John Oates has traveled one of the more envious roads in rock and roll history. As half of the dynamic hit machine Hall and Oates, there is little left on the bucket list for the guitarist, but he soldiers on behind his latest solo effort A Good Road to Follow. Recorded with the likes of Jim Lauderdale, Ryan Tedder and more, Oates explores his rootsy side while still maintaining the hook-driven ways of his most notable project.
Oates sat down with Jambands.com following his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to discuss the honor, his new solo record and traveling a different road in life—one that has also put him on stage with the likes of moe. and Umphrey’s McGee.
I wanted to start with Hall & Oates’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction earlier this year. It seems as if every artist has their own take on what the honor ultimately means. What did it mean to you and Daryl and does it properly honor your career’s work?
There’s no simple answer to that question, there’s so many levels of stuff going on here. First of all, the thing that has always struck me about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in general is that it’s such a subjective judging process. It’s really some sort of club that has a point of view. Every year they get together and they exercise their point of view, and the world of music, especially American music and popular music, is too vast to be contained under the roof of a museum and to be limited by a small group of people’s opinions.
That’s the way I feel about it, and that being said, I’m glad we got in, I’m really glad this was our year. It seemed to be a growing movement among the public and the press, and eventually with some new members in the committee that I think really was the tipping point that caused us to get in. Now that it’s all said and done, we’re in, it’s a fantastic thing and we’re really happy about it.
How do you honor and pay tribute to all the amazing music there has been and still be done? Interestingly enough, which is something I didn’t realize until the induction ceremony, is that Daryl and I are the only Philadelphia musicians in the entire Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That’s is a really really unusual thing. Philadelphia has an incredible musical history going back way before rock and roll, but how about the beginning of rock and roll, how about Bill Haley and the Comets? They did a song called “Rock Around the Clock,” and whether you think it’s good or not, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker was probably the biggest record, one of the biggest records in the history of rock and roll. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What about all the great Gamble and Huff artists, Stylistics, Delfonics, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes. The list goes on and on.
That being said, my feeling is that it’s a political thing on a lot of levels, but we’re in, and we got in for a reason. I think our body of work deserves it and I think, you know, I feel like we deserve it and I’ve always felt like we’ve deserved it. But at the same time I wasn’t losing any sleep over the fact that we didn’t get the nod over the years.
Hall & Oates was eligible for induction in 1997. Does there come a point where you mentally and emotionally move on from the idea?
It’s typical of a lot of big events that have a long kind of gestation and building process. Like when you’re a kid and you want to turn sixteen so you can get your driver’s license or when you want to turn twenty-one so you can drink. All these things, these landmark moments that you wait for and then all of a sudden it happens and you’re like “Oh, OK it happened,” now let’s move on. I’m not a nostalgic person. It’s nice to look back at the past but I always kind of think about moving forward. It was a long period of time from the early fall when we were part of the nomination and then months went by and then we got picked in December, and then months went by before the event. So by the time the event came it was anticlimactic in a way.
You mentioned the nostalgia factor—how difficult of a mode is that to snap into since you are still an active artist and you and Daryl still tour together?
It’s weird. It’s a very weird thing. Everywhere I’d go people were always congratulating me and saying “Man, that is so incredible.” It seems more exciting to people looking from the outside in than the inside out. And, like I said I don’t want to diminish the fact that we’re in and it’s an honor. I’m really happy about it, trust me, I don’t sound that way but I am.
In a way, when we dreamed of getting a record contract and we worked really hard to get the record contract, then we got the record contract, and it was like ‘OK, well now we got that thing that we were hoping to get, oh now we got to go on the road, now we got to tour because now we got to play our music for people. Oh wow it’d be great if we were popular enough to play Madison Square Garden. Hey, we just sold out Madison Square Garden, this is awesome. Hey you know what we’ve never been to Japan, yeah it’s really cool we should play in Tokyo, wow I’d love to play in Tokyo, let’s play Tokyo!” That’s how my life has always gone. “Hey, you know it’d be great to have a number one record, it’d be great to have a platinum album.”
I’ve been very fortunate and blessed in my life to have achieved so many of these dreams. I realize that they’re fleeting. They’re wonderful and they’re satisfying but they don’t really feed your soul. They just mark time. I probably sound like an old curmudgeon here, but I’m not. I’m really grateful and really happy for all this stuff, but I’m nostalgic for the future. I can’t wait for tomorrow. That’s who I am as a person and I can’t help that. All these great accolades and all these great moments and all these great landmark, you know things, are really kind of like, you know they sit on a shelf they’re trophies that sit on a shelf. And do you go and stare at them and polish them every day and, you know, sit down in front of them and stare at them going, wow, man, look at that, look at that Grammy, look at that American Music Award, look at that, you know that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Award, that’s incredible, no! You just, you put them on a shelf and people come to your house and go “That’s cool, yeah that’s cool,”“ but meanwhile you’re writing a new song in your head. You know, that’s what it’s all about.
So the experiences are worth more than the trophies, essentially?
Yes. And you know what it is even more, the experience here again is something that is fleeting. It’s the relationships. I think it’s the relationships and the people who were a part of making it happen, who are in the trenches doing it. That’s the stuff that I hold closer to my heart. To me, that’s more important, way more important to me. When I think back on those records that we made and the hits and stuff, I remember those sessions and I remember T-Bone and GE Smith and Mickey Curry and cutting those tracks and you know the excitement of, you know, Daryl sitting down at a keyboard after a session was over and coming up with the keyboard part for “I Can’t Go for That,” and him and I just recording that with the engineer and no one else around. Those are the kind of things that really stick in my mind. That’s the stuff, that’s the real thing.
You and Daryl mentioned in your speech that you spent as much time on the deep cuts as you did on the hits. I thought that was a really important message for young musicians to hear. The music business seems to still be hit-driven these days.
Well, you know it’s not always the fault of the artist. I think that if you were to transport a modern artist back to our era of the 70’s and even the 80’s, they would have done the same thing that we did. They would have spent as much time on their music, because that’s what it was about. The hits were a by-product of the hard work. And the hits were a consensus of marketing people, and record company and radio. And I really do mean that.
That’s why when Daryl and I go onstage I’m frustrated in lot of ways when we do the Hall & Oates tour because we have this incredibly big elephant on our back. And it’s wonderful. These hits, these huge hits that are ubiquitous. We’re proud of them and that’s what people come to hear. As a professional, you have to respect your audience so obviously we play them. But, at the same time I’d rather go out there and do a deep tracks tour where we would just pick the really cool musical songs that I think we’ve done over the years that have largely overshadowed by that stuff.
I think a lot of people would be up for a Hall & Oates deep tracks tour.
So would we but we’d never get away with it. We insert these album tracks in our shows and we rotate them. And it keeps us interested and it keeps our die-hard fans who see us a lot, keeps them you know happy because then they get to hear different songs. But at the same time the core of our set is just this incredible group of hit records.
A good problem to have I guess.
Oh, it’s the best, believe me it’s a fantastic problem to have.
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