John Oates finds his roots beyond Hall & Oates

John Oates says there's maybe only one thing from his Hall & Oates days he'd like to abandon: "They keep talking about the mustache. I think we're finally getting past that. I haven't had it in 25 years!"

John Oates says there's maybe only one thing from his Hall & Oates days he'd like to abandon: "They keep talking about the mustache. I think we're finally getting past that. I haven't had it in 25 years!"

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John Oates isn't lingering in the past, but he isn't denying it either.

"I liken it to visiting a great museum. It's amazing when you're there, but you don't wanna live there! You don't want to pitch a tent and live inside the Louvre. You want to check it out, appreciate it and move somewhere else. So that's where I am now."

Oates' museum is his work with Daryl Hall as half of Hall & Oates. After joining forces in Philadelphia in 1970, the duo created some of the most indelible hits of the 1970s and '80s. Over the past few years, Oates has been developing a solo career and in 2011 he released the album "Mississippi Mile," which paid respect to his early folk and blues influences.

"Actually, it kind of kicked off a few years ago in Knoxville with a show that we did at the Square Room," says Oates in a call from his hotel in Gent, Belgium. "I was just getting this whole thing going at the time.

Oates grew up in North Wales, Pa., which is now a suburb of Philadelphia.

"Back then it was a small town, a whistle stop," says Oates.

As a teenager he was drawn to the bigger city and the music scene, which was heavy in both rhythm and blues and the folk music revival. Oates was there for the early Philadelphia Folk Festivals, which exposed folk and blues greats, including Son House, Mississippi John Hurt and Doc Watson, to young audiences.

Oates became a performer and fan of both worlds.

"It was an amazing place. I'd be wearing a sharkskin suit and playing in a band one night and the next night I'd be wearing denim work clothes and playing in a coffee house."

Oates and Hall met each other while they were in different bands in competition at the Adelphi Ballroom in Philadelphia. They realized they were both attending Temple University and were interested in the same music. Not long afterward they were working together and blending the styles of music they loved. In 1972, Hall and Oates signed with Atlantic Records and released their first album, "Whole Oats." The duo's second album, "Abandoned Luncheonette" (1973) included the song "She's Gone." While it wasn't a hit for the duo at that time, it was recorded by Lou Rawls and Tavares. After the success of the duo's song "Sara Smile," in 1976, "She's Gone" was re-released and became a Top 10 hit.

"I'm very proud of the work I did with Daryl and continue to do, even though we're not actively recording," says Oates. "I never finish a show without singing 'She's Gone.' That's the song that really put Daryl and I on the map. When I play it with a band, with Daryl or just play it on an acoustic guitar. That song holds up and ... sounds as fresh as the day it was written."

Oates says his focus now is on writing songs. He's been working with young singer-songwriters Daphne Willis and Angel Snow, as well as go-to singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale.

Oates says that although he does do a few Hall & Oates songs in concert, he's happy that audiences are so accepting of his new work and his new style.

"A lot people came thinking they were going to get a show of 'Half of Hall & Oates.' But little by little I've won them over. I've got a great band that's a kind of blues rootsy rock band and I do my folk stuff and I do all the kind of stuff that I like and people have embraced that, too. I still gotta a lot of activity with Daryl. We don't tour a lot, but we do tour. The Hall and Oates thing has a life of its own. It's given me this cool foundation that I can do a lot of different things. I'm really in such a fortunate position to have that foundation with Hall and Oates that lets me do whatever I want. That's the dream of a lot of creative people, and I don't take it for granted. I try to make the most of it."

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Comments » 1

Kc21 writes:

Great interview. John Oates always comes across as a real class act in his interviews and this one is no different. I love his perspective on his career and his opportunities. What a breath of fresh air! Can't wait to see Daryl Hall & John Oates when they come to Saratoga in September. Hope that John Oates comes to CA with his current band!

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