JOHN OATES is a soft-rock, pop and blues legend: a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee twice, in his own right, and alongside his long-time collaborator Daryl Hall.
The duo are famed for pop smashes like ‘You Make My Dreams Come true’, ‘Adult Education’ and ‘Maneater’, but at 70, with the partnership going strong, Oates is more than happy to forge his own path, too.
His current solo incarnation – and in particular the album ‘Arkansas’ – is a throwback for Oates, a nod to his roots in the days even before he ever met his famed collaborator in Hall. “This album has a lot to do with me moving to Nashville years ago and being embraced into Americana. It was kind of a return to my earliest musical instruments. I kind of felt at home in that style, after I tested the water in a few different solo albums,” Oates told the Gazette.
“I got locked into a groove with musicians that seem to have the same sensibilities as me. I didn’t really intend to make this album. I’d planned to make a tribute to Mississippi John Hurt, one of my childhood heroes. I recorded a couple of his songs with acoustic guitar and vocals, in a very traditional manor, and it left me a little bit… Well, it wasn’t better than the original, and it never will be.”
“Instead, I assembled this really eclectic band, and I had this idea that there’d be a certain tonality to what we’d make. From the very first song, my producer looked at me, and he said ‘John, I don’t know what this is, but just keep doing it, because it’s really cool’.”
There’s a definite sense of recapturing youth to what Oates is doing solo, then, and much of its is drawn from the inspiration found in writing his recent autobiography ‘Changing Seasons’. In the book, Oates tells the story of his early life, from taking a degree in journalism simply to connect with writing in any form, to growing up in suburban Philadelphia. Largely, he makes a point of leaving Daryl Hall’s tale for his lifelong musical partner to tell himself.
“I don’t think I’d have gone this way with the music if I hadn’t done the memoir,” Oates admits. “It was about things people don’t know about me. They know about Hall and Oates, the hits, the pop stardom. I didn’t really want to emphasize that in the memoir, I wanted to talk about the early days. Having gone up into the memory banks, I opened up these channels of memory that led to the record.”
“I do the me of 20 or 30 years ago backed with 40 or 50 years of professionalism, skill and experience. It’s tapping into these greats old influences that turned me on as a kid and made me who I am, but through the lens of being a better player, producer and performer.”
“I’m playing mostly solo stuff and roots music on the solo tour. I’ll do all sorts of things, with a couple of older songs, but I want to put this stuff in a context. I’ll do a version of Maneater from before I ever played it with Daryl, that has a totally different vibe.”
“People can shout out things, too. I may do them, I may not. This is much more unplanned. Loosey goosey, and I’ll talk a lot, tell a lot of backstories. I hope people won’t expect half of a Hall and Oates show. What I’ve found is that the quality of music and playing seems to win people over anyway. I think you’re going to like it.”