What can be said about John Oates that hasn’t already been said?
More than you could imagine.
That’s because the man who has spent most of his life as half of the most successful duo in pop/rock history, has only recently begun to receive the respect he deserves in the music industry and in the public eye in general.
Since 1976, Oates along with singing-songwriting partner, Daryl Hall, have produced six #1 hits as Hall & Oates, including: “Rich Girl”, “Kiss Is On My List” and “Private Eyes” in addition to several other familiar (and heavily sampled) songs that have charted throughout the years.
More recently, Hall & Oates have received awards and acclaim recognizing their accomplishments in addition to praise from many of today’s popular artists such as: The Gym Class Heroes, The Killers and Chromeo, all of whom have voiced their admiration for the influential rock and soul duo.
Yet still, many have no idea that the cool and collected John Oates, whose velvety-smooth voice (oftentimes comparable to that of Smokey Robinson's), has written and sung lead on several Hall & Oates songs as well as produced two brilliant solo albums, Phunk Shui (2002) and the critically acclaimed, 1000 Miles Of Life (2008).
“Always thought I could handle it all
my isolation is what led to my fall
all I got left is a broken line behind me
and the road ahead of me.” (1,000 Miles Of Life)
Truthfully, over the years, Oates’ participation in Hall & Oates as well as his solo endeavors have oftentimes been overshadowed by other factors that have swayed the public from paying attention to his talent--including his super fantastic famous mustache--which he’d gotten rid of nearly 15 years ago! (yes, we did get into
All jokes aside, for this reason, we felt it only right to delve a bit into the mind of the talented artist that is John Oates.
In his downtime before hitting the road with Hall at the end of this month, Oates recently spoke with us via phone about his the craziest video he's ever done, his new project (Stories Behind The Songs), the future of Hall & Oates and more!
S&S/James: Hey if this is really John Oates--who won the Boston Marathon in 1977?
Oates: (laughs!) I have no frickin' idea...(laughs)
S&S/James: OK.....that's the answer I thought I'd get! (laughs)
Oates: Ask me who won the World Series last year, I can tell ya that!
S&S/Raina: John, how's it goin'? We're gonna get into some fun stuff tonight.....questions about H&O, Stories Behind The Songs....also we've got a few questions from some of the fans out there from you guys' fansites.
Oates: Alright. I'm up for pretty much everything.
S&S/James: I was recently listening to Phunk Shui with Raina...that keyboardist you've got on there is GREAT...who is that?
Oates: Oh yeah, that keyboard player is a monster! That's Jed Leiber. His dad is Jerry Leiber, of Leiber & Stoller--the famous songwriting duo who wrote "Hound Dog" and all those great Elvis songs and lots of stuff for The Coasters back in the 50's. We're best friends....he's an amazing keyboard player and a great producer.
S&S/Raina: That album is great. We're actually in Reno right now and were listening to your music on drive up--both Phunk Shui and 1,000 Miles Of Life. Both awesome.
Oates: Thank you! I appreciate that.
S&S/James: Such good vibes. Did you pick the flow or the sequence of the songs that were laid out?
Oates: Definitely. When you're done recording you take a look at everything, you listen to it and see how it flows. You want to create a vibe. You want it so that when people put the album on, the songs just have a flow that's pleasing and that's complimentary to each other. There's definitely a lot of thought that goes into it.
S&S/James: That's what's great about artists like yourself that really go and put "an album" out, versus others just putting songs out that have all these fillers in between. The first time I heard 1,000 Miles Of Life, I could definitely feel that flow from start to finish. I really like that.
Oates: Exactly. I guess at this point that's a pretty old school approach 'cause people don't really make albums anymore, you know?
S&S/Raina: True, too true. Speaking of that album, there is a contrast between that one and Phunk Shui in that it seems more spiritual. Were you intentionally going in that direction? It's a lot more personal it seems.
Oates: Absolutely--you got it right. That album is a very, very personal album. I recorded it in Nashville and you know Nashville is a great city for music it doesn't matter really what kind of music it is, it doesn't have to be country music. But I wanted to bring in some of these guys who I just admired so much--their playing, their skill....the way they play is so incredible. I just thought it'd be a great combination with the type of songs I write.
