Judge weighs in on bitter dispute between Daryl Hall and John Oates

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Judge weighs in on bitter dispute between Daryl Hall and John Oates
Daryl Hall, left, and John Oates, of Hall & Oates, accept their award during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Barclays Center in New York, April 10, 2014. Hall, 77, has filed a lawsuit in Nashville against Oates, 75 — because a judge allowed the complaint to be filed earlier this month under seal, details on the disagreement are scant, but court records classify it as a contract lawsuit. (Richard Perry/The New York Times)

by Jamie McGee and Julia Jacobs

NASHVILLE, TENN.- The nature of the dispute between Daryl Hall and John Oates, which had been obscured in sealed court documents, became clearer Thursday as one of pop music’s most recognizable and long-running duos put their fight in front of a judge in Nashville.

Details of the collapse of the 50-year artistic collaboration and business partnership between the two had been trickling out for days in court papers submitted before Thursday’s hearing in Chancery Court, where Hall and Oates were represented by lawyers but did not appear.

Hall, the lead singer and songwriter for many of the band’s hits, is arguing that Oates violated their contract by moving to sell his portion of one of their business partnerships without Hall’s approval.

Hall’s lawyers went to court to block any sale while their business disagreement goes through a separate arbitration process. On Thursday, Chancellor Russell T. Perkins granted their request, preventing Oates from going further in the agreement until the arbitrator resolves the impasse, or until Feb. 17.

What is clear from the court documents unsealed so far is that the court case is a byproduct of a dramatic monthslong uncoupling of the two musicians, who rose to fame in the 1970s, establishing themselves as pop icons with hits such as “Rich Girl” and “Maneater.”

In papers dated in November, Hall, 77, wrote that in recent years, Oates, 75, had become “adversarial and aggressive” toward him and had raised a series of business disagreements through a “revolving cast of lawyers.” Hall wrote that late last year, Oates asked to dissolve the duo’s touring entity and the business partnership that oversees their music publishing, leading them this past summer to enter mediation — a process in which a neutral arbiter helps two sides work out their differences outside of court.

But in October, Oates’ side informed Hall that Oates was planning to sell his portion of a joint venture that oversees certain trademark and music royalty rights. The buyer was identified as Primary Wave Music, a New York company that specializes in marketing estates and song catalogs. Hall wrote that he felt blindsided by the plans.

“I am deeply troubled by the deterioration of my relationship with, and trust in, John Oates,” he wrote in a court filing, calling Oates’ actions the “ultimate partnership betrayal.”

At Thursday’s hearing, Tim Warnock, a lawyer for Oates, denied that his client was making a deal behind Hall’s back. “Mr. Oates has proceeded exactly as he was allowed to proceed,” he said. “Mr. Hall could have done the exact same thing himself.”

Lawyers for Oates have asserted that the dispute should be solved in arbitration, arguing that Hall created the time pressure on himself by waiting nearly three weeks to bring the case to arbitrators.

“Any adverse consequence based on the passage of time is a problem of Plaintiffs’ own making,” they wrote.

Hall and Oates’ history together began in 1967, when the college-age musicians intersected while performing at a sock hop in Philadelphia. Hall invited Oates to play guitar for his band, and a few years later, they started writing songs together, landing a record deal in 1972.

From the mid-1970s to 1990, Hall and Oates landed 29 hits on the Top 40 list — six of them No. 1 records. Heavily influenced by Motown and Philadelphia soul music, Hall and Oates’ hits captured the highs and lows of romance, from the exhilaration of “You Make My Dreams” to the wailing breakup song “She’s Gone.”

The pair has made 18 studio albums together and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, after seeing a resurgent interest in their hits as they became favorites for TV, movies and as hip-hop samples. Hall and Oates performed together as recently as 2022, but this past year, there were hints of discord when the singers set off on separate performance schedules.

The joint venture at the center of the dispute is called Whole Oats Enterprises LLP — a nod to their initial group name and the title of their first album.

Hall wrote in court papers that the limited liability partnership oversaw trademarks, social media assets and website assets, saying he was fearful that a sale by Oates to Primary Wave could leave his name and likeness vulnerable to exploitation.

Billing itself as the “home of legends,” Primary Wave has become a frequent buyer of song catalogs and other assets owned by famous musicians. It has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years on stakes in the catalogs of Bob Marley, James Brown and Johnny Cash, among others. The company has said it already owns “significant interest” in Hall and Oates’ catalog, acquiring in 2007 the publishing interests of songwriters Sara and Janna Allen, who were behind some of the band’s biggest hits.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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