd here. They enjoyed quite a few hits, "Let There
Be Music," "Dance with Me," "Please Be There," and "Still
The One." John, along with wife Johanna wrote the song "Half Moon," which
Janis Joplin recorded.
In 1977 John Hall left " Orleans" to pursue a solo career. He also
has done studio work with Little Feat, Jackson Browne and produced Bonnie Raitt.
Besides a successful solo career, John Hall became quite involved in the "No
With a new album out on E.M.I, records, we spoke with John Hall about his
career in music.
Q. John, were you one of the first musicians to get
involved in the "No
A. I was one of the first I guess. I was brought into it because they were
building a plant near my home and so I had a kind of baptism by fire. I've
never been known for keeping my views to myself so I kind of jumped in with
both feet, and then subsequently a lot of other people got into it as well,
but I'm happy not to have a monopoly on it.
Q. So you're still pretty active in the movement?
A. Yeah, you know I try to balance it with my own career. Since the June
12th rally last year which I worked on, I've been making a record, and getting
ready to go on the road, rehearsing, writing, I haven't done that much this
winter yet. I have a couple of projects in the offing for this year, and I'll
be doing a few benefits here and there. It goes in cycles for me. I tend to
periodically get into a lot of political activity and then burn myself out
for awhile and get back into music full time.
Q. E.M.I./V.A. Records is a new label for you. Are you satisfied they're
gonna go out and really promote the album?
A. Yeah. I think they're doing a real good job. When we signed with them,
I'd been dropped by ARC/Columbua, who put the "Power" album out.
I was concerned about developing a relationship that had some longevity to
it with a record company. They supported our last record for about six months. "Crazy" stayed
on the charts for about six months and just got tons of airplay especially
on the AOR stations, and it cracked the Top 40 on the singles charts. It showed
a kind of tenacity and commitment. Most record companies when they get resistance
to a record, if they're trying to promote it, they'll work it for a week or
two or three, and then if they get some resistance they give up and move on
to the next thing. E.M.I, worked that record for two months before it ever
got on the charts. They just wouldn't take no for an answer. They just went
back to the stations and went back. It was that Fall, pre-Christmas period,
when there's tons of records out by all the huge established acts and platinum
selling bands and they just did whatever they had to do. I was real impressed
by that. This time around things are a lot easier I think because of the ground
work we laid the last time and I also think this is a very strong record. I
think it's all gonna happen a lot faster this time, which is kind of a relief,
'cause it's not so hard. I'm real happy with them. I think they're doing a
Q. Some people will tell you that you almost need a gimmick to succeed in
today's music business. Do you have a gimmick?
A. Well, our gimmick is that we don't have a gimmick. We just play good music,
get ourselves off and hopefully get the audience off at the same time by doing
an energetic, honest performance. The broadest kind of description that I could
give to what we're trying to do is getting back to the spontaneous roots of
the music. We made the album in a barn in Woodstock with a remote truck for
the control room. We set up this barn with microphones and earphones and everything,
and turned it into a studio for a month, so that we could capture the music
in a spontaneous, comfortable situation. What we try to do on stage is
a similar thing. We want to get away from running through the songs like on
the record and have something new and exciting happen every night. I need to
be surprised on stage myself, and I need to be entertained as much as the audience
does, 'cause if I'm just running through the motions, it's gonna come across
that way. If there's any kind of theme to what we're doing, it's spontaneity,
Q. Do you keep in contact with the other guys from " Orleans"?
A. Yeah, in fact I saw Larry and Lance a few days ago. I worked on a song
demo with them and Bob, for one of Bob's songs. The band " Orleans" is
still playing together under that name with another brother in the band, and
Eric Parkers younger brother Nicholas Parker playing drums. They've got a deal
with Atlantic and are in the process of putting out a record. I think they're
as capable of making hit records as they ever were.
Q. Would your career have been any different, or better,
or worse, had you stuck it out with " Orleans"?
A. It would have been different that's for sure. Sometimes I think 1 ran
away from some internal problems rather than facing up to them. In light of
everything that's happened, it was the right thing to do. I want to have the
freedom to make a lot of different moves, to do the political work I've done,
to do sessions and production with other people, to try playing with other
musicians whose work I'd admired without being hiked into a self-contained
band that was working all the time. I also wanted to be able to exert an overall
control of what I was doing. Anything that went out there with my name on it
I wanted to be able to apply my own standards too lyrically and musically.
And that was a source of friction because as " Orleans" progressed,
everybody in the band started writing and wanting to front the band and have
their songs done, which is great, but I don't believe in "tokenism." I
don't think you should, you need, the bass player's song on the record and
the drummer needs his song on the record, and all that kind of stuff. I'd like
to have the same standards of quality applied to everything. Now of course,
that's an arbitrary thing. What one person thinks is a great song may not be
what another person thinks. Basically, I just came to a point where I said,
listen I may be wrong or I may be right but I want to have the responsibility
to make these decisions and the authority to make them, and them sink or swim
on the basis of that. It got to the point where the committee decision making
was a taxing thing and I also thought the other guys were more interested in
doing, in making, more hit singles than in experimenting with some new things
I wanted to try and do.
Q. Pete Townshend has said, "Rock can be used for anything. It's a very,
very powerful and potent force and it can also be used for fairly distasteful
purposes." Can you give me an example of one of those distasteful purposes?
A. I don't really know what he was talking about. Not to get moralistic here
or anything, but I think rock musicians like anybody in the media and in the
arts, need to take in to account the power that their work has over people's
ideas, especially how receptive kids are to what they hear. There's certain
areas where I think that some concepts have been passed along glamorizing getting
wasted to the point of you're being immobile, and well isn't it groovy to be
this screwed up, or glamorizing violence or satanism or whatever. I don't buy
that. Some people may think that's fashionable or that's exciting or entertaining,
but I take all that seriously and the impact it can have on people. I guess
the flip side of that coin for me is that I try to use my music, and my work
as an influence for what I consider to be positive things, whether they're
how people relate to each other or political things or whatever. Maybe to a
fault I try to check everything against that kind of standard so that I don't
knowingly or unknowingly feed somebody a line that I would resent if it were
being fed to me.
Q. Howard Bloom, the famous publicist has stated, "Within this business
all anybody cares about is an article in 'Rolling Stone.' It has more impact
than any other magazine." Is that still true? Since you made the cover
of Rolling Stone, what did it do for your career?
A. Well it didn't really do much for my career. (Laughs). I don't think Rolling
Stone is the most important magazine in the country. In fact, I don't know
of any magazine at this point that could be considered to have that kind of
Q. Do you like college age audiences?
A. Yeah. It seems to me that college audiences are probably one of the most
important for musical artists like myself, especially when you're trying
to break an act that hasn't already received mass acceptance or that's doing
some kind of new music or experimental work. What more receptive audience could
you ask for in terms of their openness to new things and their own intellectual
norm. I've always found playing college concerts was really the most satisfying
thing for me.
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