At the time a lot of stuff was going on. I was thinking about mortality and my dad had a heart attack and some very good friends and people who were close to me musically had passed away in the year preceding that album so I definitely was thinking along those (spiritual) lines. You can tell when you hear it. I mean it's a little down, a little somber and in retrospect I listen and say "wow, this could be a little depressing" but at the same time it's about real things, you know? I've written a lot of hits over the course of my career.....this album wasn't about writing hits, it was about things that are definitely close to my heart.
S&S/Raina: I know that you will be going back on the road with Daryl at the end of this month. I also know that you both have your own solo projects in the works as well. What do you see in the future for Hall & Oates as a group? Will we ever see another studio album from you guys?
Oates: Well, you know, I wouldn't say no. But I wouldn't say yes right at this moment. We love playing together, we have an amazing band. What we do together is something special that you just can't duplicate and I don't care what Daryl does on his own and I don't care what I do on my own--it will never be like what we do together. I recognize that and that's fine. I love that there's times when we get together and play and make that magic that can only happen with the two of us.
What we're gonna do is this fall, we're having a boxed set come out on Sony. It's gonna be a really amazing boxed set. True fans are really gonna love this because its got unreleased tracks, live tracks--stuff we've never put out, really cool stuff. That's the big project that's coming out for Hall & Oates this year and we'll tour a little bit more behind it. But we like giving ourselves that space to do other things because everytime we do things individually, we bring it back to Hall & Oates and it just enhances what we do together even better.
S&S/Raina: That's great. I'm looking forward that. I've been a fan of you guys' forever and we'll actually be seeing you for the first time in September at the Saratoga Mountain Winery and it'll be our first time seeing you so.....
Oates: ....Oh? You know what, that is a great place to start. What an amazing venue! It's a really great place to see and hear music. We've played there many times and it's always a good show because the people are so close, there so close to you and it's just a good vibe up there.
S&S/James: You know versus your 70s and 80s stuff....I graduated in 1986 and the girls seemed to like you more than Daryl back then versus the 70s when it was the other way around!
Oates: (laughs!) That's because I'm better lookin' that's why!! (laughs)
S&S/James: (laughs) I remember the teenage girls, they all loved John, they loved John! The posters on the lockers.......
Oates: (laughs).....must've been the 'stache! The mustache man, maybe that was it.
S&S/Raina: (laughs) You know we have to get into that right? The
'stache, if you don't mind?
Oates: Okay. Sure....sure.
S&S/Raina: I was actually on your TapHandle TV webcast with Greg Lord last week and I saw you speaking about the "J-stache". Is that a comic strip or something?
Oates: Well a bunch of guys who work with us on our publishing and our song catalog came up with this idea. It was to be kind of like the adult swim kind of cartoons, more irreverent...you know kind of...
S&S/James: ....an adult cartoon.
Oates: Yeah, that's the best way to put it. They approached me with it and I thought it was a pretty cool idea. Basically what it is is the mustache has a personality of it's own...it's like an evil character and I'm trying to be myself and be chill--be with my family, that kind of thing--but the mustache is trying to drag me back. It's pretty crazy. If we get it off the ground it seems like people will like it, so we'll see what happens.
S&S/James: What do you think looking back on some of your old performances. Like American Bandstand or even the Solid Gold dancers dancing to your hits back then?
Oates: I think its good man, I think some of those performances were great. We'd done all those shows: American Bandstands New Years Eve show, Soul Train.....in fact, on the boxed set that we're putting out, we may include a DVD of the first show we did in London back in '74. No ones ever seen it. I've had it in my archives for quiet a while. The band was playing great...we looked kinda crazy but it was the 70s, you know. Stuff like that is really gonna make the boxed set really unique.
S&S/Raina: Catching up on what you've been doing recently, tell us a bit about your Stories Behind The Songs series.
Oates: It was an outgrowth from the 1,000 Miles Of Life album. I started to meet a lot of different players and songwriters and started to do these little songwriting things around the country where you'd just show up with a guitar and sit with 2-4 other songwriters as they'd tell their stories of how they wrote the songs and we'd play them in the most simple and direct form. Like you were sitting in a living room when they were writing it.
The more I did it, the more I liked it and I live in Aspen, Colorado so I thought it'd be a really cool idea to bring some of these people here and do shows like this. We have this really great venue called The Wheeler Opera House--a really small theater that dates back to the 1800s. Just a great sounding room for music. I began bringing people out and it became a great success. We're gonna start it again this coming winter. It gives me a chance to so some collaborations with different songwriters which I love.
