John Oates - Friend of the DFC
John Oates is an accomplished solo artist, in addition to being half of the best-selling rock ’n ’roll duo Hall & Oates. He’s a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The American Songwriters Hall of Fame, has won American Music awards, MTV awards and been nominated for multiple Grammys.
In the early ‘70s, John partnered with Daryl Hall and went on to make 21 albums - selling over 80 million albums - making them the most successful duo in rock history. In 1999, John struck out on his own and has so far recorded seven solo albums, playing many genres of music including rock, R&B and soul. He’s a guitarist, singer-songwriter, record producer and collaborates and develops new artists.
John spoke with us about living in Colorado, his relationship with the Denver Folklore Center, touring and a lot more.
Mississippi John Hurt’s Guild Guitar
John was a student of Ricks for a while and they became friends. Then when Mississippi John Hurt passed away, the Guild guitar he had played at the Newport Folk Festival was given to Jerry. Ricks brought it to New York and John played it on the first two Hall & Oates albums.
“Flash forward to the mid ‘70s, Jerry Ricks came out to Denver and he taught lessons at the Denver Folklore Center. At the time he wanted to go to Europe (he eventually expatriated), but before he left, he sold the Guild guitar to one of Harry Tuft’s friends. When he passed away about three years ago, his daughter wanted to sell his guitar collection. And through Harry, I found out she was selling the Mississippi John Hurt guitar. I ended up buying it. It came back to me through Harry which is amazing.”
At Home in Colorado
Like most Coloradans, John loves the outdoors. “When I’m in Colorado I’m riding my bike. I stopped downhill skiing years ago because I didn’t feel like hitting a tree again. I do Nordic skate skiing, I like staying fit. I like driving on a country road. I’m into old sports cars and have a Porsche and an MG. I like driving my tractor too.”
Musical from the Start
His parents were from the World War II generation, so he grew up listening to a wide variety of music – big band, swing, Glenn Miller, Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington. He’s also old enough to remember the beginnings of rock ’n’ roll on the radio. “I remember in the early 1950s in Philadelphia, this one radio station playing exclusively rock ’n’ roll. That was a big deal - Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers. That’s the music I grew up on.”
Then in the early ‘60s, John had a friend whose older brother went to college in the south, around the time the folk revival was starting. “He came back with all these folk records, people like The Weavers, Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk and others. By then I’d been playing guitar since I was six, now I’m thirteen and I’m starting to absorb this stuff and I’m learning how to fingerpick from the records. That led me to start looking into the originators of the music. When I heard Dylan, Joan Baez, Van Ronk, I started going back and saying ‘where’d these songs come from’. And I discovered Delta Blues, Appalachian, early English folk ballads and I got into that. When I moved to Philadelphia and met Jerry Ricks, he opened a door for me to learn from the original guys as they came up for the folk festival and the coffee houses. It was protest songs, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and more contemporary folk at the time – Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Ian & Sylvia.”
These days John listens to musicians like “Mollie Tuttle, Billie Strings, they’re great. I like the people I play with, like Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Yonder Mountain String Band – guys from Colorado who I’m friends with – Tommy Emanuel. I have an eclectic taste. I’m listening to a lot of ‘70s R&B, stuff that came out of Memphis. I don’t have a style, I just like great music.”
Songwriting, Recording and Performing Live
“Right now, for me, the songs have to have some kind of meaning beyond just a simple relationship. The last song I put out digitally was called “Pushin’ a Rock”. That song was really about struggle, overcoming struggle and adversity and never giving up. You’ve got to keep trying. I felt like that was a good message and a message that people might relate to.”
John’s new single “Disconnected” is out February 3rd. It was written during COVID. These songs are part of a series of digital singles he’ll be releasing over the next couple of months. You can find them on all the streaming platforms.
A lot of musicians have a definite preference when it comes to either recording or performing music. Some consider touring to be too loose and some find being in the studio tedious. John views them as completely different things and sees value in both. “Recording is very introspective and analytical. You’re really focused on the minutia, sonically, technically what’s happening because you’re capturing something. And performing is the exact opposite. It’s all about live, it’s happening now, it’s never going to happen again. It’s all about energy. It has to do with immediacy, with relating to the audience and what they give you back and that affects what you’re doing.”
See John Oates in Colorado in February
Visit John Oates’ website and Instagram where you can “watch me plow snow and do snow angels”. And see him on February 24th at the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride, CO and on March 3rd at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, CO. These are makeup shows from COVID. They were canceled twice so he’s calling it “the third time’s the charm” tour.