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John Oates

The Suncoast Post Interview with John Oates

| Vicky Sullivan |

John Oates is of course known as one-half of the most popular duo of all-time, Hall and Oates. John has been playing and recording solo for years whenever Hall and Oates are not on the road.  Currently he has been touring with famed Nashville guitarist Guthrie Trapp. They are coming to the Mahaffey Theater on January 19th with an evening of songs and stories.  John took time to talk to us at The Suncoast Post about the upcoming show and his career.

SP: John, since we just lost Jeff Beck do you have a few words about him?

JO: He was one of the greats without a doubt. You know very unique, innovative, one of a kind really.

SP: Did you ever meet him, John?

Yes, it’s funny I was talking to my wife about it the other day. I knew a good friend of mine who had worked with him, and we ran into each other in various places, but we ran into each other, it was quite a while ago at a hotel in L.A. in Hollywood and he and I ended up singing Happy Birthday to Cindy Crawford! I don’t know but I guess that’s my claim to fame with Jeff Beck.

John Oates

SP: I read a little bit about Guthrie and of course he’s very well known in Nashville and how did you get connected with him, how did you meet him?

We met a long time ago; it was over 15 years ago. We met at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I was playing with the Sam Bush Band, and he was with the Jerry Douglas Band, at the end of the night there was a big kind of jam on stage where everyone came up.  He was on one side, I was on the other end, I had been hearing him play throughout the course of the weekend and he just blew me away. You know we just basically gravitated toward each other and then even though he is considerably younger than me,we have a lot of the same musical roots in the folk and Blues traditional music and stuff his parents taught him when he was growing up. We started playing that kind of stuff.  You know we’ve made records together and toured together and after the last Hall and Oates tour was finished, I wanted to do something different. We got together and played in my living room, and it sounded so good, just the two of us. We said, “Why don’t we just take the living room to the stage”.  Let’s just do this, like not having any gear, no equipment, no roadies, no nothing. Just two acoustic guitars and I’ll sing, and we will tell stories and that’s how it all started.

SP: So, you are your own roadie?

Absolutely, carry my own guitar. I carry my little pedal board and couple cables and vocal mic and we are good to go.

SP: I want to go back a bit to your first solo album, a favorite of mine, “Phunk Shui”. Do you think you would do a record again like that kind of a pop soul thing?

 I don’t know if you’ve heard the new digital single “Pushin’ A Rock”, that’s the direction I am going. Kind of moving a little bit away from the Americana singer-songwriter thing although that’s still what I’m doing live with Guthrie in our show right, but “Pushin’ A Rock” and some of the songs that I wrote during COVID are really I don’t know to me they sound a little bit kind of like a 70’s R&B kind of feel and the new single that comes out February 3rd is called,  “Disconnected” and it’s definitely in the same vibe as “Pushin’ A Rock”.  So that’s going to come out February 3rd and all my new singles are coming out digitally streaming only. After we get about five or six of them out over the next few months and maybe we’ll put out an EP of some sort but right now they’re all singles and there’s about five or six in the queue kind of waiting to come out.

SP: A friend of mine who is an Oates fan said that Pushin’ A Rock was on the album “Good Road to Follow” and I don’t remember that.

Right, there’s a reason you don’t remember because it wasn’t any good. That’s exactly what happened, I wrote that song with Nathan Chapman in 2014 for “Good Road to Follow” and I loved the lyrics, but I never thought that the music was that good and I took full responsibility because I produced it. So, I just didn’t think I nailed it and then during COVID when I was sitting around the house, I was just reviewing all the music and ideas, just kind of trying to stay busy and I stumbled upon the lyrics again. You know I think I can do a better musical version of this song and so I rewrote it, rerecorded it and then I played it for Nathan my Co-writer, and he freaked out. He said, “Oh this is so much better, this is the way it always should have sounded. Then we took my demo & went into the studio and recorded it with real musicians. Yeah, I’m really happy with it now it really has a great vibe!

SP: I was wondering about your experience of the show at the Apollo in 1985 with Temptations David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick?

Yea, it was amazing! It was one of the highlights of my life without a doubt. I mean one of the reasons Daryl and I gravitated toward each other when we were kids was, we both loved the Temptations. Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin were obviously the two principal vocalists so in a sense it was like going back in time and it was really a powerful experience. We were asked to play the Apollo because it had just been renovated and it was like the charity event for, I believe, the NAACP and we just wanted to do something special. So we found Eddie and David, both of whom weren’t doing much at the time, and we got them to come on board and we said, “Hey we want to do a real traditional Temptations medley” and they were totally cool about it. It was great, it was just amazing to be on that stage at the Apollo theater with those guys.

SP: Your version of “When Something’s Wrong with My Baby” is one of the great highlights of that show!

Oh thanks! Yeah, well you know even with David and Eddie being a Motown vibe, “When Something’s Wrong with my Baby”, was a Stax Memphis song that Sam and Dave did as well as Booker T and the MG’s. I revisited that song again with Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes and we did it at Bonnaroo in 2013 during the Super Jam which came out amazing as well. Check out the YouTube version.

SP: Gotta touch on Live Aid, I photographed you at Jazz Fest and you were wearing your Live Aid T-shirt.

John laughing. Yea, I still have it.

SP: You still have the lyric sheets signed from Live Aid?

 I’ve got the lyrics from “We Are the World’ from the night of the recording.

SP: What were those experiences like being in a room at We Are the World with all those all those people who mostly are still around today?

Yeah, that’s true most of them are although not all. The most important ones like Michael Jackson and Ray Charles are gone. In fact, where I was in the gallery in the group photo, Ray Charles was in front of me to my left and Bob Dylan to my right behind me and that was pretty amazing!  I just looked around going you know this is something that’s never ever going to happen again. I’m always trying to be aware of these moments you know, special situations where you know there’s something happening that might never happen again.

Last question, I tried to keep this a John Oates interview, but I must ask are there going to be anymore Hall and Oates tours?

Hall and Oates

I don’t know, not right now. Definitely on hiatus so who knows what’s going to happen. I just feel like in a sense that I think we’ve reached this point where we need to just do some other things.  I think Daryl obviously feels that way too. I’ve done it for 50 years you know 50 years is pretty much long enough to do almost anything you know

If this was you know the 1800’s, I would already be dead! (Laughs)  I feel like I’m spreading my wings in a way that I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do and in life you know you don’t get a lot of second chances.  I’m trying to just make the most of what’s happening right now. One of my main things is I wanna enjoy my life. I want to get off the road a little bit. I don’t want to live in a hotel you know, being a little spoiled about that I guess in that regard. But I just think I’ve had enough of that, but I still love playing live, I love playing with Daryl, I love playing with the band. But I also love what I’m doing with Guthrie, and I love songwriting and all the other things.  I just want to be able to spend time with my family, my wife and kid and be able to enjoy all the stuff that I was able to accomplish!

Check out the tune “Pushin’ A Rock” and tour dates at John Oates.

Photos by Vicky Sullivan

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