John Oates talks about the album “Arkansas”
Interview took place on January 17, 2018
By Daniel Locke
Unratedmagazine: Tell me about your background? How did you get interested in Music?
John Oates: From a very young age, I was glued to the AM radio in our apartment in the Lower East Side. There was always music playing in our home, and after every song my father would tell me who was playing. I soaked it in. I would perform for my family and go down to Coney Island, where there was a voice-o-graph machine, to record renditions of my favorite songs. I just knew I was going to be a singer. When I was five, I was given my first guitar and started lessons and the rest is a lot of history so I wrote a memoir!
What type of music did you grow up with? Plus give me some of the artist?
I was exposed to a lot of folk, blues, soul, R&B and rock-and-roll growing up. My parents signed me up for vocal lessons, so I was also exposed to show tunes by my teacher. Everly Brothers, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Conway Twitty, Mississippi John Hurt, Jimmie Rodgers, Emmett Miller, Doc Watson…to name a few.
Have you had the chance to go back to Philadelphia, PA and see how it has changed?
I go back to see my father who still lives in the area…Philly has really changed but still has that soulful city vibe that makes it unique. I was also there last year with Daryl for our festival Hoagie Nation.
How did you get involved with the original Live Aid concert and the recording of We Are The World charity recording? And what was the biggest moment for you at the concert?
At the time me and Daryl were on top of the pop world and since the concert was in Philly it was only natural that we headline and Mick Jagger asked us to back him. We didn’t know he would bring out Tina Turner and we had Eddie Kendriks and David Ruffin from the original Temptations as well so it was an unforgettable night.
Over the years you have won numerous American Music awards, MTV awards, and had multiple Grammy nominations, inducted into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Which of these awards gives you the most joy? By the way I was in the Press room for the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall o f Fame and you had a big smile on your face.
They’re all incredible, but I think I’d have to say the Songwriters Hall of Fame. First and foremost I consider myself a songwriter and to be recognized by my peers in that way is a huge honor.
You are the creator and executive producer for the “7908 the Aspen Songwriters Festival” at the historic Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, CO. In 2013, you teamed up with Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) to curate the Bonnaroo Super Jam with special guests Britney Howard, Billy Idol, R. Kelly, Larry Graham and the Preservation Hall Jazz band. How did you get so many different artists together?
You wouldn’t believe how much work is involved putting together a show like that, but it was one of the best experiences. I would have to say it is the set I’ve always wanted to play and it turned out incredible.
In January 2015, you released Another Good Road (Warner/Elektra), a DVD docu-concert that premiered on Palladia Music Channel. Recorded live in a Nashville studio in one session. Can you tell me some background of this session?
This was filmed at Addiction Sound Studios in Nashville, owned by Jonathan Cain. The people in the video are some of my favorite musicians in Nashville that I perform with often. Several of them are in The Good Road Band now.
How is your book Change of Seasons doing? Did you do a book tour?
There’s been an incredible response. We did a nationwide book tour and we’re still doing book events when I can fit them in my schedule. We’re doing one next month at Folk Alliance in Kansas City. And the paperback version is coming out in the spring with additional content in it.
New Album: Arkansas (with The Good Road Band) just been released. How are your fans liking it? It is American root music. The first true American pop music.
The album actually comes out Feb. 2, but the first single “Arkansas” has just gone to radio and we’re getting a great response. Rolling Stone included the album on their Most Anticipated Country Albums and Tours list of 2018 and my fans have been excited about it and sharing the singles.
Who is Mississippi John Hurt?
Mississippi John Hurt is one of my musical idols. He was an American country blues singer. He inspired the album coming out, Arkansas.
How did you find the musicians to play on this project? And tell me more about the development of the album?
The musicians on the album are some of my favorite musicians in Nashville. There is an incredible community here. The project began as a tribute to Mississippi John Hurt, but evolved during a series of recording sessions into a retrospective collection drawing from a range of my musical influences.
I was watching your video John Oates with The Good Road Band – “Arkansas” Official Video. Who helped created it? It is great. I like the black and white images within the buildings.
A great local videographer, Jason Lee Denton, and his team.
So that is why you moved to Nashville?
I’ve actually been coming to Nashville since the early 2000s songwriting and was really inspired by the music community here. I started spending so much time here that I ended up moving.
The song I loved your version of Stack O Lee? It sound so fun… And in fact after listening to you I went out to hear John Hurt version and I feel he would be proud of you.
Did you think this band would be a good band for Philadelphia Folk Festival – Old Pool Farm?
Yes, we’re looking forward to playing a lot of festivals.
Why did you go back to discover your true self in the record?
I grew up listening to a lot of folk, blues, and soul music, and this project became a really cool collection of my musical influences. It’s the album I’ve always wanted to make and it was made possible by the incredible Good Road Band.
Why did you record it on analog equipment?
The type of music I wanted to showcase was mostly originally recorded in the late 1920s and 30s so I wanted to be as faithful as I could to the sound of that era.
You have been performing since 1966. Going on 51 years. And as Hall & Oates you recorded 21 albums. How has the music industry changed? And how have the audience changed?
It’s changed so much I wrote a book about it! What is the same– is how much I love touring and creating new music and bringing it to fans.
What type of audience are you looking for with your new album?
I would say the album transports listeners to a different time. It’s like Dixieland, dipped in bluegrass, and salted with Delta blues. And those coming out to our shows can expect an intimate storyteller’s type of show.
Have you ever pictured yourself (at the age of 15) getting to the level of music you have reached?
I always just wanted to do music and knew I wanted to do it my entire life. I didn’t really have a Plan B.
You are just starting your tour. It looks like you are going to hit a lot of America. Anywhere you wish you could perform in which you are not going to be reaching on this tour?
We’ve only announced the first leg of the tour. We’ll be touring for this record again in the fall, so stay tuned…
During the tour are you going to play any Hall and Oates?
I like to change the set-up a lot. You’ll never know when you’ll hear a Maneater or You Make My Dreams Come True.
What is you’re feeling about Vinyl?
I love vinyl. I made sure to release Arkansas on 180 gram hi-quality vinyl and I sequenced it specifically to fit on vinyl.
Who would you like to open up for you? Being alive or dead.
It would be really fun to jam with Mississippi John Hurt.
Who is the most amazing artist you ever performed with?
I have had so many amazing experiences, it’s difficult to name just one.
What is the biggest crowd you have played for?
Live Aid probably. *(On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially open Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans. Continued at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and at other arenas around the world, the 16-hour “superconcert” was globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations. In a triumph of technology and good will, the event raised more than $125 million in famine relief for Africa. Billed as the “global jukebox”, the event was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England (attended by 72,000 people) and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States (attended by about 100,000 people)
What direction do you see your music heading in the next 2 years and your long term goals of your music?
I really love Americana, blues music and I’m enjoying going back to my roots for this album. We’ll have to just see where I’m inspired to go next.
What is the make, model and year of your favorite guitar?
I play a wide-range of guitars and on this album I was actually able to play a Mississippi John Hurt Guild guitar.
Which do you enjoy more electric guitar or acoustic guitar?
I like both. It really depends on the song and show.
What music fests would you like to play in?
Newport Folk, Philly Folk, and Hardly Strictly would all be great.
You should check out Nelsonville Music Fest. I feel crowd there would love your music.
Great, thanks. I’ll let my agent know.
Are you BMI or ASCAP?
Thanks for talking with Unratedmagazine..