S&S/Raina: Is this something you'll be doing every month or just sporadically throughout the year?
Oates: I'm currently securing artists for the shows and we're gonna try to do 4 shows over the whole winter working on having them broadcast on the radio--it'll probably be more of like an National Public Radio type thing.
S&S/James: You've had such a successful career. Did you ever have a "Plan B" that you'd go with if it didn't work out?
Oates: You know, I've never had a Plan B. I was a performer and singer since I was a little kid and everytime I've played, people seemed to like. There was never a time when people said "you know you outta consider another career choice" (laughs) so because that never happened, I never questioned it-- just kept on goin'.
S&S/James: How did you and Daryl meet? I never knew....Raina might know but she's never told me.
Oates: We both had separate bands in the late 60s in Philly and we both had singles out on the radio. The radio station had asked us to come to this thing they called a record hop which was basically a teenage dance the disc jockey were running. On the bill was The Five Stairsteps, a guy named Howard Tate, Daryl's band and my band. They would put the record on and we would pretend to sing it.....how they did those days. A big gang fight broke out and we just basically ran out the back into a service elevator and that's how we met.
S&S/James: Wow! what a great story. Nice to hear....what was the name of your bands back then?
Oates: Mine was called The Masters and Daryl's was The Temptones.
S&S/James: Might we get our hands on some of those tracks?
Oates: You will actually hear those if you get the box set because those original recordings will be on there.
S&S/Raina: I've seen tons of Hall & Oates videos over the years. What was the craziest video ou had to make?
Oates: Oh, I can tell right you right now it was Out Of Touch. If you recall there was this giant drum and at the end there's this one scene where Daryl and I are inside this drum. We'd been filming all day and night. It was about 3 'o'clock in the morning and we were exhausted locked in this crazy plastic drum looking at each other thinkin' "so it's come to this?"
S&S/James & Raina: (laughs!)
Oates: It's a funny video. The guy who directed it was really insane. We get flattened by the drum and we become these characters....just crazy.
S&S/Raina: ....and nothing to do with the lyrics!
Oates: (laughs) that's right!
S&S/Raina: Sort of along these lines...is there an album that you've recorded that you listen to now and wish you hadn't?
Oates: There's only one that I really don't like, to be honest with you. It's an album called Beauty On The Backstreet. We were in a really strange head space. The guy who produced it had a drug problem and not doing very well....there was just alot of negativity to that album.
You know what's really strange though is that there's a song on that album called "The Girl That Used To Be". No one has really heard this song, it's just an album track on the B-side. Somebody called me from one of Ludacris' new bands and they used that song for the chorus of their new song. That floored me! It's such an unusual song to pick...I thought that was pretty cool.
Jan/Virginia: You had several September shows in Michigan and Ohio that
were canceled recently. Would you mind me asking the reasons for the
Oates: What happened with that was we've recently had a change in management and business and we didn't really have our calendars together. Daryl was doing one thing and I was doing something completely different. Things were being booked without me knowing and vice versa, so we had a conflict there. I had to cancel those in order to do Hall & Oates shows which are priority--but I do plan on rescheduling those shows.
Saif/Ohio: In 1993, you provided the soundtrack to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Video. You were in the house band one night on the Arsenio Hall show and played some of those songs. You said you were releasing a solo album. What ever happen to your 1993 attempt at a solo album and will we ever hear some of those songs?
Oates: I don't think I ever got around to it! (laughs) You know, if you get that particular DVD from that year , you'll hear all the songs. All originals. There's some pretty cool stuff on there.
Gail/New Orleans: What's your favorite mountain in Aspen to ski?
Oates: Oh wow...I'd have to say Snowmass. We have four mountains out here and that's one of them. It's big and the closest to my house.
Rusty/San Diego: Does your son Tanner have his own band yet?
Oates: Nah. He's messed around with drums, bass and piano and hasn't settled on anything just yet. Right now he's more interested in paintball.
S&S: We want to thank you so much for taking time out to speak with us. It's really an honor to have you here on SoulsandSounds.com!
Oates: Thank you so much.
Want to find out more about John Oates and when he'll be in your town?
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**Special "thanks" goes out to Lori Allred who put this in motion.**
**Photo Credits: Two on the top left and on homepage (J.O. in studio) Jamie Rosenberg.
On left (J.O. in room) (Art Burrows)